From newspaper reporter to online retailer to digital marketer to blogger, my career moves have all had one thing in common: content.
While the skills for creating content have remained the same, tools have allowed me to flex my content muscles in new ways and pivot my career.
I didn’t know how to code, build a website or optimize content when I was a reporter looking for a digital job. But the tools did the heavy lifting for me and in the process taught me what I needed to learn on my own. Fifteen years later, I still use them!
If you’re creative and can organize information, you can be a blogger, web content writer, digital content creator, social media influencer, podcaster, or content marketer using these best-in-class digital content tools.
And here’s the super sweet part: most of them are FREE!
If you’re going to create a website or blog, you’ll need somewhere to put it (host) and something to build it with (content management system).
WordPress and Bluehost are the dynamic duo of website building – hands down the best around.
1. Best content managment system: WordPress
Over 40 percent of all websites on the Internet (including this one) are made with WordPress. And it’s free. No wonder so many people use it, right?
The options are endless with WordPress. You can start by building a simple website in five minutes. Then you can customize as you wish, adding things like a shopping cart, pop-up ads or tools that analyze your headlines and optimize your content.
Website design with WordPress
Another great thing about WordPress is you don’t have to be a designer (or hire one) to build a good-looking website. You can choose from a library of thousands of themes, including many free themes.
One of the best things about WordPress is that the answer to any question you may have about making your website is just a Google search away.
There is a treasure trove of articles and videos online to show you how to do anything and everything WordPress-related.
If you don’t want to build your website yourself, you can hire someone to make it for you on Fiverr. There are thousands of freelance WordPress developers on Fiveer, my go-to destination to find help for anything digital-related.
2. Best website host: Bluehost
As for the hosting part, my site lives on Bluehost because it’s reliable, cheap, and comes with great support at no extra cost.
Even with the lowest cost plan ($2.95/month), Bluehost hosting comes with five free business email addresses and a free domain and allows you to park up to five other domains for free until you’re ready to use or sell them.
Bluehost is a big fish (maybe the biggest fish) in the world of hosting, yet every time I need help, I’m able to get a live person on the phone.
That is priceless for me because hosting is not something you have to deal with often once it’s set up. But when you do, the stakes are super high: if something goes wrong, your website will go down!
So, I put my money on big and reliable here. Bluehost for the win.
Price: Bluehost plans start at $2.95 a month and top out at $13.95/month.
I want to mention some alternative website builders. These platforms combine the website CMS with the hosting to provide “out-of-the-box” solutions. They are more expensive and less robust but are still good options for creating a nice website without much know-how.
Besides price, the main difference between an out-of-the-box solution and WordPress + Bluehost is the ability to customize: you don’t get nearly as many “goodies” with out-of-the-box website builders.
Because one company provides both the CMS and the hosting, you can’t shop around for better or cheaper hosting without moving your website. You will be stuck paying whatever fee they charge.
By comparison, if you’re using WordPress, you can keep your site on WordPress for free and shop around for hosting without moving your site.
Runners up in this category are:
Weebly is a website builder that has a partnership with Square, point-of-sale software, for payment processing online and in stores and restaurants. Cost: free to $26/month
Squarespace is good for simple websites. Plans cost $12 to $40.
Wix offers basic, no-frills plans that are good for showcasing a business or portfolio. Pricing ranges from $14 to $39 a month.
Shopify is designed for selling online. Plans start at $29 a month and go up to $299/month.
3. Best graphic design tool: Canva
Canva is a great tool for graphic design you can use to create logos, graphics for social media platforms, presentations, posters, documents, videos, and other types of visual content creation.
The secret to Canva is ready-made styles and templates. Styles are combinations of pre-set color palettes and fonts you can apply to any design. This gives you a quick and easy way to add some serious design points and make all your materials match if you’re going for consistency.
Here’s a peek at styles in Canva –
Canva’s templates instantly turn your words into professional-grade graphics the second you drop them in. You also have the option to freestyle, as I did for my checklist.
For a template example, see my Campsite Finder Apps graphic below. I created it for an article comparing campsite reservation apps.
The best part about Canva is you will be able to do a lot with just the free version. Paid plans allow for more users and access to more content.
Canva price: free to $119/year for Pro Plan
4. Best image editing and screen recording software: Snagit
Snagit is advertised as a screen recording tool, but the surprising strength of this tool is its photo editing capabilities!
You can save lots of money, time, and for me at least, frustration using Snagit. I’ve depended on it for years to do my work and have taught many employees to use it. As a result, I’m sure I have created Snagit-dependent digital marketers whose addiction is likely to last. 😉
Snagit is like a poor man’s Photoshop. It has all the options you need and nothing you don’t. The learning curve is much less steep than with Adobe products. And it’s less expensive.
Here’s a photo I created with Snagit for a story on cute camping gear.
I first discovered Snagit because I needed a way to take a screenshot of an entire web page, including content you see when you scroll. I then discovered all the other ways to use it, including making training videos, mocking up web design changes for developers, and editing photos.
Speaking of photos, here are some of the things you can do with images in Snagit:
- Slice and dice images by cutting out sections and moving them around or deleting them
- Resize images
- Knock out or add image backgrounds, great for product photos
- Add shadows, another great feature for products
- Put borders on content
- Make videos from images
- Take video screen captures
Snagit is a bargain compared to its competitors. I especially like that it’s a one-time fee instead of a monthly subscription.
Price: $62. Free trial available.
