Spending hours learning how to implement the smallest improvements on your blog is the biggest source of frustration for most blog owners.
You probably understand how important it is to give your visitors a great reader experience.
And to do that, you need to optimize many areas of your blog:
- the layout
- pop-ups and other opt-in forms
- loading speed
It’s great if you know a little bit of coding so that you can make small changes yourself.
But for 99% of bloggers out there, it makes no sense to learn how to build a pop-up tool from scratch.
Instead, you can save yourself hundreds of hours of frustration and effort and just use a tool. You can find a free tool for just about any basic function. And even if you want a more complete tool, they typically don’t cost more than $50 a month.
I’ve put together a list of 25 great tools—divided into 4 main categories—that you can immediately use to improve your blog.
Create better blog content with these tools
These tools will help you either create content faster or create content that wasn’t possible before.
1. VideoScribe: No doubt you’ve seen explainer videos before. They look as if someone is drawing images on the screen.
In most cases, they actually aren’t. They use a tool such as VideoScribe instead.
There’s no way I can do this tool justice, so just watch this short video:
That’s one of the coolest tools I’ve seen.
It allows you to create different images and then pick a style of hand and pen.
Then, the tool puts all your images together to form a video. But the useful part is that it draws the images for you.
It loads the background first and then moves the hand around to make it look as if it’s drawing the other lines and pieces as they load.
Your other alternative is to pay a professional artist thousands of dollars to create a real live drawing.
2. BuzzSumo: This tool is a must have in any content marketer’s toolbox. It’s useful for several types of research.
The top content part of the tool, which is the main one that you’ll use, lets you find the most popular content on the web (determined by the number of social shares).
There are two main ways for you to use Buzzsumo.
The first way involves entering the domain of any of your competitors. This will bring up a list of their most shared content. You can also sort by a specific network if you’d like.
The obvious use of this is that you can create content on similar topics that produced popular (possibly viral) content for your competitors.
Chances are these will perform well for you too.
The second common way to use the tool is to enter in keywords you’re interested in targeting.
When writing content around that keyword, you want to see the best your competition has to offer. If you can produce even better content, it should perform even better.
Alternatively, this type of search usually reveals which social network is best to get active on. If you see 90%+ of shares on Facebook, that’s where you should focus your attention.
Finally, when you’re done creating that content, do another search for the keyword. This time, click “view sharers,” which will bring up a list of people who shared those articles on Twitter.
You can Tweet or email those sharers—there is a good chance that they will be interested in your new content.
3. Snappa: Creating attractive custom images isn’t exactly most marketers’ strong suit.
Until recently, you had no choice but to hire a designer or try to hack together something in Photoshop.
However, a recent wave of easy to use design tools has made it easier for you to create your own simple custom images.
Snappa is one of those tools.
It was created specifically for marketers to use, which is why the creators understand the need for simplicity. Oh yeah, and it’s free for most things.
Create an account, and scroll down to the “Blog” section. You can also choose from social media templates, ads, and header images.
Either way, click one of them to get started (or click the “custom size” button at the top).
Once you do, you’ll see a whole bunch of templates.
If you like the looks of one, just click it to load it, and then make whatever edits you need by clicking on the different elements.
If you want to add anything to the template or change something, like the background, just use that top menu to change the left sidebar.
It’s a really intuitive tool, so once you spend 10-20 minutes learning it, you’ll be set.
4. Pablo: Another one of those simple design tools is Pablo.
This one is made by the same people behind Buffer, which is another tool you might be familiar with.
Pablo is extremely simple to use but focuses especially on social media images.
However, there’s no reason why you can’t use these in your blog posts as well. Having images optimized for being shared on social media sites will increase the re-shares and, consequently, the traffic you’ll get.
On the right side menu, you have three sizes of images to choose from. For a blog post, you’ll probably want the “wide” picture or the square one:
Pick the size that corresponds with the image size used within your most important social network. This will change the size of the canvas in the middle.
Next, you’ll want to pick a background from the left side menu:
Finally, you can click the default text and type whatever you’d like.
This is great for a certain type of image but obviously won’t cover all of your needs.
5. Picmonkey: This is another image-based tool but different from the ones we’ve looked at so far. It will allow you to edit any pictures to make them look better for your blog.
