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5 Low-cost tools that make content creation easier

Once upon a time, web writers relied more on guesswork than data. We didn’t have access to keyphrase research until Wordtracker came along. There were no solid competitive intelligence tools. Plus, advanced testing capabilities were out of financial reach for most companies.

Things have certainly changed. Today, content creators can access a host of fantastic tools that make their writing life easier. That’s the good news.

The bad news is: building a “dream team” suite of tools can get expensive – and sometimes, it’s hard to determine what tools you really need.

Over the years, I’ve tested out some free and low-cost content creation tools. Here are five of my favorites:

Headlines by AppSumo

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I. Love. This. Plugin. Writing headlines (especially for SEO) is both an art and science. The common wisdom is to write multiple versions of a headline and choose the best one. But how do you know what variation is “best” and will click with your audience?

That’s where Headlines come in.

Headlines allow you to input different blog post headline variations and test the effectiveness of each one. When the post goes live, the Headlines algorithm will rotate through the variations and keep track of the clicks. The version with the most clicks will “win” and become the permanent headline for the post.

Headlines is a great tool for corporate blogs and eliminates all the guesswork. Plus, it’s just $99 for lifetime access.

People always ask me about free alternatives to Google’s Keyword Planner. The one free tool I turn to – and the one other colleagues use – is

Why? It’s an easy way to see up to 750+ keyphrases in one place. pulls their data from Google’s autocomplete — so what you’re viewing are often tasty, long-tail keyphrases. This long-tail data, some argue, isn’t as easily accessible in Google’s Keyword Planner.

Granted, you can’t see the competitiveness of a term unless you subscribe to KeywordTool Pro (the minimum cost is $48/month.) But you still receive a list of great keyphrase ideas in alphabetical order. There were 394 results for the search term [internet of things]. If you’re looking for content inspiration, can certainly spark some good ideas.

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Finding the “right” editorial calendar is a challenge for many companies. Some people use an Excel spreadsheet. Others use Basecamp, Evernote – even Word documents that get passed around.

I’m all for having all the information you need in one place. That’s why I’m happy a client recently introduced me to CoSchedule. CoSchedule is a WordPress plugin that has a lot of powerful features. Yes, it puts your editorial calendar in one place (and allows you invite other team members to view the content.)

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What makes CoSchedule really cool is its tracking and broadcasting capabilities. CoSchedule collects data from social media sites and shows how many times an article was shared. Plus, you can easily set up social media broadcasts for new as well as older posts. If you have old posts that haven’t seen a lot of social media love lately, CoSchedule allows you to bring those posts back to life – and bring new eyeballs to your site.

Prices for CoSchedule start at $10/month. A smaller company could easily use this version — or you could upgrade for more functionality. I’ve been playing around with CoSchedule quite a bit and it’s definitely worth the cost.


Crave competitive intelligence information? SEMRush is for you. Admittedly, the SEMRush dashboard is initially overwhelming. There are so many choices – and so many ways marketers can run and slice the data. That’s what makes it fun!

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Once you get over the initial learning curve, you’ll realize how much competitive intelligence information is at your fingertips. Do you need to conduct keyphrase research? SEMRush can help. Do you want to check competitor backlinks and compare PPC spends? SEMRush can do that too.

From a writing perspective, SEMRush provides a very easy way to run a content audit (via their site audit tool) to uncover easy-to-fix content opportunities. SEMRush spiders your site and provides the information you need in a dashboard-like interface. From there, you can dig deeper into the issues and start prioritizing how to fix them.

You can see some information for free. If you sign up for the full version (highly recommended,) prices start at $69.95/month.

Here’s more information about how to conduct an SEO content audit.


If you haven’t discovered BuzzSumo yet, you’re in for a geek-driven treat. Have you ever noticed how some sites seem to “get” exactly what their readers want? BuzzSumo may play a part in their success.

BuzzSumo is easy to use and has some powerful features under its hood. To get started, type in your topic (in this case, I used [competitive intelligence] as my topic).

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You can instantly view the top articles discussing the topic, how often and where they were shared, and even who shared them.

From the content creation standpoint, BuzzSumo offers a great way to figure out the best article slant that clicks with your readers. Plus, from the content promotion standpoint, you can view a list of influencers who may help you amplify your content.

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You can get a lot of data from the “lite” version, although I’d recommend upgrading to BuzzSumo Pro. If you opt for the Pro version (starting at $79/month,) you can view backlinks, export the data, receive content alerts, and more. Many writers consider BuzzSumo their “secret weapon,” so this is  a tool to check out.

Which content creation tools would you add to the list? Add your favorites to the comments!

Featured photo credit: Russ Hendricks

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