The following are services and products I use and recommend to develop and grow website businesses.
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- 1 The following are services and products I use and recommend to develop and grow website businesses.
You may think I'm crazy, but if done correctly, blogs can be a business. Most aren't. But you're different. Right?
Remember, the purpose of an online business is to establish trust with a relevant audience. Although that's blogging, add a viable monetization concept, and you have a business.
Want to know how to make a blog for free? Read more below.
Once you get going, you can enhance your services and products. But, test the waters first. There's already enough stress just to get the business off the ground correctly.
I use NameCheap exclusively as my domain provider for very specific reasons. As opposed to getting a “free domain” with the purchase of my hosting provider, I want total control over my domain name (specifically the ability transfer, redirect, etc.,) and many of the free deals simply lock you into a hosting service. I also like the fact that all my domains are in one place.
Your domain name will be one of your biggest assets and to view it as a “free toaster with the new bank account” is both short-sighted and a dangerous business decision – especially when the annual cost of a domain name is around $8.88. NameCheap also allows some easy control over pointing the domain to a specific host and the management of your email. He's a short video to show you how to manage your domain at NameCheap.
For WordPress based websites, you may start by determining whether or not to use a WordPress Managed Service. A managed service essentially takes care of backup, caching, security and WordPress updates, at the hosting level. Without this, you are responsible for installing plugins to address these issues. Unfortunately, these are the very plugins which tend to cause the greatest conflicts and are also the more technical plugins that too many sites forget to install. Managed hosting fees are higher than the more bare bone services, but the peace of mind and additional service can really be worth it.
The managed hosting I use and recommend is Fly Wheel.
In addition to the managed services described above, Fly Wheel has developed a WordPress development environment application, entitled Local by Flywheel. Developing your website on your local computer is much easier and safer than developing on a live site and this is exactly what Local by Flywheel allows. There are some other development applications that provide this, but Local is easy, fast, and works seamlessly with the Fly Wheel hosting service as well as other web hosting sites. Oh, and did I mention, it's totally free. Check out the short video on Flywheel's website to see how easy it is to install and use this phenomenal application.
The criteria for selecting your host should include reliability, speed, services, support, and cost. Outside of a managed account, the only other web hosting service I recommend, and use, is SiteGround. SiteGround has an excellent reputation and deservedly so. To me, the most distinguishing feature is their 24/7 telephone and chat support. Unlike too many other providers, SiteGround's support is well staffed and well trained. I also have a demonstration video to experience what it's like to set up a WordPress website in 3 minutes with SiteGround.
Themes and Page Builders
There are really two types of WordPress themes. The most common are essentially pre-configured websites which do not facilitate much adaptation beyond color and fonts changes. Each theme configures what the developer feels is necessary to meet some relatively specific needs – a blog site or a portfolio site.
Another type of theme is essentially a shell that accommodates a page builder plugin. This type of theme actually offers almost unlimited modifications which are facilitated through the power of a separate page builder plugin. All of the recommended themes and page builders below are available in both free and paid versions, and although you may eventually benefit from the paid version, there's nothing wrong with trying out the free versions.
Beaver Builder is the page builder preferred by web developers and has a number third-party developers who have contributed some incredible add-ons. Beaver Builder also comes with a free Beaver Builder theme and child theme. One benefit of using this combination is that support issues are limited to one developer.
Of the premier third-party developers supporting the Beaver Builder product is Brainstorm Force and their Ultimate Beaver Builder product. Even this offering has a free lite WordPress plugin option, but the paid version really does offer some greatly enhanced features.
Elementor is the second recommended page builder and the one I've used to develop this website. Elementor is as powerful as Beaver Builder, and seems a bit more intuitive – thus it may be easier to work with. Beaver Builder, however, has an add-on known as Beaver Themer which allow you to build dynamic theme parts – headers, footers, etc. Elementor currently doesn't have this option. In reality, both of these page builders are world class, and like many top-tier competitors will probably alternate in features and popularity over time. Again, both have free, albeit abridged, plugin versions which will help you to make the comparisons that will enable your final decision.
Astra, the theme used to build this site, is also available as a free and paid version and works well with both Beaver Builder and Elementor. Astra has been developed by the same firm that provides the Ultimate Beaver products and is working on completing a similar plugin for Elementor. It also has a website which will customize a free child theme for you. If you're interested in seeing how Local by Flywheel, Astra and Elementor all combine to develop a website in less than 5 minutes, check out this video.
You now have the fundamental building blocks to develop a website.
I have divided the remaining resources into categorical classifications. As before, I only recommend the tools I use, and feel will be of benefit to my readers. In many cases, I've chosen an application that is free or has no affiliate network. The reason is simple. I want to support what is best for you, regardless of whether or not there is any financial benefit to me. In the long run, your trust in my recommendations is simply more important.
ManageWP is a service, now owned by Host Gator, which allows you to manage backups, monitor site speed, security, and uptime, as well as update plugins and themes. This is particularly useful if you have multiple websites. Not only is it reasonably priced, with an a la carte pricing and even free approach, but the support is extraordinary. Most of the services are completely free albeit on a reduced basis. In many cases, however, that is all you need.
