Content creation is a craft, and all crafts are influenced by their tools. So, what does the toolkit of the modern content writer or content marketer look like? Well, that depends on who you ask.
I previously led content marketing at Shopify, so my perspective on the best content creation tools is guided by one thing: growth. I’m always searching for tools that drive more impact or save my team valuable time, so we can get back to impactful work.
That’s what will guide this list, too. I’ll share the best free content creation tools (along with paid options) for content creators and map them across the full content creation process, from ideation to production.
Research and planning tools
Answer the Public is a tool that crowdsources questions on a topic by collecting current search data. Once you plug a word or two into Answer the Public, it will return a list of questions, prepositions, comparisons, and alphabeticals (terms grouped in alphabetical order).
The paid version of the tool also lets you set listening alerts for the brand terms you specify, so you’ll receive a weekly email that details what new terms have appeared for your term (e.g., your brand name) and how search trends have evolved over time. This is helpful for tracking sentiment as it appears in search queries, like if more searchers are asking about case studies or reviews for your products.
- Fast and simple tool for getting an exhaustive list of ideas to cover around a topic. Great for mind mapping or brainstorming when you’re stuck.
- Pro features are helpful for tracking brand sentiment as it appears in search and to see how the conversation is evolving around your brand (or products) through Google searches.
- Unlike more robust SEO tools like Ahrefs, Answer the Public doesn’t let you go as deep on the specifics for each term, like the difficulty or what the current search engine results page (SERP) looks like for the term.
Topic Research by SEMRush is probably the best alternative tool that’s available, though it does require you to create a SEMRush account.
2. Google Trends (and trendspotting tools)
Google Trends, Pinterest Trends, and Exploding Topics are all tools that let you see what topics are trending based on user behavior. The behavior most of these tools are tracking are search terms since these terms offer a consistent language to identify a trend in the first place—e.g., noticing an increase in the number of people searching for “sleep masks.”
You can get ideas by visiting the homepage or curated lists that these tools offer, or you can go hunting by plugging in terms and seeing how their popularity has risen or decreased over time. Google Trends also allows you to compare multiple terms together and will overlay the data so you can see how two topics are growing or shrinking in relation to each other.
- Trend tools help you validate when something is truly hot or if a topic has steadily been rising in popularity. You want to go where the attention is, and these tools help you confirm that.
- The long-term trend of a topic is often important to check before you make a larger investment, e.g., such as starting a blog or content series about the topic.
- These tools work best when you’re investigating a hunch you already have, since the
- Everyone has access to this data, so any trends highlighted by the tools themselves—such as a front-page selection—will be noticed by other people, too.
There aren’t a lot of direct alternatives to these tools. Two related resources: SimilarWeb can help you spot website trends, and SocialBlade can help you uncover growth and trends across social profiles.
BuzzSumo is a content research and analysis tool that lets you identify trending and high-performance content on other websites.
BuzzSumo can surface data around social shares and search trends, but can also be used to notify you of key terms and phrases appearing on other websites—great for tracking mentions and awareness of your campaigns, along with providing a level of brand safety so you can respond or keep tabs on any less-than-ideal mentions.
- Offers probably the best dataset for tracking social shares, making it one of the few content creation tools that allows you to uncover ideas for social-friendly content from competitors.
- The mentions feature is a great addition for following up on your PR and newsworthy content campaigns, many of which you’ll create with input from BuzzSumo’s data.
- Requires a significant amount of filtering to really make the most of the available data. You have to watch out for outliers and learn to recognize what “outsized performance” looks like based on the competitor site you’re analyzing.
Ahrefs and Content Studio are two broader marketing suites that have comparable features to BuzzSumo. However, I find that BuzzSumo’s data set is the most expansive and complete, at least for content research.
4. Also Asked
Also Asked is a keyword research tool that specifically focuses on the “People Also Asked” section displayed by Google for many terms. Also Asked provides quick access to this data—instead of running one search at a time and unfurling the section—so you can get a sense of what you might need to feature on your page, or on other pages, in order to fully cover the topic and rank.
