We are often asked by other bloggers what it is we use on the Compass & Fork site or what we recommend. As this is not a topic we cover on our site, there is nowhere to provide this information to our fellow bloggers. This resources page is it. So if you are here for food or travel, you can stop reading but if you are a fellow blogger, here is all you need to know:
(I know you know the drill, but here is the disclaimer, some of these links are affiliate links and we do receive a commission should you choose to purchase the product using our link. If you do, we appreciate you supporting us and Compass & Fork.
These are all products we use at Compass & Fork and that I am happy to recommend to others, I have shared the why we like it and recommend it for each product.
For a bit of context, neither Mark nor I am technical, neither of us can code. My point being these are products you can use as well.
1. Hosting: SiteGround
Compass & Fork is a WordPress site hosted on SiteGround. We have been very happy with SiteGround and therefore I am happy to recommend them to others:
What we like:
- The interface where you need to set up and maintain your site is very user friendly and easy to use. I have had other hosts, and it was always difficult to find what you needed or get instructions in plain English so the non-technical among us could use it!
- The support is excellent. I have contacted them at all hours of the day and night from all over the world (as we were traveling) to ask all manner of questions. (These are not hosting related issues, but rather lack of knowledge from me the user.) They are always there, I have never had to wait for hours to get an answer. Most things are answered then and there, it might require you to generate a work ticket and these are done promptly. And I have had some issues: I accidentally deleted my entire site! No problem it was restored in 5 minutes. I messed up a file and the entire site would not load. This of course was 20 minutes before a post was due to go live and all the social media, email etc. get sent and the site was down. No problem fixed in 10 minutes. (They restored the file from a backup- same as the deletion of the site above). You can “chat” online or call and speak to a real person!
- A lot of things other places charge you for are included in the service, including SSL certificate, moving your site and hosting additional sites if you have them. You can upgrade your services as you go.
- I pay a small amount and they scan for malware and/or malicious activity on the site. (With a previous host company my site was hacked and the answer I received from the host was the site was still running fine on their servers and their servers were not down so as far as they were concerned there was no issue. I have heard similar horror stories from other website owners.)
In the end I think you get what you pay for,and web hosting is no exception. There are cheaper alternatives, but it is often short lived. Make sure you check what the renewal rates will be. With my previously mentioned awful hosting provider, it gradually was increased each year until finally I was paying more than double what “new” customers were paying for the same service.
We use MailChimp, as a provider which is pretty easy to figure out and made for “dummies”. It is also free until you have 2000 subscribers.
We started with Get Response, and while the product was okay, the support and documentation were not and often issues went unresolved for weeks, months. When you are starting out this is bad enough, but if I was a large user, this would be totally unacceptable. In addition you are paying for the lack of service and support. So we switched to Mail Chimp. No issues so far.
We use OptinMonster for the email capture forms on our site. It is integrated with Mail Chimp and also offers great flexibility as to how, where and when you want the capture forms to appear on the site. It is easy to use and the documentation is good.
3. Word Press Theme & Recipe Plug-in
We use the Virtue Premium theme from Kadence Themes. We started with the free version of the theme and used this for many months. When we were sure we liked the theme and had some use for the additional features in the Premium version we upgraded. The documentation is good. I can’t comment on support as I have never had a reason to use it.
For the Recipe Plug-in we use WP Ultimate Recipe. Again we started with the free version and later upgraded to the paid Premium version. One of the features we love is the metric/imperial conversion allowing cooks around the world to use our recipes hassle free. You can also adjust the serving size and it recalculates. With the premium version you can customize the appearance of the recipe templates. I am not a technical person and I was able to do this, no coding is required. In addition Brecht, the creator of the plug-in provides awesome support. (even when we were on the free version!)
4. Social Media
For Pinterest, I use Tailwind, I have also used Board Booster. They do slightly different things but in my opinion if you are serious about Pinterest, you need to get a tool. The analytics alone will help you improve your pinning and the ability to schedule means you are not tied to the computer. You can schedule months in advance if you want. For travel bloggers this is fantastic. I can travel and know my pins are still happening. Using either the link above or below, you will receive a FREE 30 day trial. After that I think you will be hooked.
Board Booster is good if you use a lot of group boards and/or have huge boards with hundreds/thousands of pins. You can analyze links, manage repins, and other essential tasks. There is a free trial and plans start at $5 a month.
