Let’s face it: blogging isn’t always easy. And in this age of intense competition, making sure your message gets out there is much harder than it used to be. Luckily, there are a whole bunch of blogging tools, both paid and free, that we can use to maximize the impact of our quality content. Let’s take a look at a few of them that I recommend, everything from tools to help you do keyword research to analyzing the success of your blogging.
I started my blogging back in 2008 when LinkedIn supported applications such as WordPress.com, and that is the first platform I used. Compared to then, while there is much more competition in the space, I must say that the amount of tools that allow bloggers to do anything and everything are only greater, and thus those that understand which blogging tools to use and how to use them will have a competitive advantage.
Sold on the value of blogging tools? READ ON!
- Blogging Content Management Systems (CMS)
- Blogging Research and Inspiration Tools
- Blogging Productivity Tools
- Writing Tools for Blogging
- Visual Blogging Tools
- Social Media Tools for Bloggers
- Content Promotion Tools for Bloggers
- Blogger Analysis Tools
Blogging Content Management Systems (CMS)
It goes without saying that in order to start a blog you need to build a website, and in order to build a website, it needs to run on a Content Management System (CMS). The most popular CMS for blogs which this site also runs on is WordPress, which I highly recommend.
For beginners, however, WordPress does have its complexities and learning curve needed to master themes, plugins, and at the end of the day the overall design of the blog to your liking, which often requires hiring a developer to help complete development of the website.
If you are looking for an easy to use CMS to literally launch your blog in less than an hour, you’ll want to investigate the Big 3 WordPress alternatives listed here.
Squarespace helps you turn any idea into a reality. The tool offers best-in-class website templates, and you can customize the design to fit your professional needs or personal style.
With Squarespace’s professional portfolio designs, you can present your work effectively. It allows you to display work in customizable galleries, and you can even add password-protected pages if you want to share private work with customers. It also offers blogging tools that can help you share your story, announce a product release, or post company news. It allows you to categorize, schedule, and share your post to make the content work for you.
Squarespace also has built-in SEO tools that can help you maximize prominence among search results. You can also learn where your website traffic is coming from through its in-depth analytics feature, which will help you understand what your visitors are looking for and how they interact with your product or content.
One feature that stands out in Squarespace is the LayoutEngine. You can click and drag images, change the size of them, and adjust their placement faster and smoother. Everything is properly aligned as it is laid out inside a perfect grid. This is something that isn’t always easy to do in a WordPress environment.
Weebly is a website builder tool where you get access to customizable web page designs and tools. To use Weebly, one does not need any tech skills since it is a drag and drop site builder: Everything comes built-in, from hosting to security features.
Weebly’s basic plan is free to use. All you have to do is sign up, choose your theme, edit, and you are ready to publish. It has a basic and simplified editor when compared to WordPress, which makes it manageable for beginners. With its clean editing interface, you can customize your template to a certain limit. It also gives you helpful pointers and tips according to the theme you have chosen.
Weebly offers a justly modest collection of simple themes that have been categorized for six different use-case scenarios: Business, online stores, personal, portfolio, blog, and events. There are around six to fifteen themes under each category. You also have an option to switch between themes at any time.
Weebly’s blogging tool allows advance sharing and scheduling features, along with comment management and social media sharing. It also allows you to add social icons and links to your website and provide an in-house email marketing service.
Wix is an easy-to-use free blogging platform that helps you create stunning websites. It offers various easy drag and drop templates together with free site hosting.
Wix Editor and Wix ADI are the two website creating options. Wix Editor provides a drag-and-drop editor, while with Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence), one creates an exclusive design based on the inputs provided. One can create beautiful designs with Wix ADI; there are more than 500 templates that are available on their website.
With Wix, you can create best-in-class and professional-looking blogs for your niche. Since it is user-friendly, you can set up your blog in just a few minutes with readily available tools for customization. Wix can also help you create a content strategy for your blog. This tool can not only help you stay organized but create focused and value-driven content.
