Want to write better blog posts? Are you trying to create more visually appealing graphics? Wrestling with scheduling social media promotion?
Whatever challenge you’re working on as a book blogger, the good news is that there are tools that will get you there.
The difficulty is sorting out the wheat from the chaff. There are thousands of these tools around, and more get created every year.
Some tools are more suited to a fully commercial business than a personal blog. Others can certainly help make you more efficient and productive but that comes at a price. And others are impressive but complex so the question is whether the reward is worth the effort you’d need to put in to learn the tool.
I’m going to try and make life easier for you by sharing the 10 tools I’ve found the most useful. I’m selecting only those that are free of charge.
Let’s start where all blog posts begin: with the headline. It’s the first thing your readers see so it’s worth investing some time to make it as interesting, appealing as possible.
This blogging tool quickly reviews your headline for length, use of keywords and sentiment and scores it on a scale of 0 to 100. Based on that first result you can play with the wording, length and order of words to see if you can get a higher score.
It’s a great way to test out different kinds of headlines. You can continue to play with combinations until you find one that works best.
Here’s what happened when I played with different options for this post:
The simplest headline “10 Tools For Book Bloggers” scored 54 but by adding just one word “best” I could bump that up to 68. Adding three more words took it to a more acceptable 75. One of the reasons the final version scored better is that blog posts with 6-13 word long headlines tend to get more views (Hubspot)
In addition to the overall score you get a breakdown of the components of the headline: the number of “emotional” and “power” words; use of common versus uncommon words for example.
The tool doesn’t tell you exactly what you should write. But it does give you a good feel for the effect of changing just one or two words. It’s free, and you can use it as much as you’d like.
You can upgrade if you want even more analysis but I’ve never found that necessary,
There are some headline analyser plug ins available for WordPress that do pretty much the same job as Co-Schedule but you need to have one of the paid WordPress packages to access these.
This is an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered writing assistant that will help you make sure you are using good grammar and spelling in your blog posts. When you install the Grammarly browser extension (compatible with WordPress) you’ll find that, as you type your content, the tool will detect and underline incorrect words or phrases.
Studies have shown that blog posts that contain graphics and images hold more appeal for readers than an ocean of text. An image of a book cover is an easy option for book review posts but if you are creating other types of content, you’ll want to go beyond this basic approach.
That’s where image libraries and graphic design tools come in.
Unsplash has a massive free stock photo library — 810,000+ photos from photographers around the world. If you’re looking for inspiration you can browse collections such as street photography or nature. If you already know the kind of image you want, just use their powerful search engine. Don’t forget to credit the photographer when you find the right image.
Even bigger than Unsplash, this photo library offers a phenomenal collection of 2.4m high quality images — making it my go-to option whenever I need a featured image or an in-content generic image. All contents are released under the Pixabay License, which means they can be used without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist.
A minnow compared to the other two providers but MyStockPhotos does have a good range of high quality images that would make interesting backgrounds. They are all licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose (personal use, some commercial use). They can be modified and shared without attribution.
One word of caution with all these sites. You might find some images labelled iStock. These are not free. They are sponsored images from the Getty library and are not free to use. Always check the permission rights of any image you want to use. You do not want to get a nasty surprise of a claim for breach of copyright.
Instead of relying on stock images, why not create your own graphics using one of the many free design tools?
You could use GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) which is an editing platform available for GNU/Linux, macOS, Windows and more operating systems. it gives you complete flexibility to create banners, social media posts and graphics for memes or reading projects. It has the same functionality as many versions of Photoshop but has one distinct advantage – it’s free.
However it’s not an intuitive programme and has more sophistication than I need so I’m going to recommend instead some simpler tools.
6. Canva is probably the best known tool on the web for creating unique images that you can use either in your blog posts or on social media. You can start with one of the templates depending on whether you want a Twitter or an Instagram image, a banner or an infographic, and then simply modify the colours/ text etc. Or you can begin with a completely blank canvas, pull in an image from their photo and background library (or use one from Unsplash, Pixabay) and away you go.
