Blogging Gear: Our shop page has a number of products that make blogging easier. Your website exists online, but you’ll still need a few things on your desk.
WordPress.org: WordPress is a powerful and free blogging platform that allows you to create your own website or blog that can do pretty much anything. There is a bit of a learning curve, but there are literally thousands of plugins, services and resources that either educate you or do large parts of the job for you. Their support pages are exceptional, and there is an entire community of bloggers who’s advice and experience are google search away.
ThemeForest: We sometimes get compliments on the appearance of our blog. But honestly, the appearance is the easy part (the hard part is and always will be creating content)! Like most bloggers, we purchased a theme for jakeanddannie.com. Themes give your blog a general aesthetic and built in functionalities that would otherwise take hundreds of hours (and years of practice) to produce on your own. A great place to shop from a selection of may beautiful themes is Theme Forest. You can choose themes that are for general purpose websites, stores, news sites or personal blogs. They even get very specific for people who specialize in travel, food, fashion or whatever. We have used this site for most of our themes in the past, but our current them is from Creative Market (see below).
Creative Market: Creative market is a place where you can get all kinds of products, ranging from WordPress themes to plugins to templates and graphics. It’s a lot like Theme Forest, but it’s more community based. That being said, Theme Forest does have better built in support structures. Our current theme Grazie by Herpark Studios was purchased from Creative Market.
Siteground: Siteground is where we are currently hosting our website. A hosting site is basically where all the information (images, databases, and other content) are stored. Siteground is fast and reliable, and we recently upgraded to their GoGreek service so that we could use their built in staging service when we wanted safely to upgrade our site without downtime. They provide a lot of helpful services like WordPress setup and they give you the option of registering your site with them as well - though we don’t recommend putting all your eggs in one basket. Their customer support is excellent.
Cloudflare: Cloudflare is our DNS (Domain Name System) service. A DNS is like the phone book for the internet. When someone requests your website, the DNS is what points their computer in the right direction. Cloudflare is fast and reliable, and they can deliver your content anywhere in the world. Their customer support is helpful and knowledgable, but a live chat or phone option would be nice.
Google Domains: Google Domains is where we registered our domain name. In other words, this is where we called dibs on the name jakeanddannie.com.
Amazon Web Services: We use AWS to host our images. We could host them with Siteground where the rest of our blog is hosted, but we firmly believe that we should not keep all of our eggs in one basket. We have so many images and they are so central to our blog, that we wanted to keep them separate from everything else. If we ever screw up our blog somehow, we know our images are safely stored elsewhere. This service is very inexpensive, and we are currently hosting thousands over images for less than $2 a month.
Google Analytics: Google analytics is the a free service that allows you to track how your site is being used. To give you a taste of how powerful this tool is, here is an incomplete list of some of the types of data Google Analytics provides:
- How many viewers visit your site in any given time frame, and how that compares to other time frames.
- What specific pages those viewers saw, and how long they stayed on each page.
- How those viewers found your site.
- Demographics on your viewers, like location, age, gender, and interests.
- Real time usage information.
It also allows you to set up campaigns and events to track your own progress and see whether changes you make to your site are having the desired effects. And to those of you who worry about privacy, don’t worry, Google Analytics isn’t giving me any personal information about specific users, just general information about users of the site as a larger group.
Google Search Console: Search Console is another free service provided by Google. This one allows you to see how people are using Google searches to find your site. You can use it to find out which pages are showing up in search results, what searches are leading to your pages, and how far people have to scroll down to see you. It also gives you resources to help you learn what google knows about you so that you can better alert them to your content by optimizing your site and submitting site maps to Google. This tool is so valuable because Google searches are the very best way to find new readers who are actually interested in your content. And the more readers you have, the better you will do in future searches – it’s a glorious positive feedback loop!
Google Adsense: Google Adsense allows you to put banner and text ads on your site that can earn you a little money when somebody clicks on them. There are more profitable ad networks out there that you can join if you have enough traffic, but the simplicity and openness of Adsense make it a popular starting point for people who want to get started monetizing their blog.
Google Trends: Yet another free service from Google. While the Search Console let’s you figure out which searches are leading to your site, Google Trends tells you what people are searching for whether they find you or not. If you are trying to find a particular kind of reader, it helps to figure out whether potential travelers are searching for “travel destinations” or “vacation spots.” The more general a search term (i.e. “Paris”), the more people are probably searching for it, but the more specific a search term, the easier it is for your page to show up in the results (i.e.” Paris in October with a baby” where we sometimes show up in the top 10).
ExpressVPN: A virtual private network (VPN) creates a secure communication between two devices. You don’t need to know exactly why or how it works, to understand some of the benefits. With a VPN all of your online communications are communications are encrypted so you don’t have to worry about surveillance or identity theft while you are visiting sensitive websites. A VPN also hides your IP address and location so that 1) you are untrackable and 2) you can access content that is only available in certain locations, no matter where you are. This is especially helpful now that we are in China where all Google products (Google Maps, Gmail, Youtube, etc) are blocked, along with Instagram and its parent company, Facebook. At $8.32 a month, this service is invaluable. We have written an in-depth review of Express VPN.