Whether your blog is an entertaining side project or an important marketing channel for your company, you want to get most out of it. This article highlights a few important (and free) blogging tools that you should keep in your arsenal at all times. From generating ideas to syndicating your written content, these blogging tools help you get the most out of your written content.
- Auditioning Free Blogging Tools
- Writing Tools
- Publishing Tools
Auditioning Free Blogging Tools
There are many blogging tools for you to choose from. Many are free, many are proprietary. But even the proprietary tools provide at least a free trial, in which you can “audition” the tool, see if it works for you, how it can be tweaked (or not tweaked), and imagine yourself integrating this tool into your workflow.
Why Choose Free?
Free software is not all about cost. Although much of it is free of cost, the salient point is that these tools respect your freedom to use them as you intend, and to change them if you require.
Free software, as well as open source software, is developed and maintained by a lot of different people. Sometimes projects are “forked” and taken up by different people with a different vision. Sometimes, unfortunately, projects lose momentum and are no longer maintained. But given the worst case scenario, that a project is no longer maintained, you can still access the code base and continue to use it and develop it (or get someone to maintain it for you). This means you never have to part with a tool that you like.
Questions To Ask About a New Tool
Before you integrate a new tool into an existing workflow, there are some good questions you can ask yourself.
Does the tool fit well into my current workflow? How do you like to work? Some people prefer doing their work in a graphical user interface (GUI) where they can pull down menus, click buttons, and be guided through the various options. Others prefer to work on command line terminal emulators because, for them, it’s faster and they can automate much of the work.
But it’s not all about the interface. How does the tool interact with other blogging tools you like to use? For example, if you like to use spreadsheets, does the tool export data into a format you can easily use.
Will the tool require more time to learn than it’s worth? Search a tool on YouTube. You’ll get hundreds of results featuring experts demonstrating the tool. Yet you rarely see the hours, and possibly years, that these people might have put into practice. But if you see that the work will pay off, it might be worth investing the time, especially if learning the tool will save you time.
Naturally, the job you’ll be doing most frequently in maintaining your blog is writing! There’s no way around it.
How your blog functions in relation to other goals is up to you. Some blogs are purely informational while others point back to a product or service. Many of the tips and blogging tools below will apply for both cases.
Idea Generation and Research
What will you write about? Generating content ideas can be one of the most difficult parts of your job. An easy way to get inspired is to see what people put into search engines. And as an additional plus, this will possibly help your post rank higher in a search engine.
Many proprietary SEO software suites offer free keyword discovery tools. Take note of those keyword queries and put them in a convenient location. Many of those queries can inspire your writing.
Thinking with the keywords in mind can help you make sure your content is searchable. The question is, will each and every single blog post you write require search optimization? It’s not a bad idea, but again think of opportunity costs. The effort you could put into organic search, on every page could also be spend on optimizing your headlines for email click-through rate.
Just a side note on: What is email click-through rate? Imagine you are going through your own inbox. Some subject lines jump out at you while others are quickly tossed into the trash. What made those singular, captivating headlines so instantly attractive? What words did they use? What visual cues did they trigger in your mind? The click-through rate is the measurement that tells you how many people (of all those who saw your email) clicked through to read what the message was about. And for many blogs, this metric is even more important than organic search.
You don’t even need a tool to write more captivating headlines. Open up a spreadsheet or text file and start writing down powerful words you see in compelling subject lines and heading up news articles. Many of those can be used to punch up your own headlines and snag those clicks.
Picking a Good Text Editor
This one is more of an opinion, but I would highly recommend trying out a text editor for composing your blog posts. A lot of recommendations about writing tools comes down to preference, but there are some objective differences between a text-based workflow and “What you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editors.
Plain text is more reliable. Anyone who has had the nightmare experience of having to recover a Word document knows that having had a plain text backup would have been a godsend. A text document you compose in one place can be readable on any other computer, so you don’t have to worry about a license agreement locking up your document.
Don’t let the word “plain” dissuade you. Much of the text editing you can do in today’s editors is anything but plain. You can get syntax highlighting that helps you identify different text objects. You can also import, include, and expand text you use frequently, to save you some time and wrist labor.
GNU Text Manipulation Utilities
If you’ve decided to try out a text editor, the journey has only just begun. You may not know, but there are hundreds of tools that may already be installed on your computer that will dramatically change the way you work. The vast suite of GNU text and file manipulation tools can do just about anything you imagine to your text.
The examples are too numerous to begin to name. The portability of these tools is what makes them so valuable. Imagine you developed a script that saves you hours of work every week. If you were using proprietary software, there’s always a possibility that the underlying code could change in a way that makes your time-saving tricks useless. But the odds of that happening with your GNU suite of tools is so low that it’s not even worth considering.
The publishing landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade or so. While social media tools have become so popular as to drown out what came before, there is a subtle awakening toward older tools. As a blogger, you may want to see how your content performs through the more traditional channels.
Everyone has email. Getting an email address for a subscriber is like marketing gold. Email is a free tool not only for the user, but for you as well. Once you have built an email list, you can hold it in anything from a plain text file to a spreadsheet. And you are advised to keep copious backups of that list.
But when it comes to sending out email, you need to pay attention. Sending out mass email can cause your server to get blacklisted. This is why paid services like Mailchimp and Constant Contact exist. But there are free tools like PhpList that help you avoid server bottlenecks and blacklisting, provided you have the right DNS setup. If you’re interested in the latter option, I’d recommend having our managed hosting team set you up a properly optimized mail server on a VPS hosting plan.
Many people still use RSS to follow their favorite websites. It’s a free syndication tool that allows the user to easily plug a feed into their reader and get updated when new content is published. And most email syndication services sync with RSS, so they can trigger an email when you publish new content. RSS is also built into popular content management systems like WordPress (which is maintained by volunteer developers), so you don’t need to worry about installing it yourself.
One of the best ways to get email subscribers is to offer a free PDF document with exclusive information. If you plan on producing a PDF, you could do much worse than to try out LaTeX, a free software tool that uses a simple markup language to create stunningly beautiful PDF documents. And there are thousands of LaTeX templates online you could simply download and edit. Because it’s free, there are many good LaTeX tutorials online that will help you get up to speed quickly.
Again, whether your blog is merely a diverting hobby or a business channel, there are lots of tools out there you can integrate into your existing workflow. Or, there are ways that you can expand the tools you already use to do more.