29 Essential Blogging Tools for 2020 (And a Few You Shouldn’t Use)

You don’t need hundreds of fancy blogging tools to make it as a blogger.

I have been blogging for 10 years, tried hundreds of tools and always end up using the same ones.

They are not necessarily the most advanced and cutting-edge tools. In fact, some of these tools are incredibly simple.

Yet, these are the tools that help me grow my blogs. Because the truth is, simple tools are often the best tools because they reduce overwhelm and helps you focus on what matters.

Here are some of my favorite blogging tools, and a few tools I recommend avoiding because they are unnecessary or downright shady (Disqus, for example.)

Oh and there are no affiliate links on this page (and on Grow With Less in general.) I recommend these blog tools because I truly believe they are the best.

Basic blogging tools you can’t blog without

A good hosting provider

Your hosting provider can make or break your blog.

A good hosting provider will keep you and your visitors safe, load your pages quickly and regularly back up your blog.

A bad hosting provider will take days to answer your cries for help, load pages slowly and abandon you and your blog at the first sign of trouble.

That’s why a good hosting provider is an essential blogging tool.

I recommend avoiding hosting providers recommended by affiliate marketers (BlueHost, HostGator..) because they are slow and unreliable.

Instead, go with a reputable hosting provider such as SiteDistrict or SiteGround.

JohnnyVPS is a high-end hosting provider that will configure and maintain a VPS for you. Their performance is amazing and their service is much cheaper than managed hosting providers like Kinsta but you need to have some basic hosting knowledge This is my hosting provider of choice and I use it for both Grow With Less and French Together.

Siteground is more affordable and offers great performance and support for the price. It’s a good choice for your first year of blogging but gets a lot more expensive after the first year so I would still recommend SiteDistrict if you can afford it.

A backup tool

ManageWP backup tool

A few months ago, I read the story of a blogger who woke up to find her blog gone.

Her hosting provider had been hacked and all websites and backups deleted.

She lost all her hard work overnight because she had chosen a bad hosting provider and didn’t have an alternative backup.

That’s why I recommend having multiple backups and not relying solely on your hosting provider’s backups. Even the best hosting providers get hacked or make mistakes.

In addition to the backups provided by SiteDistrict, I also use ManageWP, a service that backs up my website every night and allows me to restore it in one click.

And because I am paranoid, I also download a full backup of my blog and list of email subscribers to my computer every month.

A domain name registrar

A domain registrar is a company that handles the registration of your domain names for you. This could be your hosting provider or a separate company.

I always recommend using a separate company because it allows you to quickly move away from your hosting provider in case of problem.

It also means you are the legal owner of your domain name and don’t risk losing it if your hosting provider goes bust.

I personally use Hover and Porkbun but there are lots of other good options.

A good WordPress theme

Your blog design is the first thing your visitors will see. It also has a huge impact on how fast your blog loads.

I like the minimalist designs of StudioPress themes but GeneratePress is also a good option.

No matter which WordPress theme you end up using, make sure it comes from a reputable developer and loads fast.

You don’t want to end up with a theme that contains a virus.

An email marketing software

A good email marketing service will help you communicate with your subscribers and make sure your emails don’t land in the spam folder.

After trying GetResponse, Drip, and Mailchimp, I now use Convertkit because it offers the perfect mix of power and simplicity and allows me to easily set up evergreen email sequences and send emails to thousands of subscribers without worrying about deliverability.

If you are just getting started and don’t want to pay anything, MailerLite offers a free plan for bloggers who have less than 1,000 subscribers.

Tools that will make your blog look good

snappa templates
A few of the templates you can use in Snappa.

Snappa

Snappa is the tool I use to create featured images and social media images.

It has hundreds of beautiful templates and I find it much easier to use than Canva, the tool I used previously.

Stock photo websites

Choosing great pictures for your blog is essential because pictures make your articles much easier to read.

Here are a few sites that offer a good variety of images you can use:

A few WordPress tools I recommend

If you use website speed test tools like Pingdom, you will notice that images are often what makes a page slow.

ShortPixel is a cool blogging tool that reduces the size of your images without any visible change. This, in turn, reduces your hosting costs and makes your website load faster.

