Over the eight and a half years that Misadventures with Andi has been around, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about what blogging tools I use to make the magic happen.
To be honest, there are two parts to the answer.
First, trial and error. Eight years is a long time and the tools that are available today – to do just about everything – weren’t always there. I’ve used a lot of tools, both paid and free, and despite the fact I’ve got it narrowed down to a system that works for me, as the space continues to develop, I know I will be adding and removing more!
Secondly, working professionally in social media and content marketing, I get access and exposure to tools that I can then use for my personal blogging. Although some tools remain at the enterprise level, not for single bloggers like you and I, there are often smaller scale versions of the tool or a competitor that I can use. Perks of the job!
So with that as a background, here is my set-up.
Hosting & Caching
When Misadventures with Andi first began I knew absolutely nothing about blogging. I had taken a creative writing course, exploring the various mediums for writing and fell in love with blogging. I Googled blogging and because it was Google, I got Blogger/Blogspot results. So I signed up for a Blogger account. I very quickly figured out that the platform was not going to keep up with my needs and I decided to make the move to WordPress.org.
I had been blogging a little over a year so it was a scary proposition to migrate and rebuild my site. That’s when I was introduced to Shauna. Or the magic lady who makes my site run. Shauna migrated me over, and designed my original site. Shauna and her husband own a design, development and hosting company, a boutique business called Servously.
Despite using (and loving) Shauna, I didn’t host with her. At first. But after many bad experiences with other hosting companies, I came into the loving arms of Servously. And I’ve never looked back. In the many years I’ve been with Servously, I’ve rarely been down and Shauna is an email or Facebook post away. She is very responsive and friendly. I know there are a lot of large hosting companies out there, but I am sticking with Shauna.
While not quite hosting, I do also use Cloudflare, a tool that aids with speed and security. In addition, it caches my site so if it does happen to go down, the majority of time the pages are already cached and reachable. Lastly, it blocks spammers and attackers. Best of all, most of the basic features are free, although I use a paid version ($20/month).
Design & Usability
Shauna also helped me translate my original design idea to fruition. And worked with me on multiple updates and tweaks. I also engaged Josh Quintero who was referred to me by a friend. He worked on the latest iteration of the Misadventures with Andi design, including the Project Escape header. He will be updating my design with me as I transition to Portland. (If you are interested in working with him, drop me a line and I will connect you.)
Word of caution. You have to be careful with the designers that you engage with online. In eight years time, I have been scammed twice. Once where I got my money back and once where I did not. Make sure you get references and look up any online reviews. Even the best of us can be duped!
To validate that my design is not only “pretty” but also easy to navigate, I use Peek User Testing. I discovered it when the internal UX team at the last company I worked at used it to test a marketing campaign idea my group had. You can test your site three times every month, best of all it’s free! I am a Certified Usability Analyst, a fancy word for understanding the usefulness or usability of something, in my case, websites, so I absolutely love this tool. I tweak things here and there based on the results of my testing.
I also like to check in with my readers directly. Since 2009, I’ve had an annual reader survey. Most of the time I have used SurveyMonkey to design the questionnaire, but this past year I tried out TypeForm. TypeForm is free, at least the version I used, and very robust in terms of flexibility. I’ve paid for upgraded features in SurveyMonkey in the past, but it looks like TypeForm is a better replacement for what I need.
Editorial Calendar & Notes
I’ve always been an organized person. I carry around a notebook wherever I go, two now as I’ve got one for all things RV. I’ll never drop the analog side of me. In fact, February 1st I’m trying out the trendy bullet journaling that is all the rage these days. (Which by the way cracks me up as I was doing something similar, along with a lot of other people, in the 90’s when we were obsessed with Franklin Planners! But I digress…)
I use the notebooks for blog post ideas, mind-mapping, in-person interviews, things like that. But to keep track of my blog posts past and near future, I’ve been using Google Calendar for a long time. I can go back to May 2009 when I started using it and see every single blog post I’ve ever published Plus I map out future blog posts as well. I have the WP Editorial Calendar plugin and I’ve also at various points off and on had CoSchedule, but I always had Google Calendar in the background so now I’ve abandoned the rest and just use that.
I also use Evernote for research notes and email templates. It’s a very robust tool and the free version is perfect for my needs.
And since I am often waiting on Mr. Misadventures to take photos in some remote location, I often use the Notepad on my phone to write posts and notes.
