WordPress is a phenomenal platform. There are tons of free plugins, themes, resources out there that will help you grow your blog. There are also tons of commercial (paid) plugins / services that will help you grow your blog as well. Now how do you know what you really need? The only way is from experience. I have been using WordPress since 2006 and learnt a lot from my experience. If you are really conservative when it comes to spending like myself, then you will find this list helpful. I have compiled a list of 7 commercial plugins or services that helped me grow my blog.
Note: This list is applicable for users with a self-hosted WordPress blog.
There are so many web hosting providers out there. Which one should you pick? I hosted with numerous web hosting companies until 2007 when I stumbled upon to a provider known as HostGator. Now I am very conservative (cheap) no matter how much money I make. I got 1 baby plan and put all of my sites on it. Turned out it wasn’t enough. Now, I wasn’t ready to upgrade. I bought 2 additional baby plans and spread my sites out. Remember, it says UNLIMITED bandwidth and space. Well, it is for unlimited if you are small, but if your sites take a lot of server load, then they force you to upgrade. I kept my hosting bill low for as long as possible. Then when they told me, I had too many sites on my baby plans, I finally moved to their reseller hosting (a mid level shared hosting). Now instead of having 3 baby plans, I had one reseller account with all sites hosted in there. Once I start seeing higher traffic, I moved up to a VPS. Now, we are running a Dedicated Server that powers my blogs. Its about 5 years since I have been using this company and I haven’t been disappointed yet. Best part about my experience was that all the times I upgraded, I didn’t see huge down times. There was almost no work involved on my part. Their support is very very helpful and prompt. I have used the live chat and phone both. Although, now I usually stick with phone for expedited requests. I find that everyone finds live chat to be convenient, so they all use it. This makes the phone support a lot faster.
Now people try to accuse me of up selling HostGator because they offer great affiliate commission. But the truth is, I have been recommending HostGator since day 1. The reason why it is my first recommendation is because I USE them. WPBeginner and List25 both runs on HostGator.
I was even able to convince my friend and famous blogger, John Chow, to switch over when he started having issues with his host. He really loves the support and quality of the hosting.
I have some HostGator Coupons if you plan on signing up.
Summary: Pick a provider that can help you scale. If I had chosen another hosting company that only offers shared hosting and nothing more. Then I would have to switch companies. I like to work with the same group of people if I can (trust issues). There are higher-end managed solutions out there, but they limit you to 1 domain or xx,xxx pageviews / month. Its definitely not something that a new blogger can afford.
Backups are one thing that every blogger/webmaster should have. If you are updating your site daily, then you should have daily backups. If your site is really huge and get a lot of comments then you should consider having backups few times a day. Now, I am NOT saying that something bad will happen. I’m saying it CAN happen. I have always been anal about protecting our data and keeping backups just in case if anything happens. For all, I can accidentally wipe out things (yup, I have done this before – This is how I learned). For a good while, I always relied on keeping everything on my computer as organized as possible. The only thing I used was WP-DB Backup. Its a free solution, it backs up my database and sends it to a Gmail account. I have all the files in my computer (nothing can go wrong). You are DEAD WRONG. How about a hard drive failure? Yeah, again thankfully when my hard drive failed my site was fully functional. I quickly jumped on the boat with BackupBuddy which backs up my entire site in cloud (here is a tutorial for BackupBuddy). That was working fine, but the down side was we were only making one backup a day (Note: you can make multiple backups a day as pointed out in the comment by one of our users). Making one backup per day could be a problem if you have multiple authors simultaneously working on different posts every day. Losing all of their hard work wastes time on our end. I finally decided to join the VaultPress revolution. Started by Matt Mullenweg (WordPress co-founder) and his team (Automattic), I knew I could trust these guys. Running VaultPress has given me a peace of mind because I know that my blog is backed up real-time and it is SAFE. Not to mention, it is totally hassle free. All you have to do is put your API Key and let the magic happen. To give you an example look at the activity screenshot from when I was writing this post:
Yup 8 seconds ago. So every single word that I write here is being backed up in a cloud server. If I ever need to fix something, I have my full-site backups there (plugins, images, database, etc).