Blogging Research and Inspiration Tools
To make sure that your content is written in a way that will do well in Google rankings, it’s best to do some research. Keywords are important, as are the specifics of competitor topics. Also, you’ll want to know what customers are looking for, in order to meet those content needs. These tools will give you all of the data you need to do sophisticated keyword research.
Let’s start with the free tool that many of the below keyword research tools also integrate data from: Google’s own Keyword Planner.
This free to use blogging research tool helps you to choose the right keywords. This tool allows you to discover words or phrases related to your products or services. This offering from Google can give you a traffic estimation of your target keywords and help you identify the most relevant keywords to your business. Keyword research is an absolute must before you go ahead with any search engine optimization strategy and Google Keyword Planner ensures that you derive the best insights and choose the right keywords for content marketing.
To use Google Keyword Planner, all you need to have is a Google Adwords account. It is an easy-to-use tool; all you have to do is enter your target keyword that you want to search. After that, you can add filters like which country you wish to target and so on. The idea is to find a keyword that can give you good traffic and less competition. Furthermore, if you are working on a blog with a long-term goal, you can use resource pages and target high competition keywords.
Want to know what your competitors are saying? What are their winning keywords? How are your advertising efforts performing? These questions, and others, can be answered with SEMrush. It’s an invaluable tool for organic SEO tips and keyword research.
SEMrush is a comprehensive keyword research tool that also includes a “traffic cost” metric: this tells researchers how much a competing site’s Web traffic would cost on a PPC basis. That’s pretty useful for determining the effectiveness of their SEO. SEMrush is personally the tool that I recommend for all of my keyword research and more, so if you have any SEMrush questions, please post them in the comments below!
Here’s a great video showing you what it looks like to perform keyword research inside SEMrush:
Moz is one of the oldest SEO tools out there. The platform specialty is site audits. With this tool, Moz will go through your website, and single out the weaknesses in your SEO. This allows you to fix mistakes that you’ve found at a glance, and hopefully outrank your competition. Moz provides very user-friendly reports to help you replace other websites as the highest ranked or most credible on a given keyword.
Moz offers some of the same and different features that SEMrush provides. To get a comparative feel as to what it looks like to do keyword research inside MOZ, check out this informative tutorial video:
Ahrefs has many similar tools to SEMrush and MOZ. However, Ahrefs is especially good at monitoring for updates in your niche. When one is found, they’ll send you an alert that helps you to adjust marketing campaigns as necessary. One of the things I also often hear is that Ahrefs database and tool is superior at backlink analysis.
Here is how Ahrefs describes how to do keyword research using their tool:
Buzzsumo is a great tool, especially when you need something more in-depth than just keyword research. In particular, they have an analytic function that tells you what works, and what doesn’t. According to their website, this feature is even predictive. In other words, Buzzsumo does a lot of the thinking for you. Buzzsumo also keeps track of what went viral on social media. Even better, there is help available to identify the influencers for your industry.
Buzzsumo is a tool that I use as part of my ow blogging tool arsenal for a variety of purposes, including keyword research, influencer identification, and content curation.
A different approach to looking for ideas to blog about is to see what questions are already being asked on the biggest social network dedicated to Q&A: Quora. Of course, Quora offers more value than being a mere research tool.
Quora is one such network where a lot of people engage, and it also gets a lot of traffic. It is bliss for bloggers since it provides some excellent keyword ideas and helps in directing targeted traffic to your website. All one needs to do is answer questions in as much details as possible to help people. For a blogger, keeping up-to-date on Quora’s latest topics is a great way to stay on top of your niche. Besides that, the content on Quora may give you some inspiration for your writing. It is good to understand what the audience wants to know what the latest social developments are, and then include them in your blog post ideas.
