As a webmaster, you’re going to need a variety of different tools to register domains, build and host websites, research new content and accomplish a multitude of other tasks you may not have even imagined yet. In the time since I’ve become a full-time online entrepreneur, I’ve found that there are certain tools and resources on which I constantly depend. On this page, I’d like to present a list of the essential resources I use almost every day. Many of these webmaster resources are completely free, as I am extremely averse to paying for tools when high-quality free alternatives are available. The resources that aren’t free are ones I use myself and have had great experiences with.
BigRock: BigRock is the only registrar I use. Their prices are extremely reasonable — $11.99 per year for .com domains at the time of writing — but my primary reason for using BigRock is the fact that privacy protection is included free with every domain registration. Other registrars charge a yearly fee for privacy protection, which greatly inflates registration costs.
HostGator: Of the three Web hosts I use, HostGator is my favorite. Their business hosting plan — which includes unlimited everything — costs just $11.96 per month at the time of writing, and unlike with other hosts, you don’t have to pay for a year in advance to get this price. If you do want to pay in advance, lower prices are also available. HostGator uses cPanel, which is pretty much the industry standard for hosting front-ends, and in my experience I’ve found the performance to be superior to that of BlueHost and 1and1. Use the coupon code theaffluentblogger when signing up for 25% off.
Bluehost: In some situations, you may find it valuable to have hosting accounts on multiple services. Of the services I’ve used, Bluehost is my second favorite. I’ve used Bluehost’s standard package, which starts at $6.95 per month. You need to pay for the first year in advance, though — you can’t pay as you go. You can drop the cost to $5.95 or $4.95 per month by paying for two or three years in advance. Bluehost also uses cPanel, which is a plus. I’ve found Bluehost to be slightly slower than HostGator, but I haven’t tried their $19.95 per month “Pro” plan, which includes “More CPU, memory and resources.” In my opinion, that’s a little too non-specific to justify the price hike.
1and1: Of the three hosts I’ve used, 1and1 is my least favorite, at least as far as WordPress hosting is concerned. While I find the performance slightly superior to that of Bluehost, I dislike the fact that the only way to get full administrative control over a WordPress website on 1and1 is to install WordPress manually. If you use the automatic installation feature, you can’t customize or update WordPress at all. The 1and1 unlimited plan starts at a very reasonable $3.49 for the first 12 months.
Elegant Themes: Elegant Themes offers nearly 80 themes at the time of writing for $39.00 per year. I can’t say enough good things about this company; for one price, you get access to themes for just about every type of website, fast forum-based technical support, frequent product updates and a license to use the themes on as many websites as you like. If you cancel, you keep the themes — you just don’t get updates or support anymore. I use Elegant Themes on almost all of my websites, including this one.
Themeforest: A couple of times, I have been unable to find exactly the WordPress theme I was looking for on Elegant Themes. In these instances, I bought themes from Themeforest instead. Some of the themes on Themeforest are truly spectacular, but they can also be a bit pricey; themes tend to average around $30-40 each. Also, when you buy a theme, you can only use it on one website. So, while Elegant Themes is definitely more economical, Themeforest is worth checking if you can’t find what you’re looking for.
ShareASale: If you want to try your hand at promoting many different affiliate programs, you’ll quickly learn the value of using affiliate networks that allow you to manage all of your campaigns in one place. ShareASale is by far my favorite affiliate network because the interface is far simpler than those of Commission Junction and LinkShare for affiliates who own multiple websites. On ShareASale, you simply need to add your websites to a list; you can then grab an affiliate link, use it anywhere you like and track your earnings on one page. Commission Junction forces you to choose your website on a drop-down every time you create a link. LinkShare is even more difficult; you have to sign up for the same affiliate program multiple times to promote it on more than one website, and earnings for each website are displayed on separate screens.
WordPress SEO by Yoast: This free plugin makes it easy to handle a lot of common SEO problems with WordPress such as the potential duplicate content issue that can result from having several similar archives and navigation systems. WordPress SEO also makes it easy to optimize your WordPress posts for maximum search engine visibility.
Locker: Inexpensive but valuable, Locker by Code Garage is a service that backs up your WordPress website daily starting at $10 per month. If you have a problem, you can restore your website from any backup made in the last 30 days. Locker also monitors your website for any sign that it has been hacked and assists with the cleanup process if needed.
Copyscape: If you read Web content voraciously, you never know when you might inadvertently re-use words you found elsewhere. I run most of my posts through Copyscape before publishing them to make sure this doesn’t happen. Copyscape is also a useful tool if you write about the same topic on multiple websites, as it helps you from accidentally plagiarizing yourself. It can also be valuable to run your most popular content through the tool occasionally; it can help you track down people who are stealing your content — even when they change a few words to make the theft less obvious.
