Last Updated on March 23, 2021 by Jeremy
Every so often, I like to do an audit of my business expenses to ensure I'm not overpaying for services or have recurring fees for things I no longer use.
As part of this, I've come up with a list of all of the premium services we use for our blogs be it via hosting, plugins, or other third-party tools outright. As I generally think sharing information like this is helpful for others who may look to improving their blogs (like with our list of WordPress plugins we personally use), I thought it'd be appropriate to share all of the premium services we personally pay for.
My motto when it comes to blogging services is to spare no expense to do things right. That being said, I am thrifty at times and adopt an 80/20 mindset to most things. If I can get 80% of the value at 20% of the cost, I will do it, which is why I pay for things like Keysearch which costs in a year what other SEO services charge for a single month.
So when I say that I pay $3,500/year on services you should instantly recognize that I am paying for quality things, often with multi-site licenses to run my seven sites, but have sought out deals via the 80/20 mindset when appropriate. As you likely do not run as many sites as I do, it is worth pointing out that single site licenses for the below would run about $1,200/year– so you can see that scaling becomes cost-effective in the long run!
So in this one, I wanted to discuss a bit about each service, rough estimates on single and multi-site prices, explain why we pay for them at all, and also highlight reasons why you may want to skip some services as well. Some are simply worth the price far more than others. And, as with everything, your mileage may vary based on your own unique circumstances.
*Note: This guide is for general blogging programs and services we pay for. It does not include advertising nor niche-specific purchases. For full disclosure, I pay an additional $3,000 to $6,000 a year in advertising across all my sites- mostly as a means to get new projects off the ground as opposed to promoting the more established ones.
Domain & Hosting
GoDaddy is one of many sites that charge for domains. Most of these companies are all the same and tend to charge about $10-$12/year for non-premium, available domains. Since most bloggers do not use services like these to also host their sites, the exact company you register a domain with is a bit immaterial.
There are three things we look for in a good host- server speed, Managed WordPress assistance, and price. BigScoots checks a lot of boxes because their servers are among the fastest out there (my server response time regularly runs 0.2-0.3 seconds), the tech support is great (although often does not include outright development- think uptime and functionality over aesthetics), and the price of $35/month makes them one of the more competitive Managed WordPress hosts out there.
As I have seven sites currently online I pay for the $100/month option which allows for up to 10 websites. This package comes with a bit higher storage and unlimited bandwidth, but otherwise the $35/month single-site option is good for most bloggers who can cover the fee with earnings. They also offer a slight discount (~6%) if you pay for a year in advance, of which I gladly do. If you have two or three websites you may want to inquire about add-on prices from the single site package as you may be able to get them all cheaper than jumping to the $100/month plan outright.
Overall, BigScoots got me onboard due to price and kept me as a customer for the service. Could I find cheaper hosting? Sure. But I also rely on their service periodically to help me sleep a bit more soundly at night for uptime- worth it!
- Looking for more on this one? Check out our BigScoots review here!
Ad Inserter Pro
Ad Inserter is a widget logic plugin that will insert custom code and scripts on your site using an array of display logic criteria. Want to insert a custom box ahead of content for a disclaimer? You can do that. Customer footers? You can do that. A display box halfway through your posts? You can do that too.
One of my favorite things about this one is that it offers a logic function to also display based on categories, tags, page ID #s, and more. So on my travel blog, I can not only create custom footers below my articles, I can have them display unique footers for posts from France, posts from Italy, and so on based on the category or tag. This one has a massive learning curve, but once you feel comfortable it opens up a lot of opportunity for custom content.
Ad Inserter on its own is a free plugin, but I pay for the Pro version for one specific reason- lazy load. This feature is only available for the upgraded version but lets you lazy load code and scripts not by delaying execution of that code, but rather delaying the custom HTML box it can be found in. A brilliant workaround for things like maps and email signup boxes which are notoriously slow, and at 20 Euro/year for a single site, it is hard to say no (I pay 30 Euro/year for five sites). It truly is one of my biggest secret weapons to achieve < 1.5 second load times.
- Check out how we show related posts with Ad Inserter here!
WP Rocket is a pretty robust plugin built around optimizing site speed for your blog. It has a number of features inside it, but the primary reason why I pay for it is that it helps optimize caching, lazy load images*, and combining CSS/JS files on our site (and therefore improve site speed).
