Content marketing has grown into a vastly competitive landscape with more marketers and organizations creating content than ever before – and those numbers continue to rise. With more than 68% of content marketers pushing for original content over licensed content, having the right tools at your disposal can have a big impact on the visibility of your content and the number of leads it generates.
There’s certainly no shortage of tools – especially in the wake of the recent SaaS boom – with new products and services coming out on a regular basis. The platforms available branch across a variety of categories that lend support to content marketers in areas including:
- Content creation
- Competitive research
- Content optimization
- Metrics and reporting
- Content promotion
- Content curation
- Content distribution
- Measurement and campaign tracking
Those tools vary in scope as well. Many have been created to target a specific segment of the content marketing journey and are employed by individual marketers and SMBs. Others target the C-Suite with all-inclusive enterprise platforms – like HubSpot with their inbound marketing automation and Contently with their vast content marketplace.
As a content marketer, I appreciate the value single, specialized tools bring, even if those larger enterprise-level systems are employed. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of the 10 tools I draw from as part of my toolkit whenever I’m developing and publishing content for a new audience.
1. Make your writing clear and easy to read
Most content marketers know that when you’re writing for the web, you want to use a more conversational tone. You want to give the reader the feeling that you’re having a conversation with them.
That’s easy enough to hit with the right formatting and not getting too technical while avoiding jargon in your content. Just write like you talk.
But what if I told you that you’re probably still shooting too high, and that you should be writing like you’re talking to a 4th grader?
Shane Snow wrote a fantastic article for Contently, looking into the reading levels of audiences and analyzing published content from well-known authors to see how close they come. The data was eye-opening when you see how prolific authors target much lower reading levels that you would expect.
Using the Flesch-Kincaid test for readability, you can see the approximate number of years in education one needs to be able to understand and comprehend text. Sure, you’d expect to see Goodnight Moon fall at the 3rd grade reading level, but seeing Hemingway at a 4th grade level and Tom Clancy at 8th grade is surprising.
Based on his research, Shane Snow was able to determine that the majority of U.S. adults (more than 80%) read at a 3rd grade level, with around 75% reading at 5th grade and 50% reading at an 8th grade level.
Less than 20% of adults read at a 12th grade level or higher.
That tells me, quite clearly, that people don’t like to read academic level, technical content. When you can write content that your audience is more likely to understand, you can expect a lot more reach, engagement and shares.
“I did an informal poll of some friends while writing this post,” writes journalist Shane Snow. “Every one of them told me that they assumed that higher reading level meant better writing. We’re trained to think that in school. But data shows the opposite: lower reading level often correlates with commercial popularity and in many cases, how good we think a writer is.”
Not every audience is the same, though; technical content is best suited for a technical audience, while a more basic writing approach is better for a B2C blog for a pizza company trying to engage their local community.
Atomic Ally is the perfect tool to ensure that your content is in line with where your audience is comfortable reading. By setting the education level of your audience, Atomic Ally will score your content and show you where you’re jumping into the red, exceeding the readability of your target audience.
2. Add beautiful images to your posts
Reading tremendous walls of text can be a huge strain on the reader. It exhausts the eyes and, when presented with long blocks of text, your audience is far less likely to engage with your content. More than 80% of people merely skim the content they read on the web, and according to Nielsen Norman Group, the average user only consumes about 20-28% of words during a visit.
But if you add visual elements to your content, you can hold their attention longer, pushing them to read on. In fact, posts that include visual elements produce 650% more engagement than text-only articles.
Countless studies have been done showing how engagement spikes by adding even a few visual components to content. According to Kissmetrics, content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without.
I know firsthand that sourcing relevant images for content can be a headache. Depending on the topic, you can come up short searching through stock and royalty-free image directories alone. In some cases, I’ve spent as much time sourcing images as I did on writing the post itself.
Thankfully, there’s a tool that can make image creation easy for your content.
Canva is a web-based design tool that makes it simple to customize and create beautiful images for your content marketing campaigns, and it comes preloaded with a wealth of stock photos. Choose from the available photos or upload your own, then use a variety of free themes, vector art and fonts to customize the image to fit your content.
Since launch, Canva has been used to create over 77 million images and boasts over 10.3 million users.
3. Find awesome topics your audience loves
A shortage of relevant, educational topics is a common problem with marketers. At some point, you’re going to hit a wall, and you’ll feel like you’ve got nothing left for coming up with topics.
For many marketers this can be avoided by tapping into your audience and having a better understanding of their interests, pain points, goals and their overall buyer journey. If you understand your customer, it’s typically much easier to source content ideas and plan your content out far in advance.
I say typically because, even then, you can still hit a wall.
This is where Trendspottr can be a lifesaver. This tool makes it easy to look at emerging trends, memes and audience sentiment in different markets. It’s a great way to discover exactly what type of content your audience is looking for in that moment.
Staying on top of emerging trends is one of the smartest ways to leverage topics that have a higher likelihood of going viral. Beyond that, it can tune you into influencers you weren’t aware of, enabling you to analyze the types of content they’re producing and the topics they’re using to better engage their audience.
A tool like Trendspottr is a great investment, and beats manual topic and trend hunting through sites like Alltop any day of the week.
4. Make distribution of your content easy
There are dozens of factors to consider when you’re creating content to ensure maximum engagement.
- Is it optimized for the right keywords?
- Is it educational or entertaining?
- How fresh is the content topic?
- Does it offer actionable insight?
- Is it mapped appropriately to the buyer journey?
- Does it have the right call to action?
- Does it provide strong value?
- Does it cite sources appropriately to lend authority to the content?
- Is it a topic your audience wants?
That list could go on. Once you hit on all the key points and you’ve got a solid piece to publish, the work doesn’t stop.
Content promotion tactics and distribution are big parts of any content marketing strategy, but they also could take a considerable amount of time if you’re trying to promote every piece you create manually.
According to Altimeter, one of the top needs of 53% of marketers is a distribution solution, followed by creation (60%) and content curation (48%). As many as 19% of marketers spend more than 21 hours each week promoting their content and brands on social media alone.
Rather than lose all that time to manual content promotion, get a tool that can help you schedule everything out.
My preferred tool for content scheduling and distribution is Buffer. This simple platform integrates with a variety of channels, as well as other 3rd party platforms, so you can schedule posts out to various channels, at any time you choose.
Not only will this tool let you tackle scheduling for a single piece of content all at once, it’ll also help you target content publishing and distribution for times when your audience is most likely to see it and share it.
When you promote content is important; you need to be able to schedule content when you’re away from the keyboard. According to data shared by Buffer, compiled by Dan Zarrella in a KissMetrics post about social timing:
- 70% of users say they read blogs in the morning
- More men read blogs at night than women
- Mondays are the highest traffic days for an average blog
- 1am is usually the highest traffic hour for an average blog
Scheduling content for the right time has a significant impact on your reach. Use Buffer to keep your content in front of your audience and streamline your content distribution.
5. Track performance to improve your content marketing efforts
Auditing your content isn’t fun. It’s not really a glamorous activity, but if you want to know how your content is performing and what kind of return you’re seeing for your efforts, you need to do it.
In order to gather your performance data, you first need to know which metrics are most important to your business, based on your goals and KPIs. Some of the most common metrics tracked in content marketing are:
- Time on page for specific content pieces
- % of returning visitors to your content/site
- Bounce rates per piece of content
- Referral source tracking
- Lead attribution
There are many others, again based on your unique goals. You may be more tuned to social metrics if your aim is to drive social engagement, or more qualitative metrics like comments and direct post engagement if your aim is audience development.
Recently, Aaron Agius shared 17 content marketing metrics you should be tracking in a post for Jeff Bullas, and I highly recommend reading it (though, remember, it’s not always necessary to track that many metrics when you’re reviewing content performance).
More than likely, you’ll want to focus on a much smaller number – like 4 or 5, total – as they relate to your goals. It’s good to know what kind of metrics you should be watching, though.
For most of the metrics I’ve bulleted, you’re going to turn to an analytics platform. There are a few premium platforms that I could recommend, like Kissmetrics, but for the purpose of this piece, I want to emphasize the use of Google Analytics.
If you don’t have it installed on your site, do that now. It’s a tool every content marketer should be using and checking regularly – especially since it’s free.
Google Analytics covers the majority of metrics and with campaign tracking, in conjunction with UTM parameters and audience metrics, you can draw tremendous insight from your content’s performance.
6. Beat out your competitor’s content marketing
Ask any marketer who their competitors are and they can likely start ticking off a list on two hands. You’ve probably had a few come to mind just at the thought.
Further, the chances are good that your direct competitors have already started leveraging content marketing, given its popularity. As late as 2013, more than 60% of marketers were generating a new piece of content every day.
