When I say I'm in charge of content marketing for a developer-first e-commerce startup, most people press me to go into more details so they can get a clearer picture of what I do. As much as I like explaining my work to anyone interested, I sometimes take an underwhelming shortcut and tell them:
"I run a blog, mostly."
Each time I pronounce these words, the light of intrigue and interest in their eyes flickers for a moment. Because "running a blog" sounds pretty basic, right? You log into some abstract CMS, write for a few hours, and press a button. Then, the post magically appears online and on social media. Flocks of targeted visitors rush to your site to consume your content avidly. Alas, there's a lot more than that going on behind the scenes.
So today, I'm sharing with y'all the complete list of every tool I use to "run a blog". It'll offer some perspective on the complexity of content crafting, and maybe help some folks get their hands dirty with content using a simple set of tools.
Planning & research
1 - Trello
I use a simple Trello board to centralize all of our potential blog post ideas and keep track of our in-progress posts VS published posts. The sheer number of use cases and features Trello offers for free continues to amaze me.
2 - Google
I use good ol' Google to find and analyze which posts already claimed the top spots in the search results for my post topic. It's also a good way to spot potential influencers to reach out to when promoting the post.
When I write more SEO-focused posts, I use these tools to dig deeper into keyword research. They help me identify mid to long tail keyword opportunities, and the relative value of ranking for a given keyword.
Note: Keyword Tool is now a paid service. You can always use Google's search suggestions at the bottom of the SERP to get more KW ideas.
5 - Twitter
I use Twitter to research different keywords and hashtags related to my post topic. It gives me a different, fresher overview of my topic's traction and opportunities. Again, it's also a good way to spot targeted influencers for promotion later on.
6 - Google Calendar
I use Google Calendar to keep a basic, flexible content schedule for the upcoming weeks. I like to see where I'm going with my content. Collaborating team members and guest posters can be invited to calendar events so they remember publication deadlines.
Crafting & feedback
7 - Classeur.io [DISCONTINUED]
Writing into a classic CMS WYSIWYG editor makes my eyes bleed. I just can't do it. So I use Classeur.io's beautiful, handy online Markdown editor to write both my drafts and my final posts before uploading them to our CMS.
8 - Google Docs
When a post requires collaboration, I use Google Docs to work on posts with team members, guest posters, and featured customers. When it comes to real-time collaboration on documents, it's pretty hard to beat.
Now this one's one of my favorites. I use Awesome Screenshot's powerful Chrome extension to gather and edit all of the screenshots I need for my posts. It really is awesome.
10 - Pablo
Truth be told, I don't use Pablo this much. But this free tool by Buffer is truly awesome for quickly creating quality images for social media posts.
11 - Canva
I'm no designer, so I use this simple online design software when I need custom images for my posts. It's got a nice GUI, filled with helpful pre-designed visual assets. Our designer still laughs at me when I use it. :(
12 - Unsplash
When I need free-to-use, high-resolution photos, I head to Unsplash. This side project by the folks at Crew has become a go-to hub filled with quality photo assets for designers, social media marketers and content marketers alike.
13 - Slack
Our team's messaging app (and thousand others'), Slack, is where I head when I'm done with a post and need either team-wide feedback or individual feedback from colleagues.
14 - Grammarly
For a trained writer, publishing a post without thorough proof-reading and revision is inconceivable. But since I'm often in a rush, I always use Grammarly to speed up the process and at least catch my careless mistakes and get grammar & formulation feedback.
15 - Hemingway Editor
When I'm a bit less strapped for time, I like to use the web-based Hemingway app to cut through the superfluous stuff in my writing and keep it as concise and clear as possible. After all, who doesn't want to look more like Hemingway?
Promotion & monitoring
16 - Gorgias
When I have a few individuals or influencers I want to personally send out my post to, I use Gorgias' Gmail Extension. It lets you create customizable email templates and helpful keyboard shortcuts to autofill your different outgoing email fields. Nice little time saver for manual outreach efforts.
17 - Buffer
Well, this one's a must for community managers and content marketers alike. I use it to schedule some posts on our different social media channels. Both the app and the Chrome extension are free (and beautiful). Plus, their support is top-notch.
18 - Mailchimp
Once a month, I send a content digest newsletter to all of our blog subscribers with Mailchimp. It's an awesome tool, easy-to-use, complete with useful features and resources. Their customer support team also deserves numerous high-fives (I know for a fact, trust me).
19 - Tweetdeck
At Snipcart, the social media action mostly takes place on Twitter for our content. Thanks to Tweetdeck, I keep a close eye on content-related brand and hashtag mentions in real time. It's scheduling feature also works like a charm.
20 - Mention
Mention claims they monitor the whole web for you. TBH, I'm starting to doubt their claim is true, but that'll be for another post. Their free forever plan covers 250 mentions per month. I use it to monitor content-related brand mentions on forums, social media, blogs and more.
21 - Google Analytics
This behemoth of a tool is a must for any content marketing strategy. I use it to track post performance, goal completions & conversion rate, referrals, traffic sources, and much more. You can't do serious content marketing without a data-driven approach, and Google Analytics' a good place to start analyzing data to extract actionable insights.
22 - Twitter Analytics
Twitter provides native analytics; I look them up to get a feeling of how different types of tweets are performing when I share content.
23 - Facebook Insights
Facebook provides built-in analytics for Pages too, and I also look them up to see how my posts sharing content are performing.
24 - Google Sheets
Every now and then, I like to step back from the actual content crafting to make sure the whole ship's heading the right way. Google Analytics sure helps with, but I also put together a simple Google Sheets tracking all of my content marketing results (and their impact on the business as a whole). I use this document to analyze both global and granular blog & content performance metrics, email marketing results and list growth, sales and acquisition, traffic growth and sources diversification, customer conversions, and more.
25 - Paid bonus: SEMRush
Once a month, I ask a good SEO friend of mine to send over an SEMRush report containing our monthly Google keyword rankings results. I consult this report to see how posts are ranking, and how content efforts are helping our site as a whole rank for valuable keywords. Unfortunately, I don't have enough free time to justify paying for SEMRush as of right now, but the competitive data and SEO insights you can gather from the tool are amazing.
A word on keeping it lean
So, those are some of the tools I use to "run a blog" and drive content marketing efforts for our startup. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other extremely useful tools out there, both free and paid. However, I tend to maintain a minimalistic approach and add a new tool to the stack only when 1) I notice a real pain or need in my workflow, and 2) I have enough time to thoroughly learn and use the tool, especially if I'm paying for it.
I hope this list of free content marketing tools will help you either get started with content for your business or improve your existing stack. If you want to see some of those tools orchestrated into a detailed, focused content creation workflow, check out this post I wrote on the Snipcart blog.
Found this post valuable in any way? I'd sure appreciate if you could send a tweet my way! Think I should add some other essential free tools to the list? Shoot them in the comments! If you have any questions regarding this post or my work, either comment below or send me an email.