This free list of blogging resources covers all the tools you need to help you build a well-designed, successful and efficient blog.
I’ve been growing Running on Real Food since 2013 and it has been my full-time job since 2017, so I’ve learned a lot over the years. I hope I can offer some advice to help you build your blog too. Whether or not your ultimate goal is self-employment, I hope you find this list of blogger resources helpful.
First Step: If you’re brand new to blogging, the first step is to read my How to Start a Blog tutorial. It has everything you need to get up and running so head over there if you don’t have a blog set up up.
We cover hosting extensively in my How to Start a Blog tutorial but we’ll review it here as well.
What is hosting? Web hosting is what you’ll need to get your new blog on the internet. It’s essentially “renting” space for your blog to live and be accessed on the World Wide Web.
Recommended Host for New Bloggers: Bluehost
Bluehost was my first host and it’s a great budget-friendly option for new bloggers. You can get started for just a few dollars per month.
Other Hosting Options
There are lots of great alternatives to Bluehost if you do want to investigate other options. Since I started my blog 6 years ago, I’ve changed hosts a number of times as my needs grew and I currently hosted with Orange Geek. I recommend the following options for new bloggers as an alternative to Bluehost:
- Dreamhost. 1-click WP install, free domain registration, no set-up fees. I was hosted with Dreamhost for a couple years and had no complaints.
- Siteground. A popular provide with 24/7 support, WP recommended.
- WP Engine. I was hosted with WP Engine for about a year and while there service was fantastic, they do cost a bit more than other options. One huge bonus of using WP Engine is you get the Genesis Framework and Foodie Pro theme for free when you sign up, a $129 value. This is the theme set-up I recommend for food bloggers and we’ll be covering below. I ran my blog with this set-up for years before switching to a custom theme and I love the design, functionality and technical support. I highly recommend it.
After you’ve set up hosting with Bluehost, you’ll need a WordPress theme to make your site look good. Adding a theme to WordPress is as easy as can be. Below are the premium WordPress themes I recomend.
Genesis Framework: I ran my blog on this theme for years before switching to a custom designed theme. It’s a powerful, secure, efficient theme that can be combined with child themes to further customize the look. I highly recommend it.
Foodie Pro: I used the Genesis + Foodie Pro combo for years before switching to the theme I have now. Foodie Pro is a child theme that works with the Genesis Framework mentioned above. It has a beautiful, minimalist style and is geared towards food bloggers. If you’re looking for a clean, simple design for your new blog with lots of great features, this is a great option. Purchase here.
Generatepress: Generatepress offers an excellent free WordPress framework with premium add-ons. The free theme is a great place but for $49.95 you get full access to their site library.
Food Photography Tools
I shoot with a Nikon D750 and I have a 50mm 1.8 and 105mm lens. I mostly use the 50mm but I love close-up shots so I do switch back and forth with the 105mm quite frequently. I started out with the D7000 body, which is more affordable and the 50mm 1.8 lens is an inexpensive upgrade from a kit lens. The next lens up from the 50mm 1.8 is the 50 mm 1.4, if you want to spend a bit more.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a DSLR camera when you start out. Cell phones can take some pretty amazing photos these days. If you’re not ready to invest in a DSLR, start learning about lighting, composition, editing and styling using the resources below and start making magic with your phone!
You need somewhere to store all those amazing photos you take. I’d recommend picking up a couple of these 64GB memory cards so you’re not constantly running out of storage.
There are a ton of excellent Lightroom presets available to help streamline your editing process and take your photos to the next level. Here are some that I highly recommend:
- Dark and Moody Lightroom Presets. Reasonably priced with gorgeous results. $48 per set.
- Mastin Labs. I don’t use these much for food but the presets are beautiful if you’re shooting travel, lifestyle or portrait photography. A little pricier, $99 per set.
- Light and Bright Preset. From Brooke Lark, a quick and handy free preset that works well for light and bright images.
Best Blogging Courses
Continuing education as a blogger is hugely important. There is always so much to learn and while you can learn a lot through trial and error and by using free online resources, I’d highly recommend the books and courses below to help speed up the process. Learn from the best!
This might be the best option out there for quickly and immensely improving your food photography skills. If you’re a food blogger, beautiful, appetizing photos are absolutely key to your success. Not only will they bring traffic from sites like Pinterest, Food Gawker and Taste Spotting but they will give your blog a professional look, you really want to show your recipes at their best!