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
When my blogs started to get a lot of traffic, it increased server load thus slowed the sites down a bit. Slow sites effect your Search Engine Ranking, and is bad for user experience. Very timely, I was approached by the sales team at MaxCDN. It was like just another sales pitch, but for some reason it had a personal touch to it. I did my research on what is a CDN. There were bunch of techy geek talk out there that I didn’t understand. So I decided to call their team. They explained things to me, and we got off to a great start. Ever since I implemented MaxCDN, I haven’t looked back. My sites are faster, and it keeps our server load low. For those who are wondering What is a CDN and Why you need it, then check out the infographic that I created.
I have been using this service for a while now, and I can tell you first hand these guys are amazing. I have met the company’s President (Chris Ueland), VP of Marketing (David Henzel) and other team members. They have become great friends (outside work). I know that I am in good hands.
If you use the coupon “wpbeginner” then you will save $10. My advice would be to spend $30 after coupon discount for 1TB of bandwidth. You will automatically see a difference in load time. If you are a smaller site, then the 1TB can even last you for a year. Except your site will be a lot FASTER.
Every blog needs a contact form. Some needs more advanced forms (such as lead generation form, client forms etc). For the longest time, I used plugins like cFormsII or Contact Form 7 (both free). They were very hard to maintain and setup. Luckily, while surfing twitter, I started seeing recommendations of this plugin called Gravity Forms. I asked around and then purchased the developers license. I can tell you that this plugin has saved me so much time and money that its unbelievable. Not only did I use it to create simple Contact forms, but I used it to create advanced lead generation forms. Heck, recently I used it to create a donate form for a non-profit organization.
If you have been blogging for more than a few months, then you have already heard that the money is in the list. Everyone is trying to build huge email lists and send out newsletter (What, Why, and How-To’s of an Email Newsletter). I have used both Aweber and MailChimp (two leading providers). Recently, I find myself recommending MailChimp more and more for new users. Reason is simple. They are offering FREE account for up to 2,000 subscribers. Again, if you are cost-conservative or on a low budget, you want to get the maximum benefit. So you can get a free MailChimp account and start paying once you hit 2,000 subscribers (hopefully you will be making the money to afford it by then). MailChimp is a bit more stricter than Aweber in terms of unsubscribe rate. So if you have like 100 subscribers and 2 people unsubscribed, they will send you a warning because you have over 1% unsubscribe rate.
Most bloggers monetize with banner ads of some sort. In 2008, I ended up purchasing an ad management plugin called OIO Publisher. I have been using it since then to manage ads on my blogs. It lets people purchase ads directly through your site, pay via PayPal or other options, then it verifies if the payment came through. If it did, then it gives you the option to approve it or reject it. If you approve it, it will then display ads on your site. Depending on the expiration date, it expires the ad automatically. If the advertiser has a recurring subscription with you, then it makes sure that the payment was received. If it isn’t, then it informs you about it and take the ads off. To be honest, it is a very smart platform. Now it can even sell ads by eCPM. If you want to eliminate middle-man and simply sell ads, then I highly recommend getting OIO Publisher. I paid for it once, and I have gotten over 500x return already.
People ask me all the time about what I use for the lightbox popups, or the footer bar plugins etc. The answer to that is OptinMonster. I created this plugin because all the other ones in the market were slow, buggy, and had terrible support. OptinMonster is a gem for marketers. If you are looking to build or grow your email list, then this is a must have plugin. Checkout my case study on how I used OptinMonster to increase my email subscribers by 600%. Here is a link for a OptinMonster Coupon if you decide to buy it.
All of the plugins or services I have mentioned above has helped me grow my blog. I am currently using all of the products mentioned above, and I love them. There are affiliate links in the article, so if you buy anything, I will get a commission. However, my recommendations would not change even if there was no commission involved. You can ask anyone who has met me in person, and I have recommended the same products (when there is no link to click). What are your thoughts about the products above? Would love to see a discussion going.