Email Delivery & Newsletter
Whether you subscribe to receive my blog posts via email or have signed up to get my monthly newsletter, the tool I use to deliver both items is Mailchimp. I tried Constant Contact first, a very long time ago, and was disappointed with its design capabilities (I’m sure it is more robust now).
I wanted more help with the design aspect and Mailchimp was so easy to set-up and use. I’ve been using it for many years and really like it. The brand is invested in helping you create good email content and they take adherence to CAN-SPAM laws and security seriously.
If there is one thing I wish I did a better job of when I started out, it’s doing a better job building my email list. I will be focusing more on that in 2017 as well as trying to be more consistent with my newsletter. As part of my list building effort, I may look into ConvertKit as a vehicle for delivering materials. But I am not sure yet. A lot of the blogs that I sign-up for seem to be using it and the process feels seamless, but I’ll have to let you know in a follow-up post.
Organizing My Social Media
I’ve worked in online marketing for a very long time, and there’s an expression we often quote to stakeholders that want us to build a website or landing page for a product or campaign without any thought as to how to drive people to that online property: there is NO ‘build it and they will come.’
So you probably know that the same thing applies to blog posts. In order to drive traffic to your blog, you need to use tools like social media. To organize my social media, my tool of choice is Hootsuite. I don’ know how I stumbled upon this platform, all I know is that I’ve been using it for about seven years and it’s fabulous. I brought it to Dolby for my team there and would have used it at the bank if it weren’t for a few issues with other internal tools.
With Hootsuite I can schedule out tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts. I do that a lot when I have sponsored projects to ensure that I promote them as much as possible. I’ve found I can have the best intentions for posting content but life, meetings or a lack of wifi can wreck havoc on my plans! I can also respond to tweets and track lists based on a keyword or group of people.
For scheduling Pinterest posts I use Tailwind. This is a very powerful tool but I am only using a few of its capabilities. I will be diving deeper into this excellent blogging tool this year. When I find myself with extra time, or frankly when I’m super organized and make the time, I use Tailwind to curate Pinterest content.
For other social media channels, I use Buffer. I’ve also used this tool for years and love it. I use it mostly for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. They have Google+ but only for personal pages, not for a business (or blog) page. As I’m reading things online that I feel like sharing, I just add it to my Buffer queue and I’m done. It spaces out the content I want to share so I’m not sending out too many updates at once.
I did have a tool that was essential to my online life that recently sunsetted. I used it to automatically tweet out new blog posts from hand selected bloggers who consistently produced great content. I was very sad it doesn’t exist anymore and but have now discovered dlvrit which does exactly what my old tool does! I set up my account with bloggers whose content I love and when they publish a post, it automatically gets tweeted.
One writing tool I recently discovered and am now OBSESSED with is Grammarly. It’s a site and a plug-in that corrects your grammar as you write and I love it! It has helped improve my comma usage like crazy. I love to geek out on the weekly reports that tell me how much I’ve written and what my most common mistakes are, in this case, commas!
When you are trying to showcase your work to brands or even perspective employees, your writing better be error-free and Grammarly definitely helps with that! I’m using the free version, but they have a paid version as well.
Also when I write posts that contain affiliate links, I use Pretty Links because those links can look really gnarly! I prefer something that is much cleaner. It’s a WordPress plug-in that creates a branded URL that masks the ugly affiliate URL.
On the road
Traveling in an RV over the last year has given me a real appreciation for a stable wifi connection! I will never take that for granted again. When I found myself in a sticky situation needing an internet connection, I turned to Karma. It really saved when I had deadlines with brands and I was desperate.
It’s a mifi device that I use to connect to local LTE networks. I buy data as I go (rather than have a monthly plan which they offer as well.
My WordPress Theme
You may wonder what is the foundation that the Misadventures with Andi site is built on. You know my CMS (content management system) is WordPress. My site is designed and developed by two great peeps. It is hosted by a boutique hosting company. And I’ve shown you the editorial, content and social media tools I use.
But what is the framework underneath all that making it run? My site runs on Genesis Framework from StudioPress Site. I was lucky in the early days of my blog to stumble upon CopyBlogger. I got to meet the founder, Brian, at a small B2B blogger conference I attended in 2010 and was sold on everything he said and wrote. He is definitely one of my earliest influencers. From the moment he launched StudioPress I was in.
How about you? Do you have a blogging tool that you love? Do tell! Have a question about one I use? Let me know!
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