Another advantage of Quora is that it already has a huge existing user base, which means more information and better ideas. Quora offers search functionality that allows people to enter the search terms or questions they have. Therefore, having a blog on Quora can appear in search results if it is relevant to the searched keywords. Having a good presence on Quora can not only elevate your digital presence, but also help in overall branding and, of course, keyword research.
Regardless of which keyword research tool you use above, you might want to make sure you are not targeting a topic which is trending downward in terms of search volume and aim for those that are on the increase by using another free Google tool: Google Trends.
Is your blog topic a popular one? You can find out with Google Trends by just running the topic through this tool to see the search volume for various keywords and phrases that you are planning to use. It enables you to see how many people are looking for a specific word or phrase over a period of time and when one word/phrase spikes in relation to other searches.
Google Trends is an easy-to-use tool, and you don’t have to sign up for a Google account to use it. Simply visit the Google Trends page, and you can view all the trending stories at that time. Next to each title, there are small graphs that display during which hour there was a spike in the traffic for the related searches.
Google Trends helps you explore what the world is searching for. It helps you stay on top of the latest search trends, explore specific periods of regions or times, research keywords popularity over time, and segment your results according to image, news, web, and YouTube searches.
Blogging Productivity Tools
With so much work potentially going into the creation of a blog post, even before pen hits paper, you might be wondering if there is any way to work more productively, especially if you work as part of a writing team. For you I recommend the following two productivity apps.
Evernote is a productivity tool that can help you to capture ideas and locate them faster. It allows you to make notes and to-do-lists and share and gather ideas quickly and easily. When I say share ideas, it means anything that inspires you, be it an image, a note related to a specific topic, audio, scans, documents, PDFs, or even a website link, everything can be dropped into Evernote and stored under a relevant tag for superior organization. The notes you make can be grouped by project, topic, date, or under anything else that you may prefer.
Evernote allows you to work from anywhere as you can sync your notes to all your devices. It is a powerful tool that can help you to capture and organize things as you like. You can get what you want and when you need – “search” gives you results as you type. It can also connect with the productivity tools you use already to work the way you want.
Trello helps teams work more collaboratively. It organizes a task visually and let’s you see who is doing what on each project. This blogging tool can make your work simpler by creating various task completion cards on a board, and according to the status and importance of the task, can move it into different sections.
Trello enables you to work with any team and create as many boards and lists as you may want. It provides information at a glance: You can dive into details by including attachments, comments, due dates, and more straight to Trello cards.
The tool also offers built-in workflow automation, namely, Butler. You can use Butler to remove tedious to-do-tasks from your list with calendar commands, due date commands, custom-card & board buttons, and rule-based triggers.
Trello offers features and flexibility to suit any team’s style. You can get your team up and running with Trello’s Team Playbook feature. The productivity platform seamlessly integrates the applications that are used by your team directly into your workflow. Trello can sync across all your devices so that you can collaborate with your team from anywhere.
When used properly, Trello can help you create and manage a workflow amongst a team of writers or just for yourself to understand what you need to do to complete any work task, whether it be blogging or anything.
Writing Tools for Blogging
So, you’ve done your research, and now it’s time to write that post. Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. After all, a post needs to be clear, readable, and relevant to your business. Here are some tools to help you nail that content piece.
Let’s be honest, human editors can get expensive fast. And they’re impractical for emails and small compositions, such as social media posts. That’s why Grammarly, which calls itself a “free writing assistant,” can be such an asset. This application is available as a browser extension, through Web access, and even works in Google Docs. You can set writing goals for yourself and also get a report about how you’re doing every week. Both free and premium versions are available.
Here’s a quick view of what it looks like to edit a blog post in WordPress using Grammarly’s Chrome extension:
An alternative to Grammarly that can also be used in conjunction with it is Hemingway.
This writing and editing tool has been designed to help you refine your writing. Hemingway focuses on identifying the common errors that can bring down your content’s quality such as overuse of weak adverbs, confusing sentence construction, excess use of passive voice, and more.