Clicky is the analytics tool I use to see how many people visit my blogs and what articles they read. Its interface is much simpler than Google Analytics which makes it my number one recommendation for new bloggers. It also includes lots of helpful features such as the ability to track outbound links without any configuration.

Plausible is a privacy-friendly alternative to Google Analytics. I use it to track long term trends and see how the number of visitors to individual pages evolves. It’s an excellent choice for bloggers who care about privacy and don’t need the complexity of Google Analytics.

Antispam Bee keeps spam comments away and doesn’t send data anywhere (unlike the popular Akismet plugin) which means it’s a much better choice for privacy-conscious bloggers (and European bloggers who need to comply with the GDPR.)

Iubenda helps me generate cookie and privacy policies for my blogs. All I need to do is tell Iubenda which blogging tools I use and it automatically generates the appropriate cookie and privacy policies.

SEO tools and tools to grow your blog

Yoast SEO is the most well-known SEO plugin and it will take care of most of the on-site SEO for you. This is the blogging tool I recommend if you are a beginner blogger and want something that’s easy to use and configure. Read my guide to SEO basics for more information.

After using Yoast SEO for years, I recently switched to The SEO Framework because I wanted to optimize my articles based on themes instead of keywords. The SEO Framework also happens to be much lighter than Yoast and completely ad-free which makes it my number one SEO plugin recommendation for more advanced bloggers.

Ahrefs helps me choose the best keywords for my articles, track my rankings, monitor my backlinks and find link building opportunities. It’s an awesome tool I use every day. If you are looking for something cheaper, I have heard good things about Long Tail Pro as well.

OptinMonster is the tool I use to get more email subscribers on French Together. I love that it includes detailed statistics and allows me to show different content to existing subscribers.

If you are looking for something simpler to get started, Convertkit and most email marketing services include simple email optin forms you can use.

Paddle is the platform I use to sell my products. They are a merchant of record which means they take care of VAT payments, and compliance for you so you can focus on blogging.

Buffer is the blogging tool I use to schedule my social media messages. I love its simple interface and reliability.

Blogging tools that will make you a better blogger

Day One

A journaling app may seem like an odd choice for a list of essential blogging tools but journaling is an awesome way to track your progress and stay productive.

In fact, Day One is one of the tools I use the most as a blogger and it serves as a GPS telling me what to do next.

I use it for my weekly review but also write down my daily and weekly goals so I remember to stay focused.

Day One work journal

I then write down the task I’m about to work on and start my pomodoro timer.

Writing down each task before doing it helps me stay focused and allows me to see a detailed breakdown of what I did on any day if something goes wrong.

If I notice that my sales went down last Thursday, I can simply open Day One, look for last Thursday’s entry and see if anything I have done could have caused it. Sometimes, an insignificant change turns out to be important and being able to see what I did on a precise day has helped me revert lots of changes I would have otherwise forgotten.

A Pomodoro timer

After writing down the task I’m about to accomplish in Day One, I start my pomodoro timer and focus on the task at hand.

I use the pomodoro timer app Tomato One but you could also use an online timer like Tomato Timer.

The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management technique that breaks down the day in sessions of 25 minutes followed by a short break between every pomodoro and a longer break every 4 pomodoros.

There is something powerful about a task being written down and I find that I’m much more focused when I have taken a few seconds to write down what I’m about to do before doing it.

This particular productivity technique was actually inspired by the method Glen Allsopp described in this article and I must say it has had a huge impact on my productivity despite its apparent simplicity .

Bear

Bear is a more privacy-conscious and simpler Evernote alternative. I use it to write down all kinds of notes:

  • A win journal: Whenever someone says something nice about my blog or products, I add it to my win journal. Knowing I help people help me keep going when I don’t feel motivated.
  • Results from past launches
  • Random ideas.

Trello

Trello article ideas board

Trello helps me organize all my projects on beautiful boards.

Here are a few of the Trello boards I have created:

  • A content calendar board so I can see all my blog post ideas in one place, know what to do next (write, edit, add images…)
  • A SEO board where I write down all my link building ideas and use checklist to follow the progress of each campaign.

Common blogging tools I don’t recommend (and why)

When it comes to blogging, the tools you don’t use are almost as important as the tools you use because they can easily waste your time and make you feel overwhelmed.