If you want to save time, create a graphic that you can use as your own template – that’s what I’ve done recently with the graphics for my book review posts and it’s saved me a ton of time.
The only thing that frustrates me about Canva is the lack of flexibility in changing the size of the graphic I’ve created. Say I create one to use in a blog post and want the same design for Pinterest, Canva won’t let me make the change — I have to start over again. There is a paid upgrade which would allow me to re-size the one graphic for use across social media platforms but I’m not willing to make that level of investment. The free version is more than enough for my needs right now.
Comment spam is a frustrating element of book blogging. If your blog posts are open for comments, sooner or later you’ll be targeted by spammers. You really don’t want this often malicious and salacious material visible on your site. it doesn’t inspire confidence among your readers if they see your site littered with rubbish and pornographic ‘contributions’.
So you need an anti spam filter. Ideally one that will automatically deal with the spam on your behalf.
This is installed on my site, quietly working in the background to check comments and contact form submissions against a global database of spam and blocking them from appearing on the blog. Sometimes it’s over zealous and blocks legitimate comments but that’s easily dealt with: you just open the “comments” admin interface, click on the “spam” tab and unblock any you think should have been permitted.
Akismet is free for paid WordPress sites and at a small fee for other blogs.
There are other steps you can take to minimise the number of spam comments — I’ll tackle that in a later post.
Whether you’ve been blogging for five months or five years, you’re likely to encounter the occasional problem. Where can you go to get help?
The WordPress site contains a lot of resources to help you build your blog, customise themes or connect social media platforms to your blog. Those resources do guide you through the basics but they’re not so good at dealing with specific technical issues.
For those, it’s best to take advantage of the Forum. You can post your problem and get an answer from another WordPress user or one of the technical team members at WordPress itself. If you have a self hosted plan, there is a different forum at https://wordpress.org/support/forums/.
But don’t worry, if you post in the wrong place, someone will help to redirect you.
9. WordPress Chat
If you need more rapid help, you can do a live chat session with one of the WordPress “Happiness Engineers” (don’t groan, I didn’t come up with their job title!). To do this, log into WordPress.com and click on the blue and white ? icon in the lower right corner. This will take you to all of the Help resources. Then, click the Contact Us button. Type your question in the box under “How can we help?” and press Chat to begin the chat session. Or just click this link to go direct to the Contact Us page.
I’ve used this service a few times when I was trying to change to a new theme and had a good response. On a separate occasion the technical support person couldn’t fix the problem immediately but gave me a work around and then logged the problem for further action. A good experience in all.
Creating and publishing great content is only one aspect of blogging. The most rewarding element for me is the interaction with other bloggers. Blogging is after all a form of social media. I follow about 150 book blogs so need an efficient system to keep track of new posts. I used to get all the alerts of new posts coming into my email inbox but now prefer to use a feed reader.
There are a few of these around. You’ll see them variously described as feed readers or RSS readers. Some are web based, others are available as apps that work across multiple devices.
My choice is Feedly, a web based platform which integrates with an app on my phone and iPad. I use it to follow blogs but you can also add podcasts, newsletters, Twitter feeds and You Tube videos. Each source can be assigned to a category (Feedly calls these ‘boards’ and also ‘feeds’) .
Using the tool is simple once you’re set up. The main dashboard will show you what’s new “Today” and there is a side panel (shown left) that indicates how many pending items there are in each feed.
You can also click on any of the individual sources or a board.
It’s easier to use than the WordPress reader because once you’ve read an item, it is cleared from the screen and you can also delete items en bloc. So if you get behind with any of the feeds, you can simply choose to delete items older than a day or older than a week.
There is a paid version which gives you scope to add more sources, add notes to content, and highlight important passages but I’ve found the free version more than adequate for my needs.
In the next few months I’m going to try out a few other service providers like Innoreader purely in the interests of comparison. I’ll report back on my experience.
What tools do you find essential aids to your life as a book blogger? Do let me know by leaving a comment below. If you’re looking for other tips on book blogging or how to use WordPress, check out all the articles in my A2Z Of Book Blogging.