Whether it’s someone else’s picture that you’d like to include (with credit, of course) or one that you’ve taken, you can upload it to this tool and change things such as:
- direction (rotation)
To use the tool, just click those little icons on the far left to bring up different options.
You can also add some pretty neat filters to your pictures to make them look more professional.
For this specific function, click the little flask icon, and then click on any of the filters that come up to try them out:
6. Skitch: So far, we’ve looked at creating basic custom images that are mainly optimized for social sharing.
If you’ve read many Quick Sprout posts, you know I love including annotated screenshots.
When I’m showing readers how to do something, I often include a picture of what it looks like:
The annotations let you point out specific things on the screenshots.
Here’s what it looks like:
You click the “screen snap” button at the top, then click and drag a box over your screen to capture an image.
Next, you use those options on the left side of Skitch (shown above) to draw arrows, shapes, and labels and to add text.
Another option is to install the web clipper—a Chrome extension.
It lets you screencap anything in your browser and offers mostly the same options for annotation as Skitch does (slightly more limited).
7. Giphy: One way to make your content a little bit more exciting is by including gifs.
Giphy is a search engine specifically for gifs (like Google is for web pages).
You can type in any broad term and get many gifs as a result:
If you like one and would like to include it in your post, scroll down to the “share” section, and copy and paste the embed code into your post’s HTML tab:
Don’t go crazy with gifs, but one or two now and then can make your audience smile and enjoy the content a bit more.
8. TweetDis: You should always be trying to make your content more engaging. The more focused the reader is on your content, the more likely that it will provoke them to take action.
To do this, you need to break up your content.
One way to do this is with interactive content, which has the added benefit of getting you more social shares.
TweetDis is a tool that lets you quickly embed an attractive tweet image into your content.
Readers can click it to instantly Tweet that pre-made message (they can edit it first if they’d like).
This tool is a WordPress plugin. To use it in any post, you just click the shortcode icon in the post editor.
That brings up the settings, which let you choose the type of image you’d like to use.
The most common one that you’ll probably end up using is a box tweet:
Alternatively, you can create an “inline tweet”, which will highlight your text (turn it into a link) and put a Twitter logo beside it:
You have a complete control over the appearance of these types of tweets. If you go into the plugin settings, you can change things like font size and margins.
This tool aims to help you create better headlines.
It’s simple to use. Just enter your current headline idea into the text box:
It will spit out a detailed analysis that will judge how effective your headline is on a scale from 0-100.
It’s difficult to get close to 100, just like it’s difficult to get close to zero.
Aim for as high as you can, and always try to improve in the future. That’s more important than the score itself.
On top of an overall score, you get some information on why your headline got that score.
Most importantly, it divides the words you use into different categories:
You need common words such as “that,” “the,” and “a,” but they don’t add much value.
Uncommon words are the opposite of those common words. They aren’t used very often, so they should be used sparingly to stand out from other headlines. But use too many, and readers won’t understand what you mean.
Emotional words and power words both cause people to take action, which you want (to click the headline). Aim for as many of them as you can.
Research by CoSchedule shows that the most impressive headlines have at least one power word or phrase in them, if not more.
You should aim for at least one emotional or power word in your headline (combined), but aim for 2 or 3 if possible:
This tool is a good way to learn about writing better headlines, but it also gives you a way to decide between different headline ideas.
10. Hemingway App: This tool was designed to help you write better, which every blogger can benefit from.
To use it, paste your content into the tool. It will automatically highlight common issues (e.g., run on sentences).
Here’s a quick sample passage from the Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing:
Clearly, I’m not a perfect writer (far from it).
After simplifying those sentences by removing unnecessary words and breaking them down into clearer sentences, I managed to decrease the word count by 18 words:
That means that originally, there were about 10% of unnecessary words (fluff).
The best writers have little fluff, while bad writers have a ton of it.
Use this tool on a regular basis to ensure that you continue to progress as a writer. Content doesn’t need to be perfect—just improve it as much as possible.
Provide a better experience for your readers
If your blog is ugly or hard to use, it doesn’t matter how good your content is, no one will read it.
These tools will help you improve the typical reader experience.
11. Pingdom Website Speed Test: Loading speed is a huge factor in user experience.
The days of dial-up are gone for most people, and they expect pages to load within a few seconds.
Ideally, you want every page of your site to load in under 2 seconds.
To use the tool, enter your URL into the main text box on the homepage:
Once you click the test button, give the tool a minute to conduct its test.