The base fee for WP Rocket is $49/year for one site and up to $249/year for unlimited sites, although we should note that they also offer frequent sales (specifically on or around Black Friday) and can help you knock the price down a bit.
I, personally, use this plugin in tandem with Autoptimize (a free plugin that has similar settings) and find they work quite well together (WP Rocket even tells you when Autoptimize settings are enabled to prevent errors). But I do have to admit that when it comes to caching and combining files, your mileage may vary based on your host, theme, other plugins, and settings- one unusual setting could prevent these from functioning the way they should. With our plugin suite, hosting with BigScoots, and using GeneratePress as a theme I've had great luck with this one, but also admit that my last theme did not work out as well when attempting these improvements.
*Side note: WP Rocket offers a free plugin for lazy loading images, Lazy Load by WP Rocket, which is a must for everyone. Other free plugins exist for lazy loading images as well.
Our site theme, GeneratePress, has a free and premium option for users, with the premium option running $59/year or $249 lifetime. The main reason we love this theme is that it is among the most customizable out there and puts an emphasis on the thing I value most- speed.
Most users will likely find that the premium license is necessary as the free theme is somewhat limiting in how much you can customize. Likewise, there is a bit of a learning curve as a fully customizable site means there are few, if any, presets enabled out of the box (again, speed). I've been on this theme for several years now and will likely upgrade to the lifetime license here shortly- I don't see me moving away from them any time soon.
- Check out our full GeneratePress review here.
Grow Social Pro by Mediavine
Grow by Mediavine was formerly known as Social Pug before the ad network acquired them, and is a lightweight and fast social sharing plugin to help encourage your readers to share your content as well as show share counts as social proof.
As with most plugins, Grow has a free and premium model, and we will be honest that many users may likely find the free version satisfactory for their needs. The $34/year fee for the premium version unlocks a number of extra settings, one of which we really like is being able to set a custom Pinterest pin for the Pin It button. Necessary? Not really. Do I like it? Yes. But even there I only pay for it on a few sites and use the free version on others.
For bloggers with multiple sites, this one offers a multi-site license with baked-in discounts as you increase in volume.
KingSumo is a giveaway service that encourages newsletter sign ups (and social follows) in exchange for entries to receive a prize. It has a viral sharing feature built into it that entrants can get extra chances to win by referring friends, which really helps supercharge your newsletter list if coupled with a great prize.
This one has two options- a web-based version that is often on sale for $49 lifetime and a WordPress plugin version for $198 lifetime. I had received a free license for the latter as part of a now-defunct professional organization, and when we added this one for TWIB we tried out the web-based version first. I thought it was a bit clunkier than the WordPress plugin version and quickly got a refund and purchased an additional license for the plugin for this site.
But hey, now we have it forever. Hooray!
Pretty Links Pro
Pretty Links Pro is a link cloaking service that creates hyperlinks via your domain to hide affiliate links. This is done for a number of reasons, but we personally use it because some affiliate links can be downright ugly (and look like spam/malware). Throw in a dashboard and extra reporting and we love it for our affiliate marketing game.
In our Pretty Links Pro review, we highlighted ways that some tech-savvy users can mimic what Pretty Links does with redirects, but we like this one because it is all in one spot. Still, the base license runs between $49-$99/year (depending on if there is a sale- these occur regularly) and multi-site licenses go up in price from there (I pay about $149/year for five sites). Do you need this one? Not entirely, but I do like it.
I picked up a license for WPForms with a Black Friday sale as a means to have access to some of their anti-spam offerings (which are only available with a license). Contact form spam is awful without these, and to be quite honest we haven't found a good, free solution here.
We will be the first to admit that WPForms is expensive- base site licenses run $79/year and five site licenses can run upwards of $200/year with many more inclusions like integrating PayPal, email lists, etc. which feel much more targeted for e-commerce over bloggers. Still, they offer frequent discounts upwards of 50% off, so this helps make the fee a bit more palatable.
That being said, if anyone knows of a free contact form plugin that is good at catching spam, I'd gladly switch. Even at $100/year for three sites, it is pushing it just for anti-spam.
