The Recommended Toolkit

I have been in this line of work for over two decades. And I say that in order to make 2 points: (1) I have used, tested and reviewed a helluva lot of tools, and (2) I see right through shiny objects and hypey launches and make it part of my job to help my students and readers avoid wasting money as they build their blogs and businesses.

This page contains my top, official recommendations for various tools that are necessary for pretty much all online businesses.

A Word On Affiliate Links And My Promises To You

You're smart, so you know how this business works. Yes, many of the links on this page are affiliate links. That means I will earn a commission if you choose to purchase any of these tools through my link. And you have my sincere thanks if you do that. But, also know this...

I take my reputation with my recommendations seriously. I only recommend what I have used and vetted personally. Most of the tools on this page are tools I am using actively to run my own business. But, not only that...

If I recommend a tool and you buy it based on my recommendation, I am there to support you. In some cases, I have bonus training inside the LAB portal I will hook you up with. In many cases, people email me for help and I'm happy to provide an additional layer of support over top what the provider does themselves. So, when you buy through one of these affiliate links, you're also locking in the resources of the Blog Marketing Academy to help iron out any confusions and support issues that you encounter as you use the tool.

  TOP Recommendation

Thrive Suite - My Top Recommendation

After testing numerous themes and platforms, I proudly stand behind my firm recommendation of Thrive Themes. Most specifically, I recommend that you look strongly at using Thrive Theme Builder and Thrive Architect.

This entire site is running on the this exact combination. It enables you to easily and quickly build almost any high-conversion blog layout you want - without ever having to learn to code or deal with the geeky stuff.

In order to get this combination, you will need to get the Thrive Suite. With the Thrive Suite, you will gain access to every single plug-in and theme they offer. This suite is the most powerful suite out there for a WordPress-based online marketer.

Here's all that is included in the Thrive Suite...

  • Thrive Theme Builder. Way beyond a normal theme. This is a platform that will allow you to mold your site into anything you want, without knowing any coding. All "what you see is what you get". You can read my review here. And you can read my story of switching this site to Theme Builder here and here.
  • Thrive Architect. This is the main editor that forms the foundation for all Thrive Themes tools. Simply amazing, and I've tested many of the alternatives. This is the best. (Architect vs Elementor and Architect Vs Divi)
  • Thrive Leads. For taking full control and managing opt-in forms across your site. I've tested a lot of WordPress-centered opt-in form plugins... and this is the most robust.
  • Thrive Comments. A major enhancement to the built-in WordPress comments system that allows you to turn your comments into a marketing opportunity.
  • Thrive Apprentice. Manage your online courses and present them beautifully, right on your WordPress site. Read my review.
  • Thrive Ovation. Collect and organize testimonials - and easily include them into any of your landing pages. You can have an actual system for social proof. Read this look at using Thrive Ovation and how it fits in.
  • Thrive Ultimatum. A powerful setup for using urgency to make more sales. Countdown timers, with tons of flexibility.
  • Thrive Quiz Builder. Create online quizzes, use them to build targeted email lists and much more. A bit amazing that they managed to build this on WordPress, really.
  • Thrive Optimize. Built-in split testing to raise your conversion rates. Works hand-in-hand with Thrive Architect to give you a super powerful platform for all of your landing pages and sales pages.
  • Headline Optimizer. A simple tool for split-testing blog post headlines and using the ones which results in the most traffic.

Thrive Suite is the best "bang for the buck" package out there for WordPress-centered marketing. If you're building your business on top of a WordPress site, this is seriously worth considering. Thrive tools work together beautifully. Trying to cobble together all this functionality using a big mix of other plug-ins is likely going to cost you more... and be more frustrating.

I use Thrive Suite. You should definitely check it out to see if it works for you.

Thrive Themes Bonus Training

Look over my shoulder while I show you some of the in's and out's of Thrive Themes tools, best practices, and some nifty tricks. You will also have a direct line to me to ask any question you want about Thrive so that I can be an additional line of support for you as you use these tools.

Access to this course is FREE as a bonus if you purchase Thrive Themes via our affiliate link. Click here to learn more.

