It’s not easy starting out as a new blogger or launching a new website using WordPress. There’s a very steep learning curve, and if you show the slightest interest in anything blogging related, you soon get overwhelmed with emails offering you costly premium tools you “can’t do without”. You can feel like a kiddie in a sweetshop, wanting all the goodies. However, before long, it can become very expensive.
The good news is that there’s a antidote to the long list of pricey plug-ins and services! I’ve curated an insider’s selection of the best free tools for bloggers that I used when I set up The Independent Landlord on a shoe-string.
My list of free tools will help you on your way, without adding to the feelings of overwhelm with all the choices available. You can then grow a fantastic website using free tools that are available to new bloggers, but which many established bloggers keep to themselves
- 1. What are the Best Free Essentials for Bloggers?
- 2. The Best Free Search Engine Optimisation / SEO Tools for Bloggers
- 3. Canva Free Version: in a class of its own to help bloggers
- 4. Where to Get the Best Free Images for Bloggers
- 5. What are the Best Free Tools for Bloggers to Earn Money?
- 6. Final thoughts
Some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links. This means I may get a small commission if you buy something after clicking through.
1. What are the Best Free Essentials for Bloggers?
Astra WordPress Theme and Starter Templates
Astra is a very popular free theme for your WordPress website, and is used by over 2.3 million websites, including The Web Smith!
They also offer over two hundred free Starter Templates to help you build a fantastic looking, responsive website in no time at all, which looks like it cost a web site developer a lot to create.
Astra’s free templates cover every niche and business from health and wellness (even yoga teachers), to creative freelancers (artists, photographers, musicians, writers etc), ecommerce and online shops, charities and not for profits, and of course bloggers.
In fact, this website was built using a free Starter Template from Astra called Learn Baking. Of course I customised it, but the structure beneath the website is from this free Starter Template. I did upgrade to Astra Pro in order to use some of the extra tools, but it is certainly possible to launch a beautiful blog for free using the Astra theme.
I love the Astra theme as it’s light and fast, loading in under half a second, and optimised for mobiles. The customer service is excellent, and there are lots of “how to” videos, to help you on your way. You can also customise it to look exactly how you want, all without using code.
From a technical point of view, the Astra themes are built for use with the WordPress Gutenberg editor, which means they. You can read about the technical features of the Astra theme here. Astra also promises to be ‘is also “100% compatible” with WooCommerce, Elementor and Beaver Builder. It also includes Spectra containers (see below)
Might I add that I built this entire website by myself, without the help of anyone else. If I can do it in my mid-50s, so can you!
Spectra Free Plug-In
Spectra is a free plug-in that enhances the WordPress Gutenberg block editor. The Spectra blocks give you lots of advanced options to create a lovely websites using the WordPress block editor, for free.
It’s particularly good for letting you use Flexbox, without coding, to create responsive containers. You can resize and restructure all the elements exactly the way you like, without restricting your design to a grid or table. Click here for examples of what Spectra Flexbox containers can do.
Spectra works with different types of themes, even if they’re not from Astra. You can see from the image above how it appears in the block editor.
I’ve used Spectra extensively on this website and highly recommend downloading this free plugin to give your website a sophisticated look and feel.
>> Related Post: How to get the best out of WordPress 6.3
>> Related Post: How to set up a WordPress blog for (almost) free
MailerLite email marketing platform
All bloggers need to build an email list to connect directly with your readers and to return visits. I always get a bump in views the morning my weekly newsletter goes out.
There are lots of companies offering email marketing platforms. Personally, I think the best one for new bloggers is MailerLite. I use it for both my newsletters at The Independent Landlord and for The Web Smith
Not only is MailerLite free to use for the first 1,000 subscribers, but it enables you to build beautiful newsletters using a drag and drop editor and lots of templates. It also has a range of automations so that people who subscribe can be sent welcome emails. It’s also really easy to design pop-up and embedded forms, and insert them into your website using the “short code” function in WordPress’s block editor.
Many recommend Mailchimp. I tried it first of all, but found it very limited and clunky to use. I swapped it for MailerLite after a couple of months of frustration. Click here for a comparison of features and prices with Mailchimp. I’ve certainly found it a lot easier to use MailerLite.
I highly recommend MailerLite’s free plan with such great functionality for under 1,000 subscribers. You can do this by starting a free 30-day trial of MailerLite’s premium features, without needing to give a credit card, and then just continue on the free plan.
Anyway, what I hadn’t realised is the amount of freebies you get with even SiteGround’s least expensive hosting plan, the StartUp,. For instance, all plans come with free email accounts which use your website domain name with up to 10GB of account space. That’s fantastic for new bloggers as it means you can add that professional touch to emails, and upgrade to a Google Workspace business plan with a 20% SiteGround discount at a later stage.
All of their plans also include an automated daily backup, which other hosts charge extra for.
