Services for Bloggers that are Worth Paying for

Citizens of the Internet are quite fortunate.  Unlike most other economies we can pick up some great services, tools and products absolutely free.  In fact, some of the market leaders in terms of availability, reliability and feature sets are free.  Services such as Gmail.  But even in this world where man things can be had for free, there are certain things bloggers will have to pay for if they are to be successful.  Even if there are free alternatives available.  So what does a blogger need to reach into their pockets for?

Time to Pay Up?

Domain Name

Domain names have become a valuable commodity.  The good ones are disappearing fast, so get in there quick.  In fact, it’s very unlikely you’ll get your first choice, so you may have to be creative.  There are essentially two approaches you can take when searching for domains.  The first is to go for a domain that is Keyword Rich.  This means picking a domain name which contains words, terms or phrases that relate directly to your market.  This will aid you in search results and establishing yourself as an authority.  The second approach is to pick a brandable domain, something that is catchy and memorable.  Of course, there’s no reason you can’t do both.

Hosting

Out of the top 100 blogs how many use the hosted blogging services such as blogger or WordPress.com?  Maybe 10?  Less probably.  You will find that the vast majority of blogs, popular ones at least, are hosted independently.  There are numerous benefits to doing this, the main one being the amount of control it gives you.  For WordPress blogs specifically, this translates to changing themes, plugins and even editing the WordPress code itself.  You are also not tying your host and your platform together.  This separation is crucial should you ever wish to change either.

One benefit I’ve found with professionally hosted sites is that you get much better support than you would usually.  If you have a problem, drop them an email or a phonecall and generally you will get a quick, helpfull response.  There is usually a wealth of documentation available, guiding you through all the techie bits.

Theme/Branding

Having a great theme is one of the things that can really push a good blog into the upper echelons of the blogosphere.  Take a look at the best blogs out there, none use a freely available, or default, theme.  Fortunately there are many designers out there who are either willing to work on, or even specialise in, blog themes.  There are also pre-packaged premium themes out there, such as the Premium News Theme.  If you are hiring a designer or purchasing a premium theme, make sure you have a list of requirements, and don’t let anyone else change it.  Then, when you are evaluating prototypes/premium themes, constantly refer back to your requirements and check which ones are met.  By focusing on what you need you reduce the risk of being seduced by some of the exceptionally pretty themes out there.

The other point worth noting is that “paid for” doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay somone.  It’s just as valid to invest your own time into something like designing a theme as it is to pay an outsider.  Providing you have the ability to produce an equally viable output.

Extras

There are a few other services and products you can pick up if you’re serious about your blogging.  I don’t think they are truly essential, so I’ve just listed them.  Instead, these are some things that may work for you, and if they do, they will be well worth the money.

  • flickr – The king of image hosts.  If you take a lot of pictures or screenshots, then it may be beneficial to you (and your bandwidth bill) to pay for a premium flickr pro account and host your images with them.
  • Stock Photos – There are numerous stock photo websites out there, some offer  subscription model.  This means that you pay a monthly or yearly fee and can use as many pictures as you want or need.  You can also pay on a per-image basis.  Using photos can really bring your blog to life.
  • Advertising – While you can promote your blog for free, very little works as well as pure, straight up, paid for advertising.  Fortunately, you don’t have to pay a fortune.
  • Blogging Software – Personally, I find it hard to consistently use a blogging tool to post content.  For some reason I keep coming back to the WordPress inline editor.  Yes, the same one everyone else hates.  If you are someone who favours offline working, something like Ecto or MarsEdit may work for you.
  • Image Editing software – Depending on how many images you work with, it may be worth looking at something like Photoshop or Pixelmator. Or even the pro version of my favourite online image editor, Picnik.

I’m sure there are other paid-for tools out there that other bloggers swear by, but for me the three above are absolutely essential.  What’s on your list?

Photo by Jenn_Jenn.