When it’s done, you will see the results below:
Most important is the overall load time.
If your load time is good, you’re all set. If not, you’ll need the data below:
The “performance grade” tab will show you your general scores in different categories.
The “waterfall” tab shows you how fast each individual part of your webpage loaded.
Finally, the “page analysis” tab gives you a nice overall summary of your page’s performance:
I recommend testing at least 5-10 pages on your site to make sure that they all load quickly.
12. Quick Sprout Analyzer: I’m incredibly biased, but I think the Quick Sprout Analyzer on the homepage is a useful tool.
It’s also free, so you don’t have much to lose.
You start by entering your URL, and you’ll quickly get back a detailed report:
It focuses on SEO, site speed, and social media performance.
There’s quite a bit to the report, so I’ll leave you to explore it yourself. One particularly interesting part is the competitive analysis:
It will compare your site to those of your top competitors’.
13. Crazy Egg: This is another tool I founded—one of the leading heat map tools.
Once you install it on your website (it’s a simple script that you copy and paste), it’ll track how visitors interact with your content.
While there are a few different features, there are a few main ones that will be most useful here.
First is the scroll map, which shows you how many people scrolled to each section of the page:
This is useful because it shows you if readers are losing interest at any particular point in a post.
You can then figure out why and fix the issue not only in that post but all future ones (or past ones) as well.
The second main feature is the standard click heat map, which shows you where people click on the page:
If you see users paying a lot of attention to an area, you can rearrange the page so that the most important elements go there.
Alternatively, if they’re trying to click on something that can’t be clicked (like certain images), it shows that they are trying to do something. You can add a link to improve their experience.
14. Google’s Pagespeed Insights: Here’s another pagespeed tool, but it’s a bit simpler than Pingdom.
It should be used as a starting point, and then you can dig in further with other tools if need be.
Pagespeed is one of the confirmed ranking factors in Google. They care a lot about user experience, which is why they made this tool in the first place.
Again, enter your URL into the tool. It could be your homepage or a post:
It will quickly give you an overall score, not just for desktop users but for mobile users as well.
If you get 80 and above, you’re doing okay.
It will show the biggest issues (red – bad!; orange – not as bad) that you should address to improve your page loading speed.
It also has a “show how to fix” link under each issue, so you get a little guidance to walk you through the solution.
15. Print Friendly: One useful bonus that you can provide for your users is PDF versions of posts, especially if they’re long.
This tool turns web pages into relatively attractive PDF files.
Enter your post URL, and press “print preview”:
Then, you can click on anything in the preview (like an image or line) to edit that element or remove it if it didn’t show up right.
Finally, click the PDF button at the very top to create the PDF:
16. Broken Link Checker: Nothing disappoints a reader more than reading a post, seeing an interesting link, and then finding out that it’s broken.
Broken links are unavoidable; web pages die all the time.
However, it is a good idea to check for broken links once in awhile and fix them.
To use this tool, enter your URL and the captcha code, and click the shiny yellow button.
It’ll take a minute or two to finish the scan. Any broken links will show up underneath.
Explode your conversion rate(s)
Another sign of a high performing blog is its ability to turn readers into repeat readers.
This usually means growing an email list, which is what these tools will help you do.
17. OptinMonster: Not everyone likes to use pop-ups, but they work. They almost always help you increase your email sign-up rate by a large amount.
So while it’s usually a good idea to at least test out pop-ups, that doesn’t mean they have to be annoying.
A good pop-up won’t have a negative effect on the reader’s experience.
OptinMonster is one of the cheapest options to create simple and attractive pop-ups for your site.
You can set it up to appear only when a reader clicks a specific link (useful for content upgrades).
When creating a new pop-up, you can choose from several different themes, and just edit the text:
It also works with all major email marketing service providers.
18. LeadPages: If you have enough traffic to the point that every extra increase on your conversion rate is a big deal, you may want a more comprehensive tool such as LeadPages.
It’s one of the more expensive options, but it’s also a high quality tool, used by many popular bloggers:
You can make several types of pop-ups, but you also get access to a lot more.
The other important feature of LeadPages is its landing page builder.
If you’re making any kind of page that you’d like to optimize for conversions, you know that landing pages convert the best.
This tool lets you use themes that have already been tested and proven to have the highest conversion rates.