The app has two modes of writing and editing, and one can switch between them through a toggle on the sidebar. The writing mode has formatting buttons to set your text and headings according to your requirement, and you can also create links. If you use the editing mode, most of the app’s features come into play.
Besides the summary of your content’s readability level, length, and estimated reading time, the app also analyzes your work and highlights potential problem areas. It also gives you suggestions to make corrections. Once you finish drafting, the work can be exported in various ways – you can even directly publish to WordPress or Medium. Content can also be exported from Word.docx files with Hemingway.
Yoast is a popular, if not the most popular, WordPress plugin. For both the free and premium versions, Yoast will help you improve your SEO throughout the whole site. They do this with keyword optimization, readability, and ensuring that Google’s latest algorithm is taken into account. Premium subscribers get access to other features, including help with internal linking and broken pages.
Yoast also includes a convenient “social cards” tool. This feature helps you to properly format social media posts, and even get a preview of it before the post goes live.
I have been a faithful user of Yoast for more than a decade and simply won’t publish a blog post until I see that green happy face in the Yoast WordPress user interface ;-) For those that have never experienced Yoast, this video will give you a good feel as to how to use it to optimize each and every one of your blog posts for SEO:
Need help getting readers to click on your website? That’s where a good headline is critical, and in today’s age of diminishing attention time, your headline could make or break the success of your blog post. CoSchedule began as a tool to help facilitate communication for teams of bloggers and administrators that support blogs, but over the years it has expanded into becoming a tool for blog teams who also manage social media and content marketing operations. One of the additional tools they have built into their platform is their headline analyzer tool. It’s free for general Web users too, which is nice. Even better, this tool shows you what’s successful about a headline, and what isn’t. Use it regularly, and you’ll get better at writing headlines over time.
Check out the Headline Analyzer in action below:
Visual Blogging Tools
I think we can all agree that if a blog post is just blocks of text, people get bored. Here are some great tools to help you make that post pop, whether you want to custom create one or utilize stock photo sites.
Canva is a great graphic design tool, with both free and premium features. They’ll let you edit photographs, make pie charts, and use templates to achieve a professional look. Premium features include branding kits and access to their image library. If you need to pay for features, they have a wide variety of plans available. Canva really is simple to use, and even people with little artistic imagination can be successful with this tool.
While I use stock photos for the featured images that appear at the top of each blog post, I do use Canva to create images to promote my blog posts in social media. Check out how easy it is to create a great looking graphic using Canva in no time!
Stock Image Sites
Don’t need something as comprehensive as Canva? Luckily, there are other options. In particular, these three stock image sites provide a plethora of images and are a tried-and-true method of sprucing up your content:
Need free pictures? Unsplash is a great place to find high-resolution photos that you can use everywhere, including commercially, for free. This is the site I most use for my blog photos, crediting photographers with a link at the bottom of blog posts that was a simple cut-and-paste from the information provided by Unsplash when downloading in image.
Similarly to Unsplash, Pexels provides free photos for commercial and non-commercial use. However, they also provide video under the same conditions. Also, there are a few stipulations regarding ethical use.
Like its competitors, Pixabay is a great place to find free stock photos. However, you should be aware that it requires user registration in some cases, even though the photos and memberships are free.
Social Media Tools for Bloggers
So you’ve done your keyword research, SEO, writing, and visually spruced up your content. As an author I know that writing s 20% and promotion is 80% of my work. This is the same with blogging, and in addition to search engines, social media is a great way to gain exposure for your content.
Here are some tools I recommend you check out to rev up your blogging promotion:
Buffer is a tool that is both a social media dashboard and a visual creation tool.
Buffer helps you save a lot of time when scheduling your posts. You can schedule your new blog to go to your social media channels multiple times with different images and headlines for every update. With Buffer, as a blogger, you can easily line up your thumb-stopping content across social media channels and with a single click, you can share content and schedule posts via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Buffer also has a free image creation tool called Pablo to help you create social media images for different platforms.
