Improve Your Blog's Reach With These 20 Essential Web Utilities

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You’ve spent hours setting up your blog on your favorite blog platform just right. Good for you! So how do you maintain your blog so that it remains at the top of its game?

It turns out, there are a large number of free web utilities useful for improving your blog’s effectiveness outside of your blog engine.

Image of hammer, ruler, and other tools. CC
licensed. Tools 4 Argentina - Some Rights Reserved

Everytime I come across one of these useful utilities, I bookmark it to my Blog Utilities folder. This folder is my blogger utility belt, full of tools to meet every need when composing blog posts or optimizing my site for bandwidth and speed.

I’ve chosen to focus on web utilities as they are quick and easy to use — no installation required. This is not a comprehensive list by far, as I am sure there are many others out there. Let me know what I missed in the comments.

Optimization

The first three tools in this category are all website speed testers, but each offers something different, so I’ve listed them all.

  1. Web Page Analyzer
    • This tool is fairly comprehensive and may be the only one you really need for website speed analysis. Includes stats on every file and object downloaded and provides approximate download times for different connection rates.
  2. OctaGate Site Timer
    • I didn’t find this one to be as accurate as the first one because it attempted to download images referenced in my CSS files that were commented out. However, it provides a nicer graphical output that marks when the request was started, when it connected, and the time when the first and last bytes were received. It also highlights 404 errors in red, which is handy for finding missing files or bad URLs.
  3. HttpZip Compression Checker
    • Use this to check whether files from your website are being served with HTTP Compression on or off. Thanks to Jeff Atwood for pointing me to this one (among others).
  4. Dynamic Drive Online Image Optimizer-if you’re hardcore about your image compression, you should check out Ken Silverman’s Utility Page. But if you’re like me and just want a quick and easy web based utility for compressing images, this is your site. It can convert gif, jpg, and png files up to 300kb. It will also do conversions to other image types and display multiple results at various color levels and compression rates so you can pick the best one for your needs.
  5. Javascript Minimizer
    • This is an extremely simple tool. Paste in your javascript and click the button and reduce the size of your javascripts.
  6. CSS Minimizer
    • Just like the Javascript minimizer, but for Cascading Style Sheets.

Statistics and Search Engine Optimization

Get a handle on your web traffic with these sites.

  1. Website Grader
    • Gives your website a score in an attempt measure its effectiveness. Shows your PageRank, meta info, domain info, technoratic stats, etc… It generates a really neat report card for your blog.
  2. Google Webmaster Central - An absolute essential tool for those who care about users finding their site via Google. Especially pay attention to the Webmaster tools which include Sitemap support.
  3. Google Analytics-A free and full featured analytics package for your blog or website. Add some javascript to your page template and you’re in information overload land, but done up with nice charts and graphs.
  4. 103bees Search traffic analysis**- Unlike other stats packages, this one is focused purely on natural search engine traffic analytics. What are users searching for when they land on your site? This is a nice complement to Google Analytics. And it’s free! One caveat is that the script can be slow sometimes, which can play havoc with CSS based designs.
  5. Technorati - It’s so obvious, I almost forgot to list it. Register, claim your blog, and find out who is linking to you. You can add a little script to your blog that displays how many other posts link to yours.
  6. Alexa.com - The beauty of this site is that you can easily compare your website’s reach with several other websites on a single graph, thus starting a huge pissing contest.

Spicing Up Your Posts With Images

  1. Wikipedia Public Domain Image Resources
    • Images can bring a blog post to life. But rather than worrying about receiving a cease and desist letter for misusing copyrighted material, why not use images that are part of the Public Domain? This page is chock full of links to resources for free images.
  2. PicFindr -Despite it’s “Oh so Web 2.0” name (must everything end in a consonant plus “r” these days? At least it doesn’t have BETA anywhere), this tool is really great. It will search a set of free photo sites such as Stock.xchng, for free photographs.
  3. Flickr Creative Commons
    • Still haven’t found that picture that just hits the point you’re trying to make? Try the Flickr Creative Commons search engine. Remember, these photos are not public domain. You do need to abide by the license. But for the most part, the licenses are pretty lenient for you to reuse the photos in your own blog.
  4. Open Clip Art Library
    • Maybe you want your image to be iconicrather than photographic. Check out this free Public Domain clip art library to find an icon for every occasion.
  5. WP Clipart
    • Another Public Domain clip art library, though the quality tends to be less than the Open Clip Art Library.