Evernote offers both free and paid versions of this “best in class” virtual filing system, which is accessible from your computer or even a smartphone. The paid version not only allows enhanced features, such as additional storage but through OCR makes text within scanned documents searchable. This application, with a correctly configured Fujitsu scanner, will allow you to go paperless. There is also a free browser extension which will allow you to capture, file and categorize online documents for instant retrieval. The paperless age is here with Evernote. Check out our Guide to Going Paperless for more information.
Dropbox is a cloud storage and file synchronization service provider. Gone are the days of thumb drives with their trojan horse risks – now data files can be stored and managed in the Cloud on Dropbox. This is a paid service which is good. Why? You want whatever company is storing your files to be robust and a financially viable company. Others have entered this space, but Dropbox is the premier service which is also available to integrate with a number of other services and applications.
One of the first tasks for anyone doing business on the Internet is to protect their privacy. There are three world-class password protection programs – LastPass, 1Pass, and Dashlane. I've used all of them, but Dashlane is my favorite. In addition to creating and protecting passwords, it stores critical financial information – bank accounts, credit cards, etc. Web password security is tactical – memorize one very secure password to access your password manager and have Dashlane manage all your other passwords.
Grammarly is offered in both free and paid versions and is like having a virtual copywriter. What is especially nice is the automatic integration within WordPress when developing pages and posts.
Running out of word options? Thinkmap's Visual Thesaurus is one of the best writing tools in the universe – especially if you're visually orientated.
Canva is one of those game-changing applications. With Canva you can design the headers for your Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter sites, as well as design logos, create business cards and even book covers. What's more, Canva is easy to work with and is freemium with more options available on a paid basis.
Also, in the Graphics arena, I have researched and used a number of compression plugins. Most are very good and the differences in compressed images, both in size and appearance are actually remarkably similar. The problem, however, has been to both allow for more options, such as different size creations and somehow integrate Retina images. As you may know, Retina images are extremely sharp on various Apple products but require a doubling of the image size to appear correctly. This size increase presents its own problem, in that the Retina image needs to be compressed correctly. All this points to the ability to render your website as quickly as possible and ensure that visitors don't leave because of a slow site. In this process, I've found two plugins which are both free but allow for additionally paid capacities and not only handle Retina but actually work together. I am happy to recommend ShortPixel and WPRetina. You can read more about these plugins and follow the resizing and compression of a specific image on my post, “How to optimize your images.”
ConvertKit has been a stable email autoresponder for some time and is well respected and received in the blogging community. It is reasonably priced, and after a modest learning curve can be configured to operate as a relatively potent marketing machine. A newer offering, however, which even adds onsite chatting, shows significant promise and will be the subject of a review on this site. The new offering is ConvertFox and I'm am still experimenting with the amazing options of this plugin. More to follow.
SmarterQueue is maybe the most potent, configurable and yet cost-effective social media marketing application available. SmarterQueue is simple to set up and will allow you to run an effective social media marketing campaign virtually on autopilot.
ConvertPro is the first opt-in application generator to which I feel comfortable recommending and again, use personally. It is seriously one of the easiest and most feature-laden systems available without all the complexity of the other opt-in application. Once I finally started using ConvertPro, I simply never looked back.
Search Engine Optimization
I have worked with several keyword applications for some time now but was never really satisfied. The reason I changed to LongTailPro is that you can easily discover long tail keywords, clearly, comprehend both their competitiveness and relative worth via their traffic flow and then monitor how selected keywords are ranking on your site's pages and posts – all in one application that's also affordable. There's a free trial with great tutorials to see if it meets your needs. I don't start any web content development unless I have an understanding of the keyword interest from Long Tail Pro.
I've spent considerable time reviewing and testing gear for web audio and video. Here are the best of what I use and recommend.
Struggling to determine which gear to operate your podcast? Check out this list which includes everything from a low-cost but highly rated microphone (Yeti) to a complete system for podcasting that the pros use.
After much research, here are the items you will need to record your training video, from teleprompter to wireless lavalieres to video lighting. This is not a random listing but what I use after significant research.
I hope this listing is helpful. It takes a lot to satisfy my needs and I actually enjoy reviewing and testing services and applications, trying to find just the right candidate that delivers all the important features at a reasonable cost. If you have any suggestions or comments, please let me know. I would love to hear about your experiences.
Thad M Brown
The Resolute Blogger was built on WordPress (self-hosted). My theme is a customized version of Astra, which is simply one of the lightest, and most robust themes available. The web development was completed, using the Elementor page builder. Both Astra and Elementor come in free and paid versions and I have purchased and use the paid versions. With regard to design, the body type is Playfield Display, while the Headlines are Playfield Display SC. The images are typically from BigStockPhoto.com. Finally, this site is hosted with Fly Wheel, which provides some of the best WordPress Managed dedicated servers and top-level support available.