The following list of tools comprise the list of tools are what I’ve used to successfully replace my full-time income and then some. I’ve broken them down by their function, with a brief description as to why I recommend them.
(This list was last updated on May 23, 2012.)
I plan on expanding on each item in a full-blown review in due time, but as it stands, I own a lot of tools and haven’t reviewed every one of them just yet.
Since I change my mind on tools, I’ll be updating this page as time goes on and removing anything I no longer support, or adding tools. Bookmark it and come back before making a purchasing decision, hopefully I can be of some service.
And please note, these are almost all my affiliate links, so I will get paid should you choose to buy through my links (thank you for doing so, it’s how I support my family and I appreciate it very much).
Training if You’re New
We all have to start somewhere, right? I remember looking frantically online when I began for “the” place to start. I didn’t really find it but I did find a lot of helpful bloggers (see my blogroll or the search bar in the sidebar).
The problem was that the information was hit-or-miss, or you bounced from one to the next. So I decided to put together my own resources, and have begun publishing my own books.
In addition to my own books to centralize what I’ve learned, and to pass it along to you for your success online, I’ve included some resources that have helped define my business and take me further along.
There Are Only 2 Necessities
I list more than what you need but let me point out what you need to clarify:
1) Knowledge and Experience. If you don’t know what you’re doing, be prepared to waste a lot of time finding that out. I recommend some ebooks below that you can and should read (not all of them, just read what you need).
2) A Website. This means self-hosted, in my case I recommend WordPress (hand-coded HTML sites STINK unless you’re gifted at design! – why waste your time with Kompozer or DreamWeaver? Gimme a break – it’s not the 90′s).
Why self-hosted? Because you have more publishing control, and more control over the different aspects needed for good SEO. You’re not limited by some rule or need to show some advertisements, etc. that you don’t want.
So if you’re in this for profit, self-hosting is the way to go, my recommendations are below.
Everything else is “nice” and “optional,” but this is the stuff I’m using…
My Ebooks and Resources
Duct Tape SEO
I wrote this book for newcomers learning SEO and who want an easy, budget-friendly means to get massive FREE traffic to their websites.
I’m not a tech-head, but using WordPress makes my passive income much easier to attain. So I wrote Duct Tape SEO for those who want to learn and use WordPress to bring free traffic to their websites. In a “post-Panda” world, this is a strategy you can rely on without worrying.
Edit: Panda used to be the big boogie man at Google, now it’s Penguin: and I can’t recommend my book post-Penguin. Right now SEO is something of a hit-or-miss industry, and until my book is updated with post-Penguin optimization strategies (which means a lot more testing), I won’t be selling it.
CJ Tactics sold over 2,000 copies and is one of my better successes online. It details how I make money as a CJ affiliate (Commission Junction) and make up to $6900 a month on that platform.
By far, Commission Junction is my biggest bread-winner, and this is the definitive guide on how to succeed at it.
Use coupon code TAGTeam for a surprising $50 off the $67 normal price (this is a legitimate limited time offer).
There are also communities for training – forums and membership sites, and the only ones I’m familiar with enough to recommend are listed on my blogroll page.
This includes blogs, free and paid memberships, and I’d suggest you pick one. A community is important, and a blog can only provide so much of that.
Books That Describe My Methods at Affiliate Marketing (For the Most Part)
The Amazonian Profit Plan
This is one of the best books for online marketing using Amazon I’ve ever read. It describes a the entire process from soup-to-nuts on making a living by referring Amazon products, written by Paula and Wanda of the Affiliate Blog Online (in my blogroll).
It isn’t “cheap” but it’s well-worth the price. If you want to learn from people making up to $30k a month (who wouldn’t?), get this book. It’s one that very nearly mirrors my own methods of making money as a physical products affiliate.
Email Marketing Training
One of the time-tested ways of making money online is email marketing. Glen Allsop of ViperChill fame has made one resource a must-have. It’s a FREE video course and incredibly informative.
Before buying an email marketing resource, check this out. Cloud Blueprint
Google-Free Traffic (Not SEO Traffic, In Other Words)
This is an e-book focused on getting traffic from a variety of sources, not from Google SEO. It was written by one of my favorite social media mavens, Kristi Hines of Kikolani.com, and taught me A LOT.
If you want to get some great ideas on social media and various traffic generation opportunities for free, get this book, it’s under-priced in my opinion and worth every dime. There is one section on PostRank that is out-dated, because after this book was published, Google bought them (but you can still access their tools by following the links in this book).
I was amazed at the wealth of information on getting traffic that Kristi provides – I had a lot to learn, and still do: but this is a treatise on traffic that won’t risk your website or rankings.
Definitely thumbs-up for Kristi.
This is a video series by Kim Roach and it’s been a wealth of information to learn from. Kim doesn’t use SEO as her primary source of traffic online, which means it’s 100% Google-free and the stuff works.