More and more organizations, as well as individuals, are seeing the benefits of content marketing. Entrepreneur Robbie Richards managed to grow the traffic to a newly created site by 272% in under 30 days with absolutely no marketing budget.
Results like that are what’s driving more than 90% of B2B marketers to leverage content marketing, and you can bet some (or all) of your competitors are among them.
You never want to base your actions on what your competitors are doing, but smart business owners and marketers stay abreast of the competitive landscape. Knowing how your competitors engage your audience and produce content can reveal weaknesses in their strategy, as well as ways you can do it better.
Zuum is the perfect tool for content marketers to keep track of competitors. With it, you can do a full competitive analysis, as well as a content performance analysis. Check out competitor content, find out how it’s being shared and by who, who is linking to it and more.
Ultimately, digging into competitor content and performance trends puts you in a much better position to understand what works and what doesn’t work with your target audience.
7. Promote to a big audience fast
With traditional distribution and promotion, you’re at the mercy of your audience as the content gains traction. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. If you want to rapidly expand the reach of your content, I highly recommend Facebook’s ad platform.
Facebook currently has one of the largest consumer datasets out there, with information on behaviors, interests, employment, education, gender, age, location and more.
With this information, there’s no two ways about it; a well-structured and carefully targeted Facebook ad gets your content directly in front of your audience.
If you combine that ad creation with a Facebook retargeting pixel, you can further promote your content to people you’ve already engaged, who have visited your site, and who are most likely to read and promote the new content you’ve created.
I’ve used Facebook ads at When I Work to promote our product, but I’ve also used it to promote blog posts. It’s been an important part of driving traffic, increasing conversions and boosting my overall engagement across different verticals, companies and product lines.
8. Make influencer engagement easy
A terrific way to add credibility to any content you create is to cite credible sources, including quotes from industry influencers. Your audience is more likely to pay attention to the message and share it with their network.
Once published, you can then expand your promotional efforts by notifying those influencers and sources that have been listed within your content. When you Tweet out to an influencer, tag them, and share the content you’ve created. Not only do they see it, but their audience is likely to see your note as well.
This is a great way to gain the attention of influencers and start to building a relationship with them, while also expanding the opportunity for referral traffic.
Unfortunately, like distribution, manual outreach can be a little time consuming, especially if you’re listing a number of influencers – as in the case of a compilation post.
At ContentMarketer.io, I’ve created a tool that simplifies that process. My Notifier tool will scan your content for names or contacts, especially those where a Twitter profile has been linked. It will then allow you to generate a Tweet that gets sent out, automatically tagging all the individuals within your post. You can send it as one tweet or multiple tweets with individual, more personalized messages.
9. Build engagement and nurture your audience
While the majority of your content marketing will be top-of-the-funnel content meant to grab the attention of your audience, you also need content further into the funnel that’s intended to build engagement with your audience and nurture your leads.
This extended engagement keeps your brand at the front of your audience’s mind, so that when you want to offer a special promotion, release a new product or push another relevant update their way, they’re more likely to listen.
The easiest way to grab those opt-ins for an email list is to offer exclusive content through the list or to present a special offer, like a comprehensive educational ebook, white paper, etc.
But you need an easy way to retain those emails and reach out to those subscribers. That’s why every content marketer should have an email platform tied to their content efforts.
There are countless options to choose from, but I recommend MailChimp for a number of reasons. Not only do they offer a “forever free” plan up to 2,000 subscribers, but even at the free level, you get access to attractive templates that are easy to customize, in addition to the program’s free reports and data insights.
10. Give content promotion a boost
It’s great when the distribution of your content starts to take off and your posts gain traction. It’s even better when your content gets curated by a wider audience and visibility begins to soar. I’ve mentioned some ways here to help with promotion and distribution, but one of my favorite tools for getting content curated is Quuu.co.
It’s the perfect complement to your existing content marketing efforts because sharing great content helps increase overall engagement and grow a targeted following.
Not only does Quuu help you source relevant content for your own audience, you can submit your content to Quuu for the same. Flag your content for the relevant industry/audience, and once it’s approved, Quuu will start pushing it out to the social channels of other users and influencers, vastly expanding the reach of your content and getting it into the hands of those who many not have otherwise seen it.
What other tools would you add to my content marketing toolkit? Share your recommendations with me in the comments below: