Design and Development Tools

  • Visual Studio Code. Opensource code editor by Microsoft, with extensions available for PHP, Python, and SASS/CSS processing. Worthy mentions go to Atom, Pycharm, and PHPstorm - all of which we have used extensively in the past. VSCode is the current flavour of the month, and has been for the last 24+ months.

  • Figma. What we use to design and prototype website layouts and UI, particularly useful for sending clients designs and demonstrations before coding into a working website. Moved from Invision at the start of 2022 in an effort to consolidate and streamline how our design applications integrate with each other.

  • Formspree. Very simple form processing for websites, we use our own frontend code and styling, then send the forms submission action to Formspree for validation and addtional spam filtering. Not always the best solution for a website, but very useful in a lot of static applications such as hosting a Jekyll site on Github Pages.

  • EmailOctopus. As much as we dislike sending out advertising campaigns to thousands of poor inboxes, email marketing is still very much alive and kicking. We started using EmailOctopus in Feburary 2022, as we were searching for something simple and laser-focused with functionality, and so far it has delivered. Honorable mention to MailChimp, which does email marketing and a lot more… we just didn’t want the “a lot more” part of their package.

  • Gimp. Opensource Photoshop alternative for editing images and creating artwork. Works great in partnership with Inkscape, which we use for vector illustration like logo and branding design. Worth a try for countries like Australia where Microsoft products are typically 66% more expensive and Adobe products typically 42% more expensive than in the USA.

  • Vagrant. Vagrant is a bit of magic we use daily. The easiest way to describe Vagrant is the creation of individual virtual machines, isolating projects to their own containerised space. Nearly every project we take on has a Vagrant environment created, along with deployment scripting, which ensures everyone is working on a website is using identical environment and tools. Similar tools exist (such as Docker) but we have been using Vagrant for a long time now and it just works.

Hosting and Domain Name Services

  • Kinsta. Premium managed WordPress website hosting. Initially introduced to us by a client, we were very pessimistic about what it was advertising compared to actual capabilities. Make no mistake, Kinsta is the best WordPress hosting currently on the market, it works and it works brilliantly. Kinsta is super-fast, with code deployed to Google Cloud infrastructure in Melbourne (for Tasmanian and Victorian clients), and has some killer development features.

  • VentraIP. Unfortunately we had to replace Hover in May 2022, as it was becoming a nightmare for .au + .nz domain management and transfers. VentraIP worked really well, transfers were quick and easy, and whilst we miss the clean Hover dashboard we do not miss the headache of manually requesting support every time a domain needed to be transferred. VentraIP has been a pleasant surprise, and pricing seems to be very competitive.

  • CloudFlare. At a basic level, CloudFlare is a DNS host, and a very good one at that. To say DNS zones is all they do would be an understatement. CloudFlare has some great features for basic websites, as it is a CDN (content delivery network) and offers crucial services like page rules, SSL certificates, security insights, image optimisation, analytics, redirects, and you can even buy domains.

  • Webflow. Hosted CMS platform, similar to Squarespace but better for website developers in almost every single metric. Static HTML/CSS/JS can be exported from Webflow to use in custom applications, for example a bespoke WordPress theme, and the editing interface is the best we have experienced. If you have a simple website, chances are we are using Webflow to show it off to the world, or at least create initial frontend prototypes. Webflow is hosted on Amazon AWS with 100+ datacentres worldwide, and includes Fastly CDN asset delivery.

  • DigitalOcean. Since 2016 we almost exclusively used DigitalOcean for hosting websites and applications, and it is still a reliable and simple cloud server platform at an affordable cost. More features have been added in this time, like database clusters and deploying apps from a marketplace, but no data centre location in Australia is getting harder and harder to ignore. Great service with good pricing, if Kinsta is too expensive then this is the next best thing for hosting your WordPress website or Python application.

  • Github Pages. Website hosting doesn’t need to be expensive or have a lot of features. Static website generators, like Jekyll, can deploy code to Github Pages for free hosting which is fast and robust. Commonly used to host portfolios, CV, documentation, blogs, and simple websites. The downside is that you need to be experienced with GIT and the command line to create a Jekyll project and push it to your Github Repository. Once you get past the technical hurdles, Github Pages is a solid alternative for static website hosting.

Search Engine Optimisation and Site Performance Applications

  • Plausible. Website analytics are confusing, and we got to a point where the default tool (Google Analytics) was too complicated and not being utilised by clients. We started the search for better website analytics data, and landed on Plausible. The best way to describe Plausible is that it is a curated type of experience, showing you real statistics in a very tidy and easy to understand user interface. Fathom analytics is also worth a mention but for now we are sticking with Plausible.

  • Wincher. Analytics do not track keyword ranking (SERP) so we need an additional application to monitor how your website is performing in organic search engine rankings. We switched from Nightwatch to Wincher in February 2022, the competitor tracking at a glance is much easier in Wincher and keyword management in general is a better experience.

  • Meta Tags. Great little website that makes it quick and easy to identify your current website meta tags, and generate new ones. You can edit and experiment with your content then preview how your webpage will look on Google, Facebook, Twitter and more social networks.

  • Bing Webmaster Tools and Bing Places for Business. One of the tools we don’t have much of an option in using, as a website owner you need to utilise these systems to identify issues with crawling, and submit URLs for indexing in the Bing search engine.

  • Google Search Console and Google Business. Similar to it’s Bing counterparts, we utilise these Google search tools to manage our search engine data in Google and identify areas of issue or improvement.

Office Software and Project Management Tools

  • Todoist. We switched to Todoist from Trello in mid-2021. Whilst already using Todoist for simple daily/weekly/monthly tasks, we decided to give it a spin for project management and collaborating with remote team members. Todoist does everything well on the whole, but still lags behind Trello for team collaboration. We believe it will get better over time for project management and team/client communication.

  • Proton replaced Google Workspace in our office around August 2020. We use ProtonMail for secure email communications from custom domains, ProtonDrive for end-to-end encrypted cloud storage, and ProtonVPN to test website geolocation functions along with search engine results from different locations. Google docs, sheets, and other cloud applications have been replaced with opensource alternatives, notably Libreoffice and OpenOffice.

  • Rounded. Finding a suitable billing platform has been an ongoing journey. We started with Freshbooks back in the early days, and whilst it was simple it was also expensive with restrictions on client numbers. We tried MYOB and Quickbooks, and used Wave up until they stopped supporting businesses outside of North America in late 2019. Up until January 2022 we had been running a self-hosted install of InvoiceNinja but found it to be slow, often breaking after updates, and difficult to extract relevant financial information. Rounded is a wonderful invoicing platform, built in Australia for the Australian market, which helps with BAS reporting and has a very tidy user interface.

  • Bitwarden. Open source password manager that can be self-hosted on premise, and also offers some great features like sharing sensitive information with enterprise-grade security. We use Bitwarden as a simple password management tool, which is really useful along with their mobile application and browser extensions. Worth a try if you have a lot of logins that need to be as secure as possible.