Free tools like this help spread the start-up costs for new bloggers.
PS I personally chose the GrowBig plan as that meant the hosting for any additional websites is effectively free, as the package includes unlimited websites (up to 100,000 visits a month, and 20 GB Web Space). Once you get the bug for blogging, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to set up a second blog!
2. The Best Free Search Engine Optimisation / SEO Tools for Bloggers
Google Search Console
If there’s one tool that will help you throughout your journey as a blogger, it’s Google Search Console. The best thing is that it’s totally free. Take the time to get to know it well. You’ll thank me.
What is Google Search Console and why is it a useful free tool for bloggers? It’s to be confused with its cousin Google Analytics, or even GA4. Google Search Console helps you see which keywords are bringing traffic to your site. It also identifies some errors that might be affecting your rankings, and helps you optimise your content so your site performs better in the Google search results.
Why do I like Google Search Console so much, apart from the fact it’s free? Google Search Console provides a quick and easy way for me to track how my websites are performing at both the page level, and for the overall website. It also shows me what I need to do to improve my content so that it ranks better.
These are the three parts of Google Search Console that I use the most:
- Overview. This is good place to start. It’s a dashboard of the key performance metrics such as web search clicks, page indexing and key experience data.
- URL inspection. Here you can ask Google to “inspect” a particular page or post by inserting it into the search box to test the live URL. Google will tell you if it’s indexed, with a summary of information. I always request indexing of a page, or post even if it’s already indexed, each time I update it That way, I don’t have to wait until the bot next crawls that page for it to notice my updated content.
- Performance on Search Results: This is the page I spend most time on. Not only can you see how many clicks and impressions a given page has had. But you can also see what search questions led the person to your page, or not. Incredibly valuable. If you spend at least an hour here every week, you’ll be able to plan how to improve your ranking. Prioritise your efforts by focussing on which search queries generate a lot of impressions, but not corresponding click throughs.
Click here for excellent tips from Google on getting started with Google Search Console.
3. Canva Free Version: in a class of its own to help bloggers
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Canva has revolutionise content creation for those who aren’t graphic designers. It’s considerably easier to use than the Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop. Canva has made it comparatively simple for bloggers and social media content creators to create designs themselves.
The good news for newbie bloggers is that there’s a free version of Canva and that includes a lot of images. However, I warn you, you’ll want to upgrade to the Pro version. Not only does the Pro version bring a lot more tools, but there’s also a huge range of Pexels images. I’m not an affiliate of Canva, and this is just my experience.
One of features I use a lot for my blog The Independent Landlord, is the mock up feature. This is available on the free version of Canva. However, inevitably, the better choices are in the Pro version.
Canva also provide access to a lot of images, including those from Pexels.
4. Where to Get the Best Free Images for Bloggers
Getting the right images is such a challenge for new bloggers. Unless you’re a photographer yourself, it can be difficult to find the range of photos you need for your blog. Ones that have the right vibe and complement the colour palette on your website and your logo.
>> Related post: How to get the best from your blog images
Here are my recommendations of where to get free images, all of which I use myself:
5. What are the Best Free Tools for Bloggers to Earn Money?
Finally, here are some free tools to help you make a bit of money as a blogger.
Awin is an international affiliate marketing platform that has a number of UK companies signed up like Dunelm, Frenchic paint, Homebase as examples for property renovation. They manage all the admin with the company, the generation of the affiliate links and also the payouts. It’s really easy for content creators. You can look up their index to see if your favourite brands are included.
I’m signed up with Awin for The Independent Landlord, and have had a steady income each money through recommending the companies I’ve chosen on my blog. It’s important to have an affiliate policy (click here to see mine) and to be transparent when a blog post or page has affiliate links, by including a statement (see above, under the table of contents).
One drawback of having lots of affiliates to manage (nice problem to have), is keeping track of all the affiliate links, without having to continually look them up.
This is where PrettyLinks comes in. It’s a plugin that enables you manage your affiliate links.
How does Pretty Links work?
You can use the Pretty Links free of charge to create short versions of the affiliate links, and track click throughs.
To do this, you create a “pretty link” for anything, that will start with your domain name, and end with whatever you want. When you next want to use it in a blog post, you can add it direct from the block editor, without having to look it up. It’s really easy.
There’s a Pro version with lots of bells and whistles, enabling you to “cloak”but the free version
6. Final thoughts
It’s so easy to get carried away when you set up a new WordPress blog, and buy a plethora of tools and plug-ins.
However, it’s best to wait a while, to see what will really add value to your website, in your niche. In the meantime, you can give these free tools a go, and see which ones you get on with. You may decide to stay with the free versions. For others (such as Canva), you may decide it’s worth paying for the Pro version.
Above all, don’t be hasty. Take your time, and see what functionality each of the free tools for bloggers gives you. Then you can make an informed decision about where to invest to grow your blog further.