Buffer is a complete social media tool that will help you tell your story through social media and help you grow your target audience through its publishing analytics which will help analyze your campaigns that include measuring performance, getting insights, creating reports, engagement, and sales. The tool comes with a free version, but you’ll want to go for the pro plans to get the complete benefits.
Click-to-Tweet is a tool, available as both a WordPress plugin or a Chrome browser extension that helps you manage the “click to tweet” buttons on your website. Click-to-Tweet buttons inside your blog post allow you to create a visual call-to-action that when clicked will prompt the reader to share the content as a tweet to their Twitter profile. They track traffic through those buttons, and provide analytics information. What a great way to keep track of how well people are engaging with your site.
Social Media Dashboard
Social media dashboards are tools that help you tell, at a glance, what’s going on with your social media accounts. Bloggers can specifically use these tools for scheduling the publication of their blog posts across multiple social networks, conveniently responding when social media users engage with your content, and reporting back to you on the success of your blog promotion in social media.
Agorapulse is the definitive social media dashboard that I use which can help you with every aspect of your social media marketing. In addition to those features that I mentioned above that are critical for bloggers, they do a whole lot more. For example, their “AdsReport” feature monitors Facebook ads and their effectiveness, while “Easy Advocacy” helps your employees advocate for your brand on all the social platforms. Both of these features are free, but blogging and collaboration tools require a paid subscription.
Hootsuite is the most famous social media dashboard that many use. This one let’s you schedule social media posts, monitor them, and collaborate with your team all in one place. They even have a small service plan for single users. Keep in mind, however, that they only offer free 30-day trials, not a free-forever account.
Sprout Social does the same thing as the others, with a twist. On their website, they advertise that there are “social customer care” and “analyst” capabilities as part of their service. This is something special: after all, some customers use social media as a way to get customer service from brands, and analysts are critical to staying on top of the competition.
Don’t need a complete social media dashboard and just looking for a dedicated social media scheduling tool for your blog posts? Look no further than RecurPost, which even has a free plan that might just be enough for bloggers to easily schedule their blog content.
Social Sharing Plugin
Want to make it easier for your customers to share your content on their social media pages? You should, because it’s free content distribution and cheap advertising. The best way to do this is with a social sharing plugin. Inside WordPress there are nearly 1,000 social sharing plugins. Of course, if you use Jetpack, you also have the ability to use their social sharing features. I actually deleted Jetpack from my website to increase page load speed (read more about that below). Even if you use Jetpack, you should check out the full features that some of these social sharing plugins have. Here are some of the most popular ones for which you can’t go wrong and are also actively supported:
Want something really lightweight? AddToAny might be the way to go. That’s because this plugin adds the buttons to your Website and integrates with analytics, but it doesn’t add a lot of code. Another bonus: no account required, just add it and go. By far the simplest way to get social sharing plugins activated on your blog.
This social sharing plugin is also a simple and popular one which allows you to add share icons for all of the major networks and channels such as RSS, Email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Youtube. It also has a ‘Share’ button which covers 200+ other social media platforms and also allows you to upload custom share icons of your choice.
Sassy Social Share is another easy choice for a social sharing plugin that enables your blog visitors to share your content over Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit and over 100 more social sharing and bookmarking services. This is a simple and smooth social sharing plugin with optimized and great looking vector icons.
Content Promotion Tools for Bloggers
If people aren’t searching for your blog’s keywords in search engines or being exposed to your blog in social media, there is still a chance to promote your blog to them in email. Email marketing is the third part of your digital marketing trifecta that is a must for ever blogger to embrace and excel at.
Before you can use email marketing to promote your blog, however, you first need to offer an incentive for others to join your mailing list. This is often done through a lead magnet, delivering something of value such as an ebook, webinar, coupon, free trial, checklist, cheat sheet, etc. Once you have your lead magnet ready, you now have to facilitate the exchange of email address for your incentive on your blog. This is the crucial role that opt-in software plays.
