21 Free Tools to Develop Your Content Marketing Strategy
Tools, tools, and more tools. From email marketing to social media management to content creation—you can find a tool for whatever ails you. But when you’re pressed for time and money, the last thing you want is a laundry list of expensive tools that you MUST HAVE or CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
That’s why I’ve compiled this list of free tools that can help you kick start your content marketing strategy.
In my previous article on developing a content marketing strategy, I explored five essential elements that all winning strategies are built upon. In this post, I run through those same five steps and list tools that will help you accomplish each one.
Ready? Then let’s get started!
1) Customer Persona Tools
Make My Persona by HubSpot
This free tool makes it easy to develop customer personas from scratch. HubSpot walks you through nineteen simple steps and at the end of the process they deliver a comprehensive customer snapshot that you can use to target your marketing campaign. If you’re a HubSpot customer, you get even more utility out of this tool—you can combine your personas with your existing software to track performance through the sales funnel.
User Persona Creator by Xtensio
Xtensio offers one of the most versatile free tools, which lets you drag and drop modules, delete and create new categories, and truly customise your personas. Their website also offers basic “How To” guides on persona creation, in case you find the creation process overwhelming.
Personapp is the flipside of Xtensio’s elaborate offering. If you’re looking for simple, lightweight personas to kick off a board meeting or help a small team get focused on a new project, Personapp can help. The appeal of this tool is how fast and easy it is to adopt.
2) Voice and Tone Monitoring Tools
A quick note on these voice and tone tools:
Inconsistent branding is the serial killer of success, which is why entire industries have sprung up around brand management. You already know that companies like Builtvisible will help you build your brand and hone your messaging, but you can also find software—such as Acrolinx—that will “read” your content and evaluate brand consistency.
Unfortunately, many start-ups can’t justify the price tag on this sort of software. Instead, they do the next best thing—retaining a limited number of content creators. Whether you seek out a hiring service like Contently or Skyword, hire an independent copywriter, or write your posts in-house, keeping as few fingers in the pie as possible will keep your writing style and voice more consistent.
While there’s no fast and easy solution to consistent branding, the following tools might help:
A Clear Editorial Mission
This is technically a pre-emptive tool that will help you focus your content by clearly defining your brand and the goals you hope to achieve through your content. An editorial mission statement is a must-have for all content marketing strategies—it gives your writers a purpose and a solid foundation to fall back on. To learn how to create an editorial mission for your content marketing, check out A Simple Tool to Guide Tone of Voice by Kevan Gilbert and How to Write Your Editorial Mission Statement in 3 Steps by Kane Jamison.
Yoast is technically “freemium,” because there are both free and paid versions of the plug-in. Even the free version is a useful blogging tool, however—it helps your posts maintain a consistent length and keyword focus. Also, while it won’t exactly “read” your text for brand consistency, it will score your copy according to the Flesch Reading Ease test, which will give you an idea of how consistent your writing styles are from post to post.
Again, while not specifically useful for consistent branding, this tool ensures that readability across your website remains consistent. This tool has a plethora of features including a grading scale, suggestions on how to make your content more readable, and a breakdown of how much of your content is “hard” or “very hard” to read. And no, Hemmingway, I will never stop using the word “plethora” in my everyday speech. Stop asking.
3) Ideation Tools
Content Strategy Helper by Builtvisible
The Content Strategy Helper is a Google Spreadsheets based tool that helps you mine trending data from a variety of sources, such as Twitter, Google Search Trends, YouTube, and Reddit. This tool will even ideate some possible titles for you based on top news feeds.
Outside of search engines, Quora is probably the world’s biggest Q&A platform. Questions that are asked consistently and fall within your niche make great fodder for new content. You can also establish some credibility by answering questions that you’re an expert in.
Reddit (see our guide here) is the content marketer’s wet dream. It’s a bustling hub of current trends, hosting more than 36 million user accounts. Alternatively, if you’re seeking specific stories about inbound marketing, inbound.org has been hailed as the “Reddit for inbound marketers.”
4) Organization Tools
Probably the most popular organizational platform out there, Evernote helps you put a pin in every task that you need to remember. New ideas? A strict publishing schedule? An editorial calendar? You can plan all of this into Evernote and sync your schedule between your devices.
Trello is a great platform for keeping a small team organized. It lets you tack up each to-do item on cards that are easy to edit and organize, which in turn helps you manage projects, keep track of deadlines, and collaborate on content in real time. This is the calendar tool I use to organize my day to day.
Google’s made it ridiculously easy to organize your life around their products, especially when they’ve married services like Gmail and Google+ with Google Calendar. This free tool lets you collaborate and arrange meetings with coworkers and clients alike, so you never have to miss another deadline.
5) Content Creation Tools
The specific goal of your content depends on what stage of the buyer’s journey you’re targeting, but SEO and keyword research will always be helpful here. Google Webmaster tools will also help you track your website’s search queries, click-through rates, impressions, clicks, and inbound links. You’ll also want to submit your site to Google for crawling and indexing.
Image SourceThe GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a free and open source image editor. Think of it like a scaled down Photoshop, without the high learning curve (or price tag). Images are one of the most important parts of conversion, so make ample use of this tool.
Infogram is a tool for creating free visual content, such as charts and infographics. It features Excel compatibility and excellent responsive design across all platforms, including mobile devices. You never have to settle for boring stat regurgitations again.
But wait, there’s more!
Of course, content marketing doesn’t stop at creation. Now that you know how to make a strategy and have a handle on some free tools that can help you realize that strategy, it’s time for the next steps—distribution and tracking.
If you don’t distribute your content, it won’t matter how beautifully crafted it is, your audience will never see it. If you don’t track your content, you won’t know which content consistently knocks it out of the park and which you’d better retire. Both are essential to a good content marketing strategy.
6) Distribution Tools
MailChimp makes things easy for new businesses, offering a completely free platform for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 monthly emails. With this software, you can begin building your subscriber base through gorgeously personalized emails.
Do you know the optimum date and time to tweet your content? Neither do I. Fortunately, we have Tweriod—a free tool that determines when the Twitterverse is most likely to buzz about your new content. This simple tool works well with some of the organizational ones listed above.
Buffer lets you stagger your content releases across Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and (in paid versions) Pinterest. The free version only lets you have one profile per platform, but this should be more than enough to get new businesses dipping their toes in the social media scene. Keep that content flowing.
7) Tracking Tools
Google Analytics is one of the best free analytics tools on the market. The insights you gain here can drastically improve both your content marketing campaigns and your business as a whole. When it comes to monitoring site traffic, it’s hard to beat the tidal wave of raw data that Google Analytics delivers.
Piwik is an open-source analytics platform that gives you slightly more customisable insights into your users, so that you can hone in on the analytics you want. Piwik stands apart because it includes a mobile app and unlimited data storage, but it is a self-hosted program, which means you’ll need to download it and install it on your server.
Clicky is another conditionally free tool—you won’t pay a quid until your website is receiving more than 3,000 pageviews per day. So, once again, a great tool for small businesses beginning to develop a content marketing strategy. Clicky features similar functionality to Google Analytics, with the added benefit of delivering all of your data in real-time.