  Web Hosting

Top Web Hosting Recommendations

The absolute best bang for your buck is going to be a virtual private server. And the easiest way to do that without the required nerdiness is by using Cloudways. I am personally hosted with Cloudways and I'm really diggin' it. You can read why I switched to Cloudways here

Cloudways simply gives you more... for less. They offer all the benefits of a managed WordPress host, but with far more flexibility and far more  horsepower. Even the cheapest VPS (which runs only $10/month) offers far more power than every shared hosting company you will find. Perfect for people who want the speed. Also an ideal choice for people running online stores, membership sites and other dynamic sites. A full review is forthcoming!


Cloudways is what I am most enthusiastic about and what I use personally. However if you don't feel you're ready for that, my backup recommendation is most definitely Siteground. I have used Siteground in the past. They have a great platform and they are a solid company. They have also recently streamlined their account admin pages, making it much easier to use (in my opinion). Siteground remains my top recommendation for an all-in-one, shared web host. While Cloudways is pretty easy, Siteground is more friendly for newbies.

How To Choose The Right Web Hosting. This is my official guide on how to shop for a host - as well as some companies I would stay away from. A lot of bloggers recommend Bluehost or Hostgator and... not me. I'll tell you why.

  TOP EMAIL LIST HOSTS

Top Email List Host Recommendations

There are many good, solid options out there for hosting your email list. And my official recommendation has evolved over the years. Today, the solution that I think represents the best option for my students is ConvertKit.

I believe ConvertKit currently represents the best balance of ease of use combined with marketing automation capability that will be needed to build real, automated sales funnels and fully implement the Blog Monetization Model. Read my review on how ConvertKit compares to Aweber and Mailchimp.


Here are some awesome alternatives I like...

I personally used Aweber for YEARS. They are a solid company with a stellar reputation. Everything integrates with it. And they've made a number of solid improvements to keep up with the times. They're not the most glamorous option anymore, but they're reliable.

Drip is an email marketing automation platform which doesn't make you go cross-eyed. The power and flexibility that Drip has is simply amazing. It integrates with everything, sports a beautiful graphical automation builder (called workflows), and forms the foundation of the email machine here at the Blog Marketing Academy.

FluentCRM is a marketing automation system that runs right inside of WordPress. While it is newer, it is already quite powerful... and I can see it getting to the point of competing with Drip in terms of capability, but without the higher expense. If you want the security of having your list "in house" and want to keep your costs down, FluentCRM is a solid option. Read my review.

  List Building

Top List Building Tool Recommendation

I used Thrive Leads for a long time. But, I have now switched all of my optins to ConvertBox and I think this is a solution worthy of strong consideration. It is also unique right now because you can lock it in with a lifetime membership. This means you have the constantly improving capability of a fully-hosted option, but without the usual recurring fees.

ConvertBox is easy to use. And it is quickly developing to a platform that will blow all WordPress-specific options away. Imagine being able to customize the calls to action across your site based on WHO the person is and the information you know about them in your CRM. You can show optins to people not already on your list... and targeted offers to the people who are. And you don't need the expense of something like RightMessage or ConvertFlow. ConvertBox is taking them both head on. 

ConvertBox is most definitely a strong tool for managing optin forms and calls to action. And with the availability of the lifetime plan, it represents one of the best investments out there for your business.

ConvertBox Essentials (Bonus Training)

You can watch over my shoulder while I personally show you how to get set up with ConvertBox and how to implement it in your business. My goal will be to help radically speed up putting ConvertBox to use without having to figure it all out on your own using just their documentation. Plus, I have a whole section on USING ConvertBox to show you some of the coolest uses for your account.

You can get access to this training FOR FREE as a special bonus for securing your lifetime ConvertBox account via our affiliate link. It obviously costs you nothing extra, but I will earn a commission. But, in exchange for your trust, I will hook you up with a full training course and my personal support as you implement ConvertBox.

  Shopping cart

Top Shopping Cart Recommendation

It can be complicated figuring out the best way to process orders and delivery on your site. But, there is one solution that I think is the best solution right now - especially considering that you can currently purchase it with a one-time, lifetime account without any recurring fees. 

