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How I’ve created The Independent Landlord blog

Suzanne Smith on steps in front of brick wall

I set up The Independent Landlord in August 2022 on a shoestring to provide free, reliable information to help landlords navigate the trials of “landlording”. This includes finding and looking after great tenants and keeping costs down whilst providing high-quality homes, and above all, how to be a good landlord.

Since then, I have published one well-researched, original blog post a week, averaging around 2,500 words. I also send out a newsletter every Friday to an email list of more than 4,000 subscribers.

Lots of people have asked me how I’ve done this, as a one person band of a “certain age” in a short space of time. So here it is. In this post, I share all the tools I use for The Independent Landlord blog, and also talk about which ones went wrong for me.

This page contains affiliate links. If you buy something after clicking through, you’ll be supporting this free blog. Thank you!

Which tech tools help me create The Independent Landlord blog?

Here are the secrets of the tech tools that helped me create The Independent Landlord blog on WordPress.

Astra Pro Theme

After a bad experience with a theme I bought for £50, I built a new website in June 2023 myself, using the Astra Pro theme. It only took me a couple of days to switch over The Independent Landlord from the old theme to the staging site I’d set up on SiteGround using Astra Pro.

Why did I choose Astra Pro? As 63% of my readers use mobile devices to access The Independent Landlord, my priority was to find a theme that was optimised for mobile phones. Astra Pro is light and responsive, and I’ve been very pleased with my choice. It’s easy to use, and works well with the Spectra blocks made by Brainforce, the company behind Astra.

MailerLite email platform

Building a subscriber list is crucial to the success of a blog. Not only does it help increase views, but I’ve seen how it helps to build a community, as my subscribers often reply to my newsletters.

I send my newsletter every Friday morning, and share my thoughts on what’s happened in the last week in the private rented sector. The newsletter doesn’t appear anywhere else, and try to make it a useful, standalone read that people will want to read. I write it on the Friday morning so it’s fresh and up to date. Thursday seems to be a big day for news in the PRS, and I like being able to include the latest information.

After a terrible experience with Mailchimp, I switched to MailerLite after a few months. MailerLite is great for new bloggers because it’s free for the first 1,000 subscribers and has an easy drag-and-drop editor to create newsletters. It has a range of automations to send new subscribers welcome emails. It’s also really easy to design pop-up and embedded forms, and insert them into a website using the “short code” function in WordPress’s block editor. I have embedded forms on every page of my website (see one form at the end of this section).

MailerLite has good deliverability, which helps my open rate.

Web hosting – SiteGround

When I first started out, I used BlueHost to host The Independent Landlord. However, the site was regularly down and the customer service was appalling. I switched to SiteGround, even though I had over 2 years left on my subscription with BlueHost, as I was so unhappy.

SiteGround have been fantastic, and I highly recommend them. Their customer service is exceptional.

Which SEO tools do I use for my blog?

lightbult with SEO on it - SEO tools for blog

SEO, or search engine optimisation, is crucial to the long-term success of a blog. Despite what some promise, there’s no magic wand you can use or tool you can buy that will optimise your blog for search engines. It’s all about creating useful content people want to read, time and time again. Content that’s unique and fresh, that doesn’t just rehash what everyone else says.

For the more general content, I write about the things I’ve wanted answers to myself. This has led me to write lots on the Renters Reform Bill and practical “how to” posts for self-managing landlords. Each time I learn something new about landlording, I write about it on the blog if I think it would be helpful for others.

The only paid for SEO tools I use are Yoast and Semrush. (Semrush is expensive, but wonderful. I recommend it highly). Otherwise, I rely on Google Search Console and Google Analytics to help me optimise posts.

What about AI?

Ad - ProWritingAid

I don’t use ChatGPT to create my blog posts, other than to look up the odd synonym, as ChatGPT merely scrapes what other websites say. Its “knowledge” stops on September 2021, which means it’s unaware of anything that happened after that date. For instance, it doesn’t know that the Renters Reform Bill is going through parliament, or that we’re now in a high inflationary, high interest rate new world.

I do, however, use an amazing tool called ProWritingAid, which is enhanced by AI. It helps me write better and avoid the long, tortuous sentences that lawyers are famous for! I can use it in Chrome for my WordPress blog, and it also has great integrations with Word and the wonderful app for writers, Scrivener (which I also use to make notes and save sources for the blog). ProWritingAid is powerful enough for long-form content over 10,000 words, which is why it’s so popular with authors.

I also like the fact I’m supporting a British company which harnesses AI to help writers become more productive.

Where do I get my lovely photos and images from?

letting agent introducing a landlord and a tenant
One of the many images I’ve used from my subscription with Styled Stock Society

Research shows that blogs and content on websites get better results when they use images. In fact, according to Orbit Media, bloggers who use 7 or more images per post are 2.3 times more likely to report “strong results”.

Images also need to fit the look and feel of a website. I try to use my own photos as much as possible, and I avoid the cheesy stock images that you see everywhere.

If I don’t have a suitable photo that I’ve taken myself, I still want it to look like it might be one of mine, and not jar with the colour palette of the blog.

I use Canva Pro and RawPixel for everyday images. However, if there’s a stylish image of a woman on my blog, the chances are that it’s a photo from my subscriptions with Ivory Mix and Styled Stock Society.

Buy me a coffee

Buy me a coffee - effective tool to fund a blog

Since the start, I’ve been determined not to have content behind a paywall. I want to make it easy for landlords and other people in the PRS, including renters, to find free, reliable, independent information.

However, I soon found out that it costs a fair amount of money to run a website. Although I use a free blog tools as much as I can, there are still many things I need to pay for (domain name, email account, hosting, theme, Yoast plugin, newsletter platform etc).

It wasn’t so bad in the first year, as a lot of subscriptions have free trial periods or reduced rates for the first year.

When the first anniversary of the blog approached and I was faced with higher subscriptions, I began to research how I might make the blog self-funding. I’m happy to give up my time to write the content, but I don’t want to be out of pocket as wel. So I’ve added a few affiliate links to the blog for things I recommend anyway, starting with the NRLA (of course!), to help pay the subscriptions.

However, the biggest contribution to the website’s costs comes from Buy Me A Coffee. It’s a wonderful service that allows people to support the blog on a one off basis (a £5 “coffee”) or a monthly basis.

Even though I only mention Buy Me A Coffee on a couple of pages of my website, and have a small button at the end of my newsletters (at the suggestion of a subscriber), people regularly thank me for my content by buying me a coffee. This makes an enormous difference, and I’m very grateful for this support.

You can check out who’s bought me coffee on this page here. ☕️ 😊

Branding…

When I launched The Independent Landlord, I didn’t have a logo. Instead, I used the Raleway font in the exact shade of brick red of one of my buy to lets for the website name, The Independent Landlord. I used blue as a contrast for headings, as that’s my favourite colour.

After a year, I treated myself by asking Claire Reynolds of Be Brave Branding to create a logo for me. She kept the blue and the brick red, and enhanced the website title with a cartoon version for my website header. I’m thrilled with it, and recommend Claire highly.

I also finally got around to getting some professional photos taken in September 2023. I had a mini session with Beth Lavin, who took some really nice photos that I’ve used on the blog and on social media. You can see two of the photos on this page.

Final thoughts

I hope you found this useful. If you did, maybe you can Buy Me A Coffee?! 😊

>> Related Post: About Suzanne Smith

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