After 15 years of experience running content marketing programs for startups, global public companies like Shopify, and my own content-driven businesses, I’ve ended up trying a lot of tools.
The truth is that it’s easy to get stuck chasing the latest and greatest content marketing tools at the expense of executing on the fundamentals—the stuff that really matters. However, there are a few tools out there that will genuinely save you time and give you an edge in competitive markets.
We’ve previously covered the best content creation tools and content optimization tools, so let’s now look at platforms that handle broader aspects of managing a content marketing program. Here are the content marketing tools I’ve used most frequently over the years to build strategies for blogs, startups, and public companies.
The best content marketing tools for driving impact
Pricing: Forever free, but requires separate hosting and may require premium plugins.
WordPress is an open source content management system used by 43.2% of all websites on the internet. The magic of WordPress is that its widespread use and availability means there is an unmatched community of developers building solutions for the platform—you can get WordPress to do (almost) anything you want, and often without touching a line of code.
The value for content marketing teams and startups is that WordPress is familiar to nearly every non-technical role, especially writers, and it’s simple to set up on your website. Your company should be building and selling product, not fussing around with your CMS.
WordPress also plays nice with nearly everything, so if you find you need a certain tool to help you scale, WordPress likely integrates with it and that means you won’t have to switch platforms or change up your content workflow.
- The widespread use of WordPress means its ecosystem is unmatched. It’s a platform that requires some maintenance, unlike a platform for absolute beginners like Wix, but you’re a professional and probably looking for a balance between ease and flexibility, and that’s where WordPress shines.
- WordPress is one of the easier tools to work with in regards to SEO, which is especially helpful if your somewhat-technical content marketing team is the one mostly touching the blog. WordPress gives craftspeople like this what they need to handle SEO without much time spent in code.
- The price of “free” is technically correct! But note that WordPress is a self-hosted platform and the price of various premium widgets and add-ons can add up.
- Out of the box, WordPress isn’t the fastest CMS around and the plug-and-play nature means fresh installs can quickly get bloated. There are a number of ways to make WordPress faster, but it’s more time spent on the tool rather than the content.
- WordPress is designed for a wide range of websites and as such, it’s not as opinionated in its design as dedicated content marketing platforms and won’t include some features—like in-app analytics—without a plugin or integration.
There are many! HubSpot offers a more complete digital marketing and CRM platform that you can also build your blog on. But there are also simpler CMS tools like Jekyll (what we used to build Help Scout), Ghost, and even Wix. WordPress is free and countless plugins and integrations mean you can probably get it to do what you want, so it remains my default recommendation.
Pricing: Free, paid plans start at $5/month per social media channel.
Buffer is a social media management tool that lets you schedule, publish, and analyze as well as respond to users on social. I’ve been using Buffer for years for just-enough marketing automation across social platforms, from big moments like launch campaigns (after embargo, of course) to small details like first comments.
The tool has grown over the years and the biggest improvements have been in reporting and engagement, otherwise known as managing replies on social media in an inbox-like interface. Overall, Buffer has greatly improved as a tool for teams and still features the social content calendar that made it famous.
- The porridge is just right for some teams—Buffer’s platform offers all of the necessary features and scales nicely with collaboration and enterprise features on larger plans. It doesn’t offer every single thing under the sun, but the product’s focus is nice and helps keep the price reasonable.
- Buffer’s product has made great strides with reporting. The ready-made reporting templates are great and will save you a lot of time sharing numbers back with leadership.
- The engagement tools are smartly designed and actually use machine learning to stack rank the replies you receive, meaning the Buffer will flag if it suspects a reply is particularly negative, or if people are piling on.
- Lacks a few quality of life features that competing tools have, e.g., reporting should reveal when social media posts perform best over time, and some of the tagging features are a little inconsistent.
- There are small tools/add-ons around for content creation, like Pablo and its tool for building landing pages, that aren’t as good as the rest of the product.
SproutSocial and Agorapulse are two popular options for social media marketing. Buffer has caught up with both of these tools over the years, but I still think that SproutSocial has better reporting and Agorapulse’s ROI calculator is really useful, especially for this channel. Buffer is still a very solid tool and has my favorite calendar and scheduling workflow by far.
Pricing: Free, paid plans start at $99/month.
BuzzSumo is a content research platform that indexes billions of pages and reveals their social shares, backlinks, and trends across formats. You can also use BuzzSumo to find trending content ideas, though the real value is in the content research data.