The thing I love about the Food Photography School from Minimalist Baker is for just $99 you get unlimited lifetime access to over 130 video tutorials. I find tutorials to be the best way to learn and this really is an invaluable resource to keep in your food blogger toolbox.
Tasty Food Photography
I’d highly recommend purchasing the Tasty Food Photography E-Book by Pinch of Yum. For just $19 it’s packed with invaluable tips to help improve your food photography. If you plan on starting food blog, this book will definitely help you grow your blog. I learned a lot about lighting, composition and camera settings. Aside from this great e-book, Pinch of Yum also shares their monthly income reports and more amazing tips all for free on their blog.
Food Blogger Pro is an online subscription-based learning platform from Pinch of Yum. They cover everything from SEO, to photography tips, generating income, social media and more. There’s also a community forum which I’ve found to be very helpful in answering questions and sharing with other bloggers. You can get your first month for just $1 if you want to try it out.
Blogger University from the team behind Minimalist Baker is great for all the back-end and technical blogging details you need to know about when starting a blog. If you can’t afford to hire someone to do all the techy and designy stuff for you, Blogger University will help you do it all yourself, at a fraction of the cost.
- Learn from a seasoned photography and artificial lighting expert how to get the perfect lighting setup for your environment.
- Download the 9 lighting diagrams to reference in your home set up.
- Discover which lights are best for your needs and budget.
- Become a pro and no longer feel limited by natural light!
This e-book can help you figure out where to focus your efforts. I’d highly recommend it and only wish I’d completed it when I started blogging rather than 2 years in! I’ve found it’s really helped me take action rather than just continuing to plan and read. You’ll also find a selection of other workbooks at ProBlogger, all of which are very helpful in building a successful blog.
ConvertKit for Email
Building your email list from day one is essential.
Think about creating something you can provide in exchange for email subscribers. For example, I offer a free e-book with 25 of my most popular recipes that’s available for subscribers. You could offer free printables, a free course, e-book or any number of other offers.
If you focus on one thing, make it your email list. A strong, engaged email list will help drive traffic to your website, build trust and help you connect with your readers.
I started my email list with Mailchimp and it’s free for up to 2000 subscribers but I’m now with ConvertKit and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s absolutely changed the game for me. It’s so easy to use and incredibly powerful. I love it so much.
Recipe Submission Sites
Here is a list of the recipe photo submissions sites I use. There are plenty out there but I only submit to these ones. Foodgawker requires a higher standard of photos to get accepted but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to get your photos featured. As soon as I publish a new recipe, I submit to these sites right away so I don’t forget later on. Submitting your photos to these sites is all about driving traffic back to your blog.
Social Media and Marketing Tools
Social media is a huge part of blogging and it can’t be ignored. The tools below can help you manage social media, grow your community and increase traffic back to your website.
Feedly: Keep up to date with following all your favourite blogs in one place. Integrates with Twitter, Buffer and other social media platforms. Free and premium option.
Buffer: Schedule content out to your social media platforms at pre-determined times. I love because it’s so easy to use and has a handy extension so you can add content to your queue from any webpage. Free and premium option.
Hootsuite: A powerful social media management tool. I primarily use it for monitoring Twitter but you can do a lot more with it. I make streams from keywords I want to follow, I use Twitter lists to keep track of certain groups and I use it for scheduling social media content.Free and premium option.
Evernote: I use Evernote for all my note-taking and writing. I use it to keep track of blog post ideas, write social media posts, jot down quick ideas, quotes and other important things I want to remember. I find it handy because it syncs across desktop and mobile with both a website and app so I can access it anywhere. If I don’t write my ideas down, I forget them so I try to keep quick notes for blog posts when I think of them.
Buzzsumo: Another great way to discover trending content from around the web based on any topic. It allows you to quickly see what content is working well in your niche which is great for researching SEO strategies.
Tailwind: A must-have for Pinterest and Instagram marketing. I use Tailwind for all my pin scheduling and I love it. It also provides you with analytics and suggestions you can use for improving your Pinterest marketing. Sign up here.
CoSchedule:I do all my content planning and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram scheduling through CoSchedule. I love how it integrates with WordPress. There are other content planning platforms available but I absolutely love CoSchedule. It’s a game-changer. Sign up here.
Medium: A great place to find sharable content and get ideas and inspiration.
