As if we didn’t already have enough to do, “content creator” was been added to the list of hats we must wear as online marketers.
It’s a really big hat, too. Content marketing encompasses so much more than just writing— SEO, graphic design, project management, lead capture, video editing, and social media— all come into play as we go about creating and distributing promotional content.
Thankfully, there are fantastic tools out there to help you create the best content possible, make your life easier throughout the process, and maximize the promotional value you get from your content.
These are some of the “best of breed” online tools you can use to improve your content marketing:
To generate ideas for content:
Keywords (and questions) on your topic
Find out what keyword phrases people are googling with your subject matter. Bills itself as an alternative to the Google Keyword Tool and Ubersuggest. Keyword.io’s clean interface and “questions” tab have knocked Ubersuggest out of its spot as my favorite keyword research tool.
Follow @magicrecs and it will suggest content and accounts to follow that are aligned with your interests.
Submit an idea and community members indicate what they’d actually read with an “I’d read like to this” button. A helpful way to test out an idea before investing in it.
Built on top of the wildly popular Periodic Table of Content Marketing this tool will spit out ideas by combining your topic and audience with different angles of exploration.
Gives you ideas in the form of a title. Hit refresh until you find a winner. It’s similar in purpose to Online Venture’s offering, but I included it because it generates some really unique ideas you’d be hard pressed to find any other way. This one may have been a winner but we’ll never know…
Know what content is working
No list of content marketing tools would be complete without Buzzsumo. It’s a treasure trove of content ideas that have gone viral. Keep in mind that the list of most successful content is biased by promotional leverage — there are also fantastic ideas at the bottom of the pile that never had a chance because they were distributed to small audiences. To get a better idea of which content work best, limit your search to a single source and see what is working best for them (this works better because you can assume each piece of content had somewhat similar promotion and opportunity to succeed).
To organize, prioritize, and manage your best content ideas:
Brainstorm and collaborate with your team
Not a mind mapping tool, it is a flexible way to visualize your ideas with a post-it note style theme. Draw connections between ideas, comment on them, and vote the best ideas up.
Drag and drop between buckets
There is something intuitive about managing your content ideas with the bucket paradigm. It needs no explanation and it is super easy to move things around (which you’ll do often as your priorities shift and your writing progresses through stages). Trello is flexible enough to store your ideas and, because it is a project management tool, you can also use it to take your content projects through the entire process of execution.
To maintain your content marketing editorial calendar:
A calendar built for content marketing
How will you feel bad about missing deadlines if you don’t have a schedule for your content publication? That guilt is necessary — it’s what defines you as a pro content marketer. Coschedule offers quite a few advantages over Google Calendar including integrating with your blog, making it easy for you to coordinate with a team throughout each part of the content creation process, and tight integrations with common content marketing tools and platforms. If you do a lot of social media promotion, it is very useful for coordinating a social media plan among team members for maximum impact. Coschedule has a thorough post on the importance of content scheduling and best practices that is worth checking out.
To research your topic:
Info on anything
As the popularity of Quora, a Q&A community, has risen, so has the quality of the content. Users ask questions and users submit answers. The best answers are voted to the top. Quora’s strength, versus similar resources like Reddit, is how well-organized and searchable the information is. Also, users are focused on being helpful rather than making jokes, they don’t have names like “SlugbutterWaffle” (in case you ever need to credit a source), and you can read a bio on their qualifications. Don’t get me wrong, I love Reddit, but not for research.
Bookmarking tool with highlighting and commenting
Of all the bookmarking tools available to you, and there are many, Annotary is uniquely suited to researching and organizing information you’ll need to refer to later. Create collections of information centered on topics. Save information into collections and add tags for further organization. Highlight the sections of interest and leave comments as you read so you don’t have to search through the entire document to find the brief excerpt that motivated you to save it. Here’s an example from my “Marketing Automation” collection to show how easy it is to save the important parts of your research and reference them later:
Quickly save and tag information
If you aren’t interested in highlighting, and just want a place to shove things so you can read them later, Pocket is a fast and easy way to do that.
To develop your ideas and consolidate your research:
Create and share beautiful mind maps
For years, I’ve yearned for a web-based mindmap tool that mirrored the fantastic simplicity and elegant beauty of the lightweight OS X app, “Mindnode.” Coggle has done it. Many mindmapping tools are bogged down by feature bloat and, frankly, are too ugly to use. Coggle has sidestepped those failings and created a quick, simple, beautiful online mindmapping tool… and it supports markdown and keyboard shortcuts, so, I’m in love.
A unique approach to outlining
This app uses a horizontal “tree” structure to organize information and it’s not just a gimmick. You put your main ideas in the leftmost column and then break them down further and further by adding columns to the right. This effectively maintains your focus on the point you are expounding on and contributes to a logical organization of information. Easily move around your document with keyboard commands. Even if the description of the idea doesn’t interest you, I’d recommend a free trial so you can give it a shot — you might be surprised. Ginkgo appears to have a committed, passionate, and responsive developer. It’s one of my favorite tools on this list.
A quick, lightweight outlining tool
If you prefer a traditional approach to outlining, this is a minimalistic tool that gets out of your way so you can get to work. Easily focus on different sections of your outline by clicking into them. In spite of the misleadingly clean interface, the capabilities are there, so you could definitely use this app to progressively transform an outline into a complete document. It includes task management features too so you could use this app for everything — from capturing ideas to managing their execution all the way through to publication.
To write collaboratively with a team:
GitHub style collaborative writing with markdown support
It’s literally Github for writers. Seriously, you can use Git-enabled, and even command line, tools to keep your writing in sync with others. It uses the same: “master, branch, pull request, review, merge” workflow any programmer is already familiar with. It’s a great idea because that’s a proven process for collaborating on complex projects. It offers markdown support, version control, chapter organization for larger projects, and more. To create private projects, you’ll need to pay (starts at $10 a month) otherwise it is free to use.
Collaborative writing with markdown support
Draft is very minimalistic but offers a couple of unique features including the ability to modify the theme, typeface, etc. and an “ask a pro” option for writing advice. It has a variety of reports which are interesting, motivating, and a way to measure your output velocity and progress as a writer.
To be a more productive content producer:
Stay focused without burning out
A Pomodoro is a unit of productive time balanced by a short break. You spend 25 minutes working and then 5 minutes on break. Every fifth cycle you take a longer 15-minute break. I’ve found it’s an excellent way to keep track of productive minutes in the day and challenge myself to outdo previous records. With Marinara Timer you’ll be able to see a countdown in its tab, define your own time limits (marinara mode), and share a link to show off your Pomodoros (if you are the gloating or competitive type).
Disable distracting websites
It’s hard to stay focused if you are constantly getting updates from your social network feeds. With this tool you can block access to any website that tempts your attention. It’s also purposefully difficult to disable. $15.
Distraction free writing
ZenPen is an ultra-lightweight text editor intentionally lacking features. Once you enter fullscreen mode, it’s just you and what you are writing. If I am stuck on a particular section of an article, or keep avoiding it, I’ll sometimes move it out into ZenPen so I am forced to focus on it. As a bonus, it works great with the Grammarly extension I’ll discuss in the upcoming section on tools for improving your writing.
To create visual aids and beautify your content:
Pre-sized templates for common uses
Canva “enables anyone to become a designer” according to a testimonial on the homepage and I think that’s an apt description. It makes it easy to create high-quality visuals for blog posts, social media covers, posters and more. Its “Stream” feature, which displays the best work of other users, is great for inspiration.
Easy image editing, filters, and more
No account needed. Open the file, do what you need to do, then save it in a variety of formats and file sizes. Provides some beautiful filters, clipart, and fonts, free. I haven’t opened Photoshop much since finding BeFunky.
Create infographics (and more)
I came to Piktochart for its infographic design but found myself using it for a variety of images and illustrations because I like its approach to layout and formatting. If I had to criticize, I’d say it could use more text formatting options but it nails pretty much everything else.
6 of the best sources for high-quality, free stock photos – they really are good, I promise…
https://stocksnap.io/ CC0 license, use them any way you want
http://picjumbo.com/ – categorized, tagged, and searchable
http://splitshire.com/ – categorized stock photos with no copyright restrictions
https://unsplash.com/ – 10 free photos every 10 days, good variety
http://www.lifeofpix.com/ – high res images, some variety but mostly nature
http://startupstockphotos.com/ – high res, great for business related content
To improve your writing:
Grammarly claims to catch 10x more mistakes than your word processor. It does a great job with grammar and stylistic errors, in particular. I am continually impressed by what it catches (sometimes I can’t figure out how it does it). It is powered by an algorithm produced by “the world’s leading authorities on linguistic technologies” so I guess that explains it. Grammarly is a browser extension that fixes your mistakes whether you are writing in Gmail, LinkedIN, WordPress, or pretty much anywhere else you might be writing online (but not Google Docs, unfortunately). For content it can’t correct in real-time, you can paste in text and get corrections. Just for fun, it keeps track of how many embarrassing errors it has saved you from publishing.
Optimize your writing for readability
A lot of us weren’t born to write, we were thrust into it as online marketing shifted to revolve around content. Thankfully, there are apps that help us write better. Ernest Hemingway is renowned for his crisp, impactful writing and simple, readable sentence structure. The Hemingway app gives you stylistic suggestions aimed at the same. It gave me two useful suggestions for improving this section and rated it at a 10th grade reading level.
Get feedback on your blog post titles
Get specific suggestions on how to improve your blog post titles.
To help your content rank well in the search engines:
Know which keywords to target
CanIrank looks at the strengths and weaknesses of your website in relation to your competitors and gives you a numerical (1-100) estimate of how likely it thinks you’ll be to rank well for keywords you are considering targeting. This can save you from pursuing keywords you have no chance of ranking for and instead focus you on your best, achievable opportunities.
Include keyword variations
Widen the net of keyword phrases that people can use to find your content, and make Google happy, by including keyword phrase variations related to your central theme. Ubersuggest excels at giving you long lists of variations.
To promote your content:
If you are investing a lot of time blogging, make sure you add your blog to the web’s most reputable blog directory so potential readers can find it outside the search engines.
Social media scheduling
I prefer Buffer to its competitors, not because it does a lot, but because I can easily use everything it offers. Where other platforms feel bloated and clunky, it retains its streamlined elegance. Also, I admire them for their splendid work with content creation and curation. It’s a cool company, a great tool, and a case study in effective content marketing. They recently added Pinterest support.
To leverage your content for lead generation:
Do so much more than display pop up ads — target with rules, integrate social media, use gated offers, sweepstakes, mobile compatibility, exit intent, and more. Too many features to list them all, this is truly the Rolls Royce of lead generation solutions.
Quick and easy landing pages
Offering your high-value content on a landing page that “sells” it is the best way to capture as many leads as possible from it. A simple sidebar form will capture leads because so many people see it, but when it comes to conversion rate, a landing page will always win. Instapage creates beautiful, highly customizable landing pages with a true drag-and-drop editor, allows you to split test each element, and makes it easy to learn from what is working so you can adjust and improve your online marketing accordingly. They just launched a great integration with us so you can use two “best of breed” online marketing tools together.
Turn leads into customers, automatically
After you’ve created a lead with your content, the hard work of nurturing and converting them begins. There is no better method than email marketing, no better way to maximize your leverage than marketing automation, and no service handles these two things better than ActiveCampaign. Sign up for a free trial and see firsthand what makes us the preferred email marketing service and marketing automation solution of experienced online marketers.