What’s unique about Also Asked is that it surfaces live People Also Asked data and connects the topics together for a cohesive keyword map for the People Also Asked section. This is helpful for evaluating what the next step in the search journey might be or what needs to appear within content in order for searchers (and Google) to consider the coverage complete.
- Saves time by pulling in People Also Asked data in a way that’s easy to parse and understand.
- Helps make connections between topics and ideas with the visual graph it provides.
- This is a single-purpose tool and so it’s pretty limited in what it can do. It does its job well, but don’t expect to rely on it beyond its specific purpose.
Since this is a specialty tool, there aren’t any direct alternatives that I’ve come across. Although obviously, there are broader SEO platforms like Ahrefs that
Help a B2B Writer is a business-focused alternative to services like Help a Reporter Out (HARO). This service allows writers to pose questions to experts in exchange to be featured in a story the writer is producing.
Writers and content marketers benefit by getting direct access to valuable sources for their stories, and sources get a feed of stories to contribute to in exchange for exposure. It’s a smart idea and the caliber of stories I’ve seen thus far is far better than HARO, though obviously it’s limited to B2B coverage.
- Much more focused group of askers and respondents, which means higher-quality prompts and responses that never stray from B2B topics.
- This is a relatively new service, so there aren’t daily requests like there are in HARO.
Help a Reporter Out, which this service is inspired by, is a good alternative but will need to be filtered to source and find requests specific to B2B.
Content optimization tools
Clearscope is an on-page content and SEO tool that provides feedback on whether your content matches the search intent of your target keyword. Clearscope takes a target keyword that you’ve identified and uses natural-language processing to summarize how the top results in Google cover the topic. Based on these top pages, Clearscope makes suggestions on sections and topics that you can include in your content to make it more comprehensive and complete for searchers.
Content creation tools like Clearscope are very powerful and my data and experience show they do help you rank faster, especially for lower-competition keywords. But, they don’t guarantee the content you create is actually good. And every tool in this category encourages you to mimic content that already exists, so use Clearscope and related tools to inform your content—not to dictate what you write.
- Clearscope’s recommendations feel the most natural and considered, whereas some competing tools often feel like they’re actively recommending that you keyword stuff your article.
- Clean and simple user interface that even a total novice can learn quickly. This is helpful since you’ll often be sending new writers into Clearscope if you manage a team.
- Google Docs and WordPress integrations make it easy to incorporate a Clearscope report right into your text editor or CMS, should you use either of those tools.
- Clearscope is one of the priciest tools on the market once you get past their basic plan. If you need to run more than 20 content reports per month, you’ll be paying upwards of $1,200 per month.
- Like most content optimization tools, Clearscope places too much emphasis on exact phrases and isn’t smart enough to count similar phrases or synonyms in its scoring.
Headline Studio is a headline recommendation tool that’s part of the CoSchedule content marketing platform. After you paste in your headline, Headline Studio will give it a score based on its use of power words, common words, clarity, reading grade level, and “skimmability,” which they describe as the headline’s ability to be noticed and scanned on social media.
The tool pulls both direct data in the form of click-through rates through headlines, but also includes more qualitative feedback like the use of words the tool labels as “emotional.”
- The main value of this tool is that it gets you to dissect and closely analyze your own headlines. Even if you don’t implement all of the suggestions, Headline Studio does prompt you to second-guess weak word choices or excess jargon.
- The scores also include context as to why you received the score in the first place. This feedback is typically more valuable than the numerical score.
- Whether or not something is a strong hook is totally dependent on your audience. The tool also biases toward flashy language that, frankly, might not actually describe your article.
Hemingway is a writing assistant that grades your prose on clarity. The tool primarily looks at passive voice, adverbs, and reading level to make recommendations. Color-coded highlights indicate when a word, sentence, or paragraph is too complicated and what’s causing Hemingway to flag that section.
There’s an online version available for free on their website, while the premium desktop version works offline and allows you to import finished text to tools like WordPress, Medium, Microsoft Word, or directly to your site via HTML.
- Offers a really helpful gut check for your prose, quickly highlighting long-winded sentences and complicated words that may confuse readers.