Here are a few blogging tools I don’t use and why.

Headline analyzers

Headline analyzers are great in theory. Who wouldn’t want to know which blog post title will perform the best?

The problem is that headline analyzers are pretty bad at predicting how well a headline with perform according to an experiment I ran.

CoSchedule correctly predicted 16 winners out of 23 while the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer and ShareThrough Headline Analyzer only predicted 9 and 8 winners out of 23 respectively.

Social sharing buttons

A few years ago, I decided to run a test on French Together to see how much traffic social-sharing buttons would bring.

After running the test for a month, the results were clear. Less than 0.01% of visitors were using social sharing buttons and only a small percentage of social traffic was coming from people using social share buttons.

While social-sharing buttons made sense 10 years ago, I honestly believe they belong to the past and won’t do much other than slow down your blog and help companies like Facebook track your visitors.

Why not try to remove them for a week to see what happens?

Free stock images sites

Free stock image websites are a great way to find the right image for a blog post but they are also dangerous tools because there is no guarantee the images aren’t copyrighted.

Most stock image sites don’t check whether an image is free to use or not, they simply publish any image their users share.

This means that the beautiful cat picture you just chose to illustrate your article could be copyrighted and end up costing you thousands of dollars.

That’s why I recommend relying on trustworthy websites like Unsplash, Picjumbo or Death to Stock and buying pictures from sites like Depositphotos.

Disqus

I was a happy Disqus user for months until I noticed something strange.

Many of the links in comments were being turned into affiliate links. I logged into the DIsqus settings pannels and looked at the “disable affiliate links” option.

After contacting Disqus and letting them know about this bug. I was told this wasn’t a bug at all. Unchecking “automatically append merchant codes to product links on your site” only prevents Disqus from turning links outside of your comment section into affiliate links.

It’s not actually possible to delete affiliate links from your comment section.

When I pointed out how shady and unethical this is, they simply stopped answering my messages.

They have since updated their help page to mention that affiliate links in the comments can’t be disabled but they still trick millions of users into thinking “automatically append merchant codes to product links on your site” means affiliate links are disabled everywhere by not making the setting clearer.

Disqus help page showing that affiliate links can't be disabled.
Disqus help page showing that affiliate links can’t be disabled.

My recommendation: use WordPress comment system. Not as pretty but you won’t have to worry about a sneaky company inserting affiliate links on your blog.

And you? What are your favorite blogging tools and resources?

Benjamin Houy
Benjamin Houy

Bonjour ! I'm Benjamin Houy, the founder of French Together, a language-learning blog that attracts 238,717 monthly visitors. After 6 years in the language-learning niche, I created Grow With Less to share my passion for blogging and show online business owners how to grow without the overwhelm.

6 thoughts on “29 Essential Blogging Tools for 2020 (And a Few You Shouldn’t Use)”

  1. I make my own pictures so for me Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, and Sketch have been invaluable. I also like some food blogging specific tools like WPRM. Otherwise, I agree with a lot of your suggestions. I use Cloudways as my host, and I really like them.

    Thanks for the recommendations. Never knew that about Disqus. They always seemed like a good idea but I got rid of them because they were clunky. Good to know they have some unethical practices.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your favorite blogging tools Anna :).

      I wish I knew how to make pictures with Lightroom and Photoshop :).

      I heard lots lots of good things about Cloudways but I was under the impression it requires more technical knowledge.

      Reply
  2. Hey Benjamin,

    Thanks for sharing these tools. I’ve stopped using Disqus few years ago already and replaced comments with the default one provided by WordPress. Being a WordPress Speed Optimisation Expert, I’ve noticed that Disqus also affects your site’s page load time (negatively).

    +1 to SiteGround, ShortPixel, Google Analytics, Yoast SEO, Buffer, Pomodoro technique, and of course Trello as I am using these all tools for years now.

    Reply
    • Hey Dipak,

      Yeah it’s crazy how many scripts Disqus adds. I wish WordPress’ native comment system was a bit more user-friendly though. It looks quite dated.

      Reply
  3. Hi Benjamin, thanks for sharing the effects of disqus no wonder some are alread disqusted with it hehe just kidding. Great list of blogging tools though.

    Reply

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