Since I’m frequently asked for recommendations, I thought I’d save us all some time. “What do you use, Marie?” HERE are the tools I use. I’ve been blogging since 2010, and doing it full time since 2014. I’ve wasted so much money on poor tools and courses that it would make your head spin.

You can benefit from my trial and error! Some of these links are going to be affiliate links, which means I’ll make a small commission if you buy from me. These are all, however, tools that I am actively using on this blog.

Squirrly and SEMrush

** As a note – some ethical problems are rising with Squirrly, which I need to mention.

They don’t pay affiliates for annual memberships, just monthly, which is unusual and kind of scummy.

Their image suggestions pull from Google, which means they are often under copyright. They don’t make any effort to add copyright information or links to the source, which is again very scummy.

AND – you’ll pay a different amount for their plans based on your currency. Annual prices are not listed anywhere, and it’s hard to compare or to know exactly what you’re paying. A friend signed up and paid $121 US for the annual plan. I signed up the same day and paid $186 Canadian for the same plan. As of now, they are not answering my request for a refund.

They are still a great option for on-site optimization, but their ethics are questionable and I can’t wholeheartedly recommend them **

If the above ethical problems don’t bother you and you need hand holding for on-site optimization, you’ll like Squirrly.

Neil Patel of KISSmetrics uses it to optimize all of his blog posts, so that’s definitely a point in its favour. But it’s more than just an on-site optimizer.

One of the aspects I like best is that it lives right in my WordPress Dashboard, and it takes me step by step through optimizing my posts. There’s no guesswork at all. Really, NO guesswork – it will tell you that you’re over optimizing a post and that you should “add more text after the 4th keyword” and then it will highlight each instance of your keyword so you can find where it needs more text.

If you want some of the extra bells and whistles that come with SEMrush, like being able to stalk the Google traffic of your competitors, here’s the link to sign up. Squirrly lets me track my own ranking but doesn’t show estimated traffic, nor does it let me spy on people.

Squirrly – incredible on-page optimization

SEMrush – geeky stats, amazing keyword research and spying and impeccable business ethics

(You’ll notice I didn’t say Yoast. I used to recommend Yoast but I don’t anymore.)

SEMrush, though – wow.  It doesn’t really do on-site handholding like Squirrly or Yoast but it does EVERYTHING else that you’d need for serious SEO and Google ranking.

I love SEMrush enough that I paid for a year’s membership up front, and it’s worth every penny.

You can check your page ranking with SEMrush here:

Elegant Themes

I’ve spent more money than I care to think about on different themes, and I could never get my site looking just the way I wanted it. But worse, when ‘blog fashion’ changed (and oh, yes, there is such a thing), I often couldn’t easily change the look of my site.

Enter Divi (which is for websites) and Extra (specifically for blogs).  I paid once and I have a lifetime membership. After that, I started realizing that some of my favourite blogs are made with Divi. Completely worth the price, especially since it includes Bloom, which lets me make gorgeous email optin forms.

You can get Divi (and Extra and Bloom) here.


There are a lot of free programs that say they optimize your images, but I’ve not found anything that works as well as ShortPixel. Since one-time credits don’t expire, my recommendation is to buy the largest package that you can afford. When I first signed up and optimized my images, I used 30,000 credits. Of course, if you only need a few images each month, you can process up to 100 every month for free. When you use my link, you can get an extra 100 for your first month – and then either get a monthly plan or buy a one-time package.

ShortPixel – Get an extra 100 image credits

WP Tasty Pins

WHY did I spend so much time manually coding meta-pin information when I could have just got this fabulous plugin? Ok, you CAN go in and do this with all of your images, so that you have the Alt tag for non-visual readers and the proper Pinterest tags for pinnable images:

img src="" alt="Alt Description goes here" data-pin-description="Pinterest Description with hashtags here" data-pin-url="" data-pin-media="" data-pin-id="PinterestIDNumber"/

You can do that.

And it will take a long time, time which is better spent writing posts, creating awesome pins, and so many more things that are better than fretting over code.  Getting WP Tasty made it so much easier and saved me a lot of time. Plus, you can easily, with just a click, indicate that certain images aren’t allowed to be pinned.

AND Tasty Pins lets you easily hide multiple pinnable images, all perfectly optimized!

Get WP Tasty Pins here so that you can code your Pinterest images properly in a fraction of the time. (They also have a recipe plugin which is supposed to be quite good, but I don’t use that, so I don’t have a real opinion on it!)

If you need a very high quality recipe plugin, WP Tasty also has Tasty Recipes. You can see that in action in the recipes on this site.

Tailwind and BoardBooster

I’ve gone back and forth between Tailwind and Boardbooster, and both have a lot going for them. A friend of mine exclusively uses Boardbooster and swears by it. Others say they don’t get traffic when they use it.

Tailwind – Get a free month to try it out.

Boardbooster – Your first 500 pins are free.


What is Evernote? Basically it’s a personalized encyclopedia, filing system, planner, organizer, everything you want it to be. You can use it as a journal. I use it to store drafts for blog posts. I go back and forth between the free plan and the smaller paid plan, depending on how I’m using it – you can upgrade or downgrade easily at any point.

Check out Evernote.

Pinteresting Strategies

This is not a plugin. It’s an ebook that will help you understand how to pin, when to pin, and why to pin! Carly strongly recommends manually pinning but she does have a lot of loyal readers who uses schedulers.

Get your copy of Pinteresting Strategies here.

Lyrical Host

So where do I host this site? There are SO many options out there, so many great hosts. First, let me tell you where not to host – please don’t host with Godaddy or Bluehost. Your site speed will drag, and you’ll get terrible customer service.

I host my site with a wee little company based in Nottingham, UK. Why?

Their customer service is amazing and prompt. Honestly. Either their resident tech genius, Joseph, never sleeps, or he is actually a team of people named Joseph. He swears that’s not true, but I don’t know how else they manage such quick and fabulous tech support.

They want to earn your business and won’t lock you into a long contract just to get the advertised price.

Their WordPress plans are essentially wee, not-so-wee and freaking huge. (Tiny, Mighty, and Boss) I’m on the huge plan, the Boss plan, and no matter how much traffic I get, their servers can handle it. But their prices are incredibly affordable – it’s basically Bluehost pricing with WPEngine service. Jenna, the co-founder, told me that she wanted to make GOOD, fast hosting affordable for small bloggers – and she’s done just that.

Sign up with Lyrical Host and use the discount code JUSTPLAINLIVING for 10% off any hosting package. (Won’t work on domains, and it’s a one-time discount.)

Just Plain Living