Hey! By the way… This blog earns money via affiliate marketing – meaning that I earn commissions when you purchase a product or service after clicking a link on this site. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank YOU in advance – I really appreciate it.
It’s funny how my life as an internet marketer has evolved over the years. I’ve been blogging and creating websites and trying to figure out how to strike it rich online for about 10 years now! I’m still not an internet millionaire – but I sure am having fun along the way, while I try to achieve that elusive goal.
I love creating WordPress websites. So much has changed with WordPress and blogging in the 10 years that I have been at it. Today, the options and tools that we have available have made it easier than ever before to create amazing blogs and websites. I’ve used so many various tools and plugins over the years. I decided to create this revealing post listing out my top 8 must-haves for building a WordPress blog in 2021.
Listed below are the tools that I use (or have used) on my current websites. I know there are good alternatives to many of these and I could include those as well. But for simplicity’s sake, I decided to only include the tools that I actually use in this post.
1) WordPress Hosting
A good host is where it all begins. If you have crappy hosting – it’s just a matter of time before you have headaches that you wish you didn’t have to deal with.
My top recommendation for hosting is what I’m using on this blog right now!
WP Engine – Managed WordPress Hosting
WP Engine is easily my top recommendation for hosting. They are not cheap – but like I always say – you get what you pay for. I’ve been with WP Engine for 7 or 8 years now and I’ve never looked back. I’ve been extremely pleased with WP Engine as my hosting provider, for many reasons.
SiteGround – Hosting
SiteGround is my 2nd choice for hosting – if you don’t want to pay WP Engine prices. I used SiteGround for several of my sites for about 3 years and had no complaints. I would still have sites on SiteGround hosting if I didn’t decide to downsize my website portfolio and consolidate everything over to my WP Engine account. SiteGround is a fantastic host with reasonable pricing.
Bluehost – Hosting
Bluehost is not a bad hosting platform for a brand new blogger. If you’re looking for extremely cheap hosting, just to get started, Bluehost might be a good option for you. I’ve known lots of bloggers over the years who started on Bluehost and stuck with them and never had any issues. I used Bluehost myself when I started out – one of their cheap shared hosting plans. Customer service and support was great. I ended up moving away when I upgraded to a much better host at WP Engine. But – if you’re on a budget, Bluehost is a great host for beginner bloggers!
2) A Good WordPress Theme
After hosting, the next most important aspect of starting a WordPress blog is picking a good theme. After trying many, many themes over the last decade – I’ve settled on just one WordPress theme that I now use on all of my WordPress sites. In the past, I would choose different themes based on their features and what I wanted to accomplish for each site. Now – I use just one highly customizable and lightweight theme that gets the job done for every single one of my sites!
GeneratePress – WordPress Theme
GeneratePress is actually a FREE theme that you can download in the WordPress repository! The free version is sufficient – especially for beginners! They do have a Premium upgrade available that gives you a LOT more customization options and functionality. GeneratePress’s Premium upgrade is inexpensive and worth every single penny! You can literally change every last aspect of your site, from colors & fonts, to layouts & sizes, and every other basic function of WordPress.
After using GeneratePress for several years now – I can’t see why I would ever need to consider a different theme. GeneratePress is blazing fast, lightweight on the back end, 100% customizable, and extremely easy to understand and use.
3) Easy-to-Use Page Builder
Adding a page builder tool to your WordPress blog is not necessary – depending on what you want to accomplish and what your theme already offers. But – if you want to be able to create 100% customizable landing pages and other elements for your site – a good page builder just might be the way to go.
Elementor – Page Builder
Elementor is probably THE #1 page builder for WordPress right now. Elementor is a FREE plugin in the WordPress repository with an available paid upgrade to add loads of functionality. One great aspect about Elementor – they are open source, meaning other developers can create add-ons and plugins that work with Elementor to add even more functionality!
I’ve been using Elementor quite a bit over the last few years. I have Elementor Pro (their paid premium upgrade) and I now install Elementor on every single site that I run. It’s just SO easy to use and I can easily create pages with advanced elements that I formerly would have paid a professional WordPress developer to create for me.
