A successful content marketing strategy involves a number of different “cogs” all working together cohesively to help you strategize, create and promote your content.
The best way to do that?
Using a number of different tools in tandem will give you the ability to streamline your content efforts,accomplish your content goals and become overall more efficient and productive.
But a simple Google search will present you with a number of “81 content marketing tools” or “56 content marketing tools you need to know about”.
Do you actually have time to read through all of them and evaluate what you need and what works best together?
In order to create a well-oiled content marketing engine, you don’t need 81 tools, or even 56. You just need a group of tools that work well together to help you produce the kind of results you’re looking for.
In this blog post, we want to show you a simple content marketing stack of tools you can use whether you’re a solo founder writing your own content, a small content marketing team of three, or even a fully-fledged content machine.
Even greater? Every tool listed here is free. It’s understandable getting buy-in for content marketing is tough. It’s not as easy to measure ROI or conversion as it is for let’s say, paid advertising.
Getting buy in for someone to create your content is a tough task in itself, we don’t want to burden you with having to get buy in for a plethora of monthly expensive tools too.
We haven’t created this guide lightly though. This isn’t just a rehashed version of “top content marketing tools”. These are the exact free tools we use in our agency to attract, convert and wow our customers.
And remember, no one single is going to rapidly improve your content marketing, but using the tools below in unison will help you align your content efforts and make researching, producing and promoting content a helluva lot easier.
Let’s dive in,
Content marketing tools for discovery and ideation
Before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboards, you need to come up with some content ideas.
We’re big believers in not simply writing a list of content ideas and calling it a day as you work your way down the list.
The problem with this method is it doesn’t think about the strategy behind the content. The mistake most people make with content marketing is not developing a thorough enough strategy to support the content they’re producing. Meaning, they know the “what” but they have no idea of the “why” behind the content.
First, we recommend keyword research and although there are a number of paid tools that can help you do this like SEMRush or Ahrefs, you don’t have to spend a lot (if anything) to understand what terms and phrases are most searched for.
In fact, you can do it with Google’s own search engine and Google Keyword Planner. For the entirety of this post, we’re going to pretend you have an email marketing SaaS tool and use that example to show you how to use these content marketing tools.
Keyword research using Google
The first thing we do when it comes to creating a new content marketing campaign is to establish an idea of the types of searches your users will be looking for. In order to do that we use a tool called: Answer the Public.
Enter a generic search term based on the overall theme of your content. Then, click “Get Questions”.
You’ll be presented with a series of charts that look like the one below:
These are helpful for those who want a visual approach to looking at the types of questions users are asking.
However, we find it most useful to use the “Download CSV” feature which will download the entirety of the search to a spreadsheet.
To organize this data, we use Google Sheets (which is free). When you first input the data, it will look something like this:
However, that isn’t aesthetically pleasing and is missing some columns which we’ll need further down the keyword research phase.
We delete the first two columns (modifier and modifier type) and add the following columns after the “suggestion column”. (results on Google and suggested bid).
We use Google Adwords as a free tool to find out great content opportunities and keywords to target. Open Google Adwords (or create an account if you don’t already have one).
We then click on “keyword planner” and you’ll be presented with a page that looks like this:
We want to focus on the “search volume data and trends section. Starting from the top of your list on the spreadsheet you just created, enter each question.
We like to do one at a time. This is a very time consuming and manual task, but taking time to look focus on your keyword research will help you in the long run.
Once we click “Get Search Volume”, we’ll be presented with a page that looks like the one below. We then want to input the “average monthly searches” and “suggested bid” into our spreadsheet.
For the sake of the spreadsheet, where it says values like 10-100, choose the highest value. So in this case, we’d write “100”.
We also added a “results on Google column to our spreadsheet. Here, all you need to do is take the question or term you’re looking at, Google it and see how many results show.
Once you’ve completed your spreadsheet, highlight it all and click this button.
This will allow you to order your results based on monthly searches, results, or suggested bids.
For most keyword research search results, you might find yourself having to sift through hundreds, if not thousands of different questions.
For starters, some of the questions might not be relevant to your SaaS company and so you can delete them.
You also might want to think about hiring a VA to input all the data for you. As we’ve said, we’re only choosing free content marketing tools so if you did decide to use a paid tool, this entire process would be expedited.
Content marketing tools for content creation
When it comes to content creation, you have a few options. You can either create the content straight into your CMS or use a tool like Google Docs to create, edit and save your content.
In fact, this post itself was first published in Google Docs. The brilliant thing about Google Docs is the ability to collaborate.
For instance, if you work with in-house or freelance designers, you can assign specific tasks to them.
Editing your content with Hemingway and Grammarly
No one writes a perfect blog post straight away. When you’re tasked with writing day in and day out, there comes a time where you might need some help with editing your content.
For basic spelling and grammar errors, we recommend Grammarly. There is a free version of the tool and it does the job well in regards to picking up careless errors you might have missed simply because you wrote the piece of content yourself.
Remember, your users won’t trust you if your content is littered with spelling errors. Readers want to feel as though you’ve spent time putting your content together not like it was rushed last minute.
However, we find it is sometimes unreliable and you should take suggestions with a pinch of salt when it comes to errors.
Second, when it comes to sentence structure, we recommend Hemingway app. Hemingway was prolifically known for his short sentences and easy-to-read paragraphs. The same should be said for online content, where your readers naturally have less of an attention span.
If you want your writing to be high-quality, Hemingway is an app you should consider adding to your arsenal.
If you do use Hemingway, pay particular attention to the readability score which can be found on the right hand side of the screen. You’re aiming for a readability score of X which means your blog post is easy to read. It also helps you eliminate the use of passive voice or hard-to-read sentences.
Adding images to your content.