5. Best free stock photos – Unsplash
Did I take the lovely photo at the top of this article? Heck no! I don’t have an expensive camera or a photographer’s keen eye.
It’s a free stock photo I downloaded on Unsplash, my go-to resource for finding photos to use on my website.
Unsplash gives photographers everywhere exposure by crediting their work. When you download a picture on Unsplash, you have the opportunity to give the photographer a shout-out on social media or by crediting them like on the photo below.
Categories of photos for downloading include people, street photography, nature, fashion, travel, interiors and more.
Unsplash cost: free
6. Best SEO tool: SEMrush
SEO stands for search engine optimization – creating content that’s easy to find in Google searches. Knowing SEO is a great way for writers to fast-track their careers.
The reason SEO is a must for digital content creators is that ranking well in Google so you show up high on search pages is the difference between a successful website and one that will slowly wither away in a dark corner of the internet.
Learning SEO is probably the quickest way for a writer to launch a career in the digital space, where they will have a solid edge over SEO specialists who may know SEO but don’t have as much writing muscle. SEO expertise is in demand and jobs are abundant and pay well.
I’ve been an SEO practitioner for years, going back to when it first became an industry, and have used many tools. There are some free tools out there, but I’ve learned that to get the good stuff – the intel that will give you the edge to rank – you have to pay for it.
Google ranks sites with algorithms that are secret. So it takes a lot of data to be able to figure out Google’s ranking factors and use them to your advantage. These algorithms also change daily, so the data has to be continuously mined to be current.
This is what sets SEMrush apart from its competitors: SEMrush has more data than any other SEO tool because it crawls the internet grabbing information more frequently and on more websites than other SEO tools.
It feeds this data into a user-friendly interface and has a whole suite of services that help you create, optimize and promote your content. You will teach yourself SEO by using this tool.
SEMrush cost: free trial; plans start at $119 a month
7. Best podcast maker: Buzzsprout
Special offer: Get a $20 Amazon gift card when you sign up for a Buzzsprout plan with my link!
You might be surprised to know that podcasts are relatively easy to make. I’ve produced two podcast series for large businesses with no previous experience using this software and my laptop.
Podcast software takes an audio file and generates code called an RSS feed that allows you to put your file on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else that hosts podcasts.
The tricky part with podcasts isn’t the tech but perfecting the art of making a podcast…the content, style, and personality that will make listeners want to tune in.
The mechanics are easy, thanks to Buzzsprout.
Here are some key features:
- Optimization – add tags and a description for search optimization
- Analytics to track plays and downloads
- Built-in podcast player widget so you can easily add your podcast to your website
Cost: free to $24/month
8. Best email marketing platform: MailChimp
Email marketing is the holy grail of digital marketing. In the pecking order of influence, email subscribers sit at the top.
Email subscribers are like super fans because they are the people who let you know they want to hear from you when they signed up for an email. They are your tribe.
So it’s important to do right by them.
I use Mailchimp because it integrates with more apps than any other email provider, and you can do a lot just with the free version: you can add up to 2,000 subscribers and send 10,000 emails without moving to a pay plan.
I’m not crazy about Mailchimp’s interface because it includes a website builder and other things I don’t need. But I’ve learned to look past them and focus on Mailchimp’s core functions:
- Creating emails
- Sending emails
- Creating contact forms
- Tracking subscribers and interactions
Cost: free to $299/month
9. Best pop-up maker: Opt-in Monster
Pop-ups are a quick way to gain email subscribers.
Building a good email list is key to monetizing a blog or online store because your most loyal visitors are your best customers, whether you are selling a product or writing an engaging blog post.
Opt-in Monster is one of the few tools on this list that doesn’t have a free option, but I decided to include it because it’s helped me quickly grow a good email list and is super easy – I’d even call it fun – to use.
You can create different pop-ups for different pages and audiences, and set rules for when they show. Here’s an example of the pop-up I use for my tiki stories.
Oh, by the way …. if you’d like to receive updates on how to throw fabulous tiki parties, go ahead and enter your email 🙂
Opt-in Monster Price: $9 to $49 a month
10. Best online proofreading tool: Grammarly
Gone are the days when I had a team of copy editors saving me from embarrassing mistakes before I hit the publish button on my news stories.
Now I rely on a tool to save my editorial hide. 😉
Grammarly checks every post for spelling and grammar mistakes as I write. Grammarly’s paid version goes a step further and critiques content for tone, clarity, and possible plagiarism. Probably the best feature of the basic paid plan is its word suggestion tool that gives you words aimed at increasing engagement.
In my newspaper days, we had a mantra “everyone needs an editor” – and it’s so true, because no matter who you are or what you write, your copy will improve with editing.
For example, in this post alone, Grammarly let me know that when I wrote WordPress in the post I needed to capitalize the “P”; that “pop-up” has a hyphen; and that I just misspelled plagiarism twice in one sentence!
Oh, and it even lets you know when there is an extra space in your copy. 🙂
If you’re an experienced writer by trade, you probably will be satisfied with the free version of Grammarly. If you are an emerging writer or new to content creation, I’d recommend going with the basic plan that costs $12/month.
Grammarly cost: free to $12/month for the basic plan.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and have found some tools to help inspire your next project or possibly even career move!
If you are interested in working in the digital space, check out my article on remote working. It has tips for how to negotiate working remotely with your employer and ideas for earning a living online.
Advertising Disclosure: recommendations in this article contain links that may pay me a small commission, at no cost to you, when clicked. As always, thank you for your support.