Create and Improve Your Content

  1. Cliche Finder - Try to avoid using too many tired old cliches by running your post through this web based utility.
  2. HallwayTesting.com
    • This is a fantastic site for basic hallway usability testing. Just submit your URL and real people will post comments with criticisms and praise for your site. The more specific you are about what you want testers to focus on, the better quality the feedback. Try it out.

Syndication

  1. FeedBurner - This one gets special mention because it fits in so many categories. It’ll help optimize your bandwidth by serving your RSS feeds for you. Also, it includes a basic free stats package as well as a premium stats package that can replace Google Analytics. FeedBurner can also provide features your blogging platform might not, such as subscribing to RSS Feeds via email.

Special Mention

As I mentioned before, this post is focusing on web utilities. However, these two utilities are so essential, I just had to break my own rule and list them.

  1. Firebug Firefox Add-on - Ok, this breaks my rule as it isn’t technically a website, but it is a FireFox browser plugin so it might as well be a website, right? Well in any case, this tool is too important not to mention. It has it all. It can be used to time your websites download speeds, view the underlying HTTP information, measure the size of each file. Add to that a great Javascript debugger and CSS and DOM explorer. This is a must have tool.
  2. Windows Live Writer
    • I broke my rule again. This tool won’t help you write better content, but it’ll help you have fun doing it. Also, all the plugins available make it easy to add a little extra oomph to your blog posts by including Flickr images, formatted code, etc…

Again, I’m sure I missed someone’s favorite tool hear, so please let me know what I missed in the comments. And if you do, let me know which tool you’d remove from this list in order to add yours. I’ll try following up at a later time with an improved list.

Technorati Tags: Tips, href=”http://technorati.com/tags/Blogging”>Blogging, href=”http://technorati.com/tags/Utilities”>Utilities

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Comments

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26 responses

  1. Avatar for DotNetKicks.com
    DotNetKicks.com March 13th, 2007

    You've been kicked (a good thing) - Trackback from DotNetKicks.com

  2. Avatar for Steven Harman
    Steven Harman March 13th, 2007

    Brilliant list Phil!
    I've been using Stock.xchng for a while now, but sometimes it just doesn't have what I'm looking for - so it sounds like PicFindr is the way to go.
    Another tip that I think is important to mention (while not exactly a web-util) is that it needs to be easy for readers to submit your blog entries to various community/bookmarking sites.
    I realize this can be blog-software dependent, but as you know Subtext has a built-in skin control (the ShareThisPost control) that will add links for submitting to del.icio.us, Digg, and DotNetKicks... and other sites could easily be added by just changing the control template. (You can see my blog for an example)
    Anyhow, great write up as usual... and I'm really digging the tweaks you made to your skin!

  3. Avatar for Jeff Atwood
    Jeff Atwood March 13th, 2007

    Personally, I think the use of random images to "spice" up a post is distracting and lame. Hey, we're talking about Ruby? THEN GET ME A PICTURE OF AN ACTUAL RUBY, STAT!!! Hashes are the fingerprints of code? SUMMON ME A JPEG OF A FINGERPRINT, OH GREAT CREATIVE COMMONS!!
    Even worse are the blogs that use totally random pictures-- sometimes from the author's personal photo collection-- interspersed with the text. I won't name any names, but they know who they are.
    You should only use images to communicate something visual that the text cannot. They're not page breaks. This isn't Maxim. Apply the same Strunk & White rule to images that you would to text: if you can delete the image without altering the meaning of the article, then it shouldn't be there in the first place.
    Sorry. Pet peeve of mine.

  4. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked March 13th, 2007

    To illustrate Jeff's point, notice how the second image in this post of his demonstrates an appropriate use of images.
    Remove that image, and the point is lost. The point being... Dang those are nice!

  5. Avatar for Jeff Atwood
    Jeff Atwood March 13th, 2007
    You should only use images to communicate something visual that the text cannot


    Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case. On a busom.

  6. Avatar for shogun
    shogun March 13th, 2007

    Well done list. I'm using http://www.everystockphoto.... for searching pictures

  7. Avatar for Sonu on .NET
    Sonu on .NET March 13th, 2007

    Phil Haack has a very useful list on his blog about the best tools to improve your website - probably

  8. Avatar for Mike Levin of HitTail
    Mike Levin of HitTail March 13th, 2007

    We thought we created the ultimate tool for improving your blog's reach. You just stick in a line of code, and it's starts acting as your writer's muse, suggesting writing topics which it knows will perform well in natural search. It's been making quite a splash over the past year, and the mainstream blogging community is only just becoming aware of how easy the natural search game can be with the right tools.

