Bethany’s Recommended Tools/Services

Some Recommended Tools, Sites and Services
Mentioned During Workshops and Consultations

Updated on Sept 10th,, 2017:

I hope you find this list helpful.

Whenever possible, I have provided free alternatives to any premium/paid versions of the tools I recommend.  When there is no free option listed, I truly believe the paid option is worth the price. Of course, if you know a free version that does the same thing, please let me know.

Some links in this list are affiliate links (where I get a referral credit), but I only recommend products I have tried and believe are good, solid solutions.  If you like my suggestions, please consider using these links. Thank you!


Featured Tools I am testing:

Placeit: Have you ever wondered how people got pictures of their website on a device? Or maybe a logo on a t-shirt? Or a cover of an ebook on what looks like a real book? Well, in most cases they pay someone big bucks to do it. But I found this tool that I plan to start testing – and you should as well! Some options are free (but at small sizes), some are paid (seems worth it from the experiments I’ve tried already). And they even have pre-made videos where you can insert your product, website… Very cool!

Here is a free alternative option called Smartmockups – you can get a bigger version of their image choices for free (which is a plus) – but they don’t have pre-made videos or other products (like books, t-shirts).

Below are images of one of my recent client’s site redesign projects – children’s’ book author Julie Danneberg. I’ve placed  a page from her website within in both options. What do you think? Email me and let me know which you like better.

Tools to design, crop and annotate pictures & graphics

PicMonkey: A free tool (with a premium upgrade) for cropping and resizing images – also has some added functionality, definitely check it out:
https://uniquethink.com/go/picmonkey

Canva: This is another free great tool for creating things like header images or ads for your site (without being a graphic designer)  https://www.canva.com/
They also have a free iPad version: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/canva-graphic-design-photo/id897446215?mt=8&uo=4&at=11lwm9

Pixlr: A free editing software in place of Photoshop.  They also now have a premium version:
http://pixlr.com/

Skitch: It lets you take a Screenshot, Annotate and Edit it.  I love Skitch, it is now part of Evernote.  It’s Free and you can use it without Evernote, as well:
https://evernote.com/skitch/

ColorZilla Eyedropper: Browser based way to find out what color is being used
http://www.colorzilla.com/

Color Cop: Let’s you find out what color is being used from a PC/Window’s computer http://colorcop.net/

Da Button Factory: Creates buttons for use on websites and email newsletters – very easy to use
http://dabuttonfactory.com/

Make A Gif: This site lets you take a series of images and turn it into a short gif file (sort of like a Vine Video http://makeagif.com/

 


Tool to Manage ALL your long crazy passwords in one place

1Password: Remember and Manage ALL your long/secure passwords using one master password to log into this tool:

Find it in the Apple App Store:
https://uniquethink.com/go/1password for Mac, it's $49.99
https://uniquethink.com/go/1papp for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch for Free with an in-app upgrade to Pro for $9.99

For windows or android  - or a 30 day free trial of the Mac version - go directly to https://agilebits.com/onepassword


Tools to check responsiveness of a site (though you can also just resize your browser window to check it, as well)

Resizer Tool: Viewport resizer is a browser-based tool to test any website’s responsiveness.
http://lab.maltewassermann.com/viewport-resizer/

Mobile phone emulator: Let’s you see what your site will look like on a mobile device
http://www.mobilephoneemulator.com


Tools to measure something in your browser window

MeasureIt for Firefox: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/measureit/

Page Ruler for Chrome: http://blarg.co.uk/tools/page-ruler


Stock Image Sites: places to get images

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This free image is from: http://www.lifeofpix.com/photographer/sarah-babineau/

Here’s a great collection of free stock photo sites compiled by in an article for BootstrapBay.  Some of these sites have stunning and/or fun, unique images.  The one drawback of many of these sites is though they are generously giving away lots of free images, they don’t tend to have a search function.  With everything, there is a price for free, and this time it is Your Time to go through the sites.  However, if you have more time than money, Christopher has provided a great place to check out some fantastic photographers whose work should be seen.  Read the individual agreements – some do have different usage rights: 21 Amazing Sites With Breathtaking Free Stock Photos

Someone in the comment section for the above article mentioned Pixabay, which is another free stock photo site with a search option!

