Whether you’ve just started your blog or you’ve been up and running for a while, it’s always fun to see what tools, services, and resources are out there to help make your blog even better than it already is.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m trying to become a career blogger, so I’m always searching for the next best thing that might help push my blog to the next level. Over the course of this journey, I’ve stumbled across many valuable tools and services that I depend on – all of which are outlined below. I hope you find them as useful as I have!
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Media Temple – Once Homemade Hooplah started to receive a decent amount of traffic I moved my site over to Media Temple (or MT for short). MT offers a Premium WordPress service, which means their support team will make sure your website runs as smooth and efficient as possible. If you’re serious about your blog, then MT is the way to go.
Photography & Editing
Nikon D3300 – I purchased this camera a week after I started this blog and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s performed. It’s an entry level DSLR with an easy interface. Every time I think I’ve reached it’s max capabilities I learn something new and my photos manage to get even better. It’s a great camera to hone your craft with.
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G – Many photographers will tell you that it’s not the camera that’s expensive, but the lenses. So once I was set on the Nikon D3300, I searched for a cost effective lens for up-close food photography. I took the advice of Photography Life on this lens and I’m so glad I did. It’s a steal for what it can do and it’s a great training tool.
PNY Elite Performance 16GB Flash Card – This particular memory card came as a free add on when I purchased my camera, but it’s served it’s purpose very well. I’ve never gone beyond using 25% of space, even after a few photo sessions in RAW format – and at 90MB/sec, there’s hardly a delay between pictures.
Lowel EGO Light Unit – Natural light is ideal for photography, but depending on the time of day (or weather!) you might find it in short supply. This unit is the community favorite for creating artificial light, and it’s easy to see why: it has a clean, white light that can fill up a space. I photograph all my recipes with artificial lights like this one.
Square Perfect Platinum Photo Studio – If there’s ever a situation where my Lowel EGO light won’t do the job, I reach for one (or both!) of these tripod lights. I also love that the kit comes with a large diffuser tent with multiple backdrops to choose from. It’s perfect for creating moody dessert photos or adding extra light to a dark set.
Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan – Adobe has made it so you can have two of their two most powerful editing tools for (Photoshop + Lightroom) for a small monthly subscription fee. I’d be lost without these. Even the most perfect shot can be fine tuned into something better.
Tasty Food Photography – If you’re running a food blog (or any blog that needs beautiful, high quality photos) this is the best ebook I’ve found to give you all the tips and tricks you need to help improve your photography. There are even step by step instructions for working in Photoshop and Lightroom.
StudioPress – If you were to take a tally of all the food blogs out there, many of them are currently using StudioPress (and their Genesis Framework specifically). The Foodie Pro Theme is also very popular. Overall, StudioPress is very user friendly and comes highly recommended by those who use it.
Headway Themes – If you’d like to have complete control over your blog design and would feel at home with a “drag and drop interface,” then Headway is the route to go. Beginners can use this theme to get around all the pesky website coding while coders can still enjoy the freedom of writing their own scripts within a user friendly interface. This is the theme I currently use.
Elegant Themes – Elegant Themes have a huge library of high quality designs. They are also the most cost effective option in this list. Definitely worth a look!
Thesis Themes – Thesis Themes is similar to Headway, with a drag and drop interface that allows you to create your own personal design. And like Headway, Thesis offers “skins” to help you get the exact look you’re after without any extra work.
WP Ultimate Recipe – If you’re running a food blog, I highly recommend getting a plugin to manage your recipes. WP Ultimate Recipe is the plugin I use and I absolutely love the linkable ingredients and how customizable everything is. Their support has also been fantastic (and very patient) with all of my inquiries.
Layered Popups – When you first came to this site, did you see a popup about subscribing to my newsletter? This is the plugin I used to create it with. You can use it for growing subscription lists, gaining social media followers, or just posting announcements to your visitors. The plugin includes 20+ premade templates and the ability to create your own popup from scratch.