4) Amazon Affiliate WordPress Plugin
If you plan to make money with your blog as an Amazon affiliate (and why wouldn’t you?) – then you will definitely want a good WordPress plugin that connects your blog to Amazon via their API. Amazon provides a few free options for you to add affiliate links to your blog – but they aren’t very good. A good WordPress plugin will automatically pull in images and data from Amazon which will keep you compliant with Amazon’s policies and make it THAT much easier to insert affiliate links.
AmaLinks Pro – Premium WordPress Plugin for Amazon Affiliates
AmaLinks Pro is a PAID WordPress plugin that does everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph, and more! In most cases, I would only recommend spending money on a tool (like a WordPress plugin) if you think it’s going to help you earn more money than it costs. This is exactly the case with AmaLinks Pro. If used correctly on a blog that gets traffic – AmaLinks Pro will pay for itself over and over and over again!
In case you didn’t know – I am actually the co-founder of AmaLinks Pro. I previously used and loved and promoted a different plugin for Amazon affiliates – but that plugin fell by the wayside. I searched for another good solution and couldn’t find one – so I teamed up with a WordPress developer and we created AmaLinks Pro! Today – AmaLinks Pro is THE leading WordPress plugin for Amazon affiliates. It’s the easiest to use, by far – and the functionality it provides is second to none.
5) WordPress SEO Plugin
If you want free traffic from search engines (and who doesn’t?) – a good SEO plugin for WordPress is essential. A good one will pretty much walk you through all of the on-page SEO things that you need to do for each post or page. In addition to this basic stuff – a good WordPress SEO plugin will also do the backend SEO stuff automatically – like creating a sitemap for the search engines.
For many years, Yoast SEO was the go-to WordPress SEO plugin that almost everybody used and most people recommended. Nothing else even came close. But that is not the case anymore. There is a new sheriff in town and it is known as RankMath SEO.
You see – when Yoast first started, it was completely free and it had loads of useful functionality. Over the years, the free functionality seemed to dwindle and some of the best features for Yoast were now hidden behind a paywall for their Premium version.
RankMath also has a FREE and a paid version – but their free version is more than sufficient for MOST bloggers who just need some basic SEO functionality. RankMath today is what Yoast was many years ago… the BEST (free) SEO WordPress plugin that exists.
If you’re already using Yoast on your site – RankMath has a simple one-click import tool. It’s super easy to switch over to RankMath! If you’re just starting out with a brand new site – I HIGHLY recommend using RankMath from the very beginning. RankMath can be found and installed directly from the WordPress repository, or you can…
6) Internal Linking Tool
If you are serious about SEO, one thing that you will learn (if you don’t know it already) is that internal linking is very important. Meaning, you should be linking to other posts/pages on your blog from each of your posts/pages. This is greatly beneficial for SEO for many reasons. You could do this manually – by using your head to remember what posts you published in the past and making sure you link to them from your new content. Likewise, you can add links from your old (existing) posts pointing to your new content. Doing this manually is ineffective and really challenging! Luckily, there is a great tool to help with this process.
Link Whisper is a premium WordPress plugin (meaning it’s not free) that works phenomenally well to assist you with your internal linking. You can run a report on your entire site and it gives you links suggestions. Then, you simply check a few boxes and click a button and it automatically adds all of the links to your existing posts!
Furthermore, Link Whisper adds internal linking functionality to your Post or Page edit screens. As you are writing an article – link suggestions appear directly on the edit screen!
If I’m starting a brand new website in 2021 and I want to optimize for search engine traffic – Links Whisper is absolutely one of the must-have tools that I suggest anybody add to their WordPress website.
7) WordPress Forms Plugin
Most WordPress websites will likely need a form somewhere or another. At the very least, on the Contact page. Throughout the years, I have used many different plugins to easily create and embed forms on my sites. There are several free options in the WordPress repository – and for most bloggers, one of these free options is more than sufficient. Two of the more popular ones off the top of my head are Contact Form 7 and WP Forms. They are both good. But my WordPress needs have evolved from getting by with ‘good enough’ and I needed to move up to the very best.