- The free tool is perfectly serviceable and you may never need to upgrade. Clean web interface for the online version, and there’s a more robust desktop app.
- As revealed in the name, the tool tries to emulate Hemingway’s simple, terse style. That may not be the right tone or level of sophistication for your audience.
Grammarly is an editing app that provides feedback on grammar, sentence structure, and the clarity of your prose. The free version is a great spot check for grammar and will help you catch obvious mistakes and even places in your writing where the reader may become confused.
You’ll need to upgrade to the premium version if you want full-sentence rewrite suggestions or flags around consistency, formatting, and tone. The advanced plans also allow for multi-user accounts and advanced tools like a plagiarism checker, which is great if you’re running a content program with multiple freelance writers.
- Fast and reasonably accurate grammar checker that serves as a stand-in for a copyeditor. Flags obvious mistakes that even human editors may miss.
- Advanced plans also provide feedback on clarity and consistency, offering rewrites for clunky sentences and odd word choices.
- The feedback could use some fine-tuning; fortunately, the tool does give you the option to flag when feedback is incorrect. Some suggestions are also technically correct but strip the flair and flourish of a sentence or paragraph.
Squoosh is an image compression and optimization tool built by Google developers. Squoosh will compress any image file that you upload to a new, web-friendly file type that will be far smaller. The most commonly used file types are .mozJPEG and .webp, which are designed to display crisp images without the bloat of an ultra high-fidelity file type like .png.
Every page on every website benefits from using compressed images—you should never upload or embed an image without compressing it. This is especially important if you’re not using a static site generator or if your content features a lot of images. Blogging platforms like WordPress are unfortunately a little sluggish by default, but compressed images can help you keep page load speeds high. (For more tips, read our guide on making WordPress faster.)
- Fast and easy to use, image optimizations take seconds and you can download them immediately.
- No account creation is required and the tool is forever free.
- No integrations with CMS or website builder tools mean you have to download and upload images individually. But hey, it’s free.
Visual and design tools
Burst is a highly-underrated free stock photography website that’s operated by Shopify. All of the photography on Burst is completely free to use, and there are a number of different photography collections to choose from—everything from landscaping to work-from-home backdrops.
The value of any stock photography website for content marketing is the archive of pictures, and Burst offers some of the best photos for blog posts outside of more premium options like Stocksy.
- Royalty-free stock photography with a wide selection and no login required.
- Easy to browse photos with a reliable search and easy to download photos without an account or login.
- Some of the photos on Burst have gotten popular and made the rounds, so you can sometimes select a photo that’s seen everywhere.
Canva is a graphic design tool that allows anyone to create infographics, charts, presentations, video content, and more in a user-friendly interface. Canva is popular because you can get a lot done with just the free version, though the premium version unlocks a near-infinite graphics library, pre-built brand kits, 1TB of storage, additional tools like Canva’s background remover, and more.
There’s a reason that Canva has made waves in the design space. The template library is unmatched and most of what the average person wants to do can be accomplished with the free plan. For those who rely on Canva for most of their visual content, the pro/premium plans are a good value at around $13/month.
- The free plan is very generous and will let most people accomplish most basic visual design tasks.
- Includes a drag-and-drop editor that’s easy to pick up and use without extensive onboarding or training.
- Unmatched graphics and template library for pretty much every visual type you’d use in marketing content.
- In the free plan, you’ll occasionally run into odd restrictions like graphics or fonts you can’t use that look like they were available to you.
- Not great for data visualization. If you’re in need of that, I’ve curated a separate list of data visualization tools.
Visme is another graphic design tool that lets you create and customize a number of different visual templates. Visme is comparable to Canva and the reason you’d choose one over the other mostly comes down to the templates and available design options.
Visme does some styles better than Canva—I think their presentation styles are better, for example—however, Canva has a larger archive of graphics and more is available to you for free.
- The visual editor offers more robust options and definitely feels the most similar to powerful tools like Photoshop, except in a lightweight web interface.
- Features design options that don’t appear or aren’t well represented in other visual design tools, like 3D graphics and avatars.