One tool that helps you do that is Visual Web Optimizer (VWO).
It will take you a bit of time to learn how to use it, but basically it allows you to change one element on a page (that you think affects conversion) and then test it:
You paste the code the tool generates onto the original page, and it will ensure that each variation is seen by different visitors.
In the reports tab, you’ll be able to see how different variations are converting, and it will tell you when you have a statistically significant sample size:
20. Unbounce: Another popular landing page building tool is Unbounce.
To build a page, you just drag and drop different widgets into the page builder, and then edit your text and/or images.
The most important widget that you’ll want to include on most pages is some type of an opt-in form.
You can customize it to include whichever fields you’d like, and it will work with any email marketing service.
On top of being able to build landing pages, you can also split test landing pages.
Since you turn to landing pages when you have an important offer, your conversion rate on these pages is often the most important to optimize.
To use it, create a copy of one of the landing pages you’ve made, and then change something on that page. The tool will show you the respective conversion rates and the statistical significance:
21. Hello Bar: This is the final tool on this list that I’ve been involved in building, I promise.
Hello Bar is a simple way to display messages along the top of your website:
If you pick a good color, it’ll get a lot of attention while taking up very little of the screen.
You can use it to display messages, collect email addresses, or direct visitors to a landing page (if they click a button on it).
You can get it up and running free—just enter your domain name in the sign-up box:
Next, determine which kind of message you’d like to display in your bar. You can always create a new one in the future.
Most people start with collecting emails or showing announcements.
There are five very simple steps that you go through to configure your bar. You’ll have a chance to change the text and appearance of the bar.
Finally, you’ll get a short piece of code after you save and publish the bar.
There are three simple installation methods for the code; you can choose the most convenient:
22. Content Upgrades PRO: Something that I’ve previously mentioned is content upgrades.
A content upgrade is a post-specific lead magnet. Since they are so relevant to the post’s content, they typically get a fantastic email opt-in rate (upwards of 3%).
The difficult part is keeping track of them and offering all the different content upgrades you create.
This premium WordPress plugin was created to help you do that.
You enter a shortcode from the plugin, and depending on which design you pick, it will show up in your content as one of the following boxes:
A visitors clicks on the box and triggers a pop-up asking for their email address in exchange for the content upgrade.
Get your content seen by more people
This final group of tools is all about getting more people to your blog, which is one of the top goals for any blogger.
23. Buzzstream: Buzzstream is one of the most comprehensive content promotion tools there is.
It helps you find influencers, bloggers, journalists, etc., and finds you a whole bunch of useful contact information:
Once you’ve compiled a list of people to email about a new piece of content, you can use a feature inside of the tool that allows you to send a template-based message to all of them at the same time (customized with their information, of course).
Not only that, but Buzzstream also keeps track of the success rate of each template you build, so you can figure out which ones are the best:
24. Content Marketer: This tool was designed specifically for content marketers. It has a modern design, and it’s pretty intuitive to use.
There are three main functions, which are clearly laid out at the top of each project:
By scanning a post, the tool will compile a list of relevant contacts you could promote it to.
Then, it will find just about anyone’s email address.
Finally, it allows you to send templates to the people on your list:
This tool can save you several hours on a regular basis.
25. Pitchbox: Another tool that helps you reach out to bloggers more efficiently is Pitchbox.
It’s designed more as a general marketing and SEO tool. You can choose from many different campaigns such as:
- Blogger outreach – find bloggers and send them emails
- Get your product reviewed – find product reviewers and contact them
- Link removal – send link removal requests all at once
And just like with all the other tools, you can easily send template-based emails, complete with personalized information of the recipient:
26. Topsy: This final tool is essentially a robust Twitter search engine, which is obviously most useful if you promote your content on Twitter.
You can search any topic, and the tool will return you a list of the most shared content related to that search phrase:
If you click the orange “# more” link on each piece of content, it will show you a list of people who shared it on Twitter:
It also divides people based on their following size.
You can use this to find people who were interested in similar content in the past and then contact them to let them know about your new content.
Making a great blog takes a ton of work, but tools can help you accomplish it faster and easier.
But no one needs all 25 tools on this list.
There might be a point when using more tools might actually make your blog worse.
I recommend you start by trying a handful of these tools at a time until you find the ones you have the most success with.
I realize that there are many other great tools out there. Share them in a comment below if I forgot one that you love.