Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rock the Blog-- Widgets & Blogging Tools I Adore

Rock the Blog is a "How To" for bloggers!

From graphics to html and all kinds of bloggery goodness!

Since I'm based on Blogger most posts will revolve around the Blogger platform though some ideas may apply to Wordpress as well.

Another slightly different Rock the Blog today. Last time I shared my favorite blogging tips. This time I'm sharing some of my favorite blog TOOLS. There were a few submissions for Rock the Blog topics that included how I do my drop down menus and graphics so figured I'd do a combo post with all of my different favorite tools. If you have a request for a Rock the Blog please check out the link at the bottom of the post and submit it via that :) If it's something I know how to do I'm totally up for doing a post. Alright. Here we go.

Our commenting system! Yay, Disqus! While it's not perfect this is one of my all time favorite additions to the blog. And one that I think made a huge difference in increasing interactions on blog posts. Prior to using Disqus I used the standard blogspot commenting system that comes with the blog platform.

It's incredibly easy to install. Just visit their site and they walk you through getting the right set up for your particular platform and offer a 24 hour service for uploading all previous comments left on the blog so you don't lose them.

I love that it makes replying to comments very quick. There's no page reload time between leaving replies. I can just go right up the page and reply to everyone vs the blogspot one where it reloaded each time a comment was left which could be a huge time suck. It also sends people your replies which I think is great and has brought a lot of people back to the post to have chats instead of a single comment then gone for good.

Two drawbacks: 1] A small number of people have system compatibility issues and Disqus doesn't always load right for them. and 2] while you can upload all previous comments they don't stack correctly. Instead of Comment -->Reply, Comment -->Reply all comments prior to installment are listed by timestamp. Just a minor gripe for those with OCD. lol But both complaints are very minor compared to the benefits I've seen.

**Update: At the moment Disqus is having trouble importing comments from Blogger. You can install Disqus but previous comments cannot be imported due to a change in Google's coding. They're working on it but don't have a date that this will be fixed by. 

If you ever run blog hops, reading challenges, weekly/monthly memes or similar things you're likely going to need a linky list. I've tried a number of them over the years and while most were okay I settled on inLinkz and have stuck with them the past year with relatively few issues. Their customer services is hit or miss. One one hand they added in a feature (importing lists from another link up site) when I inquired about that option but I've also had emails ignored. 

It's pretty easy to set up and they have both a free and a paid version. The paid version ($19.99 per year) has few additional features that can be helpful but the free version works fine for most things. Both allow you to edit links as well as show you number of click throughs per link in the list which can be useful info.

This is one of only two features I pay for on the blog. I needed open ended link ups since I host year long challenges and that's only available on the paid version. The free version allows for only a few months at a time. So a link up opened in January would have to have an end date of I believe 3 months out? instead of no end date for link ups. 

I don't know how it is via WP but on Blogger you have 20 menu options and it doesn't allow for drop down menus. Just straight left to right or up and down. And I needed more than that.

Another very simple to set up thing. You create your menu on their website--color, font, items, etc. Then they provide you a bit of html to insert into your blog tabs section in the layout. When you need to change things on your menu you just pop over to their site and change it and it automatically updates on your website.

Drop Down Menu Generator is now a paid only service. It's $15 per year. Customer service has been decent.

**this one was edited. It had a free limited plan available but it looks like they've done away with that plan and now are paid only. Sorry about that yall!

Pixlr is one of my favorite tools for creating graphics. Between it and Gimp (below) I've created all of the graphics used on the blog as well as other side blogs I run and graphics for the authors I work with. It's incredibly easy to use as well. <yall seeing a theme there? lol I'm a big believer in EASY and SIMPLE>

They have a couple different options--a Photoshop-ish version (I don't use this) and an Express version (I use this). I love the express version. It's simple, has lots of options and is quick to use.

Options aren't extremely advanced but they offer photo adjustments/corrections, adding text, layering images, overlays to add texture/colors, stickers, borders and things like blur, sharpen, etc. Very handy for quick meme making. Oh they also have a collage option with lots of different configurations which I love to use. 

The only downfall is that if your window closes for some reason...your work is lost. I've had that happen a couple of times. So I keep a folder of "working on" images and save to their periodically while I'm working so if I do hit something wrong and the window closes I don't have to start from scratch. It is free to use but has ads in the side bar though they're easy to ignore.

Gimp is similar to Photoshop and free to use. You download the software and your work is based on
your computer vs on a their website. It takes a little bit to learn their layout but once you do it's fairly easy and not much different than Photoshop I wouldn't think.

Options include things like layering images, text, bending text, image manipulation (resize, sheer, etc), creating drop shadows, creating transparent backgrounds, etc. I've been pretty happy with it so far. There are quite a few tutorials on YouTube for Gimp so when I have had issues figuring something out it's fairly easy to get a little guidance there.

This is a blog feed reader. It's not really a tool for blogging exactly but it's one I personally use so I'm including it :) I switched to them recently after having issues with Bloglovin. I've really liked it too. It took a little work to figure out settings and organize all of the blogs I follow but once things were set up I was good to go. It works like most other readers I think (very similar to Bloglovin). Whenever one of the blogs you follow has a new post it pops up. You can organize blogs into categories, mark them read, save posts. You can read IN Feedly or have links open directly to the blog you follow. You can also import your blog list from places like Bloglovin so it's pretty easy to switch. is something new I'm trying out. It auto posts your blog to Facebook and other social media platforms that you choose. I've only been using it a couple weeks and am still working out the kinks/settings but I like it so far. I'm only using it for FB shares right now. I have it set to deliver to both my personal page and the blog page.

It offers different options for posting, you can select time of day for shares instead of it posting the second the post goes live on the blog (mine post to FB at like 9am I believe). You can have shares post as photos, as status updates or as links. I really like having that option. 

I use their free version though they do have a paid version as well that gives additional social media platforms you can share to. I'm strictly using them for posting to FB for now so no need to pay for services.

And one for sharing posts. I installed share-a-holic a year ago I guess? And it's been pretty great. Basically you set up via their site which share options you'd like readers to be able to use to share your posts. This replaces the standard share options in Blogger (or whichever platform you're on). You insert a bit of text in your template and then add a line of code to your individual blog posts. I have that set up in my post template so I never have to bother with it. 

This one can be a little more difficult to get started but it's not too bad. There are options for floating buttons that'll show on the side of the screen (I don't use this) or in your posts (I use this). It's a free service and has a lot of flexibility with options. You can also make it so the tweet option includes your twitter handle. 

Overall it's been a great feature and is nice if you'd like your share options to have a little more pizzazz. My blog had a blip with it earlier this year where posts were tweeting the right text but linking to random other posts. That's not the norm though and their customer service did a good job of tracking down what was wrong and fixing it for me. So I was pretty pleased in the end. 

Welp. There you go. All the sites and programs behind creating and running herding cats. 
I think I got all of the ones I use. If I think of others I'll add them in.

Do you use any of these with your blogging?
Have a favorite 3rd party program you love to use?

Have a topic idea? Submit it HERE!

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