  9. Avatar for David
    David March 14th, 2007

    If you mention Google Webmaster Tools, maybe you would like to include Yahoo Site Explorer (beta) too.
    http://siteexplorer.search....
    Does that same thing as Google, just slower and with less features. Go figure... :)

  10. Avatar for Scott
    Scott March 14th, 2007

    I think you missed the most important thing you can do. Write! All those tools won't do anything for you if you don't create content.
    Being some jackhole who just posts pictures and videos with one line comments won't cut it. ;)

  11. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked March 14th, 2007

    Well that goes without saying, Scott! :)
    But this post is focused on web tools that will help improve a blog. I can't think of a good web tool that will help you write better, other than the cliche finder.
    Maybe Digg and Reddit to gather ideas.

  12. Avatar for Katrineholm Review
    Katrineholm Review March 14th, 2007

    Use pingoat.com too.

  13. Avatar for macdet
    macdet March 14th, 2007

    thx a lot. I`ll have too learn now!

  14. Avatar for Benny_A
    Benny_A March 14th, 2007

    I've used some of these in the past; Feedburner is an absolute NECESSITY. Others I wasn't aware of. Kudos on the list and descriptions, this was a ton of help!

  15. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked March 14th, 2007

    Just found CleanCSS mentioned on the Daily Blogp Tips blog.
    More than just compressing CSS, it attempts to optimize it. For example, it can take this:

    div
    {
    margin-top: 10px;
    margin-right: 20px;
    margin-bottom: 10px;
    margin-left: 20px;
    }

    And convert it to this:

    div
    {
    margin: 10px 20px;
    }

    Nice!

  16. Avatar for //engtech
    //engtech March 20th, 2007

    Tags: Humor, Project, Web2.0, article, autism, autoincrement, blog, blogging, blogs, business, capitalism, cartoon, cocomment, comics, compsci, console, consumerism, copyright, database, delicious, development, digg, ecology, economy, editors, emulatio...

  17. Avatar for Steven Harman
    Steven Harman April 18th, 2007

    Looks like some schmucks are riding your coat-tails buddy. You gotta love the copy/paste-ility of the web.

  18. Avatar for men and women pantyhose sex
    men and women pantyhose sex April 21st, 2007

    <a href="http://blog.upstate.edu/mob... and women pantyhose sex</a>

  19. Avatar for Atif Aziz
    Atif Aziz May 6th, 2007

    If you like Javascript Minimizer, you may also want check out Jazmin. Both are based off the original C-based JSMin by Douglas Crockford. The difference is that Jazmin is a C# port and an executable that can be run locally for off-line processing. It is also available in the form of an MSBuild task so you can minimize JavaScript files as part of your build process. See the JSCompress task in MSBuild Community Tasks Project.

  20. Avatar for Luc Arnold
    Luc Arnold June 12th, 2007

    Excellent article,
    The ones that i personally use right now are...
    - Feedburner
    - Firebug
    - Google Analytics
    - Google Webmaster Central
    I am looking to have more pages on my webmasterfarms site indexed by google. Any thoughts or tips you could provide would be appreciated.
    Luc

  21. Avatar for Madonna
    Madonna August 1st, 2008

    Thanks for this article. I have signed up for a number of your recommendations.

  22. Avatar for Ankit.Agarwal
    Ankit.Agarwal August 20th, 2008

    Awesome List!!!
    Though i have been using feedburner for quite sometime,it hasnt really helped me much.Is there something specific that needs to be done in order to efficiently use feedburner

  23. Avatar for acobox
    acobox October 14th, 2008

    Hi Phil, we just bring a new site that you and bloggers must be interested in: acobox.com allow bloggers to add a image to their post with just a lick and ctrl-v, without searching for image, without processing the image, without worrying about licnese - everything is done at our side and bloggers can simple use the image! Have a look at it and any comments or suggestions will be appreciated...

  24. Avatar for anil
    anil November 2nd, 2008

    very useful research, this post shows your hard work and efforts.
    Pls keep it up.
    Again Thanx....
    http://menonworld.blogspot.com

  25. Avatar for DEXTER | Wikital.com
    DEXTER | Wikital.com December 7th, 2008

    I wanted to ask your permission to make a spanish translation of this post but i was reading your CC License, so when I have sometime free i will translate the post and include your link in it.
    PD: Mi english is not good, i Hope you understand it all!

  26. Avatar for haacked
    haacked December 7th, 2008

    @Dexter feel free. :)