A craftsman is only as good as his tools.
Just try building a home without a hammer or cooking a meal without a pan.
The world of content marketing is no different.
The right tools will ramp up your content marketing game, making your work more effective, efficient and excellent.
And the right tools don’t need to cost you the majority of your budget!
In fact, there are several stellar, free tools at your disposal for every step of the marketing game.
The 9 Smartest Content Strategy Tools
It all begins with an idea, right? Without an idea, there’s no content to create. In comes our first tool—to give you all the ideas you could ever need.
Monitor Backlinks: Keywords, Backlinks and Competitor Research
These days, SEO (search engine optimization) goes hand in hand with content creation.
Monitor Backlinks has you covered on this front. With this tool, you’ll gain access to a comprehensive keyword rank checker which updates every 24 hours and sends you weekly updates.
Connect Google Analytics and add your domain, verify it, then add competitors and keywords. You’ll see how well you’re ranking for the keywords you’ve selected—and even other keywords you haven’t selected and might not realize you’re ranking for. You’ll also get to see how your competitors are faring for all those same keywords.
When looking at your keywords, you’ll also get to see the search volume and competition level for each, giving you the information you need to decide which keywords are worth pursuing harder.
There are plenty of other features to complement the keyword research tool, including a backlink checker which lets you review your own backlinks and see who’s linking to the competition’s pages. (You can get a small taste of this tool’s power with the Free Backlink Checker, a limited version of the full tool.)
Backlinks tell you who’s linking to your content online, and what they’re saying about you, so it’s important to keep an eye on them. Good backlinks can deliver referral traffic and boost your SEO, while bad backlinks can completely kill your keyword rankings.
Combine this tool with the rest on this list, and you’ll be completely unstoppable.
Read our full review of Monitor Backlinks here.
Feedly: Sparking Inspiration
Coming up with ideas out of thin air is a constant struggle.
Staring at that empty document, trying to will an idea to appear, is likely only going to result in frustration and deepening writer’s block.
A better approach is to monitor the topics milling about in your industry.
See what top industry influencers are discussing (they’re often on the cutting edge of trends).
Check out what your competition deems relevant to your shared target audience (giving you free audience analysis).
Feedly is a tool which lets you plug in blog URLs and organize them in an easy-to-digest way. Fine tune your feed with filters to weed out things you’re less interested in. Mark what you simply must read with a bookmark, so you remember to come back to it later.
Sort through blogs by topic (content marketing, remote work, business management) or category (competitors, influencers, partners). Once you click on the topic or category, you’ll see all the articles from those select sources.
Display just headlines, or headlines and summaries. This lets you scan through quickly to see what ideas are being discussed, which you can then cover with a unique angle or more thorough information.
Trello: Organizing Ideas
When it rains, it pours. Sometimes your creative juices are flowing and you’re happily overwhelmed with more ideas than you can write right away. How do you store and manage these ideas without letting any winners fall through the cracks?
Trello is a tool for organizing multiple thoughts quickly. Create vertical columns with sub-boxes that are easy to drag around and reorder. Make a list of all your ideas centering around a given topic, which you can move from an idea list to a draft list to a ready-to-publish list. Keep track of each idea as it goes through the creation process. You can also collaborate with team members, making it easy for them to add their own thoughts.
You’ve got your killer idea. Now it’s time to turn it into a killer post.
Google Docs: Writing and Sharing Content
Google Docs is a dream come true for content marketers, if for nothing else than its autosave function. As you write, the cloud auto saves. Never again feel that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach when Word or Pages crashes or you realize you didn’t save the most updated version.
Google Docs allows you to create and store posts online within the cloud, which you can then access from any device with internet access. Start a post at the office and later that day make tweaks on your phone as you wait in line at the grocery store. No more carrying around a thumb drive or emailing documents to yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much time you save with this simple switch.
Collaboration is simple with Google Docs. Share the document with a sharing link or invite your team to the document directly via Docs and email. Different sharing settings can allow them to just view the document or view and edit with the convenient comments function.
