I often get asked what kinds of blogging resources, tools and plugins I use to support my blog. While I’m still learning, I’ve found these products and services to be helpful to me as I continue to grow and improve.
Recommended Blogging Resources
Below I’ve included everything I’m currently using to everything I’ve used in the past to help me learn and grow as a blogger. You’ll find the best blogging books and e-courses, to where to find free stock photos, what WordPress theme I’m using, where to read about blogging, to what plugins I use, what I use to manage social media and so much more. I hope you find this helpful! If you have any must-have blogging tools that you love, please let me know about them in the comment section at the bottom of the post.
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 Books and E-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.
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!
I’m currently working through this step-by-step book by Darren Rowse at ProBlogger. So far, it’s really helped me figure out where to focus my 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.
Email and Website Needs
1. Self-Hosting your Blog
Yes, you can host your blog for free with any number of services such as Wix or WordPress.org however, I’d strongly suggest self-hosting your site from the beginning. Self-hosting means you pay a company to host your website online. There are hundreds of hosting providers and you’ll have to do a bit of research as to what is going to work best for you.
I hosted my site with three other providers before moving to Orange Geek and transferring your site is a pain so if you plan on growing, might as well get started with plenty of room to grow.
Getting started is inexpensive. You should be able to get your first couple of years for just a few dollars per month however as your site grows, you’ll need to pay a bit more. Here are some hosting options I recommend:
- OrangeGeek. I’m currently hosted with OrangeGeek and have no complaints. They’re very inexpensive for the service they provide.
- Dreamhost. I was hosted with Dreamhost a few hears back and they’re a good option when you’re getting started.
- Big Scoots. When I switched to Orange Geek, Big Scoots was the other contender. Ulimately it came down to cost but I’ve heard nothing but good things about Big Scoots.
- WP Engine. I was hosted with WP Engine for a number of years and have nothing bad to say. I never had my site go down, site performance was amazing and their customer service was fantastic. WP Engine costs a bit more than some of the cheaper hosting options out there but you can still get started for about $25 a month, which is fantastic for what they provide. If you plan on taking blogging seriously and building a business out of it, I would recommend starting off with a great hosting provider such as WP Engine. WP Engine also takes care of CDN, their service is fast, secure, reliable and scalable and you can get started on a month-to-month plan with no sign up fees.
- Bluehost. If you’re looking for a very inexpensive host, you can start with Bluehost for just a few dollars a month. Bluehost has free domain registration and is a very affordable solution to hosting. Starting your blog is simple, just visit my page “How to Start a Blog in 3 Simple Steps” and you can easily get starting using Bluehost.
2. Email Service Providers
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. Plus, you own your email list as opposed to your social media followers which can disappear at any time.
You’ll need to do a bit of research as to what your needs will be when it comes to email. Consider cost, automation needs and integrations. I’d recommend the following service providers:
- Mailchimp. MailChimp is a popular marketing solution to help you manage your contacts, send emails and build your email list. It’s really easy to use with templates to help design your emails and sign-up forms, plus it’s free up to 2000 subscribers so it’s great for getting started.
- Convertkit. Convertkit is more powerful than Mailchimp and offers some pretty cool automation tools.
- ActiveCampaign. Another option to Mailchimp and Convertkit.
- SendinBlue. Another great option with lower fees than the other providers much many of the same tools. I haven’t used it but I’ve heard good things.
Some other popular ones are Mailerlite and MadMimi but I haven’t looked into them much.
The Genesis Framework for WordPress is a powerful and popular theme that allows you to quickly and easily build your blog in WordPress. I used the Genesis Framework with the Foodie Pro child theme listed below for years before switching to a custom site and I’d recommend them both.
With the Genesis theme, you’ll want to purchase one of the child themes that go along with it. You can get both for around $80-100.
The Foodie Child Theme works with the Genesis Framework as listed above. This is the theme that Running on Real Food is currently running on. 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.
