14 hacks to be smarter with your content marketing

To keep pace with the dynamic digital environment, please your clients, your boss, and stay sane, a content marketer has to be tech-savvy. Time is a highly scarce resource, and delivering great results is impossible, unless you are armed with a bunch of handy tools.

Whether you are an occasional writer, or a full-time content producer, these hacks will help streamline your workflow. You’ll be able to perform recurring tasks quicker and more efficiently. I’m going to share 32 tested apps for every stage of content marketing workflow. Some of them are quite popular, others are lesser known and underrated content marketing tools. I’ll start with planning and productivity, then go to writing itself and search engine optimization. Finally, I’ll give away some of my content distribution and analytics related hacks.

1. — Become part of community and make friends

This one should be called ‘influencer marketing’, but I prefer to use words ‘community’ and ‘friendship’. It’s takes time and effort, but it pays off. Surround yourself with like-minded people to learn from, to get inspired, and to receive advice. For me, community is number one source of fresh ideas, hot topics, and opinions. Speaking of tools, here are my top choices:

  • Twitter lists — create a private lists of people, grouped by some criterion (expertise, location etc.). It helps to stay on top of what’s happening in a specific field.
  • Twitter polls — if you have a string following, harness the power of your fans to validate ideas and gather some statistical data for your next article.
  • Nimble — this is my current influencer marketing CRM. It’s cool features include mentions feed, emailing history (super handy for teams), tags, and more. Their Chrome extension does great detective job, offering info on experience, influence, and location. This is a paid app.

2. — Get into productive flow state

Flow is a state of full concentration on your current task, when you are able to process information much quicker, think in a more innovative way, and achieve impressive performance. If you’re not very much into all this philosophy, let me put it simpler. Focusing on your writing can be really challenging if you are in a noisy office space, and your messengers are bursting with notifications. The proven way to overcome this is listening to background music. Although classical music works fine for me, my secret weapon is Noisli. It’s a 100% free web app, which offers a set of background noises (mainly nature-inspired — rain, forest, birds etc.). You can mix those noises, creating your own perfect soundtrack. The app features two modes — productivity and relaxation. So if you feel sleep-deprived, it’s worth checking out as well.

3. — Find a catchy topic that will resonate with your audience

Are you familiar with a writer’s block? Have you ever spent hours thinking of the topic for your next article? Here are the tools to overcome that:

SEMrush Topic Research tool helps you discover trends and find big conversations. Once you learn what’s on top of everyone’s mind, you can create content that appeals to your audience. Ideas are grouped by subtopics, and you can view trending subtopics first. Within each card you can see the list of prioritized headlines (based on what resonates with the readers best), questions people ask (grouped by type — how, what, etc.), and related searches. You can favourite your ideas, get an overview of top ideas based on various criteria (backlinks, difficulty, efficiency, and more), and also view a mind map with all ideas.

14 hacks to be smarter with your content marketing — Topic Research

To polish the wording and make sure your headline will get people click through, I suggest using CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. Out of all similar tools, this is my favourite, as I clearly understand the logic and math behind it. Your headline is estimated based on the word and character count, type (lists, how-tos and questions get more points), word balance (common/uncommon/emotional), and scannability. Small drawback: the tool doesn’t offer you word options (but you can use Thesaurus for that). Free to use.

14 hacks to be smarter with your content marketing — Headline Analyzer

4. — Take care of your SEO

Marrying SEO and content is a must, if you want to increase ROI and drive new customers. Here are 6 convincing case studies for those who still hesitate about necessity of SEO efforts. And if you already there, check out my tools of choice:

SEO Writing Assistant is an add-on compatible with Google Docs and WordPress. It provides instant recommendations for content optimization based on best-performing articles in Google’s top-10. SEO compliance metrics are interactive (alter as you change the text) and include:

  • Readability score — evaluates your text’s difficulty based on recommended Flesch-Kincaid reading-ease score.
  • Target keywords — shows keyword recommendations, their volume and difficulty.
  • Recommended keywords — shows semantically related keywords, which are worth adding to your text.
  • Overall score — takes into account all of the above metrics. The closer it is to 10, the better.  

14 hacks to be smarter with your content marketing — SEO Writing Assistant

SEOmofo Snippet Optimizer allows you to preview how your web page will look in Google’s search results. Comes in handy when you need to optimize your meta for higher click-through rates.

5. — Use voice typing to save time

Did you know that Google Docs features a free inbuilt Voice Typing tool? Go to Tools -> Voice Typing to explore! If you haven’t mastered touch typing yet, or just don’t feel like using the a keyboard at the moment, this tool is a real saviour. The quality of speech recognition is really impressive.

6. — Readability

After providing valuable information, improving readability is the second best thing you can do for your readership. Ground rules are:

  • Avoid extremely long sentences and baroque word phrases.
  • Don’t use cliches.
  • Avoid biased evaluation, opt for describing use cases instead to prove your point.
  • Get rid of filler words (including hesitation phrases ‘I think’, ‘I believe’ etc.)

Hemingway Editor highlights the parts that need improvement, and calculates the readability index.

7. — Check the text for plagiarism

You may have missed this, but Grammarly is not only a grammar checker, but also a powerful tool for plagiarism detection (over 16 bln pages). This tool is especially helpful for blog editors, team leads, and other people whose job is more about revision/end result, rather than writing itself. Annual plan costs $140 (roughly $11 per month).

8. — Get yourself an instant proofreader

Although it’s good to have an in-house or contractor proofreader, sometimes you need to get your text checked and corrected ASAP. We’ve all been there, admit it. For such occasions a can recommend fluent.express. Created by a Silicon valley startup team, this tool offers a live proofreading service. Your text is checked by hand-picked native speakers, professional editors and proofreaders. The pricing is very reasonable — you get first 300 characters for free, and pay $1.95 for every 1000 characters after that.  

9. — Up your visual game

  • Canva has been praised by many marketers, and I’m one of the admirers. Why I like it: endless number of stylish templates, widest variety of image sizes (all possible social media, email headers, posters, and tons more), impressive inbuilt library of graphic elements and photos. You can even produce your own infographics, and it will look pretty. Canva has user-friendly interface and supports drag-and-drop. Free version is good enough, paid version has more perks.
  • Pexels is my first choice when it comes to royalty free stock photos. Unlike other similar services, Pexels offers photos only (no illustrations or vector graphics). The majority of those photos look up-to-date and classy, and I don’t see them very often in other publications.
  • Skitch is my screenshot solution of choice. It features a powerful editor (add annotations, pixelate, and more), timed screen snaps, and has an integration with Evernote.
  • To record a video of my screen I use QuickTime Player, and then send it to Giphy — voila, a GIF is ready!

14 hacks to be smarter with your content marketing — Canva

10. — A/B test around estimated reading time

People are more likely to read the article if they know how long it will take them to it, Marketing Land reports. Although I haven’t found any newer research on the topic, I still believe it’s worth doing an A/B test, here’s why. One of time management principles suggest that you need to pick next thing to do based on the amount of time you have. I understand that sometimes people read just a specific abstract that answers their question though. Use Read-O-Meter to get a time estimate. Old-fashioned guys can calculate the reading time manually. Here’s the formula used by Medium team: total word count divided by the average reading speed of an adult (roughly 275 words per minute), then add 12 seconds for each inline image.

11. — Get clever with your distribution and repurposing

Here are the top tools I’ve been using lately:

  • MobileMonkey — chatbots are the new black. Email marketing is still a powerful channel, but we can’t neglect the email blindness that has developed over years. Plus, with GDPR coming into force, email campaigns’ reach has decreased significantly. So, chatbots seem like an easy and fun ways to engage with your audience. Moreover, it shows fantastic results: Chatbots Magazine reports a whopping 98% open rate is easily achievable. I bet you haven’t seen such results in your email software for quite a while!
  • Lumen5 is a recent addition to my arsenal. Facebook has officially been favouring video content, so this tool is essential for those who consider Facebook their primary social media channel. The tool turns any blog post into a video — simply add an URL and see what happens. You can pick background images from a library or use your own, brand your video, add music, and more. Video will also be a breathe of fresh air for your LinkedIn and Twitter feeds.
  • SlideShare isn’t new, but it’s very much underrated. And the only reason for than is that people understand the purpose of this platform too literally. However from a broader perspective any story can be turned into a presentation. If your target audience uses SlideShare, go get them!

12. — Streamline your outreach

My job includes reaching out to quite a lot of people I don’t know in person. And although personal touch is key, some parts of this job can be automated. Yesware is an add-on for Gmail/Outlook, that tracks your sent emails. On top of that, it allows you to create templates with drop-down list of options and customizable fields, and offers delayed mailing. Paid plans start at $12. Free 28-day trial available.

Skrapp is a great tool for email prospecting, that finds emails on Linkedin. However, trying to guess a person’s email is a gray hat technique, so use it responsibly.

13. — Improve and automate your analytics

There are plenty of metrics you can use to measure your content efforts, I won’t be listing all of them, as this is not what this article is about.  

  • SEO related metrics — search rankings, backlinks (organic and earned), organic search traffic. This info can be easily found in Google Search Console and Google Analytics. If you are a contributing author, you may want to check how well your article published on a third party website is performing. To get info on backlinks, social shares and referral traffic use your SEO tool of choice — SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz, etc.
  • Mentions trend — watching your mentions trend is essential to understand how the audience perceives your brand. My latest discovery is Meltwater. On top of the standard keyword-based mentions in digital space it also allows you to monitor TV and printed media, and calculates your share of voice. Meltwater is an enterprise solution. Way less pricier options include Buzzsumo, Mention, and Brand24. Super simple and free options would be setting up Google Alerts, and using IFTTT. IFTTT stands for ‘if this, then that’ and is a library of automation-focused applets. For instance, this applet will add mentions of your Twitter username to a Google Drive spreadsheet. And this one collects tweets featuring specific content — hashtag, term, or phrase.

14. — Organize your backlog

Keeping your ideas organized can save you tons of time. Rather than re-reading articles, hectically looking through post-its scattered around your desk or trying to recall what that meeting was about, simply put it down.

  • Google Keep is my #1 tool for taking notes at work and in personal life. What I like about it — it’s part of Google Cloud, so you can access it anytime from any device. It features colour and text tagging, checkbox lists, reminders, image attachments. As most of Google services, it’s collaboration friendly — add your team members to a note to stay on the same page.
  • MindMeister — this tool is made to create mind maps. If you’re brainstorming with a team or on your own, use MindMeister to document your ideas. Free and easy to use.
  • Todoist — simple yet mighty tool to manage your tasks. Free version offers multi-level task lists, prioritization, and scheduling. Premium version supports deadlines, reminders, comments, tags, custom task views, and more. Bonus: if you are a ‘Getting Things Done’ disciple, this tool is your perfect assistant. It follows the rules of the system, offering breakdown of task by projects, has an inbox, and today/week task views. Premium plan is $3 a month, free 30-day trial available.

No matter what your role in content marketing is, these hacks are meant to make your life easier. Are you a tech-savvy marketer? Please share your favourite tools and techniques in the comments!

Xenia Volynchuk

About Xenia Volynchuk

Online Marketing Specialist at SEMrush, a leading digital marketing toolkit for SEO, paid advertising, content strategy, PR and social media professionals.