Blogging is a hobby or side-hustle that can quickly become a full-time job. Many top bloggers hire graphic designers, social media managers, virtual assistants, and some even have ghostwriters. Needless to say, it can take tons of blog tools in your arsenal to succeed. I’m not sure how I feel about paying someone else to write posts and put your name on them, but my point is this: blogging is time-consuming.
Sarah L. Travels is a one-woman show, and the average post takes me hours to write, edit, design graphics for, schedule social media posts about, and engage with the online community. It can really wipe me out! Passion projects are worth it, though. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That being said, there are plenty of tools I think beginning bloggers can–and should– take advantage of. Here are the free blog tools I love and use to keep Sarah L. Travels running and growing!
1 // canva
Canva is a free online graphic design platform. This is hands-down one of the best blog tools that can easily be used for free. Why? Because eye-catching graphics matter to engage an online community into your work. And, in my humble opinion, designing in Canva is just fun!
At one point, I did splurge for the Canva Pro account. However, I have since returned to a free account because I didn’t need the extra features to serve daily blog purposes.
I literally use my account every single day. First, I use the Pinterest Graphic size to design pins to market my blog posts to my 170,000+ monthly Pinterest viewers. I love doing this, because I can either use a free template or do my own thing. Canva does the hard part of making sure the size of the design is optimized for Pinterest, and is more likely to receive positive attention on the platform.
The second main use I have for Canva is Instagram Story design, which is a relatively new feature. I either use a free template or build my own, and add my blog post’s photos, title, and always add the phrase “Link in bio.” Easy, peasy!
All you need to start using Canva and learn more about design is a Facebook or email sign-up. I couldn’t foresee how valuable this tool would be for my blog three years ago when I first learned about it. I can’t recommend it enough!
2 // mailchimp
Top bloggers have said it time and time again: your blog lives or dies by its email list. If you’re interested in increasing your reach and having wider engagement, you must have an email list. It’s easy to drown in the masses of paid email list creation services, but I have fully enjoyed using Mailchimp.
Mailchimp is a wonderful blog tool with extensive services on its free account option. I have yet to feel the need to pay for an upgrade. It allows me to have an email list specifically for the Sarah L. Travels community, create emails, and schedule when they will be sent.
Sure, I’m still figuring out this whole email list thing. But I know it’s important, it’s a great way to interact with your community and provide extra tips for them, and it’s 100% worth the time it takes.
3 // google analytics + search console
After you spend hours writing, perfecting your post, designing in Canva, and marketing on social media, it helps to know what’s working and what isn’t. It takes time to learn from your online community and see what types of posts they’re most interested in. And over time, as your community grows and changes, those preferences will change with it. This is where Google Analytics and Search Console come into play.
When you’re trying to grow a blog, it helps to see which posts perform better than others, where your readers are from, how long they stay on your blog, from which channel they found your website, and what types of devices they access it from.
For example, some of my most popular posts are The 5 Best Vegan Restaurants in Kyiv, 5 Reasons NOT to Join the Peace Corps, and Vieques Ferry Guide. Most of my readers access Sarah L. Travels on mobile devices, and the overwhelming majority come from social media. How do I know all of that? My Google Analytics dashboard.
Along with Google Analytics, Google Search Console helps me see what search terms point people to my posts. This accounts for all the views that are not from social media, but instead from other websites that point to my blog and from direct Google search results. This information helps me see how I can improve my blog’s ranking in Google search, and grow my online community along with it.
The best way to get started is to register your self-hosted domain with a Google account and let the tools do the rest. Check periodically for progress and areas of improvement. Both of these are great free blog tools that will help as you grow your website and make it more professional!
4 // social media scheduling
This one is huge. I am not a big social media fan, so I don’t necessarily want to spend all day long on Instagram or Pinterest in order to market my posts. Instead, I do everything at the same time by scheduling Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook posts, and manually uploading Instagram photos.
I think one key aspect of being authentic through blogging and social media is to be yourself, and manually schedule your posts if you need me-time away from the screen. It can take forever and many top bloggers either have social media managers, paid scheduling services, or both, but I’m not interested in that right now.
I prefer to use the free scheduling tools already available and put my words into each post. I usually upload a photo, write some text, add hashtags, paste my post’s URL, and set the date/time for it to go live.
You can see an example of a Pinterest scheduling screen below:
5 // unsplash
Unsplash is a key blog tool for people like me that are novice photographers. I am moving towards having no stock photos on Sarah L. Travels, but I’m not there quite yet. For now, Unsplash is where at least some of my pictures will continue to come from.
Sure, there are tons of websites with free stock photos. Instead of spending hours searching for them, I decided to only look at Unsplash and save precious hours. I’m very happy with this website! Technically, it is not required to credit photographers. However, I like to as much as possible because I want other creators to succeed, and for my online community to know about the amazing up-and-coming talent out there.
After you download a photo, a popup comes at the bottom to show you how to credit that photographer. For example, the cover photo of this post has this credit:
Also, even the pros use Unsplash. I cannot tell you how many gorgeous Unsplash photos I’ve seen in paid Instagram posts for top bloggers that make six figures or more from their websites annually. Unsplash is a gold mine of amazing photography for beginning bloggers and advanced online entrepreneurs alike. Check it out!
6 // perlu
And last, but certainly not least, we have Perlu. I recently heard about this platform, and have gotten plenty of use out of it within the past week alone. Collaborating with other creators is a key way to get your work out there and build relationships with other like-minded individuals.
Perlu makes that easy by giving you a step-by-step guide to working with brands, other creative individuals in your niche, and increasing your exposure. They provide free tools, collabs, and packs to help you widen your network and meet other bloggers. So far, I’ve written my first guest post and have four others lined up to finish by the end of August!
You can also interact with brands that are interested in affiliate marketing and influencer campaigns. On your Perlu profile, you can show your social media reach, your website, the packs you join, and the collabs you create. This is a great way to engage with others in the industry and establish some sources of passive income!
use these tools, and save money!
There you have it, folks! My top 6 blog tools that I use daily, and want you to know about as you start your own blog. Especially as a beginner, you don’t need to pay tons out of pocket aside from owning your domain and hosting it.
The more you get into blogging, the more you’ll see that quite literally every single aspect of blogging has its own paid service. You don’t need them all! Use these free services to get started, and you’ll see in time which paid services deserve your money.
The key to this whole blogging thing is to do what you love, drown out all the noise, and figure things out as you go. It will take time and effort to see results. Enjoy the journey! I know I am.
// Thanks for reading! Let’s connect on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. If you would like to know when I’ve written a new post, you can follow me on Bloglovin’ or subscribe to my email list. I also have an Etsy shop for all my fellow design lovers out there. See you next time!