Resources & Recommendations
I’m asked frequently about what products & services I use day to day with my website & with my clients. You’ll find my favorites below (plus my stand alone Guides). Some are free, some are paid, some give me customer referral fees – but all of them I love & use everyday. I keep this list updated – and I’d love to hear feedback or your experiences with them.
ShivarWeb Guides, Tools & Quizzes
I have a portfolio of step by step stand-alone guides that are straightforward & useful resources.
Website Setup Guide – A beginner’s step by step guide to starting your own website on your own server. Plenty of specific, helpful screenshots to help anyone go from zero to website in just a few minutes.
Online Store with WordPress Setup Guide – A complement to the website setup guide, except with a focus on turning your website into an online store.
Building a Social Networking Site with WordPress Guide – A complement to the website setup guide, except with a focus on turning your site into a social network like Facebook, Twitter or Google+.
Building an Auction Website with WordPress Guide – A complement to the website setup guide, except with a focus on turning your site into the next eBay…or just a simple auction site for your non-profit or small business.
How To Create a Food Blog / Recipe Website – A complement to the website setup guide, except with a focus on food bloggers needs w/ specific plugins and considerations.
How To Start A Blog And Make Money – A stand-alone resource for anyone wanting to start a blog and make money from scratch. I cover the technical side, getting traffic and monetizing your audience.
My 80+ free tools & apps – My collection of 100% free high-quality, useful little online tools – solving everything from keyword research to color selection.
Shipping Profit Guide – Deciding whether or not to offer free shipping is a tough problem for online stores. This simple, straightforward little app helps you run the numbers.
Your domain name is your address online. Whether you are planning a website now or far in the future – you need to secure the one you want.
NameCheap – Where I register nearly all of my domains. They have excellent open management, great interface, great customer service, and very cheap long-term pricing.
GoDaddy – Where I register some of my short-term projects. I don’t recommend them vs. NameCheap (see my review here). But – they do have very cheap 1 year domain registration (before it gets expensive) for any short term projects you might have (they usually have a promo here).
No idea how to navigate the choices to find what’s best for you? Take the Domain Registrar Quiz!
Your website “lives” on a website hosting server. There’s a million of these companies (and I review a good many here). You’re looking for a solid balance of performance, reliability, customer service – all at a sensible price point. There is no such thing as a “best web host” – it all depends on your goals, budget, priorities & preferences. That said, here are my recommendations for the majority of website owners.
InMotion – A growing, independent company with impeccable customer service. A bit pricier – but I use them for this website & refer business clients to them. Here’s my InMotion Review. See their current plans & pricing here.
Bluehost – The company that many of my clients & readers use. They are the “name-brand” host, especially in the WordPress world. They focus on solid support, a clean interface, a full product suite, and are often a good fit for many website owners. Get a Basic Plan for $2.95 here.
SiteGround – A fast-growing, independent hosting company with a solid focus on the technical side of hosting. They also have a wide-range of international data centers, so I recommend them to many site owners with ex-US audiences. Get 60% off your SiteGround plan here.
HostGator – The company that hosts several small client sites & some of my personal projects. Amazing price point, great service, and great performance – they are my recommendation for anyone building lots of small websites. See their current plans & pricing here.
Web Hosting Hub – InMotion’s sister brand focused on starter websites. They have an amazing price point, a great product and a core focus on beginner and new website owners. Here’s my Web Hosting Hub Review.
Looking to start an online store? Often running the store on your own servers can be a distraction from your main focus (customer service, inventory, etc). That’s where an all-inclusive platform comes in. They handle everything – hosting, security, payments, inventory management, etc. They are often a great fit for anyone building an ecommerce website.
WooCommerce – If you want to build an online store that’s NOT part of a platform – something you own & manage (which is often a better fit for some), I highly recommend using the WooCommerce plugin with WordPress as your CMS. I have a full guide on using it here.
Trying to navigate all the ecommerce platform choices? Take the Ecommerce Platform Quiz!
If you’re going to start a website, you should use WordPress to “power” it – ie, use it as your “Content Management System” in the jargon. It is the way to start, run & manage a website or blog for a host of reasons – but especially because it can be extended to make it exactly what you want it to be. These are the tools I use to customize my installations of WordPress.