There are a few different types of opt-in software to choose from, but they can generally be divided into those that provide landing pages or pop-up buttons or both. Below are some suggestions, but it’s important to note that US federal law and the GDPR in Europe require you to get permission from an email account owner to send them commercial emails. That’s why you DON’T want to buy lists and use these instead to build your list the right way.
If you’d like to lead blog readers to a dedicated landing page where they can focus on your offer, whether it is a lead magnet or product sale, LeadPages is the tool you should be using. They have a comprehensive, yet easy to use Website building feature which include pages where potential customers can give you their email and opt in to get marketing material. All of my landing pages such as this LinkedIn for business ebook are built on LeadPages.
For those who can afford to pay the monthly subscription, OptinMonster is a fully-featured email marketing opt-in tool. Not only do they help you build your email list (legally, with opt-in help), but they also help with campaign design and collecting consumer information. They probably have the biggest collection of various opt-in formats that you can use AND are top of game in their exit-intent technology to prompt users to opt-in to your email list right before they leave your site.
If you want to easily and fully customize the look and feel of various opt-in banners on your blog, GetSiteControl is a great tool to do so. What it lacks in functionality compared to OptinMonster it makes up for in simplicity and being able to customize a great deal about the look and feel and functionality of how your opt-in visual widgets appear on your site.
Email Marketing Tools for Bloggers
Now that you are properly building up your email list, you’ll want to next use email to promote not only your blog posts through RSS campaigns but also your products and services. I have used other email marketing services in the past such as Constant Contact, Mailchimp, Keap (formerly InfusionSoft), and ConvertKit, but I currently use the following three email marketing tools that I recommend depending on your price point and complexity of functionality that you require. While GetResponse and ActiveCampaign start at $15 a month, MailerLite allows you to begin for free up to 1,000 subscribers and to send out as many as 12,000 emails in a single month.
Note that these email marketing solutions also offer landing page creation and opt-in pop-up form functionality to various degrees. If you can use the solutions that they provide, you may not need to spend additional money to invest in the previously mentioned opt-in tools.
The newest email marketing tool that I am currently using is MailerLite, and I LOVE its combination of simplicity with a pretty robust set of features while maintaining a comparatively inexpensive business model when compared to its competitors with similar functionality. This inexpensive solution features a really easy-to-use drag-and-drop email builder, the ability to tag users in groups, and even offers some marketing automation. If you’re just starting out, this is the perfect solution!
Another classic email solution, GetResponse focuses on small businesses. In addition to the traditional email campaign organization, Getresponse includes landing page and sales funnel help. GetResponse has sophisticated marketing automation features as well as provides you a webinar platform to use for free at certain price levels. For the purpose of email marketing, though, GetResponse offers you the unique automated lead magnet funnel creation functionality, the easiest way to build and email marketing funnel for your lead magnet.
ActiveCampaign is the most robust of these email marketing software solutions in terms of its CRM, marketing automation, tagging, and any other feature you can think of. When you being to see the ROI of your email marketing and you want to invest more deeply into it, you’ll want to check out ActiveCampaign.
Blogger Analysis Tools
What is the result of all of your blogging? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. That’s where these analytical tools for bloggers come in.
One of the great things about Google Analytics is that it’s free. Since it is built by the #1 search engine, the free service pays Google back by allowing your website to prosper. After all, money in your pocket trickles down to them eventually. More effective advertising leads to more traffic for you, and more advertising revenue for both of you.
The speed at which your website renders has become an increasingly important ranking factor for SEO, especially on mobile devices. Do you think visits from mobile devices to your website will increase or decrease over the next 10 years? That’s why increasing page load speed should be part of your blogging SEO strategy.
Fortunately Google has a great tool to show you how fast your page loads. They’ll even tell you how to improve this metric, if necessary. Like Analytics, this service is free.
These are just a few of the blogging tools available that I recommend you check out or consider switching to. Which other ones do you use on your site?
Hero photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash