After writing 538 professional blog posts* (and that’s the last time I’m going to hunt down all the articles I wrote for various clients), I decided to share the many tools I’ve found helpful to research, write, edit, and share amazing blogs.
*counted December 7, 2015. I didn’t recount for the update, but you can take a look at my portfolio to see what I’ve been doing!
Here’s what I’ll cover in this blog. Use the links to navigate through the article.
- Inspiration and collecting ideas
- Keyword and topic research
- Competitor analysis
- Formulating your title
- Creating an outline
- Writing and publishing
- Every good post needs graphics
- Don’t forget to edit
- Search engine optimization
- Share it
- Measure results
Inspiration and collecting ideas
One of the best places to start when collecting content ideas is with your customers. Set aside half an hour every week to talk to one new customer (the good, the bad, and the ugly — don’t play favorites). Put aside your marketer hat and dig into how they found you, what their buying triggers were, what annoys them about your product or service, and what content channels they favor. You can use Fireflies to record these calls and transcribe them automatically, then search through your transcriptions for common themes.
Google Alerts and Talkwalker Alerts are your eyes and ears on the web. These services will monitor the web for selected keywords, then alert you when they are mentioned. For example, if you’re interested in online marketing, set up alerts for “inbound marketing” to receive emails when someone mentions it online.
Pocket and Flipboard are excellent for discovering and saving useful online content. If you find an interesting article, just add it to your Pocket account to revisit later. On Flipboard, you can “flip” different articles you find into your own online magazines. You can also browse articles other users store in Pocket or Flipboard based on topics that interest you.
Exploding Topics shows trends in different categories like eCommerce, technology, travel, and more. In their free version, you can filter by pre-set category and see which topics are “exploding” at the moment, based on search volume and history. This is a great way to see what your audience may be searching for, what’s relevant to your business, and how to capture some of that traffic with your content.
Evernote, Trello, Notion, and Google Keep are great tools for collecting ideas and collaborating with other blog writers on your team. Evernote supports everything from short lists to lengthy research; Trello uses the kanban board system, and Google Keep is like a personal post-it note board online.
Each of these tools allows you to write down your ideas and brainstorm useful resources for posts, such as helpful URLs, comments, ramblings, etc.
Keyword and topic research
These are the tools I use to discover the best keywords for SEO, and dig deeper into different topics.
Google Keyword Planner, Keyword Canine, Semrush, and KeySearch are a small sample of tools that show how popular a keyword or phrase is via average searches per month. They also display how fierce the competition is for that ranking.
Keyword.io and Keyword Tool provide keyword suggestions taken from your searches. Keyword Tool uses Google’s autocomplete to recommend keywords based on an algorithm from objective factors such as how often past users have searched for a term. You can use these to find keywords that are sometimes hidden in Google Keyword Planner.
Are you looking to tap into some original data and insights to fuel your content?
Once you have your keyword and topic, use outreach tools like Help a B2B Writer and HARO to get expert quotes and advice. You can tap into these networks to reach experts in their field willing to help out with their knowledge.
You can use Ahrefs to research your competitors. Look up their URLs and see where their backlinks come from and what keywords they’re ranking for.
Pay attention to these keywords and gauge the value of that traffic. For example, “blue Nike tennis shoes” has a higher purchase intent than “common shoe materials” since it implies someone wants to purchase specific shoes, versus doing a general search.
I identified some keywords my website ranks for organically and copied the results below. “Blog exchanges” doesn’t indicate high purchase intent, but it does show high educational intent that’s valuable, because I teach others how to run blog exchanges.
Tip: Use Ahrefs to look up your own website and discover opportunities for keywords you may have missed.
Formulating your title
Your title brings potential customers from the search results into your article, so you want to make it compelling and click-worthy.
1) Look at titles that are doing well
2) Form a great title
Once you know your focus, there are plenty of title generator tools online that can help you develop an eye-catching title.
You can use SEOPressor’s Blog Title Generator or Portent’s Content Idea Generator to create titles for you. Then, run your final choice through this title capitalization tool or this one to make sure you capitalize the right words based on your style guide.
3) Promise answers
You can also search popular questions on Quora to discover what questions people are asking about your topic. Position your title as an answer to those inquiries.
You can also search for your topic on Answer the Public, which shows you questions people are asking related to your keyword. Below is one of their search results for “remote work.”
4) Make it engaging
When you have a title in mind, run it through CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to get it “graded.” This program will let you know if your title is too wordy, what types of words you can add to make it more engaging, etc.
Aim for a score of 70 or higher. If you have trouble increasing your score, you can also check out CoSchedule’s list of Power Words.
5) Measure your emotional value
Finally, paste your title into the Advanced Marketing Institute’s Headline Analyzer to measure its emotional marketing value. This will show you how compelling your title is.
These are the results from the headline analyzer when looking up this article’s title.
Also, here’s an awesome article on 9 Useful Headline Tools that has even more useful links.
Creating an outline
Look at the common questions people ask about your topic to determine what you should include in your article. Analyze search results and use tools that investigate questions and searcher intent.
Start by typing in your keyword(s) and keyphrase(s) into Google, and take note of the auto-filled suggestions.
Once you make the search, note the “People also ask” section, which highlights common questions related to your input. This is an excellent place to find key points for your outline. Be sure to answer all of the common questions shown in the search results.
Bring back some of the tools you used to formulate your title (Quora, Answer the Public, etc.) to discover other questions being asked, then incorporate those into your outline.
You should also look at any articles that capture the featured snippet in the search results. Take note of the key points they hit, and craft an outline that is more comprehensive and up to date.
Tip: If you’re creating the outline to outsource to a writer, you can record a quick video explaining what each point in your outline means with Screencastify, HTML5 Webcam Recorder, BombBomb, Vidyard, or Screencast-O-Matic (all of which can be operated directly within your browser).
Writing and publishing
Next up is a platform to make your content accessible for your audience. My absolute favorite content management system is WordPress. It’s customizable, beautifully designed, and has an intuitive user interface. WordPress.org also has a variety of plugins (my favorite is Yoast for SEO) and eye-catching themes.
This blog is run on WordPress because it’s incredibly low maintenance, has striking themes, and is free. WordPress has a “distraction-free writing mode” that makes the visual/HTML editor full screen so you aren’t tempted to switch to a different tab or window.
Medium and Ghost are other blogging platforms you can use to publish your writing. I’ve personally used Medium and find it easy to get your point across. Medium also has amazing blogs you can explore; I signed up for their email digests and always enjoy the articles they send.
If you want an incredibly simple website, you can also check out Squarespace. You pay one fee and they take care of your domain and eCommerce compatibility.
Tip: If you have yet to find a good blog design you like, you can create a prototype with Mockplus. You can design how you’d like your blogs to look, how the navigation should work, any footers or CTAs you want, and build in interactions to make the functionality crystal clear. Once it’s live, you can use BugHerd to leave internal feedback directly on your live website or blog for tweaks and adjustment.
Every good post needs graphics
Engaging images and videos will boost your blog posts, just make sure that you have the necessary permissions for whatever you use.
Create your own images
You can use Canva (my favorite), Piktochart, Crello, and Pablo from Buffer to create images. I love how easy they are to use! You can select the perfect image sizes, and they provide stock images right on their platforms to make the user experience even easier.
If you have some graphic design experience and just want a free photoshop-like tool right in your browser, look no further than Photopea.
Find royalty-free images online
A little extra tip on images, you can use imgbox to upload photo galleries you’d like to keep available on the web, then edit or delete them with a link. You can use this for leaving comments in communities and forums, if you don’t want to be seen as too spammy or endorsing your brand.
Now, let’s move on to videos. A video is a great way to summarize your article for visitors who aren’t in the mood to read, or who want to listen to the article in the background while they do something else.
If you don’t have a dedicated video team, record a video of yourself explaining a topic with Loom, or host a few webinars (which are great for lead generation, too!). You can take clips of your webinar recordings and embed them into your articles where relevant.
Don’t forget to edit
Once you have your keyword, title, article, and images all set, it’s time to edit the content. Read over everything you wrote and use these tools to make sure it’s perfect.
Grammarly also has a Chrome extension that works as you type, checking your writing in real-time. It can detect contextual spelling errors and will alert you if you use the wrong word, even if it’s spelled correctly.
Your blog’s readability score will tell you how easy it is for people to understand your writing. The goal is to make your article as accessible as possible; it should be easy to comprehend and absorb. You can use this Readability Test Tool to evaluate your content from a URL or direct input.
Checking for duplicate content
If you outsource writing to external contractors, part of your editing process should be to run their work against plagiarism checkers. This helps ensure you only upload original content to your website, and you don’t get penalized for publishing duplicate content.
Here are some tools you can use to check for plagiarism:
Search engine optimization
Hooray for search engine optimization! I love SEO because it adds a technical aspect to a creative pursuit. SEO is like a game: our content competes with countless others to reach the top spot on search engine results and land on reader’s screens.
The Yoast plugin, as mentioned above, helps you create optimized articles based on a set of best practices. Here’s a quick rundown on SEO best practices, and you can view an SEO article I wrote for 237 Marketing + Web here.
Use this Keyword Density Analyzer to ensure your article mentions your keyword with enough (but not too much) frequency.
Finally, Ahrefs has a free set of Webmaster tools that gives website owners free access to their Site Explorer and Site Audit tools.
Next up comes amplification. This means getting your content everywhere it can be seen by your audience. A quick checklist for amplification channels is:
- Email newsletter
- Social media
- Relevant communities (Reddit, Slack)
- Paid ads
You can follow a few email marketing best practices and share your content in your newsletter. Be sure to check your emails’ spam scores with an email spam test. You can also share it with marketing partners to see if they’re willing to add it to their newsletters.
I use Buffer and Hootsuite to schedule social media shares (you can also find fun gifs to add here). As far as I know, Hootsuite is the only platform that allows pre-scheduled Instagram posts. Buffer is incredibly easy to use and can tell you the best time to share with your audience through its Optimal Scheduling tool.
*You’ll need to use WordPress.org to access these plugins.
Going beyond social media, you can use JustReachOut to pitch to journalists.
Here are a few other channels and resources you can utilize to amplify your content:
Almost done! After you publish your blog, make sure you measure its performance. Google Analytics lets you see how many visits a certain blog post earned and how many views you get each day, week, month, or year. Check out where your visitors come from, how long they spend on your site, and where they go after they leave.
You should also set up goals within Google Analytics so you can check the conversion rates of each of your blogs. You can measure these with first-touch, assisted, and last-touch attribution.
- First-touch: The blog was the entry point of an eventual conversion
- Assisted: The blog was visited sometime in the conversion path
- Last-touch: The blog was the last page viewed before conversion
You can also analyze your site or blog post with Moz’s Open Site Explorer to discover how many backlinks you received and where you’re mentioned on the web.
What did I miss? Let me know in the comments below!
Thank you for checking out these 80+ content creation tools. I hope you found something useful.
Originally published December 7, 2015
Updated December 7, 2020