I never aspired to be a professional blogger, but when my little corner of the web started pulling in a few pennies, I couldn’t deny my excitement. I love being able to create my own editorial calendar and content AND make money doing it.
Back Road Ramblers is currently a part-time endeavor, and while it earns a decent income these days, it also costs increasingly more to run. If you are thinking of starting a blog, you’ll find mega resources with a simple Google search, so I’m not going to get into the how-tos. I will, however, share my personal resources: things I’ve found to be worthwhile investments as Back Road Ramblers grows and prospers.
Please note: This resource page contains affiliate links from which we earn a commission at no extra cost to you.
Web Hosting, Software, and Apps for Bloggers
There are a million useful online tools for bloggers, and over the past four years, I’ve tried a good many of them. These are the tools that I’m currently using. This list includes web hosting, subscription software, and WordPress plug-ins.
I started my blogging career using Go Daddy as my host because it was super cheap. It worked fine when I had hardly any traffic, but as soon as things started picking up, I ran into problems. Customer support was awful, and they were constantly charging me extra for little issues. I was a bit frightened to make the switch, but after signing up with Flywheel, I’m so glad I did.
They charge a flat monthly fee, and everything is included in that price: your SSL certificate, back-ups, tech support – you name it. I started with the personal plan, which cost $30 a month and was suitable for up to 25,000 monthly views. I just upgrade to the professional plan, which was a huge jump in price at $75 per month, but it’s still cheaper than many competitors, and it allows for 100,000 monthly visitors, 20 GB of disk space, and 1,024 GB of bandwidth.
It is such a relief not having to worry about my site crashing, and it’s faster than it’s ever been with Flywheel. Want to check them out for yourself? Here’s my referral link.
Adobe Stock and Adobe Creative Cloud
We edit all of our photos in Adobe Lightroom, and to a lesser extent, Photoshop. The Creative Cloud Photography plan includes Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Spark, which is a video creation tool (we use that too!), and 20 GB of cloud storage. Learn more about Adobe Creative Cloud.
When we can’t take our own photos to accompany a post, we use Adobe Stock, which has thousands and thousands of photos to choose from. We use the 10 assets a month plan, which is $29.99 per month. If you don’t use all 10 in a given month, you can roll them over to the following month. If you sign up for a 30-day trial, you’ll get 10 photos to use for free. Just remember to cancel your subscription before 30 days is up if you don’t want to continue.
We use KeySearch to help us optimize our posts for Google so that they are easier to find when someone searches for certain keywords. This has been one of the most important tools we’ve invested in, as we’ve been able to grow our traffic and our income quickly, and we’re learning a lot about SEO (search engine optimization) in the process. The basic KeySearch plan starts at $17 a month and is worth its weight in gold!
Quickbooks Self Employed
While accounting isn’t the most exciting topic for most of us, it’s a necessary part of running a business. I’ll admit that when I first started freelancing and blogging, I updated everything in Google Sheets, but I got behind very quickly, and the end of the year taxes were a nightmare. This year, after a crazy tax season where I spent a solid week preparing my books and reconciling my accounts, I decided to find something easier. I got a subscription to Quickbooks Self Employed, which allows me to connect all of my business and personal bank accounts and credit cards, track expenses and miles, and quickly categorize everything. I can’t wait for tax season this year!
So after Google, my biggest source of traffic to my blog is Pinterest, which is a search and discovery platform (kind of like Google) that is visually based. I create pins for each of my blog posts, and I schedule them to all of my Pinterest boards using Tailwind. I also use Tailwind for the tribes, which allows bloggers in the same niche to share each other’s content. This saves me a lot of time and gets me lots of traffic. The Tailwind Plus plan is currently $9 per month.
WordPress Plug-Ins for Bloggers
Not all bloggers use WordPress to build their blog, but it’s all I know. A plug-in is a useful little creation that allows you to do nifty things to your blog without knowing a scrap of code. There are plug-ins for just about anything you could want to do to improve the look and functionality of your blog, but you have to be careful. Plug-ins do tend to slow down your site.
There are lots of free WordPress plug-ins that are useful to install and a few that aren’t free but are totally worth the money. Here are some of our favorite WordPress plug-ins.
Our blog gets tons of spam comments, like 50 to 100 every day! Fortunately, I don’t have to read them, because Antispam Bee sends them right to my spam folder. Occasionally, I pop over there to make sure real comments are getting trashed, and so far Antispam Bee has done an awesome job filtering out the spam from the good stuff. Also, I really do love comments, so feel free to say hi!
Social Pug is a social media sharing plug-in that allows you to create social sharing buttons that integrate beautifully with your website’s design leading to increased social shares. The free version of Social Pug allows you to create share buttons for the four biggest social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. You can place the buttons before or after blog posts, or as a floating sidebar. We have tried lots of different social sharing buttons, but Social Pug is our current favorite. The premium plug-in is $29 a year.
We use the Tiny PNG to compress our images so that our website loads faster without compromising on the quality of our photos. Tiny PNG automatically optimizes every photo that we upload to the site. Payment for the service depends on how much we use it. We can optimize about 100 images a month for free. If we go above that, it’s a fraction of a penny per photo. Using Tiny PNG has been a huge time saver for us.
Income-Generating Resources: Advertising and Affiliate Programs
While Back Road Ramblers started as a bit of a passion project, I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t have the time or the money to run it properly without turning a profit. Learning to use an affiliate strategy was fairly easy and quick to implement. I started by adding affiliate links to my favorite hotels and products.
When readers click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I make a small commission, which can be anywhere from 2% -10%, it just depends on the program. We currently use three main affiliate networks. We’ve tried dozens of others, but they weren’t profitable for us. The following are our favorite affiliate networks that work well in the travel and outdoor space.
What initially drew us to Skimlinks was how easy it is to use. You don’t need to create individual affiliate links for each product. Instead, you simply link naturally to the products you want to promote, and Skimlinks turns them into affiliate links. It’s an awesome time saver and it also means I don’t have to join a dozen affiliate networks. I’ve made money (pennies, but still) off of links that I didn’t even remember adding. This is my new favorite affiliate program, and I’m just getting started with it! Skimlinks is totally free to join and very simple to set up.
Amazon Affiliate Program
Amazon pays the lowest commission of any of our affiliate networks, but it is still one of our top earners because so many of our readers use it. The Amazon affiliate program is free to join and easy to use. You can link to thousands of products in just about every niche you can imagine, and the commission ranges from 1% to 10%, depending on the category you are linking to.
The only caveat with Amazon is that you must make at least one sale in the first three months for your account to remain active. Once you make your first sale, you will be paid by direct deposit monthly.
Avantlink Affiliate Program
Avantlink is a great affiliate program for outdoor bloggers because there are so many gear and outdoor clothing companies that work with the network, including REI, Hydroflask, Eastern Mountain Sports, and Ruffwear. Commissions with Avantlink are generally much higher than Amazon, ranging from 3% to 10%. If you blog about the outdoors, I definitely recommend including Avantlink in your affiliate marketing strategy.