Tools of the Trade
Super In-Depth Articles
These are tools that will help you build websites and make money online. There are millions more, of course, these are just the ones that I personally have tried.
Some are free, some are freemium, some are paid only. When I first started I was aghast at the thought of paying 20 dollars for a logo or infographic - now I chuck money at anything that saves me time or makes my life easier. A couple of these are affiliate links so I'll get some money if you sign up.
Lean Domain Search
Use it to find a good domain name. Type in a couple of keywords and it'll brainstorm all kinds of ideas.
The place I register almost all my domains. Easy and has good service.
For some reason I can't register Swiss domains through Namecheap, so I use Gandi. They're an ethical company with high-minded ideals, so it's no hardship. They also have good customer service - I've had to mail their support a few times (because of my own ineptitude). A bit more expensive than Namecheap and with some quirks I could live without.
Recommendations for Wordpress hosting are probably the single biggest scam on the net. I've tried a bunch. For starter sites I recommend Hawkhost and Stablehost because they're cheap, good, and give you a free Let's Encrypt SSL certificate. Namecheap is also cheap and I'm happy with them, but you have to pay a bit extra for the SSL. (SSL let's you have an https site which says 'secure' next to the URL.)
I also think Squarespace is a great choice for newbies. It's more expensive (10 dollars a month instead of 3 or 4) but you WILL save time because you don't have to update plugins and handle all the insanely stupid shit Wordpress feeds you. Don't listen to people who say you can't make money with it. They are wrong.
(Update - Squarespace changed their pricing and the new system seems INSANE. Features you will need are only available on the higher level plan and paying those prices are really going to hurt. Probably stick to Wordpress.)
Once you start making money from your sites, you can think about upgrading to WPX Hosting. It’s not mega expensive and it’s really fast. If you’re using AAWP on your site you’ll need to go into the livechat and ask them to turn on SOAP. Takes 30 seconds. No biggie.
You need a theme to turn your basic Wordpress installation into something that looks the way you want it.
I loved the look of one of the sites I bought and a tiny part of the reason I bought it was to copy the theme and use it on other sites. After all, premium Wordpress themes can be expensive. Turns out it was one of the free ones you get with Wordpress and a couple of free plugins. So think twice before paying for a theme - you can get by on a free one and upgrade once your site is making money. That said, there are two Wordpress frameworks worth a look.
These guys turn Wordpress into something much easier to use and customise. I was undecided about buying it because it seemed like a lot of money at the time (that was before I made more than a few dollars a month) but the thing that pushed me over the edge was the Facebook group. They answer questions, give out free modules and tips. It's really great. They will release a new version soon that looks pretty amazing - I plan to write a full review at that time.
With this, you buy the basis Genesis code then add on a 'skin'. My partner in the authority site project wanted to use it. I pushed for Squarespace but we ended up on Wordpress/Genesis because it has the most plugins and flexibility and I have to say I do really like the set up. If you're going to make a lot of sites you won't regret buying the full package.
Update Dec 2017 - I now run Wordpress/Genesis on 95% of the websites I build.
Update Dec 2018 - I now use the Astra theme with Elementor to build branded headers and footers.
Textbroker - I use one guy here for my tech articles. He's expensive but I never have to change a single word so it saves time. You can try writers at different qualities and when you find one you like give them work directly. Annoying interface, though. Update - used properly, Textbroker is a real winner. Good content delivered fast. Find writers you like and work with them directly, or use the pool and mostly get good stuff.
Upwork - I used this to offer various jobs - people apply and you can choose who to work with. Interface was unwieldy last time I checked. Update - haven't used this for over a year.
People Per Hour - Had good results with this when I was getting started but since then it seems to have got more expensive. Might be my imagination though. Update - haven't used this for over a year.
Fiverr - For small, simple tasks this is an option. Basic graphic design etc. Don't expect perfection.
If you use copyrighted images (on purpose or not) there's a slight risk of you being sued - Getty seem to have a business model very much like Nigerian 401 scammers - they blast out copyright image claims and most people are too afraid to question it or fight back. It's all very shady.
Anyway, when I started getting some income from my sites I decided to sign up to one of those 'stock image' websites, just to be safe. There are some free ones, too, but I'm able to find most of what I need on Stock Unlimited.
Appsumo often has deals where you can buy cheap credits at Depositphotos, and those are really good. If you need something a bit more premium then Depositphotos is the answer. They have a lot of niche things too.
It's a bit... teenage-y, but I use this site to quickly add some text to my pics - to make thumbnails or whatever. I pay 20 bucks a year to get rid of the watermark. Just drag a photo onto the page and add some text. It couldn't be easier.
Update - I don't use this any more but it's an option.
Stencil (and Canva etc.)
AppSumo often has offers on design tools. I mostly use Stencil now. It's the fastest way to knock out images with or without text. The other day I did featured images for about 100 articles and Stencil made it easy.
Block Yourself From Analytics (Chrome extension)
Google Analytics is very useful but if you and your team are working intensively on a site your own visits can mess up the stats. Before finding this tool, I had gone into all my Google Analytics accounts and filtered out my own IP for each website - only for my IP to change, rendering the whole exercise futile. This Chrome extension does it with a single click.
Help a Reporter Out
Journalists who are preparing stories use HARO to get quotes for their articles. If the article is in any way connected with your website and if you can help the reporter, you can get links and promote yourself as an authority. Don't feel like an expert in your field? You know more than the reporter.
Update - I unsubscribed because it was overwhelming getting the 3 emails a day and I only got one link from it in 6 months or so. Now that I've got a bunch of sites I should probably sign up again.
My girlfriend used this platform - she wrote what she wanted and more than 100 designers submitted entries. She chose the best and refined it with the designer. The result was really, really nice.
Long Tail Pro
I bought a lifetime subscription back when Spencer Haws was running it. He's since sold it and the new owners have invested in making it cloud based and faster. I used to use it to do all my keyword research but now I use a range of tools. I find the monthly subscription model a nuisance but I more than made my money back from it. Not sure I'd buy it now, but they have a one-dollar trial.
Type in 'monkey tennis' and it shows you all the Google searches that start with that phrase. Surprisingly useful.
Similar to Ubersuggest but it goes for ages and ends up with a massive list of related phrases. Crude but handy.
My fave is Semrush, though people who know better than me use Ahrefs. Both are expensive and not for newbies. Both have amazing features that could take you from 1k a month to 2k.
Update Dec 2018 - Now that I can afford Ahrefs, I have it. It’s about 100 dollars a month but the data is awesome.