As a business blogger , most of the tools you need to do your job live right up there in your noggin. Do you understand the subject matter you're writing about? Can you string together a sentence? Got a computer?
You're pretty much good to go.
But (isn't there always a but?) you can make your job a heck of a lot easier -- and your blog posts even better -- if you have a supplemental arsenal of tools. And to make up for that "but" I just threw down, I've got some good news for you ... all these tools are totally free. Woo hoo!
Alright, you ready to start bookmarking? Here are 10 free tools that will make you a better business blogger , and how to use them.
10 Free Tools Business Bloggers Should Bookmark
1) RSS Reader
Setting up an RSS is the first thing every business blogger should do, because it helps provide topic fodder for your blog and quickly identify industry news content you should be blogging about. There are plenty of different feed readers out there you can use to subscribe to various website feeds -- I use Google Reader myself, because it's easy to simply enter a search term about which I'd like to receive updates, and click the 'Subscribe' button:
As you amass amazing websites to subscribe to in your reader, wake up each morning and scan that content for topic inspiration and newsjacking opportunities -- you'll never hurt for blog content again!
2) Creative Commons
Every blog post you write should have at least one image, but bloggers often face a dilemma when searching for it -- they don't have the time or inclination to create their own image from scratch, they don't want to pay for stock images, and it's hard to tell if they're allowed to use an image from an ordinary Google search. Creative Commons to the rescue!
Creative Commons lets you search for images for your blog post, and filter only the photos that you are allowed to "use for commercial purposes," and, if you so choose, "modify, adapt, or build upon." You see that awesome LEGO man in the top right corner of this post, for example? Found it on Creative Commons. You can search sites like Flickr, Fotopedia, Pixabay, and Google Images for your images -- just be sure to give attribution somewhere within your blog post to the original artist, and a link back to their page!
3) Google Keyword Tool
I'm sure one of the reasons you're blogging is to dominate the SERPs -- and you're probably targeting certain keyword phrases over others in order to do that. But how do you know what keywords to target if you don't know their search volume and competitiveness? Here at HubSpot, we use our own keyword tool to look up that information to inform our blogging, but if you don't have a subscription to HubSpot software, you can use Google's Keyword Tool .
Simply type in a search term or phrase, and Google's Keyword Tool will return estimated search traffic and level of competitiveness so you can determine whether you should attempt to rank for that term or phrase. You won't be able to track things like inbound links, keyword performance over time, and how your rankings compare to competitors, but you will be able to identify which keywords are best to target in your content creation!
4) LinkedIn Polls
Many people aren't aware that LinkedIn actually has a free polling feature for groups. It's fantastic for bloggers, because it lets you conduct market research on the fly to a highly targeted group of people. And unless a group administrator has restricted the polling ability for their group, you can actually run a poll in any group, even if you're not an administrator! So next time you're stuck for blog content or simply need some original data for your post, head over to LinkedIn, go to the 'Discussions' section of a group, and run a poll to get the information you need!
5) Data-Rich Websites
If you aren't interested in generating original data for your post with LinkedIn Polls but you do need a data point to back up your claims, leverage data-rich websites and the "site:search" functionality to find the information you need. Here's how it works.
Think of the data point you need, and an industry website that publishes that type of data -- we love data from eMarketer, for example. Then head over to Google, and type in the following:
Typing in "site:website.com" restricts your search to only the website you enter (be sure not to put "www" in front of the domain name, and use no space between "site:" and the website you enter). Google will then search for the phrase you entered after it -- in the example above, the search is for "facebook sponsored stories effectiveness" -- only on that website . So instead of scanning the entire web for data points and sifting through a bunch of bunk, you can restrict your search to just one website that you know publishes quality research in your industry.
6) Click to Tweet
Click to Tweet is a tool that lets you generate a tweetable link for your readers to, well, tweet your content. Not sure what I'm talking about? Check it out ... when a reader clicks that orange, hyperlinked "Tweet This Stat" anchor text while in the blog post ...
... this screen pops up.
Now you know what I'm talking about, right? Click to Tweet is the easy (free!) tool that makes it possible for readers to tweet out your content with tweet copy you predefine. Just type out the copy you'd like to appear in the tweet box when a reader clicks to tweet your content, click 'Generate Link,' and hyperlink anchor text within your blog post with that link to increase social shares of your content !
7) iMovie or Windows Movie Maker
Sometimes, words just aren't sufficient to make your point as a business blogger, and you need to pull in the power of video. Thing is, you're not a video editor, and you don't have all the fancy shmancy equipment to do the job. No problem! There are free, extremely user-friendly video editing programs out there that can help you edit your video footage for your blog posts. Our very own internal video guy recommends iMovie for Mac users, and Windows Movie Maker for PC users. And you're in luck, they've both written clear guides on how to use the programs! Click here for the Windows Movie Maker user guide , and visit this page for a series of iMovie tutorial videos .
8) Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com
This one will be short and sweet. If you're not using dictionary.com to ensure you're using proper spelling and grammar, start today. Your readers will appreciate it. You should even copy and paste your content into a word processor and run it through a spell check before publishing, just to ensure you haven't missed any little errors that come up when drafting content.
Then head over to Thesaurus.com, which will become your best friend when trying to nail down the perfect title for your blog post. Invest time in finding compelling words for your title -- the more interesting your language, the more click-throughs you'll receive. Consider the title of the blog post we published this morning, for example. Would you rather read " 9 Pet Peeves to Avoid in Your Pinterest Marketing ," or "9 Things to Avoid in Your Pinterest Marketing"? Pet peeves are a bit more compelling than generic "things" don't you think? That's what a thesaurus is good for ... helping you identify the best, most compelling words for your blog post title!
9) Google Docs and Comments
Whether working with guest bloggers, contributing to other blogs , or receiving feedback from an editor, business bloggers have to be excellent collaborators. Google Docs and the Comments function help everyone stay on the same page as content goes through multiple rounds of revisions.
If you've never used Google Docs, go to 'Drive' at the top of your Google account (if you can't find it, simply click the 'More' button in your navigation and it will be among the listed apps), click 'Create,' and select 'Document.'
Then simply start writing! When you're done, you can share it with other people, who can then write comments to help you with the editing and revision process. Much like Facebook, you can comment on those comments, and even click the blue 'Resolve' button on each comment as you take the feedback!
10) Marketing Grader
Marketing Grader is a free, web-based tool we developed to help you grade all the areas of your marketing -- top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and analytics. And part of that top of the funnel analysis is the effectiveness of your business blog. After all, what's the point of all this blogging if you're not evaluating your progress? That's what Marketing Grader helps you do! Here's how you use it. Go to marketing.grader.com , enter your website, a competitor or two, your email address, and click 'Generate Report.'
Then, you'll be taken to a screen with reports for the top of your funnel (which is where you'll learn about improving your blogging), the middle of your funnel, and analytics. Click on the Top of the Funnel report to get your top 3 action items to improve your ToFu performance and learn more about what's working for your blog, and what isn't.
Oh look! You're killing it with the content frequency on your blog, but having trouble generating social shares. Did you know that? Now you do. Know how to fix it? Marketing Grader tells you that, too.
If you haven't set up your blog yet but are ready to get started with business blogging , there are plenty of free tools to set up your first blog, too. The most popiular is WordPress, and if you ever decide to jump on the HubSpot train, we even have a WordPress integration ready and waiting for you!
What other free tools out there have helped you be a better business blogger?
Image credit: V&A Steamworks