Here is the list of resources I use for running this site. If you are looking for just the right resources/tools for you site, you can consider that these have a resounding +1 vote from me. I will (try to) keep this list updated as I decide to add/drop any tools/services from my arsenal.
1and1.com: I have no idea if they are the best. I started out with them because they were the cheapest I found at that time (2006), and in all these years, I haven’t had a reason to move away.
Bluehost.com: Started my hosting package with them in Nov 2010, based on recommendation from a LOT of bloggers. Happy with my purchase, so far.
WordPress: I was on blogspot for over 3 years before making the switch to wordpress. While the switch was fairly uneventful, it was painfully time consuming (and a little bit stressful, since I had no clue if anything would go wrong). Having been on both sides of the fence, I would highly recommend that if you are just getting started (and plan to continue using your site of long), you start out with wordpress. It does require that you pay for your own hosting (hosting on wordpress.com is no different than being on blogspot) and domain name, but those cost very little.
Church theme by studiopress.com: For whatever reason, this particular theme is no longer available on the studiopress site anymore, but I would happily recommend any of their other themes. I am a happy camper so far, and if/when I change the theme, I will likely go with something else that runs on their genesis framework.
Logo Design and Theme Customization
I was originally planning to do the theme customization myself, and just pay for a logo design. But the folks at blazersix.com offered me very good pricing for logo design + theme customization – so I just went with them. I went to them based on a mention by Pat Flynn over at the smartpassiveincome.com blog. I worked with Brady Vercher, and he is absolutely swell to work with.
I recently switched from bigstockphoto.com to fotolia.com for the images for this site. Purely from the images perspective, I have no reason to pick one over the other. But the nice folks at fotolia offered me a “blogger” trial subscription for promoting them on this site. This saves me quite a bit of money without compromising the ability to have professional photographs on my posts. If you are a blogger and want to go this route, email me and I can get you in touch with someone inside fotolia to see if you can work something out for your blog as well.
Everything you need to know in finding images online. From free images, high quality to no legal copyright issues when using.
While I use stock images for most of my articles, I just just had to get custom illustrations for the basic premise article. Based on what I read at an online forum, I contacted Mike Davenport of Stick Figure Simple. I was a little hesitant initially to pay for stick figure drawings, but if you have had a chance to read that article, you will agree with me that it was well worth it. Mike was amazing to work with and I can’t recommend him highly enough.
Essays I used
EssayLib – essay service is committed to produce customized essays and term papers written by professionals.
Other Paid Tools/Services that I Use
Market Samurai: If there is only one paid tool that you buy, you should consider buying this. It is a keyword reasearch tool that I used a lot while trying to figure out my strategy to relaunch this blog. I also reach for it every so often when I am writing articles – for instance did you know that “make more money” get about twice the traffic of “earn more money” and has 1.5 times higher adwords CPC value? While at first glance, the competition for it seems higher, the strength of competition is lower. I could find all this out with free tools, but with it Market Samurai it only took me about 2 minutes to find all that out . If I were writing an article specifically about this topic, that 2 minutes and some tweaking of the article, will give me a significant boost for the SERPs for that article (BTW, that was just a hokey example – this works far better for long tail keywords that your article actually contains).
Akismet: I want to keep my comments “do follow”, but that attracts a lot of spammers. From all the recommendations I’ve read, this seems like the biggest player in town for comment spam protection. It doesn’t cost a whole lot, and seems to keep a lot of spam out – so I am happy with it.
Backup Buddy: I love to keep tweaking my site. When I was new to wordpress, and didn’t really know what I was doing, I almost trashed my site several time. Those days, I used to protect myself by being very diligent about manually backing up every single file that I messed with. When I heard about backupbuddy, and found out how much it costs, I just had to get it. So far, I have not had the NEED to restore from the backups, but in this one case, I would rather just be over cautious than sorry.
Paypal.com: As far as possible, I try to use paypal for both accepting payment from advertisers and for making payment for the tools and services I use. Since I use my paypal account almost exclusively for my site related expenses, keeping track of accounts becomes fairly easy.
Tracking Website Stats
Google Analytics: Checking your stats can be an addiction if you are not careful and it is the biggest source of time drain – believe me, I know because I’ve been there 😉 So these days, I just use Analytics for tracking stats. Unless you have big time traffic, I firmly believe that you don’t need any other paid (or free) statistics tracking software/plugins. (PS: You can use analytics for real-time tracking, if you just pick today’s date from the dropdown at the top right corner — just an FYI for old timers who think analytics is updated only once a day.)
Free WordPress Plugins That I use
This is where I expect most of the flux to be. At the time of writing this resource list, here is what I am using. I will try to keep it updated as I add more (or remove some). To install any of these plugins, you should be able to just go to Dashboard -> Plugins -> Add new -> Search -> Install Now -> Activate -> Settings.
All in one SEO Pack: I am not an SEO expert or a wordpress expert, but from what I understand out-of-box SEO for wordpress is not great. I decided to use this plugin this based on recommendations on a lot of different blogs. It’s not very intuitive to configure and if you are not careful, you could do more harm than good. I scoured through several tutorials , but found this one the most useful.
CommentLuv: This one helps make your comments dofollow. I love the new feature that allows commenters to choose from one of their last 10 posts to display along with their comment. Go ahead, leave a comment on any of my posts to see it in action 😉
Dean’s Permalinks Migration: This is something I added during the blogger -> wordpress migration. If you started directly on wordpress, you will not need this.
GoCodes: This is a great plugin for (a) prettying up affiliate links and (b) tracking number of clicks on any link (good for deciding if you even want to join an affiliate program that has complicated signup process). If you look at the links on this page, all of them have the structure http://gradmoneymatters.com/resources/<something> and thats thanks to the GoCodes plugin.
Google Analytics: This is for interfacing with google analytics that I mentioned above.
Google XML Sitemaps: A necessary plugin to let Google know of your presence in the big vase cyberspace. Use it with webmaster tools.
Widget Logic: I LOVE this one. Notice how different things show up on the sidebar when you click to different pages/posts on this site? I do that using widget logic. What this plugin does is adds a “logic” are below your widget so you can say “display this only on homepage” or “display this only for a particular post”.
I am experimenting with 3-4 other plugins at the moment – if I decide to keep them, I will add them to the list. And remember, don’t just keep adding plugins, unless you really need them. The plugins will add bloat to your site and could potentially increase your site load time (which will hurt both user experience and quite possibly google rankings). Not to mention the headache of having to keep them constantly updated. If you use a plugin that you think is a “must have” please do let me know – no blatant self promotion please, I can barely keep up with my emails as it is!