Since it’s not SEO, a few of the methods are premium, but overall this is a resource I’m glad I found. Get this if you don’t want Google on your back all the time.
These are my two go-to tools for keyword research. SERPAttacks is what I use versus Market Samurai (since they had a ton of problems and went to Bing vs. Google for rank tracking) for my all-in-one SEO tool.
It will check competitors’ backlinks, check rankings, give you keyword ideas from the Google Keyword Tool, and do a host of other things.
Rank Tracker from the SEO Powersuite set of tools is great for rank tracking (and I use the premium version, highly recommended but it’s overkill if you have SERPAttacks)…but it pulls non-Google keywords from a variety of sources.
Something people don’t realize: Google doesn’t give you all the keywords you should target…
That’s where Rank Tracker shines. Oh, and it’s one of the best rank trackers I’ve ever used. But a little-known fact is that it kills at finding keywords…especially ones Google never tells you about.
The Necessities: Web Hosting and Domains
Once you know what you’re doing, you really only “need” web hosting and a domain to make the most of your opportunity online – make no mistake that this is “the” necessity. Everything that follows is sugar on top, but you need to have good hosting and have private domain names.
Domain Name Registrars
If you want domain names that have some age and are selling at auction (because they provide additional value, like being a live, done-for-you website with traffic, content, etc.), then it’s hard to beat GoDaddy Auctions. Also try Flippa.com to see what they have on offer.
Once you have a domain name, you’ll need hosting – and I never buy the two at the same place (it’s too expensive in most cases that way).
I’ve had the best experience from HostGator, in terms of support, training, up-time and overall management.
I use them for ‘reseller’ hosting and VPS hosting. Use the coupon code “TheAverageGenius” when ordering for 25% off your entire order at HostGator.
MaxCDN for a fast Content Delivery Network (they own ‘NetDNA’ which powers websites like Copyblogger.com and many others) offers the best price I’ve found yet.
I’ve tried some free options like CloudFlare, which didn’t consistently improve my website performance.
If you want your website to load faster and would like and added layer of security, give MaxCDN a look.
You may have some luck with CloudFlare, they have a free and premium service. I had issues on their free service, so maybe they give better support with the premium, I don’t know.
Just go to Cloudflare.com and they can answer your questions: but I will say they were EASY to set up (MaxCDN was a little more involved but I’m glad with my results).
I’d recommend you start off with free themes, they’re just fine for making money or a good impression, get them from within your WordPress site under Appearance > Themes > Install > Browse.
The premium themes I’ve used and enjoy most so far are:
Genesis Theme from StudioPress, which powers websites like ProBlogger.net and CopyBlogger.com, is a theme framework with tons of skins to choose from. The SEO on the theme as I understand it is pretty tight. Highly customizable, whether you buy a ‘skin’ or not, notoriously fast-loading.
currently runs used to run this blog and a number of my top earning sites, it’s highly customizable and easy to use, try it out free as long as you want.
Flexsqueeze is what I’ve upgraded to, and can’t believe it took me a year to finally bite the bullet and get it. So glad I did, it makes stellar affiliate review sites, sales pages, landing pages (which I’ll use to build lists on those sites), and it now powers this blog.
It’s not as good as OptimizePress for sales/launching/membership/squeeze pages: but I like it for my affiliate sites which will also need a squeeze page of their own for their list-building (if you want a dedicated site for a squeeze page, I’d go for OptimizePress instead, but for affiliate sites, I’d say it’s “Flexsqueeze and look no further”).
Clickbump Engine is a set of 12 themes with cheap ‘skins’ you can buy in addition to the 12. It was optimized originally for AdSense but works decently for creating affiliate sites (and it loads fast, very lightweight).
Clickbump themes are SEO’d and fast to deploy – and they’re not just the “same old XFactor” theme you might be picturing. The new skins rock. For local SEO and CPC marketers (like AdSense, Chitika, etc.) – this is the theme you want for fast deployments and for building a network of AdSense-type sites that work with high clickthru’s.
If you want to build a site for reviews, though – go Flexsqueeze.
OptimizePress is a theme to create sales pages, squeeze pages, sales funnels and any sort of ‘lead-capture’ type of page you can think of. If you’re hoping to create a membership site or sell your own product, capture emails, etc. – look no further.
I’ve tried the “Premise” plugin from CopyBlogger Media and the Flexsqueeze theme, and can tell you first hand, for a dedicated sales page and sales funnel launch sequence – OptimizePress has no competition. (For affiliate sites with product review pages, I’d say Flexsqueeze is the WTG, it depends on your goals.)
These tools make my life much easier, and rankings simpler to attain. They save time and serve my SEO needs well.
SERPAttacks is a good beginner’s tool for keyword selection, tracking rankings and finding some backlink analysis details on competitors. It’s affordable and maintained by the developer…but sometimes you need something stronger and more robust.