BuzzSumo needs to be used with a specific lens: you’re looking to find over-performers relative to the sites you’re investigating, not just “popular articles” overall. BuzzSumo can help you surface that information, but you’ll likely have to pull the shares and engagement data into a spreadsheet and figure out what qualifies as an over-performing or viral post for the site you’re investigating. More on that here.
- The best data set I’ve used in a tool built for content research.
- Can enable both quantitative and qualitative research for content creation outside of keywords.
- The influencer features can also help you build a list for outreach after you produce your story, making BuzzSumo a fairly complete option for campaign-style content.
- A single outlier can often skew your research and BuzzSumo does not flag this to you. E.g., a post that received thousands of pins, or where the social shares are clearly spam of some kind. This is somewhat on the user, but it’d be nice if BuzzSumo could guide you away from making false assumptions.
The two most comparable tools are probably SEMRush, particularly their topic and content research features, and Social Animal. As time has gone on, I’d also add Ahrefs and their Content Explorer as a viable alternative, especially if you’re already using Ahrefs for its other features. I personally feel BuzzSumo has the biggest and best data set and returns more finely-tuned results, so that’s why I use it.
4. Surfer SEO
Pricing: Free, paid plans start at $49/month.
Surfer is a content planning and optimization tool that uses machine learning and natural language processing to make recommendations on how well your content matches the search intent for a particular term. That’s a lot of fancy, official language to say something simple: Surfer looks at the top results for a target keyword and tells you how comprehensive your page is in comparison.
My data and experience show that SEO-driven content creation tools like Surfer won’t make bad content rank, nor are they magic a potion for success. These tools do, however, help content rank faster and inform writers where their article may need additional context, detail, or information. Surfer is currently tied as my favorite tool for content optimization alongside Clearscope. The reason I recommend the Surfer over Clearscope is purely because of the pricing—it’s the most cost-effective solution on the market, for now.
- Reasonable pricing that doesn’t spike past a certain number of reports.
- Great integrations (like with Google Docs) to bake Surfer right into your content production process.
- One of the leading products in the relatively new space of content optimization. Feedback from Surfer will highlight potential coverage gaps in your own content and give you a better sense of what you have to cover to rank.
- The app can feel a little over-designed and sluggish at times versus competitors.
- Lots of bloat in the product (for me at least) with AI writing features and other things I don’t personally use.
Clearscope, Frase, and MarketMuse are popular options for content optimization. Clearscope in particular is an excellent tool and one I happily pay for, and I think it’s one of the best options in terms of the recommendations it makes and how well its integrations work. But, the pricing jumps drastically if you’re using it for more than 20 articles per month, so I recommend it with that single caveat.
Pricing: Starts at $99/month.
Ahrefs is an SEO suite that offers tools to analyze backlinks, find content opportunities, explore competitor traffic, track rankings, and conduct keyword research. It does a lot of essential tasks for a search-driven content marketing strategy, and it’s one of the tools I use the most each day. You’ll need Ahrefs or a tool that’s similar to what it offers to stay competitive.
The interface can feel overwhelming at first but it’s smartly designed and easy to pick up for newbies, and the help center and video tutorials are a step above competitors (tools and training are better than tools alone). The site and content explorers are what make Ahrefs a stand-out tool, as most of its other functionality can be found in SEMRush, its main competitor. Keep that in mind when choosing between these two solutions.
- Industry-leading features for competitor research and content analysis.
- User-friendly interface and some of the best training of any SEO tool.
- Full suite of tools that solve for everything the average content marketing manager needs for SEO.
- The new per-user pricing is not good and rightfully caused a lot of pushback. There is essentially one “power user” who gets access to everything, but additional users now tack on an extra $30 to $50/month, depending on their access. It’s needlessly confusing.
There are a lot of task-specific SEO tools out there, so it really comes down to whether or not the alternative is a full platform that does all (or most) of what Ahrefs does. SEMRush is far and away the leading competitor here, and many people prefer it to Ahrefs. Another tool that’s been making waves is SE Ranking, which is a bit newer, lacks Ahrefs data set, but does offer comparable features. Older tools I haven’t used in a while include Moz and Majestic.
CoSchedule is a marketing suite for planning, scheduling, and distributing your content. CoSchedule’s main draw and central product is its marketing calendar that organizes all outgoing marketing content into one place, like project management and publishing in a single tool.