- The Visme logo appears on anything you create on the free plan. I think this was a mistake and may limit the appeal of the tool for some people.
Lunacy is a visual design tool available in a free desktop app. Lunacy includes some really helpful features like one-click image upscaling and background removal, along with an impressive library of illustrations, 3D graphics, avatars, UI kits, and more.
Lunacy is essentially a free version of Figma with a native app and built-in graphics. Figma is still a great tool, but for more detailed design creation and editing, Lunacy is worth trying as a comparison. Lunacy makes money from free users by charging to license some of its available premium graphics.
- Offers a lightweight design tool that’s comparable to bigger players in the market but comes with a built-in library of visuals.
- Free, monetized through pay-as-you-use access to certain graphics.
- Only available as a desktop app.
- Lacks the collaboration features of tools like Figma; it’s generally a less powerful editor than Figma.
Social media creation tools
Buffer is a social media creation, scheduling, and analytics tool. Buffer’s main suite of products allows you to schedule posts across every social channel, analyze the reach and engagement of posts, and reply to comments and messages in a shared inbox.
What I like about Buffer is that you can grow with the tool, since the pricing is very accessible to solopreneurs or small teams, but more of the advanced features can be unlocked with the premium plans, which mostly focus on team collaboration and reporting.
- Accessible pricing for a fully-featured social media management platform.
- One of the most intuitive calendars for building a cross-platform schedule for social media.
- Offers a number of other free tools with every account, like a single-page website builder that you can link to from social profiles.
- The built-in creation tools for Buffer, like Pablo, are inferior to most other options.
Giphy is a very popular database and search tool for finding animated .gifs. Giphy organizes its massive archive of .gifs by trending topics, categories, hashtags, and more. Giphy also lets you create new .gifs with photographs, stickers, and backdrops—once created, Giphy also hosts the image for you to share.
- Free .gifs that are smartly curated for timely events and evergreen topics.
- Most of Giphy’s value can be had without paying or creating an account.
- If you do decide to create an account on Giphy, I don’t find the account interface to be all that intuitive.
InVideo is a web-based video editor that adds creation-oriented features like templates and graphics. The main benefit of tools like InVideo versus a more established (and fully-featured) software like Adobe Premiere is that InVideo is simpler to use with a less intimidating interface, and its pre-built create can help you produce simple videos faster.
- Good balance of being easy to use and not too overwhelming with a feature-rich set of options for editing your videos.
- Lots of ready-made templates to help you create, especially for the price.
- I’ve had some issues when exporting video, and it’s happened more than once.
Podcast creation tools
Buzzsprout is podcast software that hosts files, publishes to every platform, collects download and unique listener data, and offers unique features like Magic Mastering that auto-edit your audio files.
Buzzsprout is one of the best tools I’ve used for resource-strapped showrunners who still want to grow and compete with bigger shows. The auto-editing and optimization are huge timesavers, the in-product transcription tools are great for repurposing audio, and Buzzsprout even comes with turnkey “Visual Soundbites,” as they call it, which let you clip portions of your show for social media platforms.
- One of the most feature-rich podcast hosting tools with friendly pricing for up-and-coming podcasters.
- The pricing is very fair and can grow with you as your show picks up traction.
- The analytics aren’t all that robust. Podcasts struggle with this generally, but the data available in Buzzsprout is pretty minimal.
Simplecast and Anchor are both excellent alternatives—I’ve used them both across very large podcasts, I just find Buzzsprout hits the sweet spot between advanced functionality and ease of use. If you’re just looking for something free and basic, go with Anchor.
19. Adobe Audition
Audition is the audio editing software that’s part of Adobe’s broader creative suite. It’s probably the most advanced audio editing software available with tons of edition options and presets.
Whatever you want to do with your audio, and whatever you need to fix, Adobe Audition can do it. I don’t think I’ve ever run into an audio issue that couldn’t be fixed in a few clicks with Audition—in that dimension, it beats every other audio editing tool.
- Near endless amount of editing options for audio files—this is a tool for professionals or for people who want high-quality audio.
- Best-in-class compression, noise reduction, and plugins for everything that tool doesn’t do out of the box.