SEO, or search engine optimization is a huge part of running a successful website. Putting amazing content out there is one thing but that’s not going to do you much good if no one can find it. Here are all the tool and courses I recommend to help you develop a strong SEO strategy and best practices.
SEMRush: SEMRush does everything you’ll ever need for SEO. It’s extremely powerful and can help you with keyword research, identifying new and existing opportunities, improving your current content and a huge wealth of other features.It is a paid service and at $99 a month is quite the investment that being said, if you’re serious about taking your site to the next level, I think it’s well worth it. You can also try find a few other bloggers to share the cost with. Sign up here for a free trial.
Free Broken Link Checker: This is handy little tool that scans your website and provides a list of broken links. Broken links can negatively effect SEO so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them and clean them up when needed.
Answer the Public: Another free tool you can use to discover questions people are searching for. Just enter a keyword and the tool will generate a huge list of questions related to that keyword.
Google Analytics: You can sign up for Google Analytics right away. With this powerful and free tool, you’ll be able to track the traffic to your blog, see what’s working and what isn’t.
Google Search Console: Another free service from Google that can help you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google search results. You can confirm that Google can find and crawl your site, fix indexing problems and request re-indexing of new or updated content.
Hashtag Jeff Course: Hashtag Jeff offers an ongoing SEO course you can subscribe to one month at a time. I would recommend it for at least a month to learn the basics of SEO and get your site up to par as far as Google standards.
Ubersuggest: A free keyword research tool you can use to find keywords to focus on.
SEO for Food Bloggers: If you’re serious about building your blog and eventually being able to earn an income from it, SEO, or search engine optimization can’t be ignored. Luckily, Pickles and Honey has put together a fantastic e-book with simple, approachable steps you can take to improve the SEO of your website. Following these steps can help you improve your blog’s search engine ranking and successfully grow your organic traffic. Click here to purchase.
Whether you’re a full-time blogger working from home, doing it on the side of full-time job or blogging as part of your job, productivity is huge. People tend to overestimate what they can get done in a day and underestimate what they can accomplish in a year. These tools help me stay focused and make the best use of my time.
Pomodoro Timer: I use a Pomodoro Timer app and Tomato Timer to help me work in 25-minute focused segments. It’s amazing how much I can get done with 100% focus for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break. You can also use the Focus Booster app.
Google Keep: Handy for lists and reminders. I’m using Google Keep more than Todoist now but I still think Todoist is a great option.
Trello: I use Trello as my content calendar and as an organization tool for SEO.
Best Blogging Resource Websites
I have all the following sites loaded into Feedly and I schedule about 15 minutes a day for a quick scan to stay up-to-date on all things blogging, social media and online marketing.
- Copyblogger. A wealth of information about creating content, copywriting, SEO and internet marketing.
- Problogger. One of the best sites out there for advice on creating successful content, blog design, writing content for your blog and SEO.
- Social Media Examiner. A huge resource for everything from Facebook to Instgram, blogging and more. Stay up to date with all the current social media trends.
- BloggingTips.com. The team of writers from BloggingTips.com offer advice on blogging as well as a list of must-use blogging resources, WordPress information, case studies and more.
- Hubspot Marketing Blog.A huge amount of information and resources to improve your marketing skills, functionality of your blog and more.
- Moz. Go beyond basic WordPress and get tips on how to optimize your blog to perform it’s best. Learn about SEO, social media, marketing, link building and more.
- Daily Blog Tips. This site covers blogging basics, design, SEO and online marketing. they also have a sister site called Daily Writing Tips for information on grammar, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary.
- Razor Social. Explores social media tools and technology with well-illustrated, detailed posts written by Ian Cleary.
- Smart Passive Income. One my my favourite blogs and podcasts, by Pat Flynn.
Free Stock Photography Sites
This is just a small sampling of what’s out there these days for high-quality, free stock photography. Thank goodness, because stock images aren’t cheap! Although I’ve listed these as free, please double check the licence details on each site. I believe most of them are free from any copyright restrictions but it doesn’t hurt to double check.
- Death to Stock Photo. They send out 10 excellent-quality free photos each month by email. They offer a variety of beautiful and creative photos available for use free of charge which you can use for you blog or social media posts.
- Unsplash.One of my favourite places for beautiful free high-res images. They add 10 new photos every 10 days for you to use in any project. Sometimes I find myself just strolling their site because the photos are so good!