CoSchedule’s other features work nicely with its central calendar, and altogether, it becomes easy to store creative assets, create publishing workflows and checklists, and sort inbound requests—all from a single interface. You can get started with a basic version of the marketing calendar for free and then see if this more expansive set of tools fits your needs.
- Fair pricing that lets users get value out of the free plan.
- CoSchedule can act as a source of truth for managing marketing projects and calendars should it be adopted across your team.
- A suite of other tools, like their Headline Studio, also become available with a free account.
- Despite recent improvements, I continue to find the CoSchedule interface to be over-designed and sometimes laggy. Speed is critical for marketing tools you spend a lot of time in and I wish they’d focus more effort on making the product faster.
- The per-user pricing can seem steep if you’re coming from a tool like Trello, or just used to using Sheets for everything.
Trello and Asana are popular options for managing content calendars. Trello is a simpler tool that only works in a Kanban style, while Asana is more feature rich but can be a little hard to onboard for new users. Both are great options, but I’ve found that CoSchedule meets in the middle of those ends and also feels purpose-built for marketing, which is nice.
Pricing: Free, paid plans start at $10/month per “Doc Maker,” which is a user who can create documents in your workspace.
Coda positions itself as a tool that turns docs into apps, and what that means practically is that Coda brings together databases, spreadsheets, docs, and even presentations into a single connected tool. Imagine relational tables inside of a rich editor like Google Docs, but woven together like a knowledge base. It’s a powerful tool for managing projects and internal operations.
The automations are definitely where power users get the most out of Coda. It can take time to get up to speed on all that’s possible through automation, but it’s easy enough to start with a few simple if-then statements inside one of your tables or project trackers.
- A powerful suite of tools combines planning, organizing, and project management all from one shared location. With all of the available features, docs inside Coda really do start to feel like dashboards or even apps.
- Can replace multiple tools with a single instance if you’re able to adopt Coda across teams and functions. For solopreneurs, this might be the only internal hub you ever need.
- User-friendly pricing that lets you add users who aren’t editing docs for free.
- Coda requires a bit of a learning curve not just for an individual user, but also for teams onboarding into the product who are used to using single-purpose tools.
- Some larger documents can get pretty sluggish, but smaller documents are comparatively quick and snappy to load.
Notion and the Google Workspace suite of tools (Docs, Sheets, etc.) are common alternatives to Coda. Google’s software is ubiquitous and Notion is extremely powerful once you invest time into learning how it works, so I could honestly recommend either of them. Personally, Coda integrates everything I use on a daily basis in a way that just clicks with me—it’s more of a personal preference than an objective advantage.
Pricing: Free, paid plans start at $13/month.
Canva is a web-based graphic design tool for creating visual content and infographics for websites and social media. The main appeal of Canva is that it’s lightweight and far simpler to use over fully-featured photo editing tools like Photoshop, but doesn’t compromise too much in terms of functionality.
Canva is also popular with non-designers for the seemingly endless supply of pre-built templates available across design styles. When it comes time to edit the details, Canva also shows up strong with a huge range of options, e.g., picking a font gives you access to hundreds of available fonts and font effects, even on the free plan.
- Most users will get a lot of value just from Canva’s free plan, and they open up enough of the product that you’ll be able to tell if Canva is the right solution for your needs. Generally, Canva is very user-considerate and even free users get a solid product.
- The template library is hard to beat. It’s grown over the years and now features a vast array of turnkey designs across every format.
- The editing interface is quick and snappy, and it feels more intuitive than many other web-based graphics editors. Most users will be able to grasp how the tool works after their first session with it.
- Sometimes you’ll end up accidentally running into premium walls in Canva at random. This is because Canva doesn’t filter the available templates into free or premium; they’re all grouped together in the same list.
- Canva is a fine tool for your typical infographic, but more advanced data visualization is not the tool’s strength. If you’re searching for a way to create charts, I curated a list of my favorite data visualization tools in an earlier blog post.
Adobe Express and Visme are two popular options for graphic design. Both offer comparable features, but I don’t think anyone comes close to Canva’s template archive at the moment. See which design library you prefer and use that to inform your decision.
Pricing: Free, paid plans start at $12/month.
Grammarly is an editing and grammar-checking app that provides recommendations and fixes for your copy. The free plan offers a solid spelling and grammar check to find and fix common errors, while the paid plans unlock additional feedback around word choice (simplicity, variety), tone, and plagiarism, along with making full-sentence rewrite suggestions.