That solution is ThriveCart. (And no, this is not related to Thrive Themes). ThriveCart does... everything. You can use it to run as many products or subscriptions as you want. You can use it across multiple sites. There are no limits. All for one, single purchase. Yes, it has an initial investment to secure your account. But, once you have it, this software will form the ecommerce foundation for all of your online businesses.

ThriveCart now manages all orders and subscriptions for the Blog Marketing Academy.

  • Read My ThriveCart ReviewHere's a full look at what ThriveCart can do and how it compares to other solutions.
  • Read My Wishlist Member Review. Might seem unrelated, but in my review of Wishlist Member for membership sites, I concluded that ThriveCart + Wishlist Member would be an incredibly powerful solution that could power most businesses and delivery for online businesses.

If you want a solid option for processing orders, managing delivery, and having every conversion-increasing strategy available in one package, ThriveCart is a solid investment. Right now, you can pay just once and lock it in forever. And having a solution like this to power all your sales in the future, without any recurring fees, is just a smart investment. Period.

  Membership Site

Membership Site Tools

The membership site is, by far, my favorite business model. It offers so much flexibility and revenue potential for anybody attracting an audience with a blog. My membership site is THE LAB. And a lot of people like how the LAB looks and how it functions. So, here are the exact tools I use to make it work...

The theme I use is the BuddyBoss theme. And I think this might, perhaps, be the perfect membership site theme. It comes with the Buddyboss platform which brings numerous community features. The theme is built for a membership site with online courses. Read my full review.

WP Fusion is the glue which makes THE LAB work. This plug-in is the most useful plug-in I have. It fuses my site with my CRM (Drip), allowing my site to become a direct extension of every automation I run inside of Drip. It also protects all the content, so this IS my membership plug-in. Check out my full WP Fusion review.

All of the online courses inside THE LAB are powered by LearnDash. I chose Learndash because of the extensive community behind it and all the add-ons. You can make it do whatever you want, essentially. And it works beautifully with BuddyBoss. Read my LearnDash review.

Of course, both Thrivecart and Drip are also fundamental parts of how my membership site functions. If you want to see every tool I use (even the little ones), check out: How My Membership Site Is Built: The Tools & Plugins I Use To Power THE LAB.

Frequently Asked Questions

What theme do you recommend?

My top recommendation is Thrive Theme Builder, from Thrive Themes. This is a kind of "universal theme", where one solution can be molded into anything you want. And you don't need to know how to code to modify it... and you won't need to hire a developer.

I am personally using Theme Builder on this site. In almost all cases, I recommend Theme Builder to you, too. And I can help you mold it into whatever you like. To give you an idea, I was able to build this very site that you see here... without touching any code at all. And I know how to code just fine. 🙂

What membership site plugin do you recommend?

I used MemberMouse for about 5 years to power my own business. While it is very powerful, I found myself getting frustrated with it and eventually moved on. You can read my MemberMouse review, why I switched away from it, and the new setup that I chose.


I recently reviewed Wishlist Member and I think it is probably a better fit for most membership site owners. Especially if you combine it with ThriveCart.

If I were to, once again, go with a more traditional membership site plug-in as an alternative to MemberMouse, I would either use Wishlist Member or, perhaps, MemberPress. However, I personally use. the tools listed ahove.

Will I be OK with the host I already have?

I recommend Cloudways and SiteGround, in that order. Those are my top recommendations for web hosts. But, I have had people tell me they are already with another host, don't wish to move, and wonder if they'll be fine building their business where they're at.

If you are happy with the company you are using, then by all means... stay there. Most hosts will be fine. Not only that, you're not "stuck" anywhere. You can always decide to move your site to another host later. It's OK. 🙂

If I'm using a tool other than what you recommend, will I have any issues?

Not necessarily. Just because I endorse and support the tools on this page doesn't mean I think all alternatives suck. 🙂 Again, if you are happy with what you're using, that's what is most important.

How can I get your help with one of the tools you recommend?

Just shoot us an email and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Now, obviously, if you have purchased any of these tools through my links, that is better for business. And to show my appreciation, I always offer a higher level of support in that case, either privately via email, bonus training inside THE LAB, or other forms of support.