If you ever need to download your work, Google Docs also allows you to save documents in different formats, like Word or PDF.
Speechnotes: Improving Your Writing Tone
Ever struggle with making your posts more conversational? Do they end up droning on and on in an overly formal tone, almost like a newscast?
Here’s a secret content strategy trick: Use a speech to text tool to speak your posts rather than write them. Since you’re talking your post into existence, you’ll find it natural to make articles in a conversational tone. You’ll also find that this gets your creative juices flowing and will help you brainstorm more ideas.
Try it out and see the difference it makes!
While I’ve recommended the popular Speechnotes tool here, your best bet is using your device’s own speech to text tool. It’ll be the most advanced free option since it’s a software rather than a website.
Okay, so now you have spoken—and consequently written—your beautiful piece of content. But rarely is that first attempt publishable just yet. Usually, you need to comb through for errors and make small adjustments.
Grammarly: Finding Your Mistakes
Do you remember all those grammar rules from ninth grade English?
Yeah, neither does anyone else.
Grammar is an elusive grouping of rules, but an arguably important one. Of course, you don’t know or remember all the nuances. But that doesn’t mean it’s excusable for your writing to be spattered with grammar mistakes.
That’s where Grammarly comes to your rescue. This free tool will search through your document and point out possible grammar infractions. It’s not always accurate but it tends to be about 99% of the time. Usually, the rare times it falsely attributes a grammar error occur when you’re writing what’s conversationally correct (and will be understood by your audience) but might be technically incorrect.
You can use Grammarly in two ways. First, you get the option to add the tool to your browser. This allows Grammarly to edit as you type. Right now, I am writing this post as Grammarly is (thankfully) catching a few comma errors.
I prefer to use Grammarly as I type because often my grammar errors prompt a restructuring of the sentence. For example, the sentence:
“Grammar is an elusive grouping of rules, but an arguably important one.”
Used to be:
“Grammar is an elusive, but arguably important, grouping of rules.”
Grammarly hated that sentence and threw up several red marks, resulting in a sentence rewrite. I prefer to edit as I go, but some writers (understandably) may find that distracting.
If so, you can always write your post and then let Grammarly make its edits. Simply post your content into its website and wait for the edits to pop up.
Hemingway App: Editing for Readability
Sometimes the sentence in our head doesn’t work as well when written out.
The Hemingway App is a free online site allowing you to paste your text into its home page. It will then find readability issues, such as too many adverbs or too many complex sentences.
The page will highlight different issues (color coordinated for your convenience) and give you a readability score based on a grade level of the reader (such as eighth grade). A few minutes on the site can drastically improve your post’s flow and readability.
Wordle: Targeting Keywords
With each post you write, SEO strategy should be in the back of your mind. Never succumb to keyword stuffing of course, but you can write quality posts that are tailored to given strategic keywords. Plug your post into Word Cloud Generator and it’ll show a word cloud of the most commonly used keywords in your post. Use this to make sure you’re hitting your target words.
And you can check out even more cool uses for word cloud generators in content marketing here. How’s that for outside-the-box content strategy, eh?
If you’d like an onsite tool for keyword analysis, try the Yoast SEO plugin instead—it’ll let you know that you’re using your target keywords enough (or not enough, or too much).
Once your post is written, edited and optimized, all that’s left is to publish it. You need a catchy engaging headline to publish your post with, so finish up with my last content strategy tool recommendation.
CoSchedule Headline Analyzer: Grabbing Attention
This nifty tool allows you to plug in your headline and receive a grade, which may be low enough to prompt a re-write. The tool will measure aspects like word length, emotional language, word balance and other components. It will also suggest tips to improve your headlines.
And of course, CoSchedule also offers an entire platform for managing tasks, projects, calendars, deadlines and even coordinating publication on blogs and social media. If you’d like an all-around awesome tool to manage your content strategy, which also has a nifty headline analyzer among its many useful features, CoSchedule is something you should explore further.
To create quality posts, you need quality tools.
These options will allow you to really step up your content creation game.