I have to admit, I’ve written this article before.
In fact, I’ve written it twice.
The first time I was 21, just out of university, and didn’t know what the hell I was talking about and shouldn’t have had the gall to recommend anything to anybody.
The second time was a few years later, back in the days when writing a 5000-word “101 content tools” article actually worked for SEO.
Looking back, I could slap myself. Twice.
There are not 101 content marketing tools. There are not “101 platforms you need to adopt to move your business’ marketing needle!”
There are seven.
Let me walk you through them, why they’re essential, and how we use them ourselves to deliver and publish 400+ articles every month.
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A note, before we start
First and foremost, I want to make it clear I’m not an affiliate marketer for any of these tools.
I’m just a dude trying to publish 400+ articles a month. I’m just a dude trying to create quarterly content plans for a dozen clients, coordinate their different style requirements, get 50-odd freelance writers to deliver by the end of the month, and remodel my house simultaneously.
That last one’s not related to content production, but I want you to know nonetheless.
So shit, yes, I need these tools. And you do too.
Because even if you’re not remodeling your house, content marketing and production isn’t easy. And doing it well? Scaling it? Well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
Let me show you how we do it.
1. Use a project management tool
Sort out your life.
We use ClickUp internally but use monday.com, Asana, Trello, Pipefy, Airtable, and a half dozen other platforms for our clients.
I don’t care which one you use, so long as you use one.
Because an efficient content production schedule is too much to manage without a tool to bring it together. And, no matter what business you’re in, it’s likely that your managers, writers, and editors aren’t in the same room and (increasingly) may not even be in the same timezone.
A platform that allows for file-sharing, checklists, communication, and automation makes creating high volumes of content (even low volumes) easier. It’s that simple.
2. Use an SEO tool for topic ideation
I use Ahrefs, but SEMRush and Moz are also excellent (and offer similar stuff).
Because no matter who you are, your content marketing should still involve SEO.
Sure, you may create thought-leadership content and interview users or influencers. You may be targeting exclusively bottom-of-funnel keywords with no search volume but high buyer intent.
But if you only do those things, you’re going to tackle only a small part of the pie.
(Is that the phrase? Do we tackle pies? I’m going to move on).
The fact of the matter is that ranking your website on Google (or Bing, I guess?) is still the primary focus of content creation.
You want to show up when someone types into Google a search related to your brand.
And SEO is how you do that. Not thought leadership, not influencer interviews, or BOFU content. SEO.
And without the tools to see the opportunities, you won’t have a content strategy that enables you to reach them.
Ahrefs tools I love…
1. The Content Gap feature:
Ahrefs spits out a list of keywords we’re not currently ranking for, but that one of our competitors is. It feels like cheating to export that list and call it keyword research (just don’t forget to remove branded keywords before you export. It’ll save you time).
2. The Organic Keywords (V2) feature:
This tool shows the movement of your site’s keywords up and down the search rankings.
It makes it super easy to export a list of what I call “Elevens” — content that is ranking between the 11th and 20th spot on Google for a given key phrase.
Adding optimizations and tweaks can push this content onto the first page. They’re what we in the biz call “low-hanging fruit.”
3. The other part of the Organic Keywords (V2) features:
This shows me how optimizations have affected the content we optimized.
For instance, we recently updated one of Wordable’s many “Google Docs” oriented articles with additional word count and some SEO work. We added it to our list of articles to drive links to.
Comparing it to a month ago (before it was updated), we see this:
If you’re good, I’ll put together an article breaking down the exact process we use to do this kind of thing for ourselves and our clients.
3. Use a content brief creator
I’ve been playing around with Content Harmony recently and I have to admit, I was a fool for sticking my nose up at these tools for as long as I did.
Essentially, a tool like Content Harmony (instead of giving you reasonably-trustworthy search volumes and difficulties) sifts through the SERP of your provided vital phrase. It jumps into the ranking content and pulls out the average word count and frequency of semantic keywords, headers, subheaders, images, citation sources, and more.
It also pulls out the “People Also Ask” questions and related questions from Quora and Yahoo! Answers.
You can select those elements that will make up your article’s outline — elements that will inspire your own content.
You can also provide notes to yourself or your writers, copy the brief to your clipboard and paste it into…
4. Use a collaborative content creation tool
Google Docs. Who are we kidding? What, did you think I was talking about a different “collaborative content creation tool?”
Goddam do I love Google Docs.
Here’s me pretending to edit myself (and no, that isn’t dirty. Get your head out of the gutter):
A few months ago, Google Drive was down for three hours, and both of our businesses (Wordable and Codeless) ground to a halt. It was terrifying.
Because everything we do relies on Drive. Is that a dumb business model? Maybe. Are we alone in relying on the continuation of Google’s world domination? No. No, we are not.
This tool enables multiple people to work on the same piece of content from all over the world. It tracks who’s done what, and when, and enables commenting, navigation, suggestion, and “View only” sharing with clients or “Suggest only” sharing with CEOs who want to be involved but majored in computer science.
If you’re still writing your content in Word, I have no time for you. Get out of here with that 1996 bullshit.
Note: Drive also offers one of the most straightforward damn image editing and presentation-creating platforms on the market, but that’s just personal preference because I’m a Google nerd.
5. Use a content-checking tool
Once you’ve completed your draft, most people drag and drop it into their CMS and hit “publish.” Then they throw Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts up and call it a day.
I’ve been writing professionally for 8 years now. My job title is literally “VP of Strategy” for a content production agency that writes 400 pieces of content a month…
And I make the dumbest damn writing mistakes all the damn time. See? Right there, I used “damn” twice in the same sentence.
As a result, I use Grammarly (Premium) to check the content I throw together, and we use Writer as part of our writing process (as their tool does the “unique style guide” check a bit better).
Either one is great, but you need something. Because we can’t be trusted (despite our university education and fancy-pants spellcheck) to not use “their” incorrectly from time to time.
6. Use an SEO analysis tool
A crucial part of the optimization strategy I mentioned above, and just as crucial a part of our “from scratch” content, is MarketMuse.
We use tools like MarketMuse to check that our content is optimized for search (though Clearscope is also excellent).
The tool compares my content against the top 20 search results for the target keyphrase and tells me (semantically) what I need to include to ensure my content is more comprehensive.
It works excellently for new content and optimizations — when we come back into an article in six months, add 500 words, and tweak what’s there to bump it up in search.
7. Use a publication tool
We use Wordable to easily upload content directly to your CMS from Google Docs (there are no equal competitors to Wordable. It’s awesome).
Wordable enables me to go import this Google Doc straight into WordPress — images, metadata, alt tags, formatting, and all the rest — without taking an hour of time I don’t have.
It auto-syncs with my Google Drive, shows me my most recently-written content, and allows me to (with a click) hit “Export.” They appear, like magic, in WordPress. And I hit publish.
But what about the cost?
Back in my day (10 years ago), content marketing was easy.
In those days, we’d go down to the River Google, dip a bucket in and pull out gold nuggets of links and traffic.
Now you have to sieve until your back’s killing you.
Content marketing tools like the ones I’ve mentioned here aren’t all free, or even cheap. But doing content marketing right in 2021 will require investment.
But there’s no other way. I’m sorry, but there simply isn’t.
You can either throw money at this thing willy-nilly (through targeting impossible keywords for your domain authority, failing to promote, failing to create optimized content, etc) and get nowhere.
Or you can read this article, trust that I’m not bullshitting you, and invest in the right tools for the job. Use them well, and the investment will pay off.
It’s up to you.