The Thesis Theme is a great option, especially for those that don’t know any code but wants lots of control over the design of their blog. It comes with essential SEO tools for improving your Google ranking, a highly customizable design and a number of other tools. They also have great support and a forum where you can get all your questions answered. Purchase the Thesis theme here.
If you’re a food blogger, you’ll need a good recipe plugin for WordPress. I can’t say enough good things from Tasty Recipes, A Powerful Recipe Plugin for WordPress Blogs . It’s worth every penny and you know you there’s a great team behind it than can help you with any issues you might have.
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 are everything I use to help me manage social media, grow my community and increase traffic back to my website.
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.
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.
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.
A handy bookmarking tool that works across your desktop and mobile device. I use it for keeping tracking of links and articles I want to read again later, refer back to or share. Free and premium option available.
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.
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.
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.
I do all my content planning and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram scheduling through CoSchedule. I love how it integrates with WordPress.
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 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 or by clicking the banner and try it for free.
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.
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.
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 is 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 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 is a free keyword research tool you can use to find keywords to focus on.
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.
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.
- Todoist. I use Todoist for everyday to-do reminders. I use a planner for my big to-dos and goals but I like Todoist for noting smaller to-dos on-the-go.
- 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.
- Top 25 Blogs About Blogging
- My Top 33 Digital Marketing Blogs
- 20 Social Media Marketing Blogs You Should Read
Best Blogging Podcasts
I try to listen to at least 3 podcasts episodes per week for education, inspiration and personal development. You can find my list of favourite podcasts here. I would highly suggest you get in at least one episode per week. You can also check out my list of the best self-development books to keep you curious, engaged and inspired!
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.
Photo Editing and Graphic Design Software
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. Since I have a background in graphic design, 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.
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.
There are plenty of others, such as CJ Affiliate, Clickbank and Rakuten. I mainly use Amazon and while the commissions are quite low, they do increase as the number of items you sell goes up, so it can really add up. Affiliate marking has never been a big focus for me and I’m not an expert on it. Some bloggers are extremely successful with affiliate marketing so it really depends on the type of blog you have an how big of focus affiliate sales will be for you.
There are plenty of online affiliate courses such as Wealthy Affiliate and Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing that can help you get started but I haven’t taken any of them so I can’t make any recommendations on which one to take.
Free Blogging Workbooks
- Create a Style Guide for Your Blog – Do this early on and develop consistent branding throughout your site. This is very important and this FREE workout helps you get everything sorted out and in one place so you can refer back to it.
- Create a Blog Business Plan – If you’re really serious about growing your blog into a business, I would recommend this on this business plan workbook from By Regina. There are so many facets to consider and this really helps you focus so you can make money, grow your blog and enhance your plan.
- Daily, Weekly and Monthly Blogging Checklist – It can be hard to stay focused and productive when you’re working on your blog. Using some sort of checklist like this one really helps you stay on track, make the most of your time and ensures you don’t forget any important daily or weekly tasks.
WordPress Plugins I Use
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.
- Eggplant 301 Redirects. I use this for creating redirects when I update old posts to new URLs. I’ve been working through my old content to improve SEO and a lot of times that includes changing the URL of old posts. If you change a permalink, make sure you’re using a redirect of some sort to redirect the old URL to the new one. Free.
- Featured Images in RSS. I use this plugin to adjust how my images look when they push out to an RSS feed and into the emails I send out. Free.
- Related Posts. I use this post to add a Related Reading section to the bottom of each post.
- Simple Social Icons. This is the plugin Genesis recommends for adding social media icons to your sidebar, header, footer etc. 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.
- WordPress Editorial Calendar. I’ve use a paper calendar for planning content in the past but I really like this plugin for it’s drag and drop feature and ability to schedule all my content from with the plugin. Free. (I do love this plug-in but I’m currently using CoSchedule and Trello for all my content planning.)
- 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.
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