Google Analytics: Google Analytics is free, and it’s probably the gold standard for tracking website performance. Find out how many people visit your website, where they come from, what pages they view and more.
Clicky: If you don’t want to share everything with the big G, Clicky is a good alternative that starts at $4.99 per month or $39.99 per year. Until recently, Clicky’s big selling point was the fact that it allowed you to see data in real time. However, Google Analytics has since added the same feature. Clicky also has a cool “Big Screen” feature that displays a website’s real time traffic information on a single screen designed to be displayed on a television or second monitor.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool: Keyword research is such an important part of the content creation process and there’s no better source than the search engine most people use. The GAKT allows you to test variations of an article title to find the term most people use, find out which keywords you should target first when starting a new website and so much more.
Textalyser: I use this tool less these days because many of its features are built in to the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. If you don’t use the plugin, though, Textalyser does a great job of analyzing a block of text to provide details such as how easy an article is to read and what keywords and phrases appear most often.
SEO SpyGlass: SEO SpyGlass is my favorite tool for checking backlinks to one of my websites or a competitor’s website. Although it is a commercial tool, the only major functional difference between the free and commercial versions is the fact that the free version doesn’t allow you to save open projects. Most frequently, I use SEO SpyGlass to see where my competitors are getting their backlinks from. SEO SpyGlass also scans links for other important details such as anchor text, the PageRank of the linking domain, whether links have the nofollow tag and so on.
FileZilla: At some point, you’ll almost certainly need to interact directly with your server to upload, download or modify files. Most hosting companies provide Web interfaces for this, but I find FTP clients much simpler and faster. FileZilla is free and open-source.
Paint.net: I’m no graphic artist, but I end up needing to perform basic image editing almost every day. Paint.net is a great, free solution for performing basic tasks such as cropping and re-sizing images. It loads instantly and has a simple, understandable interface.
Adobe Photoshop Elements: If you occasionally need to edit images in Photoshop’s native PSD format, Photoshop Elements is the cheapest way to do so. Photoshop Elements also has a few photo manipulation features that Paint.net lacks. One of the features I use most frequently is the arbitrary rotation tool, which allows me to rotate an image any number of degrees; the rotation tool in Paint.net works in 90-degree increments only.
Microsoft OneNote: This is hands-down the best organizational tool I have ever used. I use it to record my passwords, manage my affiliate relationships with merchants, clip interesting items I find online, take notes when I get ideas for future content and so much more. Everything that you enter is indexed for fast searching, and the layout makes perfect sense.
Apple Safari: Safari isn’t my favorite Web browser, but I always have it on my computer because its developer mode allows me to easily see what my websites looks like on the iPhone or iPad. Up to 20 percent of my websites’ visitors use mobile devices and I want to make sure they have the best possible experience.
Notepad++: Another great free tool, Notepad++ is essential if you ever edit your website’s PHP or CSS code manually — which is something I can almost guarantee you’ll do eventually. Microsoft’s Notepad is one of my favorite Windows tools, and I resisted using anything new for a long time because I loved its simplicity. The thing I noticed, though, is that sometimes Notepad doesn’t preserve line breaks when you edit code. Sometimes you’ll edit a PHP file in Notepad and upload it back to your server only to find that your website no longer works because all of the line breaks have been stripped from the file. Notepad++ never does this.
SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog: This is probably the SEO website I read most frequently. It’s one of the best sources for current events and SEO advice.
Yoast: I have an inherent distrust of anyone who claims to be an SEO expert, but Joost de Valk is someone whose opinions I tend to trust as he is the coder behind some of the most useful WordPress plugins I’ve ever used.
Self Promotion: When you aren’t reading updates from today’s young SEO experts, take a little time to peruse the advice of a person who’s been around since it all began. Robert Woodhead is a computer hero from way back, being the co-creator of the classic “Wizardry” series. If you want to learn the basic fundamentals of SEO, I know of no better place.
Matt Cutts: If you want to know how Google feels about a particular SEO technique, why not check with a Google employee? Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s webspam team and he pulls no punches when discussing techniques Google doesn’t want to see.
Traffic Generation Cafe: While it’s certainly valuable to read the advice and musings of industry experts, I also want to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening with “ordinary” online professionals like myself . Traffic Generation Cafe has a friendly, readable writing style that I really like and its author does a great job of building trust with her readers.
AdSense Flippers: It’s been a trend among online professionals recently to post earnings summaries each month. I’m not positive, but I think that AdSense Flippers may have started this trend. Between the earnings reports, AdSense Flippers describes an interesting strategy for starting websites, monetizing them with AdSense and selling them at a healthy profit. It’s easy to fake an earnings report, so whenever you see one on any website you need to take it with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, AdSense Flippers has attracted a great deal of attention in very little time. This website may be a great motivational tool allowing you to watch the success of two people who came up from almost nothing, or it may be a great case study in making a website go viral. Either way, you’ll learn something.