I keep my How to Start a Blog post updated, but here’s some of the more advanced tools I’ve been using lately. These aren’t really install-and-go – they require a weekend of work to set up and configure in total, but the payoff is worth it.
MailChimp email subscriptions – free for up to 2,000 subscribers, and really reasonable above that. MailChimp makes it easy for people to keep up with you by watching your RSS feed for updates, then sending those updates as nicely formatted emails to your mailing list. Plus, when you want to promote something else like an upcoming event or a product, it’s really easy. People subscribe by filling out the form on the right side of my blog, which is built with…
GravityForms (Affiliate Link) – this $39 form plugin makes complex forms easy. It has an extensive set of add-ons so you can integrate all kinds of services. For example, on my contact page, there’s a checkbox to subscribe to my blog posts via email. That fires off a subscription call to MailChimp. A much more complex example is our company event registration form, which integrates with GoToWebinar, MailChimp, CRM, email, and more. Users love this because they can put in their contact info once, and pick and choose what they want. Combine GravityForms with Zapier, and you can glue anything together.
Subscribe to Double-Opt-In Comments – when your readers leave a comment, some of them want to get notified whenever a new comment (like your response) is added. This free plugin adds a “Subscribe to Comments” checkbox for folks who comment, plus it sends them an email to confirm their subscription. This way somebody can’t drive by and subscribe strangers just by leaving fake comments. It’s just good net behavior. (Checking for it, not doing drive-bys.)
Buffer post announcements to social media – Buffer is a free broadcast tool that can post announcements to your Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, etc. Sign up there, configure your accounts, and then install the WP to Buffer plugin in your blog.
Jetpack plugin with related posts – Jetpack is a plugin written by the folks behind WordPress itself, and it adds a lot of cool features. The one I’d specifically recommend is the Related Posts feature that gives you a little list of related posts under your current one. It’s mostly driven by the tags and categories you pick for posts, so if you haven’t been keeping up with those – and I wasn’t – you may have to spend a few hours pruning your taxonomies on your older posts and setting up featured images for each post. The result is worth it – it surfaces past work that you’re proud of.
WPengine hosting (affiliate link) – we use these guys for BrentOzar.com, too. They offer a $29/mo personal plan for up to 25k visitors a month, and they have totally reasonable overage fees if you burst higher. (I was bursting higher for several months and didn’t even realize it – I just switched up to the Pro plan for Ozar.me.) You get all the power of full-blown WordPress, complete with picking your own plugins and themes, but they manage all the boring stuff (caching, backups, high availability.)