- Heavyweight software that I’ve found is prone to slowdowns and crashes, especially on older computers.
Descript is an audio and video editing tool that allows you to edit a file just like a document. For example, if you upload a podcast episode to Descript, the software can create an automated transcript and let you edit the audio you hear by editing the text on screen.
It’s absurdly useful for quick edits and removing rambling sections from a podcast. I’ve yet to use it for video, but this is clearly Descript’s flagship feature and I’ve used it for every podcast I’ve produced or reviewed. It’s great.
- The ability to edit audio via the text on screen is like magic, and Descript’s product leads the way here.
- Delivers what are probably the best automated transcripts you can get from any editing tool.
- The desktop app can be a bit glitchy and sometimes causes my laptop to lag.
Audiogram is a podcast clip tool that lets you pull out audio excerpts to share on social media. Once you’ve uploaded your audio, Audiogram transcribes your audio to text, lets you pick a design and customize it, and then allows you to export files to publish on social media.
- Features a solid automated transcription tool that really speeds up the process of creating a new audiogram.
- Great pre-built templates that you can customize to match your brand.
- The app can sometimes be quite slow when loading an audio file.
Headliner is a useful alternative to Audiogram with a similar feature set and comparable pricing—it’s actually a bit cheaper for its basic plan, so review these options and choose the one with the features you need.
Video creation tools
Wistia is a video hosting platform for small businesses that offers a video editor, embeddable player, marketing feature set, and analytics. What makes Wistia so good for on-site video is that its product is built with marketing in mind—the video embeds are the most SEO-friendly I’ve seen, there are a bunch of built call-to-action options, and the player itself can be heavily customized to match your brand.
Wistia also features creation tools like Soapbox, which is a simple tool for creating videos directly from your computer’s webcam. Soapbox is perfect for low-fidelity videos or internal videos you’re creating for your team.
- Arguably the best embeddable video player for marketers and small businesses.
- Feature-rich and smartly designed analytics tools for measuring engagement and video performance.
- Advanced tools like A/B testing sections or entire videos are not available on many other platforms.
- Wistia’s pricing includes the number of videos you upload, so if you upload dozens of videos but don’t often use the premium features, you may still be bumped up into higher-tier plans.
Vidyard and Vimeo are probably your best alternative options. But, I think Wistia’s analytics and robust feature set for its embedded player make it well worth the price. And if you just need to upload a video, everyone knows about YouTube!
23. Final Cut Pro
Final Cut Pro is Apple’s ubiquitous video editing software for Macs, and it’s still a great solution. Final Cut Pro earns its cost through a near endless feature set and best-in-class tools for object tracking, color correction, and motion graphics.
- The industry-standard tool with a truly complete feature set for editing high-fidelity video. You are unlikely to ever outgrow Final Cut Pro.
- Offers the best ecosystem of any video editing tool, with a plugin for literally everything.
- Costs nearly $400 to purchase, so it isn’t cheap. For simpler videos, you should try other options and see if they fit your needs.
CloudApp is screen-recording and .gif creation software that lets you easily make simple demos and tutorial videos. Creating a video takes as little as one click and the extensions mean you can create videos from anywhere, even in your browser. The feature set offers a great way to add polish to an otherwise simple video style with annotations, overlaid web recordings, and more.
- Simple and fast screen recording software that helps you create instructional videos with no video production experience.
- Very fair pricing—you can go a long way with the free and individual plans.
- Uploading videos can be a little glitchy, and there’s the occasional performance hiccup when using the app.
Frame is a video collaboration platform for teams—simply put, it’s a way for you to upload media to the cloud and let your team leave feedback on drafts and rough cuts directly on the video, similar to how Google Docs allows collaborators to share feedback on single words and sentences.
- Simply the best collaboration tool for producing videos with multiple stakeholders.
- The per-user pricing means it can get somewhat expensive if you have a number of reviewers for your projects.
MarkUp is the only other tool I’ve tried in this space, and it’s definitely comparable to Frame.io. I like Frame.io’s interface a bit better, but that may be because I’m more familiar with it from my time working on multimedia content at Shopify.