UberMenu – When I did the big redesign of Homemade Hooplah in June 2015, I wanted a site navigation that was flashy yet simple. I also wanted a navigation menu that stuck to the top of the page as a way to encourage users to browse through other content. Ubermenu turned out to be the best solution for a versatile menu.
Related Posts Pro – At the bottom of each post is a list of other content from Homemade Hooplah that you might be interested in. This is the plugin I use to generate these lists. It comes with many preset themes and is also fully customizable.
Ad Inserter – I use this plugin to manage all of the ads on Homemade Hooplah. With it you can dictate when ads are displayed based on the visitors device (desktop, tablet, mobile), sort by what page they’re currently viewing (post, archives, homepage, etc), and specify where the ad is inserted (before content, after content, after specific paragraphs, to a widget, to php, etc). This plugin has been a huge help in monetizing my mobile audience. For example, some of my ads are set to display only when a visitor is viewing a post on a mobile device, and the ad will be inserted after every two paragraphs of post content.
Featured Images in RSS w/ Size and Position – If you want to reach more readers with feed-based services like FeedBurner, Bloglovin, Feedly, or an RSS-based email campaign, you need to make sure your RSS is outputting all the important information – and for food blogs like mine, that means including the featured image. I noticed that my RSS feed was not doing this by default, so I use this pluging to ensure my RSS always includes the featured image.
Simple Image Sizes – A simple plugin that lets you create custom image sizes. Especially helpful if you want to use more than the 3 image sizes provided in WordPress’ default settings, such as creating a special image size for a RSS-based email campaign.
WP Memory Usage – A small plugin that will place a graphic representation on your Dashboard of how much php memory usage your site is using of the amount allowed. If you tend to run a lot of plugins, I highly recommend monitoring your php memory usage to ensure that you’re site is not needlessly suffering from a lack of resources. Note: this plugin only shows you the total memory usage and does not provide any breakdowns or reports. I’ve tried using other full-report plugins and they actually made my php memory problems worse. WP-Memory Usage was the only plugin that did what it said it would without harming my site.
WP Optimize – A housecleaning plugin that will remove old post revisions, comments marked as spam, and posts that have been marked as trash. Helpful if your web host as strict file size restrictions.
Redirection – Track and repair broken links with this simple plugin. It keeps a record of every 404 or 301 your visitors see and gives you the tools to create redirects to the correct posts.
Managing Social Media
Tailwind – Pinterest has become my highest source of traffic and I owe this entirely to Tailwind. Tailwind not only makes it so you can schedule your pins in advance but also provides you with valuable data about your Pinterest account, such as the best times to pin and just how well your boards are performing.
CoSchedule – Pinterest isn’t the only stream of social media you can tap into. There’s also Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, and even LinkedIn. I use CoSchedule to manage all of these services, and I love the fact that they have a plugin that works directly with WordPress. I can schedule new social media messages in a matter of minutes and get up-to-the-moment statics on how many likes and shares I’ve received.
TakeOff – Instagram is another great way to promote your blog, but they currently do not allow post scheduling on their service. This is where TakeOff comes in, as they allow you to compose messages in advance and then will notify you (via an alert on your phone) when it’s time to publish. TakeOff will also suggest tags you can use to help expand your reach.
How to Grow Your Food Blog With Pinterest eBook – This ebook would benefit any type of blog that is looking to ramp up their traffic from Pinterest. I’ll be honest: I bought the book thinking it would just be a checklist of everything I already knew, but turns out I had no idea how much potential I was missing out on. My Pinterest traffic significantly improved once I followed her steps.
Generating Income & Traffic
How to Monetize Your Food Blog – Want to make a little extra cash? Or are you looking to work from home? This ebook has everything you need and more. I’ve used many of their suggestions to increase the income that Homemade Hooplah brings in each month.
Food Blogger Pro – No matter what type of blog you’re running, the tutorials and forum on Food Blogger Pro are extremely helpful. I’m still an active member and browse the forums daily. Highly recommend checking it out!