I needed the ability to create more complex forms with lots more integration options and form features. I moved up to Gravity Forms and I have never looked back! After using Gravity Forms on one of my sites for my more complex needs – I started using it on all of my sites just because I like how easy it works. It doesn’t hurt that there are tons and tons of free WP plugin add-ons designed specifically to work in conjunction with Gravity Forms for many various needs. Gravity Forms is not free – but to me, it is now on my list of ‘must-haves’ for all of my WordPress websites.
8) Link Shortening Plugin
A link shortening plugin is almost essential for any WordPress website. What does it do? It allows you to create shorter (better-looking) links using your own domain name for select links (internal or external). Here are 2 examples of shortened links that I use on this blog…
Internal Shortened Link (link to my Start Here page)
- Actual URL: https://dumbpassiveincome.com/how-to-start-with-passive-income-online/
- Short URL: https://dumbpassiveincome.com/start
External Shortened Link (affiliate link for SiteGround hosting)
- Actual URL: https://www.siteground.com/index.htm?afcode=49119b176b26f3d311fa6e30ea18b46f
- Short URL: https://dumbpassiveincome.com/siteground
As you can see, the shortened links look better and just make everything easier. I’ve been using one tool to create and manage these types of shortened links for pretty much my entire time on WordPress.
Pretty Links is a FREE WordPress plugin (in the WP repository) with a paid upgrade option if you want more functionality. I’ve used only the free version on all of my sites for the past 10 years! It does what I need it to do. It’s simple. It just works!
The beauty of using a tool like Pretty Links for affiliate links is that you can easily change out the target URL whenever you want. For example… say I used that SiteGround short URL (created with Pretty Links) on 37 different posts on my blog. Then one day SiteGround decides to change up their affiliate program and my affiliate link URL for them changes. Because I used Pretty Links to create this shortened URL, and I used the short URL in all 37 posts, I only need to change my target URL once in Pretty Links and it automatically changes for all 37 posts where the short URL already exists! It would be an absolute nightmare to try to find and change that link in 37 different posts.
This is why a plugin like Pretty Links is absolutely essential if you plan to do any sort of affiliate marketing from your WordPress website or blog.
Here are a few other WordPress plugins or tools that I use. These are not necessarily “must-haves” for ALL of my sites, but they are certainly useful tools that are worth mentioning.
- ManageWP – if you run multiple WordPress websites – this tool helps you stay on top of it all. Update ALL plugins on all of your sites with just one click! And it does so much more… Definitely worth checking out
- Social Warfare – only the best social sharing plugin for WordPress that exists! Super fast, very slick user interface, and extremely easy to use.
- WP Affiliate Disclosure – for affiliates who wish to remain compliant with FTC guidelines and/or Amazon Associate policies – as explained here on the AmaLinks Pro blog
- Classic Editor – because I just don’t like the default Block ‘Gutenberg’ Editor that WordPress decided to set as the default editor in 2019 – I ‘grew up’ on the Classic Editor and I still prefer it because I can work SO much faster with it. Writing a blog post in the Classic Editor is more like typing in a word processor. The new Block Editor is like working with a page builder tool.
Building a WordPress Blog in 2021
Given the circumstances that befell the planet in 2020… 2021 is shaping up to be one of the most phenomenal periods of time to be an internet entrepreneur! Contactless shopping is on the rise and it’s not going away anytime soon. People are spending money online anyway – so why not start a blog and direct people to online merchants so you can earn some commissions along the way?!?
If you already have a blog – consider trying out some of the tools listed above. Take it from me, based on years of experience. Many of these tools will vastly improve your WordPress experience. Now get to it. Good Day!
Image Credit: “The Art of WordPress” by mkhmarketing via Flickr
Matthew Allen is a full-time trucker, part-time blogger, and imaginary entrepreneur. He is the only known trucker who is blogging about creating passive income online. He is also the co-founder and co-creator of the most popular WordPress plugin for Amazon affiliates – AmaLinks Pro.