3rd Party Services
Tailwind is a Pinterest scheduling tool that I've used for years to bulk schedule my Pinterest pins across dozens of boards in just a few simple clicks. One of my favorite features of this program is the ability to perform interval pinning such that I can space out any given pin by hours, days, or even weeks (to not look like spam but also to stay in-line with Pinterest's recommendations).
This program runs about $10/month or $120/year/account, and I run it for two of my blogs that have the most content. Recently Pinterest has been making algorithm changes that seem to favors making new pins as opposed to re-sharing old pins, which has reduced the effectiveness of this program for those who do not regularly make new pins (read: me). As such, I may no longer renew this one at the end of my current term but the jury is indeed still out.
- Check out our Tailwind review here!
Keysearch is a keyword research tool that allows you to easily lookup estimated search volumes and ranking difficulties for any keyword you want (among other features that we consider side perks). While Keysearch may have some accuracy issues here or there, we love it because it runs just $169/year (use KSDISC for 20% off this price too!).
Why is $169/year exciting? Well, other admittedly more powerful tools tend to run a minimum of $100/month, so you can see how this one is a considerable price break. I've been using this one for years and will continue to pay for it as long as it maintains this price point.
- Learn how to find what keywords other sites rank for with Keysearch here!
Deposit Photos is a stock photo website where you can pay photographers a rather reasonable price to license their image for web use. Many sites like this one exist, but I like them for the variety of images available and for the price- you can almost always find a deal on Black Friday via AppSumo or other sources to buy 100 image credits for a low fee- generally under $50 (normal prices for 100 images tend to exceed $100- so a great discount).
I buy 200 every year and that tends to last me quite some time.
I am a terrible writer, and somehow thought it'd be a great career choice to become a blogger (my background is in chemical engineering). My wife, a rare engineer who is also a grammar nerd, would frequently point out some horrendous grammar to me. After years of grammar beatings, I finally decided to purchase a license for Grammarly to check my grammar online and in Word documents and haven't looked back.
Grammarly runs about $140/year for the base service but also has periodic discounts (a bit less frequent than other services listed in this one).
Carbonite is a computer backup service that will copy your files to the cloud to have an off-site backup (I also have a home server that copies my computers nightly as well). At $84/year/computer, it is a small price to pay to have your files stored as I know the feeling all-too-well of having a computer stolen along with my local backups.
I also use this service to tap into my files on the go, specifically if I want to share an old image to Instagram as I can simply log into my backup via the app, find the image I want to share, and post it to Instagram directly. Win!
My one complaint with Carbonite is that there doesn't seem to be a great way to download all your files in one shot in the event of a catastrophic failure. I haven't done much research into this one, I have to admit, but one day if I hear of a service that allows for a one-click restore I may consider switching to that even if it was at a premium price.
It should go without saying that every blogger who takes their own photos should edit them in a 3rd party software. While free services exist, I believe the gold standard is Adobe Lightroom.
In the past, you could buy a permanent license to Lightroom and Photoshop outright (for insane fees), but Adobe, like many other companies, have moved their services to a recurring subscription model. They'll try and get you to download the All Apps package for something like $60/month, but if you do a bit of digging you'll find that you can get Lightroom and Photoshop for a scant $10/month fee. Done and done.
Finally, we have newsletters. To say that many services exist to run your newsletter is an understatement, and with the variety of services out there comes a wide range of inclusions and pricing structures.
One of the cheapest out there that still has an array of functions is Mailerlite. It is, in my opinion, essentially a clone of Mailchimp for a fraction of the cost. Like most newsletter services, this one is free for those with less than 1,000 subs (and a capped monthly send), and pricing starts at $10/month for unlimited sends to under 1,000 subs. For four newsletters with just under 10,000 total subs* (three of which are under 1,000 subs but I pay for unlimited sends all the same), I pay roughly $65/month.
*Note: If you had only one newsletter with just under 10,000 total subs, the base price would be $50/month. Mine is higher because it is split up over four sites.
- Check out our Mailerlite vs Mailchimp breakdown here!
There you have it- every premium service I pay for to run my blogs! It is my intention to keep this list up-to-date with all the premium services we regularly pay for. So check back soon to see what has changed!
Have a premium blogging service you use and love? Comment below to share!