If you want better reporting features, and more robust tools…I can’t recommend anything higher than:
SEO Powersuite is a suite of 4 SEO tools, all of which you can download and try for free. Used by top SEO’s, I’ve used these tools for a lot of my SEO work, even on top of using SERPAttacks.
Note: Any SEO Professionals really should get SEO Powersuite – their reports function (16 customizable reports) will keep clients happy, proving their ROI in hiring you.
Otherwise, for most IM’ers, the individual tools like SEO Spyglass may be more up your alley (all part of the suite). I use the professional version, but the enterprise version is best for SEO pro’s – you’ll thank me later.
Note: I no longer recommend plugins like SEO Pressor and Clickbump SEO for checking your on-page SEO: seems like a lot of that got hit with the Penguin update…
I’d highly recommend list-building if you aren’t already. Really follow Glen’s videos (I listed them above) before you try this method.
As for ‘tools,’ I think you can do just fine with freebies like the Comment Redirect plugin for WordPress (to redirect a first-time commentator to your newsletter sign-up page).
In addition, use Aweber or a similar provider and they have plenty of their own tools at the ready. There’s really no need for expensive list building plugins, unless you want something more graphically appealing (Glen offers up “Opt-in Skin” for instance, but I’ve never used it myself).
Also, I no longer recommend Subscriber’s Magnet because their pricing structure is absolutely ridiculous. Personally I love the results I get from Aweber and free plugins – although now as a book publisher, I’m using OptimizePress as well for this.
If you want your traffic to ‘go viral’ then you can use the Tweet And Get It plugin which is free to use and available from your WordPress plugin directory and dashboard. Or you can use the Pay With A Tweet service, for example, again free.
Some fancy-pants list building plugins tell you they’re going to “explode your list” with viral traffic, but honestly you can do a lot with simple tools like a Facebook fan page, a free giveaway (‘lead magnet’) and free technology or services.
This works especially easily if you use OptimizePress, and I’ve tried the top 3 sales and squeeze page generators: Premise, Flexsqueeze and now OptimizePress. OP wins in spades, Flexsqueeze rocks for affiliate sites and Premise comes in 3rd.
Best Outsourced Help
Elance. I’ve had the best workers hired there, I started there myself, and hands-down I’ve only ever seen good results from their market place. I’m not sure why that is, but I will tell you that you get what you pay for.
Hire graphics artists, programmers, virtual assistants or writers. Set your budget and see who responds (it’s an auction market).
You can also try the Warrior Forum’s Warriors for Hire section: you can find some affordable help there for a number of needs.
Lastly, if it’s something REALLY simple, like creating a Ping.fm account or Pixlr account – use Fiverr.com. (I only ever buy simple data-entry type of gigs there after a run of bad luck, though.)
Stock Photographs and Graphics
For graphics, I have to plug a friend of mine here, Selena of PLR-Diva.com. She’s done a great job on my book, Duct Tape SEO (the cover and banners).
For my other graphics like stock photos, I highly recommend Fotolia. I can’t find another vendor with better prices (until someone proves me wrong).
Link Building Tools That Work
This section is currently under serious refinement, right now I’m not using any link building tools but my two hands and a keyboard, with a bit of imagination.
Post-Penguin, I’m not sure there’s any link-building tools I’d use, apart from Link-Assistant of the SEO Powersuite set of tools, or perhaps guest blogging opportunities like MyBlogGuest and The Content Facilitator.
Hiring out for a press release seems to have a good effect, as does social networking and marketing: but apart from these strategies, I’m hesitant to recommend much else (this is a big change from where I used to recommend a lot of tools and submitters).
Do You Need All These Tools? Isn’t There A Budget Solution?
Oh, yes, there is.
I wrote Duct Tape SEO largely in response to my own question:
Does SEO need to rely on all these tools and methods?
Nope, you can rank just dandy without all those link-building tools.
But I began in this business working on Elance and discovered for myself that these methods work great, despite what naysayers say otherwise.
Granted, it’s not “for everyone,” and I can tell you right now that quality link-building never uses spun content – it doesn’t need to.
If you want a more budget and Google-friendly way of building links that doesn’t rely on spun articles like the above, then by all means buy Duct Tape SEO and save yourself some money. (Shameless plug, couldn’t help myself.)
Edit: Post-Penguin, I’ve taken the book off the market since it mainly deals with on-page SEO…the linking strategies are still working, though. The only exception being the use of anchor text: you need to vary it all up and use very little anchor text that utilizes your keywords, with more URL-based links and “junk” anchors…all from relevant resources.
If you go to my site DuctTapeSEO.net, you won’t be able to currently buy the book (pending my revision for Penguin). There’s a lot that’s changed in SEO “best practices,” and Google didn’t leave many stones un-turned (even though that guide is totally whitehat!).
Thank you for reading my recommendations, and especially if you buy through my links. I hope to see you around the blog, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions:
James AT TheAverageGenius DOT net
(This list was last updated on May 23, 2012.)