Free tools every blogger must know about

Swiss Army Knife multi tool I’m working to improve my site (more on this later). In the process, I came across a number of online tools that are really helping. They’re all free, so you can’t beat the price.

Must-use tools

I use these tools every day. Highly recommended.

  • Site24x7. This free online service pings your site hourly and graphs response times and warns you if the site goes off line. For a few dollars a month, you can get checks every 5m and SMS alerts.
  • Windows Live Writer. This is a great, free offline mini-wordprocessor for writing blog posts. It’s much easier to use than WordPress’s built-in tool. It’s also easy to juggle multiple blogs.
  • Firefox spell check. When you install Firefox, you get the option to install a dictionary for spell-checking things you type into the browser. This is great for spell checking comments on other people’s blogs and posts you enter directly into your own blog.

Development and techie tools

At some point, most bloggers have to roll their sleeves up and become developers, if only for an afternoon. These tools will help.

  • DNS Stuff. This page encapsulates lots of useful tools for site owners. For example, you can check if your domain is on a spam blacklist, look up WHOIS records, ping sites, test for email problems etc. etc. I use 123-reg.co.uk to manage my domains and DNS Stuff helps me check everything is work.
  • Web design reference resources. This site is really helpful. It contains links to reference sources for CSS, PHP, HTML, colour swatches, specifications etc. All on one page.
  • Firefox developer tool bar. If you do any kind of web development, this is the must-have Firefox add-on.
  • Favicon generator. I like this simple tool that turns an image into a properly-configured Favicon (the little icons that appear in browser’s bookmarks). All you need to do is upload it to your site and bingo.
  • Embed Slideshare.net presentations in WordPress using this plugin.

Search engine optimisation

Most of my new readers come in via Google. Even for non-commercial sites like a blog, search engine optimisation is essential. These links will point you in the right direction.

Visitor monitoring and reporting

Understanding your readers, finding your place in the blogosphere and generally massaging your own ego are essential parts of the blogging experience. These tools will help you get down with your stats.

  • Technorati. If you haven’t done it yet, registering your site with Technorati will help you track your interactions with the blogosphere. Who links to you and how much authority your site has. Warning: addictive!
  • Alexa. Yes, I know it’s the subject of much debate but if you get reasonable amounts of traffic, Alexa is one useful way of benchmarking your traffic against other popular sites. It’s also a useful way of seeing who is linking to your site.
  • Feedburner. This is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife. It provides site and subscriber stats, simplifies RSS feeds, does some social network bookmarking (Digg etc.) and some other stuff. There’s a WordPress plug in that automatically switches existing RSS subscribers over to a Feedburner feed.
  • Google Analytics. Completely awesome, interactive, online site statistics. I use Feedburner to monitor subscribers and Analytics to monitor visitors.

Monitoring, validating and quality assurance

Bad code, broken links and poor accessibility can ruin the user experience and damage your searchability on Google. These tools will help you find problems.

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13 Responses to Free tools every blogger must know about

  1. Craig McGinty August 3, 2007 at 10:39 am #

    A great list and I use many of these myself.

    One thing I do highlight to people is to use the newsletter facility in Feedburner, it’s hidden away a little on their site, and depending on your readership it could be more popular than RSS subscribers.

    All the best, Craig

  2. BeachBum August 3, 2007 at 11:41 am #

    Great post. I did not know about Live Writer. FireFox has a ton of great tools. I enjoy the built in spell check too. For SEO I use the SEO Quake plugin, very cool stuff.

    BeachBum

  3. George Mandis August 3, 2007 at 3:54 pm #

    Nice list – I’d recommend Journler as a Mac tool for writing your blog posts offline.

    You could add another section on getting your site aggregated, with places like 9rules, Technorati and Digg.

  4. Heather Yaxley August 3, 2007 at 5:13 pm #

    Thanks for this information – I’ve been using Live Writer for yonks and love it. One really useful feature is that it automatically picks up your design and enables you to upload to different blogs really easily. I’m a huge fan, especially as you can also use the Blog It feature from any site/page on which you wish to comment. Easy for pictures, links, trackbacks too.

  5. jennifer rose August 3, 2007 at 5:24 pm #

    Beta versions of most software programs make many of us just a little edgy, particularly when we’re seduced by getting something for free. Free often is just too high a price for messing around with your computer and the thrill of being first on the block. But if you’re tired of composing and editing a blog in Word or WordPerfect, Outlook, BlogJet or the little Compose Post box in your blog, the desktop application Live Writer may be exactly what you need.
    Unveiled last September as Windows Live Writer 1.0 in Beta, Microsoft followed up just a few weeks ago with Beta 2. Both are free and downloadable at http://writer.live.com/. And while almost every application has some errant feature, this one is practically kink-free.
    Publishing to Windows Live Spaces, WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad and other weblog service providers, Live Writer senses the themes used by a blog, allowing the user to write and post to blog, getting it right the first time without multiple previews and tweaking. Insert photos, maps, tags and other content beyond mere words is as easy as attaching the same to an e-mail, and publishing them to a blog just as easy. Want to add a hyperlink? It’s as easy as placing the cursor over selected text and hitting “Insert hyperlink.” Spellcheck, tables, categories, tagging, and keyboard shortcuts are all part of this blogging tool. Adding effects, borders, margins, and even resizing, wrapping text and altering contrast are made even easier than ever.
    Plug-ins from the Windows Live Gallery, http://gallery.live.com/default.aspx?l=8, add even more extensions such as “blog this” for Internet Explorer and Firefox and screen capture tools. Questions are asked and answered over at Writer Zone, the blog (http://windowslivewriter.spaces.live.com/). The learning curve for this tool is takes all of two minutes. Bashing Microsoft may be the national sport, but Microsoft got it right with this release of Live Writer.

  6. Tom Chandler August 3, 2007 at 6:23 pm #

    I liked Live Writer, but found BlogDesk to be a much handier, faster (if slightly less-featured) Blog editor.

    Anyone who writes a blog (especially anyone writing more than one blog) should use an editor; the only question is which.

  7. David Bradley August 8, 2007 at 10:24 am #

    Not a tool as such, but I recommend openDNS for all your DNS needs (faster than most ISP lookups, scam/phishing filters, automatic spell correction (e.g. if you type .cmo it fixes to .com). Also adult content filter and domain blocking. Nothing to install just redirect your router to their DNS servers.

    By the way, they didn’t pay me to say all this (I wish!) I just think it’s a great alternative to the native DNS offered by most users’ ISP.

    db

  8. Luis Coig May 4, 2009 at 2:40 am #

    Thank you very much indeed for this information. I just started my blog and I’m finding it very useful.

  9. Zeeshan Jamal August 22, 2010 at 10:39 am #

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  10. Paul September 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm #

    I personaly use ezip.tk to allow my visitors to check their IP…

    Just copied/pasted the HTML to my site and… thats all!

    thanks!

  11. Margo November 20, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    I started a blog about a year ago but now I wish I had known all this before starting.

    Thanks,
    Margo

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