I use Buffer to schedule retweets of others. I am on the free version as I do most of these real time and then just let Buffer space them out.
Photography is a definitely a skill and one I am always working to improve. I have owned an SLR for a long-time, well before they became DSLR’s. (Digital) I have always owned a Canon. I am on my third body at the moment, a 60D. If that means nothing to you don’t worry.
Gear for Beginners
When asked about buying a camera for your blog or your travels my answer is always the same, buy an entry-level Canon Rebel, one like the Canon Rebel T5 found here. Why?
- It takes good pictures
- Parts and lenses are widely available around the world. If you are traveling and need something you be able to get it at a camera shop.
- You can start in fully automatic mode and it will grow with you as your skills improve.
- There is a huge variety of lenses and accessories, so again as your skill improves, so too can your equipment.
- There is also a large market of used goods so you can find equipment on the resale market to save you some money as well.
- There are a lot of books and resources that cover “how to” do it on a Canon camera.
- I think you get a great product at a reasonable price, they are good value.
You can look around and often find bundles with two camera lenses and everything you need to get started.
Okay enough said about a camera.
Food Photography & Growing your Blog
Before starting Compass & Fork most of my photography fits into the landscape genre and I am pretty comfortable there after many years of photo taking. I have huge room for improvement, but I can do okay. We get lots of positive comments about the travel photos on the site, so if that is any gauge, we are going okay.
Food photography is a whole different matter! So I am rapidly trying to learn and improve these skills.
I have found two very useful and supportive places to help you grow your food blog. (You can use many of the tips for any type of blog, so you still may want to check them out if you are not a food blog). I like both of them as they explain the why, what and how. Telling me Pinterest has this great feature is absolutely useless if you can’t tell me why I care it has that feature, what it is good for and how I make it work for me. Both of these groups provide practical advice to help you implement stuff without wasting your time!
Food Blogger Pro
Food Blogger Pro (FBP) is run by Bjork and Lindsey of the successful food blog Pinch of Yum.
FBP is a closed “community” which provides a wealth of videos, tutorials and resources including a number of community forums to ask questions, find answers and help others. It is $30 a month or $270 a year. They have just changed their business model to have two yearly intakes. So it will not open again until Spring 2016.
So if you are in need of some advice/assistance they have tow other resources I recommend, both are e-books. The first book is the Tasty Food Photography eBook. This is an excellent resource to improve your food photography and I recommend it. Full of advice, how-to’s and immediately I am sure you can find something that will help you improve your food photography.
The second book, How to Monetize your Blog, is written by a food blogger and contains food blogging examples, but some f the information is more general and if you are looking to understand more about how you can make money from your blog, it is a good resource. I bought this early on and still review it periodically as Compass & Fork grows to implement new ideas.
Food Blogger Central is run by Nagi Maehashi of the very successful RecipeTin Eats. Nagi has been very successful, having grown her blog amazingly fast and been very generous with sharing her knowledge with the blogging community.
This site is free and provides a lot of resources for improving your food blog. In addition there are a number of Facebook groups and Pinterest Group Boards.
Nagi has recently produced The Food Photography Book, a great book with lots of practical actionable advice to help you improve your food photography. Click here to view more details.
I like this book because it is easy to understand and written in plain english. It includes all aspects of food photography: staging, lighting, getting the shot and post production. Nagi’s photos are good, so I know there are a few things I can learn from her for sure.
DPS- Digital Photography School
There are lots of free tips, courses, books and resources on this site that cover all types of photography. I originally found them many years ago while trying to improve my travel photography skills. There are plenty of free resources on this site including a weekly skills development newsletter which provides a prompt or “challenge” to get you out there and help you improve your skills. Click here to visit Digital Photography School.
There are lots of books on this site including several landscape photography books, but for travel photography I recommend this book Transcending Travel. Click here to view more details.
This book covers composition, landscapes, people portraits, and how to use light . All skills I think are important if you want to run a successful travel blog.
ProBlogger: Growing your Blog
And through DPS, I actually found Darren’s other site, Pro Blogger. This is an excellent resource for bloggers and Darren has recently started podcasting. His 31 Days to Build a Better Blog is great and I highly recommend it no matter where you are in your blogging journey.
Hopefully, you find this post helpful. It is longer than I intended, but I thought it was important to share what we use and how it has helped us.
We wish you all the best on your own blogging journey.
If you have questions or comments, please do let us know. And if we can be of further assistance just ask.