FreeImages.com: Free stock photo site.  You can use these images online, but check usage/license agreement.  It may cost to use in logos, ads, or products
http://www.freeimages.com/

Since FreeImages is a sister of iStockPhoto (which is owned by Getty), the top and bottom row are Premium images that might cost as low as $2.  If you want free images, make sure you stay with images on FreeImage’s site.  If you are interested in iStockPhoto images, you can buy credits to purchase their images:
https://uniquethink.com/istockphoto

Stocksy: This is a great place to look for ‘un-stocky’ looking stock photos. They are trying to share more realistic images.  They are also giving the artists/photographers a more equal split of the profits  http://www.stocksy.com/

 


Premium Theme Developers:

ThemeBlvd: This is my top theme developer.  He offers tons of great featuresWordPress Theme - Denali by ThemeBlvd/functionality in well designed themes that look good out of the box. His Jumpstart 2 Framework WordPress Theme is what UniqueThink uses to build our client sites.

He also sells on ThemeForest and has several amazing Responsive Design (mobile-friendly) themes:

Check out his Responsive Multi-Purpose WordPress Theme Denali and his newest theme Gnar (which is designed as a fun Action, Adventure & Travel WordPress Theme, but can be used for anyone looking for an edgy new design!).

This developer creates videos to show how to do most everything in his theme – and there are lots of options!  https://uniquethink.com/themeblvd

StudioPress (Genesis Framework): If you are looking for a good theme with lots of features and a nice design out of the box, these might be worth looking at (but some are not responsive): https://uniquethink.com/studiopress

Others to consider include: Avada (from ThemeFusion on ThemeForest) and ElegentThemes’s Divi theme.


Maintenance of WordPress

Security:

Sucuri.net – You can use their free scanner to make sure your site is safe.  But they also offer a monitoring service, this is a great way to make sure your site stays secure.  And, if you get hacked and do get malware, they can remove it for you!
https://uniquethink.com/go/security

Backups:

BackupBuddy: A premium (paid) plugin that allows you to backup your full site, not just your database.  You can also use this tool to MIGRATE your site to another server https://uniquethink.com/movewp

VaultPress by Automattic – https://vaultpress.com/ The company behind WordPress – VaultPress is not a plugin, it is a great backup solution with a one-click restore option.  They also have security features (monitoring) in some of their plans.

Monthly maintenance for fits and security:

WPCurve: This company has developers available 24/7 to fix any small jobs, on the same day, from $79 /month.

 


HOSTING SERVICE PROVIDERS:

Quick Answer is:

Current #1 Suggestion is GetFlyWheel – a WordPress exclusive hosting solution (that’s correct, they only host WordPress websites – so they can be focused on the latest issues and advancements): http://share.getf.ly/e26w3g

  • Free 30 days to set up your site!
  • Managed speed and caching – it helps to have a fast site – which helps you get found better on Google and helps the person visiting the site
  • Automatic backups and simple restores –  makes sure your important content is backed up and easy to restore
  • WordPress core updates –  updating of WordPress is critical (but don’t forget you still need to update themes/plugins)
  • Malware scanning and cleanup – they monitor the site and if something goes wrong, and your site gets hacked, they clean it for you
  • More…

Special Limited Time Offer: The friendly and knowledgeable folks at GetFlyWheel have extended an offer for you!
Get either 2 months free paying monthly OR three months free paying annually.
Make sure you use this code at checkout: uniquethink1
Get the Special Offer – use our promo code at checkout: uniquethink1

#2 is WPEngine (they are also WordPress-centric) : https://uniquethink.com/wpengine

#3 – only if you truly can’t afford 1 or 2 – is SiteGround: https://uniquethink.com/siteground

Regarding Email Addresses on the Hosting Accounts:

With GetFlyWheel and WP Engine, they DO NOT host Email – but I recommend – regardless of which hosting company you choose – you use Google Apps for Business to host your email.  This lets you use the same secure, fast, and easily accessible services as Gmail to run your company (domain name) email address: http://goo.gl/2er1by

Long Answer for Hosting Solutions:

Here are a few Hosting solutions I wanted to mention. Please keep in mind, these are my opinions based on my research and conversations with other developers, but things change quickly in technology, so this is my experience as of the date posted at the top under Updated on:

The newest addition to my suggested hosting solutions is GetFlyWheelhttp://share.getf.ly/e26w3g – which is getting a bunch of amazing reviews.

Here are two sites that have reviews of many of the hosting companies mentioned on this page:

This study was actually commissioned by GoDaddy, but GetFlyWheel was clearly doing better in both response time and uptime:
http://webhosting.cloudspectator.com/#results?IdTest=2&IdHosting=3

This site reviewed a bunch of hosting solutions – and again, GetFlyWheel seemed to do really well!
http://reviewsignal.com/blog/2014/11/03/wordpress-hosting-performance-benchmarks-november-2014/

Cheap Shared Hosting: Think First Apartment Living – it could be great or horrible. Your experience depends on who lives next door (shares space on your server)!

SiteGround’s StartUp for WordPress: https://uniquethink.com/siteground – After a lot of reviewing and conversations with industry folks, this seems like the best option if you really can’t afford anything else.

As a heads up: HostMonster, BlueHost and HostGator were all purchased by EIG, who owns many other hosting companies – I am no longer recommending EIG owned companies – but here is info on them:

HostMonster: I used to love these guys for cheap shared hosting – but their service has gone down hill since they were purchased by EIG- so I don’t recommend them any more. Plus, they are greatly increasing their pricing for people who have been on their services and are renewing.
http://www.hostmonster.com/track/uniquethink/

BlueHost is the sister company of HostMonster and though they have been recommended by WordPress.ORG since 2005 – since they were purchased by EIG, I’ve found their service isn’t as good and their prices are going up considerably for people already on their servers.
http://bluehost.com/track/uniquethink

HostGator: This company has reasonable monthly plans and uses Renewable Energy credits.  Their Business account provides a private SSL certificate for those running a true ecommerce site – but again, service has declined since they EIG purchase. You will probably be put on a server at BlueHost/HostMonster’s facility in Utah.
http://secure.hostgator.com/cgi-bin/affiliates/clickthru.cgi?id=bethink

Pro Hosting: Think Townhome – less neighbors to potentially be a problem, but there are still shared resources – which means if someone else is hogging them, your site might not be any faster than the shared cheap hosting!

SiteGround’s Go Geek Account: https://uniquethink.com/siteground – this has more features and less people (sites) per server

HostMonster: I was hopeful when they started providing a PRO account – less folks on the server, but you still share resources. I tried to like it, but didn’t find it ran any faster for the accounts I had set up for several clients.
http://www.hostmonster.com/track/uniquethink/

WP Managed Hosting: Think Gated Community – better security (also faster speed – see this report, which was commissioned by GoDaddy, interestingly, but they don’t come up on top)

GetFlyWheel: http://share.getf.ly/e26w3g – these guys really have a great offer – see the notes above about their features, but one of my favorites is that you can starting building the site for free – you have 30 days to check it out, before you launch without paying them!

WPEngine: This company has a lot of the same features as GetFlyWheel, but don’t offer the 30 days free.  However, they do one-click restore backups (through VaultPress) & WP upgrades for you, so you don’t have to worry about doing them on your own (you still do the plugin and theme updates, though). And they ranked well on the study, as well: 
https://uniquethink.com/wpengine

The below companies offer a version of a WPccentric hosting, but I found them lacking in the features listed above:

BlueHost Optimized Hosting for WordPress – it seems to be a good option for speed – per a study done of WPmanaged hosting solutions.  You still do a 1click install – it’s not fully managed WP – but it’s said to be faster and safer – I just haven’t tried it http://bluehost.com/track/uniquethink

GoDaddy Managed WordPress – they started offering this option in 2014 – I still won’t put someone on it.  Here’s my thought if you have to use GoDaddy, YOU MUST use their MANAGED WORDPRESS offering, not regular hosting option: https://www.godaddy.com/hosting/wordpress-hosting.aspx

If you have to use something other than GetFlyWheel or WPEngine, try SiteGround and let me know what you think!

Regarding Email Addresses on the Hosting Accounts: With GetFlyWheel and WP Engine, you’ll have to host your email somewhere else – but I recommend you use Google Apps for Business to host your email – regardless of which hosting company you choose.  This lets you use the same secure services as gmail to run your company (domain name) email address: http://goo.gl/2er1by

There are a lot of companies I would not recommend, like EIG owned companies (I no longer recommend: HostMonster, BlueHost, HostGator, and never recommended FatCow) and GoDaddy, 1&1, and Network Solutions, either for price, speed, security, tech support or other factors.  Though if you are on them and have no complaints, then there is no reason to change. They are just not companies I recommend and prefer not to use for UniqueThink’s clients.

Regarding Domain Registration: Though some hosting packages offer 1 free domain registration, I typically encourage folks to purchase their domain registration somewhere else and then point it to your hosting account (think of it like forwarding a phone number).  You can keep all your registered domains in one location and it could possibly be easier to move (if you change hosting) in the future.  Some domain registration service to consider are Godaddy (just for Domain Registration, NOT for hosting), Name.com (which happen to be Denver), IWantMyDomain.com


These are my current Must have Plugins

Keep in mind, for plugins that are free you don’t have to go to each of these links. You can just go into your site’s admin section and over to Plugins/Add New.  I’ve included links even to the free ones, in case you wanted to read more or to find out if there is a premium upgrade.

