There’s no doubt that inbound marketing has taken the marketing world by storm. From blogs like Mashable and HubSpot, to industry stalwarts like the American Marketing Association, everyone is talking about the power of content to attract and convert visitors to leads to customers.
The premise sounds simple – create content, post it online, and watch your website visitor numbers and leads grow – but implementing an inbound marketing strategy can be intimidating.
When I first began creating content for my company back in 2009, I focused on our blog. It seemed simple enough and writing comes naturally to me. Over time, we’ve expanded our approach and are now creating a wide variety of content assets including ebooks, whitepapers, webinars, infographics, videos, checklists, case studies, templates and more - and we’ve done it all with a small, three person team. None of us are professional copywriters or video editors, and while one of us IS a graphic designer by trade, she’s often too busy working on client projects to do the design or layout work on our own content.
So how did our little, three person team create a large, multimedia library of professional-looking online content? The secret lies in a list of free (yes, FREE!) tools that we regularly rely on to source great content and produce professional-looking products. Here, I’m sharing them with you.
Have you ever been surfing the internet and thought, “I need to save this article to read later?” If so, then Pocket is for you. It is a free, cloud-based solution for saving links, online images and content and it syncs across all of your devices, from your desktop or laptop, to your tablet and smart phone. I have several clients in the insurance industry and whenever I come across a good insurance-related article, I save it to Pocket knowing that when I need inspiration for my next blog post, it will be there for me to easily access.
One of the things I do for clients is make sure that there is something posted every day to their social media accounts. Ideally, I aim for a mix of one third promotional, one third educational, and one third just plain fun posts. Sometimes, it can be hard to come up with great material and when this happens, I head to Alltop. Alltop is a website that aggregates the top news and blogs relating to a wide variety of topics and filters them for you so you’ll know what is happening with respect to a certain industry, interest, or news topic.
It’s a great source for inspiration if you’re trying to come up with a blog topic or looking for something good to post to your social media accounts. And here’s a bonus – did you know that you can submit YOUR blog to Alltop and, if approved, they’ll include it in their search results for your industry or topic?
3) Paper – Stories from Facebook
Paper is a brand, spankin’ new smartphone app from Facebook that has been described as “part social network, and part Flipboard.” Log in to Paper to see the top stories from your Facebook news feed as well as trending articles relating to your chosen topics of interest, all presented in newspaper-like fashion. Because you select the topics that show up on your Paper feed, this is a great tool for curating content that might later inform a blog post or inspire an ebook.
Trendhunter is a website that provides crowd sourced customer insights on the hottest trends across a range of industries, from fashion, culture and design, to tech, business and eco. No matter what you’re interested in, you’ll find articles, blogs, and links to websites with hot new products, thought leadership, breaking news and more. As the site says, it’s all about “finding better ideas, faster!”
5) Google Discussion Groups
Okay, okay, it isn’t exactly revolutionary to use Google to find content, but are you taking full advantage of all that Google has to offer? This is a content hack that I learned about a few years ago when I attended a HubSpot certification class at Inbound 12. Lots of people will tell you that the best way to come up with blog topics is to answer the questions that your customers and prospects are asking.
If you’re having trouble coming up with these questions, Google Discussion Groups is the answer! Simply type something about your product or service into Google and filter the results by “Discussions” (typically, this option can be found under the “More” tab at the top of Google search results) to see exactly what people are really saying and asking about your product or service.
To get found online, great content should be optimized for the long tail keywords that your audience is using, but ever since Google decided to encrypt keyword data, getting insight into those keywords has grown more difficult. Enter Übersuggest! This free tool provides thousands of keyword ideas, all drawn from real user queries.
The best part is, you can pick the ones you like and add them to your “basket”. Once there, Übersuggest makes it really easy to copy and paste them into an excel spreadsheet, word document, or right into your Google Analytics account.
7) Slide share
Slideshare is the world’s largest community for sharing presentations, and my go-to source for great ideas when I’m creating a new presentation or webinar. Search Slideshare by keyword to see what thousands of other people are including in their presentation on the same topic. Nobody wants to watch a Powerpoint presentation that is all text.
Slideshare offers plenty of fresh, creative ideas that you can use to inspire your own presentation. Once its compete, load your presentation onto Slideshare and share it on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or embed it in your blog or company website. Free tools like Leadshare make it easy to capture information about the people viewing your presentation to that you can continue to nurture them as leads.
I love the idea of creating videos, but I have ZERO talent for video editing and production. Animoto is a fantastic online and mobile video creation solution that is easy to use and makes me look good. Simply upload your pictures and video clips, choose your style, add words and music, and click the "produce video" button.
Then, Animoto’s cinematic technology does its magic and in minutes brings it all to life with a beautifully orchestrated production you can share with family and friends. Sign up for free and get Animoto Lite, which allows you to create an unlimited number of 30 second, web quality videos. For a small monthly fee, you can upgrade your account and create longer, HD videos free of Animoto’s branding.
Like I’ve already said, I’m no Steven Spielberg when it comes to video editing and production, and I’m certainly not a talented illustrator. I’ve always loved those animated, cartoon-like videos you see on some websites but figured that was out of my league (and budget!). Boy was I wrong!
Recently, I discovered Powtoon, a free web-based software whose mission is to “create the world’s most minimalist, user friendly and intuitive presentation software that allows someone with no technical or design skills to create engaging professional ‘look and feel’ animated presentations.” It’s like they had me in mind when they came up with this stuff! Create your free Powtoon account and then watch the short video tutorial to learn how to create a professional looking animated video in no time!
We create lots of ebooks for both ourselves and our clients and I always use Issuu to turn my PDF files into slick, beautiful, online books or magazines. It’s easy to create a free account, upload your ebook, and within a matter of minutes, publish it on a digital reader that simulates what it is like to read a print publication. Once published, you can embed your Issuu in a website, share it on social media, or email a link. Issuu is free, but you’ll have to upgrade to the paid version to remove ads from your publications.
Speaking of ebooks, here’s a handy way to create an e-catalog or other image-based publication. Every year, my company puts together a guide to the top corporate gifts of the year. In addition to providing marketing services, my company sells promotional products, and this has proven a really effective way to generating sales around the holiday season.
Putting this guide together requires real collaboration amongst our staff, and Pinterest has proven to be invaluable in this regard. It all starts with my Project Manager, who has a keen eye and is great and sourcing unique and creative products. When she sees something she likes, she’ll pin it to a “Secret Board” we’ve created for that year’s corporate gift guide.
Then, when the board is complete, it provides my graphic designer with everything she needs to create the draft gift guide, from the product images to descriptions and pricing and a hyperlink to a URL where the item can be purchased. Thanks Pinterest! Once our ebook is published, we “unlock” the Pinterest board and not only do we have a great new ebook, we also have more content on Pinterest that we can share with the world. Voila! This is a great hack for anyone in retail or for creating content that features an image portfolio.
Blogs don’t just have to be written articles. You can include images, embed an ebook, or even post an audio file of an interview. I love this last idea. It’s a great way to introduce new ideas on your blog and give your clients, partners or vendors a voice. Plus, its way more interesting than reading a typed interview! Skype makes it easy to create recorded interviews. Just set up a call and then use a tool such as Audio Hijack Pro (for Macs) or Total Recorder (for PCs) to grab the audio. Then, upload your audio file to your blog with a short introduction explaining what the interview is about and you’re all set!
While we’re on the subject of audio files, if you’re planning to record your Skype interviews, or are creating any other kind of audio file for your online content, you’ll want to download Audacity’s free audio recording and editing software. It is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and other operating systems and makes creating great audio content (think Podcasts!) a cinch.
14) Awesome screenshot
If there is only one tool on this list that you try, it should be this one! I love Awesome Screenshot and use it every single day. It is an extension for Google’s Chrome browser that allows users to quickly and easily take a screen capture image of all or part of their browser window and then edit that image by adding text, arrows, and boxes; cropping; blurring sensitive information, etc.
Once you’re done editing, you can save your image as a file or copy and paste into whatever you’re working on. I’ve used Awesome Screenshot countless times when creating “how to” content but its equally useful as a quick tool for grabbing images to add to ebooks, blogs, etc. Just make sure you aren’t violating any copyrights by sharing online images!
15) Pic Monkey
Pic Monkey is my go-to tool for editing photos. I love that I can easily upload an image and Pic Monkey’s intuitive user interface makes it a snap to add filters, frames, text, and effects. When my graphic designer is too busy to help me, or I need to quickly do some image editing, I find this to be the perfect solution!
Now it’s your turn…
I’ve shared my favorite free content creation tools. What are yours? I’d love to know the tools you use to make your content great. Share them with me in the comments below!
Originally published Feb 7, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016