How to Boost Your Work-Life With These Content Marketing Tools
Let’s start this off with a quick list of what content marketing is, and is not — just so we’re on the same page. If you’re a business selling a product or service, content marketing is:
- Educational in nature
- Answers questions people are asking in your industry
- About your audience, not your brand
Content marketing is not:
- Promotional material
- A sales pitch
Don’t get me wrong, your content should be about your industry and inevitably you will need to mention your brand — otherwise, what are you creating it for? However, your brand shouldn’t be the sole focus, it’s what the audience wants to know and then how your product/service can help them.
Side note: If your website/blog is your business and you’re affiliate marketing or selling ad space, then your primary goal is likely more traffic rather than customer acquisition. Therefore, content marketing would have a slightly different function, but the core elements remain the same.
With that being said, what does a working content marketer actually do?
The simplest description would be creating material designed to “answer specific questions people have and provide them with something they can’t get somewhere else.”
The material can range across articles/blog posts, white papers, webinars, videos, newsletters, eBooks, quizzes, etc. Oftentimes, you’ll find content marketers will specialize in one or a few areas. Since I’m more in the blogging/writing camp, and so are the other content marketers I know, I’ll be focusing on the tools we use.
Of course, even if you seemingly have one job (like writing a blog post), there are quite a few tasks attached to the job for a professional content marketer. I’ve broken down this list of tools into different sections based on the type of task they perform for the job.
For paid/premium tools, I’ve listed underneath some free alternatives that you could use in their place — I wrote about some of them in more detail recently in 7 (Really) Free SEO Tools You Can Use Today if you want more in-depth information.
For SEO/Keyword Research
SEO is a super important skill for anyone who is writing online to have. So it’s no surprise that these kinds of tools were the first type mentioned in a few discussions on this topic over in Peak Freelance. Some of the top mentions were:
Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO suite for keyword research, site audits, rank tracking, and competitor research. They’re also pretty hot on content marketing themselves. They give us several perfect examples (like this one) of serving the audience’s needs whilst tastefully mentioning the Ahrefs brand in a relevant context.
(Free alternative: Keyword Surfer)
Keywords Everywhere is a favorite keyword research tool of many, owing to the low cost and high-value insight it can provide. It works as a Chrome/Firefox extension plugin which gives you crucial metrics for keyword research directly in the search results pages.
(Free alternative: INK)
Clearscope is a sort of hybrid tool of draft writing and on-page SEO helper. It analyzes your draft content by using natural language processing and machine learning and gives you suggestions on where to optimize your content for SEO.
I will warn you beforehand, Clearscope and Ahrefs are pretty expensive — but the free alternatives I’ve mentioned can take you a long way until you can afford these tools.
For Writing Content/Ideas
Now we get into the actual nitty-gritty — getting ideas for, and creating content. Obviously, without this aspect, there would be no content to market in the first place. What are the top content marketers' favorite tools for this task?
The stand-out favorite for lots of people is, of course, Google Docs (and by extension Google Drive). For one, it’s free and easy to use. What makes it stand out to content marketers, in particular freelancers, is the ability for clients to leave comments and suggestions in real-time collaboration.
Even professional writers make mistakes (that’s what editors and proofreaders are for), but we can make their lives a little easier if we pass our work over with a spelling/grammar checker like Grammarly. In our discussion, Michelle Harris said she couldn’t survive without it, with quite a few others in agreement.
(Free alternative: Evernote or Notion to build your own, but you won’t get the community or expert insights)
This one was given special mention by Marijana Kay, and after digging in on Twitter I realized she wasn’t the only one raving about it. While it’s not a tool to use directly for writing, having access to a community of marketers and top quality resources can help you elevate your content by looking at marketing & copywriting examples with detailed teardowns.
(Free alternative: Your system screenshot feature)
A simple but effective tool in any content marketers toolbox. Cleanshot X for Mac is a screenshot/screen recording tool that allows you to annotate, upload to cloud servers, and even provide a link (if you want to do that instead of drag and drop). One of the more unique aspects of this tool is while being a premium product, it's a one-time payment instead of a subscription model.
For Organizing Projects
Without tools to help organize our writing and business, content marketers would be doomed to fail. Thankfully, there are a few great tools out there to help keep everything neat and tidy.
(Both Asana and Notion have free versions, but Notion’s free version is more useful.)
Asana is particularly useful for setting up project timelines. Say if you’re working with a client that gives you specific deadlines or milestones to achieve, you can use the timeline feature effectively in this scenario.
Another great feature of Asana is goal tracking. Everyone knows having solid goals increases your chances of success, so being able to get them out of your head and supported by a plan is the way to go.
Notion is a personal favorite of mine and it’s been my home for organizing projects and keeping up a database of my completed projects. I wrote about how writers can utilize Notion in this way here in more detail.
But in a nutshell, imagine having a notebook with unlimited pages, that can also sort, filter, and do the math for you — that’s Notion.
(Free alternative: This planner uses Google Sheets, so you can use that to build your own.)
This tool is more for the business end of being a content writer, especially for freelancers. If your services involve tasks like writing blog posts or creating designs then you’d benefit from the planner.
It helps you categorize your income by the client and get an overall picture of what your income is looking like, as well as figuring out your monthly average.
For Dealing With Clients
While you can use either Asana or Notion as a CRM sometimes it’s easier to just use a tool dedicated to that task. You also can’t use either of those to have a conversation with your clients. For these tasks content marketers (and other types of freelancers) use these tools.
Zoom has become ubiquitous in our lives at this point thanks to a certain global pandemic keeping people at home. For business purposes, Zoom seems to work well for a lot of people thanks to its easy integration with Google and browser support.
Whenever you need to schedule a meeting with a client, Zoom is there to the rescue.
(Free alternative: Hubspot CRM is a great replacement, but doesn’t have the added function of bespoke contract/proposal building and accounting.)
Bonsai may not be as well known as some of the other tools I’ve mentioned on this list, but it’s very useful. Personally, I use it as a CRM that also creates, manages, and stores contracts, proposals, invoices, forms, and more. You can also store and manage projects there but if you pay a little bit extra, you can use it as a white-labeled client-facing project manager in an agency manner.
For those of you in the U.S., it also functions as an accounting/tax software (which makes me jealous). It truly is a great all-in-one package for the business side of life.
While this list isn’t exhaustive of the vast array of tools out there directed at content marketers, it’s a pretty good place to start. If you’re just getting into content marketing as a career then hopefully this list of tools (and free alternatives) used by top content marketers can help you get started on your own journey.
But of course, digital tools aren’t a magic wand. They can’t magically make your work super awesome and bring in all of the clients, the onus is still on you to create amazing, link-worthy content and promote it appropriately.