If you didn’t already know, using images in your blog posts helps get rid of the monotony of reading a block of text. And as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so it’s helpful to include images in your blog posts.
However, for some writers, while they are creative when it comes to putting words on paper, the same doesn’t go for creating images.
Nonetheless, there are two core free tools we use in our agency to keep our content marketing interesting through the use of images.
Creating charts, images and more in Canva
Canva is a free design tool you can use a range of different images.
There is a free and a paid version. The paid version includes downloading your files with a transparent background. You can also pay extra to get access to extra features too.
The wide-range of preset designs will help you create bespoke images for your blog posts so they feel unique.
Using Pablo to create awesome header images
Pablo is a side-project created by the guys at Buffer. It’s a great tool if you want to highlight a specific quote or phrase to add emphasis, but lack the design skills to create the image yourself on a tool like Photoshop.
What’s more, they curate their images from Unsplash, which is another free image sourcing tool.
Through their simple and easy-to-use app, you can choose the background for your image, the font you want to use, as well as other editing features.
Saving the images is simple too.
Alternatively, you could hire a freelance designer, or seek help from an in-house design team to help you create images, but this guide focuses on free tools.
Content marketing tools for organization
For any content strategy, staying organized and on top of what needs to be done, what’s currently being doing and what is complete is important. For content organization we’ve found Trello is a great way to ensure your content is always on time, with the right people and completed to the highest quality.
Trello is a free productivity or task management tool, easy to use, and the kanban element helps you understand what stage each piece of content is at.
We’ve found this approach is the best for small content teams. You might have need for other columns as well though so feel free to experiment with what works best for you and your team.
The great thing about this drag and drop tool is the inbuilt calendar feature where you can assign due dates to a specific piece of content.
As you can see, we’ve added the due date for this piece of content. However, the calendar is an add-on feature (free). To use it, follow these steps:
Click the “power-ups” button.
Scroll down on the screen until you see the “calendar”
Now, when you view your Trello board for your business you should see the calendar button in the top right-hand corner. Click on that and you’ll get a calendar view where you can see all the content and when it’s due.
This productivity and collaboration tool is great for keeping a team of writers clued up about what content is in the pipeline.
Organizing your content with Google Drive
All our work is done on the cloud. This is especially effective for our fully remote team. It means you can access your work from anywhere. It means you don’t have to deal with saving documents as “blog post new new new version”.
In our Google Drive, we try to keep the folder hierarchy easy to use and simple for anyone to access and know where to navigate.
As shown in the video above, we have a separate folder for each client and one benefit of working with Google Drive is we can limit who can access each folder so only relevant persons can view the files within each folder.
Tools for marketing and distribution
We’ve mentioned before if you don’t come up with a well-planned strategy to distribute and promote your content, it is unlikely to go far. Sharing and distributing your content to the world is another task in and of itself, but automating that process with a free tool like Buffer can take away some of the stress that involves.
The great thing about Buffer is you can Buffer pretty much anything. Download the Buffer browser extension and whenever you’re on a page, or want to buffer an image you can do so easily.
Click the little buffer icon to the right-hand side then you’ll be presented with a screen that looks like this:
You can then edit the tweet, pick a scheduled time, or just add it to your queue.You can even preset your own schedule to ensure you’re posting content at the best times.
Go one step further and use the power scheduler.
You should always remember people are selfish, you included. But if you want to get your content shared wider than your own network, you should consider using influencers.
But one way to increase the likelihood of an influencer in your industry sharing your content with their wide network is to mention them in your post.
Then, when your post is live, you can drop them a message to let them know you’ve included them, and it will increase your chance of being shared.
But you might be wondering how you find influencers?
For that, you can use the free version of Buzzsumo. Buzzsumo is a tool that allows you to analyze which content performs the best for any given search topic and find influencers who are likely to share that content too.
You’ll then see a list of top shared content for that search term. In this example, I used the phrase “email marketing”.
If you click the “view sharers” on any given article, you’ll be able to see a list of the people who most shared the content based on their social ranking.
If you’ve written a better piece of content than the one you’ve found on Buzzsumo (and you should make sure every piece of content you put out is better than the rest of the web). You’ll be able to reach out with an email script like the following.
The aim here is to keep your email as short and succinct as possible. As an influencer, the person you’re emailing is likely going to be super busy and get requests like these all the time. The best way to increase the chance of them actually sharing it is making sure your content is actually better than the rest of the web, and you’re not just creating unwanted noise.
Tools for analytics
There is no point creating content and not looking at it again. You need to constantly check your analytics to can see how your content is performing, what is working and what isn’t. That way, you’ll be able to hone in on what is working and cut out what’s not bringing you positive ROI.
Google analytics is free and allows you track so many different aspects of your content marketing efforts. You can work out:
- How much traffic your content generates
- Where your traffic comes from (source)
- Which pieces of your content performs the best
- Which keywords are bringing you the most traffic
So for a data-obsessed founder like you, this information is invaluable for analyzing your content strategy, especially if you’re hoping to scale your content marketing efforts in the future.
The channel section lets you know where your traffic is coming from. In the above example, we can see a majority of the traffic comes from organic search. This is good and points towards you having your content optimized for the right keywords, however, it also tells you that you could improve the traffic you get from social channels or your email marketing effort
Let’s face it, when you put together a sample list of content marketing tools you plan to use to run your business, there are lots. And even if you narrow this down by free-tools, there are still lots.
And for a time-strapped marketer like you, you don’t have time to go away and research what tools what, work tools don’t work and which tools work well together.
That’s why we’ve put this guide together, a list of the best free content marketing tools that actually help you generate results.
We’ve taken away the guesswork with our tried and tested tool selection. A selection we use with our own marketing and our own clients too.