WordPress – You always need a copy of the software to install on your web hosting account. Some hosts (like HostGator) have easy auto-installs provided or even customized WordPress hosting (like InMotion).
Genesis – My go-to theme framework. It allows me to control exactly how my websites look, along with easily adding simple functionality. It’s open, SEO-friendly, and is compatible with nearly everything in the WordPress community (such as WooCommerce ) They also have plenty of child themes (aka “skins”) to get a professional-looking design.
Themeforest – A marketplace with lots of amazing, affordable, and well-built WordPress themes (and code snippets!). They also have a solid selection of child themes you can use with Genesis to get a specific look & design.
RankMath SEO for WordPress – If you want to implement SEO best practices on your WordPress-powered website – this is it.
JetPack – If you run a WordPress-powered website, you will have a few issues. First, you attract spam like flies to a honeypot. Second, you will have hacking attempts. Third, you will need to regularly backup both your files AND your database. Ok – JetPack take care of all that and more. And unlike other solutions I’ve tried – it actually works.
Here’s my list of must-have WordPress plugins.
Google Analytics / Google Search Console – While there are great open-source, non-Google analytics options, Google Analytics is just too amazing at providing accurate, useful data for your online marketing. I wrote guides to both Analytics & Search Console.
SEMrush – My go to agency marketing tool suite. They have most of Ahrefs’ tools & data but also have PPC, Social, and Local tools built in. Good for multi-channel marketing managers & agencies.
Mangools – My SEO tool suite recommendation for small agencies, freelancers & DIYers on a budget. They have amazing usability and good enough data for almost all use case cases. Also they are *much* more affordable than SEMrush / Ahrefs. Great value.
MailChimp – There’s a lot of email providers out there, but as an Atlantan, I absolutely love MailChimp. They provide a ton of marketing automation in addition to email. They also offer a free plan up to 2000 subscribers, so there’s no excuse to not start building an email list. I wrote a MailChimp review here.
Constant Contact – Several of my clients use Constant Contact as their dedicated email marketing provider and prefer them over MailChimp. They are the established email marketing brand with tons of integrations, training, customer support, and a 30 day money-back guarantee.
OptinMonster – There are a lot of awful lead generation & email collection tools out there. OptinMonster is not. It’s super-robust. It’s straightforward to set up highly segmented campaigns. See their full list of tools here.
Screaming Frog – Screaming Frog to an SEO specialist is like a carpenter to their tape measure. If you aren’t using it – then you’re not really doing your work.
MaxCDN / StackPath – A content distribution network speeds up your website & improves user experience by serving files closer to your users. They have great edge servers and integrate seamlessly with my caching plugins. They also take care of several SEO loose threads that I appreciate. See their plans here.
Stencil – I use Stencil almost daily to quickly mock up designs and ads.
Tailwind – I mainly use Buffer & manual work for my Pinterest channels. But for other projects, Tailwind is a must.
Sucuri – Nothing will kill your website marketing like getting hacked.
If When it happens, I use these guys to clean up the mess fast. Really amazing service.
Flippa – Buying & selling websites is an interesting part of the digital economy. I always start my search at Flippa.
Running Your Business
Freshbooks – If you run anything that could be called a business – you need to track your numbers. I’ve found FreshBooks is the most painless, convenient way to do my bookkeeping ever. I wrote a review of FreshBooks here.
Trello – The project management software I use to run all SWC projects. Project management software is weird. It has to fit your style, but you really have to stick to it to make it worth the effort. I’ve used everything from Basecamp to Google Tasks + Docs but Trello is it for me.
Gmail – Don’t make these things complicated :) Here’s a hack to get an @yourdomain.com email without paying for Google Apps. Set your @yourdomain.com email address to forward to your normal Gmail account, then go to Gmail Settings and add your @yourdomain.com as an alias email. You can now send & receive email in Gmail with your @yourdomain.com email address. *EDIT 11-2-2014 – this is actually getting tricky with some hosts due to spam risks, so I pay for Google Apps.
UpWork – I use UpWork to hire freelancers for specific longer-term projects.
ExpressVPN – I don’t need to use VPNs much, but when I do, I use ExpressVPN. Always stable with plenty of connection options.
BitWarden – Using the same password for all your accounts is a bad idea. BitWarden solves that problem securely.