No tool, in my opinion, can replace a great copyeditor, but Grammarly offers a helpful sanity check for your copy if you’re turning it around quickly or just want a second robo set of eyes on your prose. As you use the highest-tier plans, more options become available that are positioned toward businesses, like feedback based on your supplied style guide.
- Fast and generally effective grammar tool that will catch small, subtle errors. The free plan gets you a valuable product out of the box.
- All plans allow you to set goals for your prose and Grammarly will adjust its feedback based on this goal. For example, you can set how knowledgeable your audience is, the formality, your intent (storytelling vs. facts), and more, and Grammarly will adjust its feedback according.
- Like most of these tools, Grammarly will still make mistakes based on context or even just dramatic effect. It’s a nice gut check, but don’t rely on its suggestions too heavily.
- The editor can get a little laggy in a large document with many edits.
Wordtune and ProWritingAid are commonly used alternatives to Grammarly. Both tools focus on their more expansive feature set, but that can work against them if all you’re looking for is a straightforward grammar checker and rewriting tool. For that purpose, Grammarly feels more focused and is probably a better fit.
Pricing: Paid plans start at $15/month.
Simplecast is a podcast hosting platform for professional and business podcasts. At Shopify, my team produced and managed the Masters podcast, one of the world’s top shows on small business and entrepreneurship with over 8 million downloads and Simplecast is what we used to host our show.
I’ve already covered how to grow a podcast, and the one universal tool you’ll need is a solid hosting platform that’s reliable with robust analytics—and Simplecast is my favorite solution. The player is best-in-class and the analytics are great at the mid-range pricing plan. Generally, the pricing is feature-based with some features unlocking at certain tiers, though there’s also a “soft” monthly download limit for each plan, meaning you won’t be charged for going over but will be nudged by Simplecast to upgrade.
- Unlimited hosting on all paid plans so you pay for additional features, not file space.
- One of the best available players and likely the best analytics platform for podcasting.
- Reliable tool, I haven’t had any issues after using it for nearly 5 years.
- I wish more of the analytics were available on the lower price points, but I suppose they’re gated to help further justify the higher tiers.
Anchor, a Spotify company, and Buzzsprout are both great alternatives to try. I think Simplecast has the best reporting features and it’s my favorite audio player, but Anchor is a comparable solution at everyone’s favorite price (free) and Buzzsprout comes with helpful features like their automatic audio cleanup tool.
11. Google Search Console
Search Console is a website and analytics platform from Google that lets you uncover and fix site issues, as well as see detailed performance data on how your website is performing in Google’s search engine. Search Console can get especially powerful once you start pairing search data with your own business intelligence—we built internal tools at Shopify to figure out which search terms were driving customers in addition to clicks.
Search Console is undoubtedly one of the most important tools in a search-driven content marketing strategy. It will frequently offer the best available data you can get on how a page is performing in search, what’s driving impressions and clicks, and how performance is trending over time. Get it set up immediately if you plan on using content marketing for SEO outcomes.
- Offers the best available data on the performance of your pages in search, bar none. Easy to install and almost instantly valuable once you have data flowing into the tool.
- Free, and Google doesn’t seem hard-pressed to monetize.
- The search performance reports are easy enough for most people to pick up, but there may be some training required to get the most out of the tool. Google offers some free training on their YouTube channel.
None, really, since no tool will give you the same set of data as Google’s own solution. If you’re going to be running a search-driven content marketing program, Search Console needs to be a part of your toolkit.
Tableau is a visual analytics and data science platform that includes SQL, Python/R notebooks, interactive visualizations, and live reporting tools. I’ve mentioned before that the most important content marketing metrics at Shopify were Gross Adds and Retained Active Merchants, and Tableau was how we empowered non-data scientists to pull this data and create reports across properties and campaigns.
- Powerful platform for marketing analytics that’s probably as user-friendly as you can get for what it does.
- Essential tool for reporting on the business impact of content and cutting data from multiple properties and projects.
- Still fairly complicated when compared to simpler analytics tools that many content marketers are familiar with.
- Almost certainly requires a data engineer to set up properly. And despite Tableau’s visualization tools, your marketing team will benefit from being familiar with SQL to make the most of this tool.
Google Analytics and Mode Analytics are other solutions we used at Shopify, though Mode is geared for larger companies. I don’t have much experience using similar tools beyond Tableau and Mode.