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Essential Tools for The Savvy Blogger

As a blog publisher you have to balance three activities: 1) Research, 2) Writing and 3) Promotion.

While all of this can be done with one tool, the WordPress software platform, I’ve found that 3rd party tools, websites, and plugins make this process much easier.

Over the last three years, I’ve tested a variety of tools.  My goal has been to find tools that act as “force multipliers”, enabling me to do more in less time.  Together these tools help me to publish daily while keeping my editorial calendar full of great post ideas.

Here are my top picks:

Blog Research and Curation

Google Reader
I track about 50 blogs on a daily basis.  Google Reader pulls in the RSS feeds from these blogs and offers a simple way to cruise through dozens of headlines in about 30 minutes.  Firefox, Chrome, and Safari browsers all offer “bookmarklets” that will quickly subscribe you to a blog’s RSS feed and add the blog’s RSS feed to the Google Reader.

Reeder takes feeds from Google Reader and transforms them into an easy to read format.  Reader makes it easy to “favorite” articles, import articles into Evernote, and other nifty tasks.  While I could read my feeds without Reeder, I’m hooked by the extra functionality and beautiful layout of the articles.  Unfortunately Reeder is only available on Apple devices, Mac, iPad, and iPhone.  However Feedly is a great alternative for PC and Android users.

IFTTT (If Then Then That)  
I’ve already written about IFTTT’s magical ability to handle simple online tasks.  It’s a powerful program with thousands of applications.  Specifically, I use IFTTT to take article’s I’ve favorited in Google Reader (or Reeder) and schedule a tweet in Buffer.   Instead of reading an article, copying it’s URL and manually scheduling in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, all I do is favorite the article. IFTTT takes care of the rest.   This simple task has saved countless hours.

I’ve also configured IFTTT to pull articles that I’ve tagged in Google Reader as “ideas” and copy them to an Evernote folder that contains all of my blog post ideas.  This way I can cruise through tons of headlines and never have to leave Reeder to save new ideas.  Cool right?

Buffer App
Buffer is a browser app that schedules your tweets.  Buffer is absolutely essential.   Since I do most of my reading at 10 or 11pm, I need Buffer to make sure that my “finds” get tweeted at a time when you are awake. I also schedule tweets to make sure that they go out when I am available to respond.

Monitoring and Analytics:

Chartbeat provides real-time reports on your blog’s activity.  I use Chartbeat to get a quick look at Pushing Social’s activity without needing to log-in to Google Analytics and navigate to the appropriate reports.  Although Google Analytics offers a real-time report, it doesn’t provide the same information that Chartbeat does.  I especially like Chartbeat’s ability to report how many people are reading or writing a comment on your blog.

Google Analytics
By now, you know that I believe that Google Analytics is essential.  It’s free, powerful, and accurate.   I use Google Analytics to find new blog topics, get more email subscribers, find new places to attract readers, and evaluate the strength of social platforms.  Setting up and interpreting your Google Analytics reports is a required skill for getting the maximum performance out of your blog.

Planning and Writing Blog Posts

Google Docs
I write all of my blog posts in Google Docs first and then transfer them to WordPress.  Although you can write posts directly in WordPress, it’s too easy to accidentally hit the publish button instead of “Save as Draft”.  Believe me I’ve done it.

Writing in Google Docs first also keeps a record of all my posts for later reference. I’ll review past posts to make sure that I’m not rehashing an old topic or to look for topics that I haven’t covered.  Google Docs also makes it easy to share blog posts and collaborate with colleagues if you are writing for a larger organization.

Editorial Calendar Plugin
This plugin offers a calendar that you can use to schedule future blog posts.  I use the Editorial calendar to “pressure myself” to write a post since it is already scheduled. The Editorial Calendar is also useful for scheduling posts from multiple writers.

Compfight is a website that makes it easy to search for creative commons, royalty-free, photos for your blog posts.  The site pulls images from Flickr and other image repositories.  This site has helped me save time by quickly finding photos that would take twice as long to uncover in Flickr.    The site also pulls in photos from paid stock photo sites just in case you have a specific photo in mind and budget to spend.

I use Scribe, Copybloggers SEO plugin,  to research keywords associated with my blog post.  I’ll incorporate the words I find in my post if they make sense.  I pay special attention to keywords that will work well in headlines and subheadlines since this positioning helps with search rankings.  Many times, Scribe has offered keywords that have helped some posts get top 10 rankings with almost zero work on my part.  I try not to obsess over SEO and Scribe is a great tool to help me focus on what’s important to consider and what I can ignore.

Blog Promotion and Social Sharing

Not only is Triberr an excellent way to find great articles from people I trust it is also a powerful blog promotion tool.  The service works by making it easy for like minded bloggers called Tribes to band-together and promote each other’s posts.

Over time the service has added great features to make sure great content rises to the top.  Granted Triberr isn’t suitable for everyone and at this point it’s user base is tech and social media heavy making it difficult to find tribes for some subjects.  However the service is powerful and should be on your list of tools to consider.

Digg Digg
The Digg Digg App places your social icons in high-profile positions on your blog.  You can use the plugin to put your share buttons under your headlines, in-line with your blog content, at the bottom of posts, or floating alongside posts.  Buffer recently bought DiggDigg making the plugin more powerful.

Optin Skin
ViperChill created this plugin to simplify the process of inserting email opt-in forms and other conversion elements on your blog.  With a few clicks you can add an email optin form to your sidebar or add a slick looking form at the end of your posts.  The plugin will also rotate graphics for split-testing!  I’m constantly finding new ways to use the plugin’s capabilities.

Nuts and Bolts

Web Synthesis Hosting
I used to skimp on hosting – not anymore.  My last hacking attack turned me into a security conscious, slightly paranoid, believer in battle-tested hosting.  I use Web Synthesis, Copyblogger Media’s hosting solution for my hosting and have been thrilled with the experience and service.

This hosting solution is affordable and reliable.  My site used to go down at least 2-3 times per week for various reasons.  Since I switched my site has never gone down and it serves up pages within 3-4 seconds much faster than the 10 seconds I was averaging on my last host.

SEO for WordPress
This plugin designed and maintained by Yoast, will quickly add the right information to make the search engines happy.  It’s easy to use and has some great features.  Like I said, SEO isn’t a big concern for me but SEO for WordPress handles many of the chores that I don’t want to fiddle with.

Premise is a landing page creation plugin.  Before Premise you had to buy an uber-expensive solution or hack WordPress’s backend code to create a landing page.  This meant that many blog landing pages looked horrible.  Premise offers a nice solution for creating great looking landing pages that works seamlessly with your current WordPress blog.

Easy Does It

I threw everything but the kitchen sink in this post!  Don’t get overwhelmed.  Review and incorporate each tool at your own speed.  In the meantime tell me about a blogging tool that you can’t live without.

About Stan

Stan Smith is the CEO of Pushing Social a content marketing consultancy for aggressive, results-focused organizations.

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