- PicJumbo. An awesome collection of free photos for both commercial and personal use in a wide variety of topics. You can search by tag which is handy if you’re looking for something specific.
- Gratisphotography.Creative and unique high-res images you can use for personal and commercial use. New pictures are added weekly.
- Life of Pix. An excellent collection of free high-res photos with no copyright restrictions meaning you can use them for any of your online projects.
- Splitshire. A lovely collection of free stock photos by Daniel Nanescu. The photos are free for personal and commercial use. You can search by category if you’re looking for something particular.
- Pexels. I use Pexels a lot lately for free stock photos. They have a great selection of photos you can use anywhere with no attribution.
- Pixabay. Another great option with a huge selection of stock photos free for commercial use with no attribution required.
I use the Adobe Creative Cloud on a subscription basis for access to Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Lightroom, InDesign and Premier. You’ll need some kind of editing software, especially if you have a food blog and I’d recommend at least getting Adobe Lightroom for photo editing.
I use Adobe Illustrator to make graphics, Adobe Premier to edit video, Adobe InDesign to create any multi-page PDFs and I use Photoshop and Lightroom to edit images.
If you’re not ready to invest in Adobe Create Suite or learn how to use the software, Picmonkey is an easy to use, inexpensive solution to learning software like Photoshop and Illustrator.
Here are all the affiliate programs I am a member of. Affiliate marketing is another way you an earn an income from your blog. Using affiliate links means that you’ll receive a commission when someone makes a purchase though a link on your site. For example, some of the courses on this page contain affiliate links so that I get a percentage of the sale if you sign up. For me, the most important think about using is affiliates is only linking to products you actually stand behind, have used and would naturally recommend.
ShareASale: I use ShareASale for specific affiliate programs such as the course from Minimalist Baker, the hosting from WP Engine and themes from StudioPress. Commission rates vary program to program and you have to apply for each affiliate program you’d like to be apart of. It’s easy to use though and they have a huge selection of affiliate programs you can join.
Amazon Associates: Amazon Affiliates is probably the most common and biggest affiliate program available. I love using it because Amazon carries pretty much everything I’d ever recommend. Commissions are quite low so volume is important but it’s very easy to use and they have a ton of programs and tools to help you succeed.
VigLink: I haven’t been very successful with VigLink but I have it installed either way. If you link to products without using affiliate links, VigLink finds any applicable affiliate programs so you don’t miss out on potential commissions.
Below is a complete list of all the WordPress plugins I currently use. You’ll need at least a couple basics and from there it will depend on your blog and strategies. A couple of areas to focus on are social sharing, caching and a spam filter. To improve site speed and keep your site functioning optimally, I would recommend keeping your plugins to no more than 20 and deactivating and removing any that you’re not currently using.
Some of these plugins are specific to the Genesis and if you’re looking for a solid, well-developed, highly customizable theme, I would highly recommending going with the Genesis framework. I use Genesis with the Foodie Pro 2.0 child theme.
- Akismet Anti-Spam. Must-have for filtering out spam comments. Free.
- Social Warfare.I use the premium version of Social Warfare for my social sharing plugin and I love it. Yearly subscription.
- Tasty Recipes. I use Tasty Recipes for my recipe plugin and I highly recommend it. One time purchase.
- Tiny MCE Advanced. This allows advanced features in the WordPress editor. Not required by any means but I find it helpful. Free.
- Vaultpress. I use Vaultpress for backing up my entire site from content to plugins. Realtime backup and automated security scanning. Yearly subscription.
- WP Rocket. You’ll need some kind of caching plugin for your site. This is the one that I use and I’ve been very happy with it. One time purchase.
- WP Smush. I love this plugin from WPMU Dev to optimize and compress images. I use the free version buy they also have a premium version.
- Yoast SEO. Best plugin ever. I absolutely love Yoast for keeping my SEO at it’s best. A must-have. They have free and premium versions. I use the premium one.
- Genesis Specific Plugins. These are the plugins Genesis recommends installing if you use their framework :
- Genesis Simple Edits. Lets you edit the three most commonly modified areas in any Genesis theme: the post-info, the post-meta, and the footer area.
- Genesis Connect for WooCommerce. If you plan to have a shop on your site.
- Genesis Enews Extended. Lets you add subscribe widgets to various areas.
- Genesis Widgetized Footer. Use widgets to customize your Footer area (a.k.a ‘Return to Top’ plus ‘Copyright/Credits’) in Genesis Framework and Child Themes.