Akismet- http://akismet.com/ – Eliminates Spam in Comments

WordPress SEO by Yoast https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/ this has more options and includes an XML sitemap tool (so you don’t need a separate plugin)

BackWPup Free https://wordpress.org/plugins/backwpup/ Schedule complete automatic backups of your WordPress installation. (I prefer a paid option either VaultPress or BackupBuddy)

Premium (Paid) Backup Solutions

Backup Buddy https://uniquethink.com/backupbuddy If you have a very active site (3 posts or more a day), you should definitely consider investing in this type of option

You will need to set up a storage location for larger backups, I recommend AmazonS3 servers

VaultPress by Automattic – https://vaultpress.com/ The company behind WordPress – VaultPress is not a plugin, but is a great backup solution

Broken Link Checker   http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/broken-link-checker/ Checks for broken links and missing images (this is a resource heavy plugin, so you can either turn it on once a month to check it or use a browser based option like http://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/ – but either way, keep an eye out for broken links!)

Custom Post Widget https://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/custom-post-widget/ Adds ‘content blocks’ to a widget – without knowing code

Google Analytics for WordPress plugin by MonsterInsights https://wordpress.org/plugins/google-analytics-for-wordpress/ – You can use this to connect Google Analytics to your WordPress site

Hide YouTube Related Videos https://wordpress.org/plugins/hide-youtube-related-videos/ – This is a simple plugin to keep the YouTube oEmbed from showing related videos.

TinyMCE Advanced http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/tinymce-advanced/  Add on tools for your editor tool bar.

Shield Security 
https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-simple-firewall/ – Adds security to your site

JetPack: Definitely check out all the options in this one. Lots of tools from this one plugin – created by the team behind WordPress. Learn about it: http://jetpack.me/about/

Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd – https://wordpress.org/plugins/coming-soon/ – if you need a way to hide your site either when you are building it or during maintenance, this is a great option


Email Marketing Service Provider

Picking an email marketing service provider may require a deeper conversation, partly because it depends on what tools you need which provider will be best. Here are some reasons I like or may dislike some of the below companies: 

Constant Contact is typically my recommended email marketing service provider – especially for Low-Tech folks who need to be able to call someone on the phone. They have great customer support (maybe the best on this list). They are a great option for someone looking to easily send out email newsletters. They also have tools for doing surveys, collecting email addresses on social media, signing folks up for events and auto-responder tools. https://uniquethink.com/go/cc

MailChimp: They offer a good free plan, but if you have problems, you can’t call anyone, you have to email for support. They don’t have survey tools, but they do offer a way to send your blog posts through RSS.

GetResponse – Last year, I was using this for a client who needed more features than Constant Contact (landing pages, for example), and though I like them, they were not as user friendly as I had hoped. My client found them a bit cumbersome for doing a standard broadcast email, but overall liked their landing page option and automation features. If you need those things, they are worth checking out. If you simply need email newsletters, stick with Constant Contact.

MailerLite – These are the guys I am watching. I have just started to try their tools out, but they seem very promising. They offer a free plan, too, which is a great way to see if you like them without an investment. Though they aren’t a household name, they seem to have an easy to use platform for everything from an email newsletter to an auto email series. They also offer landing pages. So I’d say check them out for something more robust than Constant Contact.

Drip is another option that is new, but they seem to focus on dripping content (as the name suggests) based on actions and automation more than standard newsletters or RSS feeds. They are a child company of LeadPages (which is an expensive landing page tool, though Drip offers a free plan to try their autoresponder services out). The concept is promising, but requires a deep level of strategic thought. This is not a replacement for Constant Contact or MailChimp, this is about timed emails based on action or inaction of signups.


ConvertKit
 is more for automation email series, but does let you do broadcast emails (newsletters – in a stripped down format). It is the tool I tried last year for the client I mentioned I moved to GetResponse. We were both very disappointed with ConvertKit, after hearing so many people say they loved it. I think those folks were comparing it to Infusionsoft (which is a much more expensive and complex system for drip automation). My thought is that maybe one day ConvertKit’s toolset will be worth using, but not quite there yet.
Focusing on the many possibilities… Bethany

*Some links in this list are affiliate link, I try to compare products and give recommendations based on options I have tried and believe are good, solid solutions.