The word 'Tools' spelt using toolsIf there’s one aspect of SEO that needs to be invested in regularly, it’s content marketing.  Content is the key to your success in so many respects that it has to form the basis of your entire digital strategy in my eyes, not just SEO.

Taking a good amount of planning to develop and implement properly effectively, I use a number of tools on a regular basis to ensure the success of all content marketing strategies I’m involved with – and the following five are without doubt the most important tools I utilise.

(please note this post relates specifically to the third party content / guest blogging part of a strategy – there’s a host of posts out there already with links to example calendars for internal content publishing :)).

1.  A spreadsheet

For anyone who knows me personally, I’m not the most organised of people.  It’s just not one of those things that comes naturally to me.  In my work life, however, I love being organised.  Particularly in today’s SEO environment where there are so many aspects to take into consideration, it’s vital I’m able to to know exactly what’s happening, or due to happen, and when, with any strategy.

And when it comes to managing the content marketing aspect, a big part of this is the use of a spreadsheet.

Whilst the likes of Microsoft Excel of OpenOffice are both perfectly acceptable forms, I personally prefer the spreadsheets within Google Docs, purely for the fact I can access it wherever I am and almost regardless of the device I’m using.

In a nutshell, my content marketing strategy spreadsheet is the focal point of my entire strategy; it’s what the whole strategy revolves around and details exactly what is happening, or has happened, to date.

With there a number of different sheets within the document, there are three sheets that are key:

  • Opportunities – this is where I list every potential opportunity I research, breaking the opportunity down into ‘URL’, ‘Focus’, ‘Notes’ and ‘Contacted?’.  The first field gives a direct link to the blog or website, the second explains any specific focus(es) of the blog / website, the third gives me the chance to detail anything specifically relevant to the channel (‘Has a 12 week turnaround’ or ‘Only accepts content with custom images) and the fourth is where I detail if I’ve contacted them and any result of it (‘Yes – weekly contributor spot secured as of 24/11/14’, for instance).
  • Ideas – whenever I have a general idea for content, regardless of whether I’ve yet discovered a suitable opportunity for it, I list it here.  Detailing the title, focus and who would be the best author amongst myself and my colleagues, I also give information on if it’s been used, whether that’s as it is (so it can’t be reused) or if it’s inspired another post (so it can therefore be potentially used, if not just with a couple of tweaks).
  • Pitched Or Published – in this part of the spreadsheet, I can see just what content has been pitched or successfully published, and it’s broken down into six areas – ‘Title’, ‘Author’, ‘Website / Blog Link’, ‘Date Submitted’, ‘Date Published’ and ‘Link’.  The first four areas are completed regardless of whether it was a pitch or a published piece, and the final two are reserved for when a piece of content is successfully published on a blog or website.

Whilst I’m sure everyone working within content marketing will have their own version of the above, for me, this works perfectly.  It’s in-depth enough that it provides the right amount of information as and when I need it, but it’s concise enough that it’s not over-complicated and doesn’t take hours to update.

2.  Pocket

If you haven’t got Pocket, go get it now.  I came across it about 18 months ago and fell in love with it straightaway.

For those of you who aren’t aware of what it is, it’s essentially a developed version of your traditional browser ‘bookmark’ feature.  When you find something you want to save for later, you add it to Pocket and a stripped back version (in terms of design, etc) is saved for viewing wherever you can access Pocket, even if you’re offline later (I began using the Pocket Chrome extension to save websites, and would then use the app on my phone to read them at a later date).

What I love about Pocket is that it streamlines my idea-production process massively.  Rather than having to sit in front of my laptop and try to brainstorm ideas out of thin air, I use Pocket as a starting point – if there’s something I’ve saved in there from earlier in the week, it’s caught my eye for some reason, and if it’s caught my eye, it’s likely to have caught others’, too.

This doesn’t mean I will duplicate the content, but I’ll look at things such as if I can offer a new slant on the topic, or if the author has taken a new approach to the title that makes it particularly click-worthy.

Just one of the many uses of Pocket, go have a read through their blog to see just how great it is.  It’s free to use and even if you don’t use it for your content marketing, I’m sure you’ll become gripped by it in general.

(and I don’t work for Pocket, I just love it!).

3.  Twitter favouriting

I’ve been on Twitter for years.  I’m not a prolific tweeter, but I tweet and engage on a daily basis, mixing my personal and professional lives together in somewhat of a harmonious mix (generally speaking!).

However, it’s only relatively recently that I’ve started to use the ‘favourite’ feature.

Considering it an almost irrelevant part of the network, I couldn’t determine what it was actually for.  Intrigued one day to find out more, I read a few blog posts on how other people used it and began using it in practically the same vein as Facebook’s ‘like’ button.

Every couple of days, I would check to see what tweets I’d favourited – and it was after I’d done this a couple of times that I realised how it could be extremely beneficial to my content marketing efforts.

One of the key problems I have, like so many others, is a lack of time.  Whilst I would love to spend hours every day reading content, it’s just not feasible, which is the main reason why I love Pocket.

The slight downside to Pocket is that I usually open up the article, read the first few paragraphs, and then save it to read later.  This obviously doesn’t take a huge amount of time, but the way Twitter favouriting comes into the scenario is that I use it essentially as a ‘catch all’ tool.  Whatever seems interesting or useful, I’ll favourite, and then I’ll go through my favourite list more intensely when I have the opportunity, adding the most suitable content to Pocket for use at a later date.

There’s without doubt other ways these two features (Pocket and Twitter favourting) could be used, but I’ve found it works best for me to have this two-step ‘verification’ process – I favourite something that looks interesting based on what I can read in 140 characters, then assuming the first few paragraphs match up to my expectations, it gets added to Pocket for use when generating ideas for my own content marketing strategy.

4.  Sidekick

I was introduced to Sidekick a couple of months ago, and it’s become one of the staple tools of my entire digital activity.

The main feature of Sidekick is to allow you to track when any e-mail you’ve sent via Gmail has been opened.  When I was told this earlier in the year, I was blown away.

I can actually see when someone’s opened an e-mail I send them, without having a subscription to MailChimp, ConstantContact, etc?!  This is fantastic!

There are various ways Sidekick has come into use with regard to content marketing.  For instance, I can determine whether it’s OK to pitch an idea to someone else, if an e-mail has been opened but not responded to (or not opened at all) after a suitable amount of time.  This itself is particularly useful, especially if there are contributor guidelines that explain every e-mail can’t be responded to, or they ask for sole exclusivity of the content topic.

You can find out all about Sidekick here (and it’s free, of course), but download it and try it – all I can say is that I wish I had it when I was freelance writing and pitching dozens of ideas every day!

5.  A meeting room

When you’re working in the digital industry, you can become immersed in it, developing a way of working that sees you communicating via e-mail, instant messaging and social networks.

Offline, face-to-face communication?  Pah!

And I generally used to think like this, so much so that I left my office-based job to take one that was full time, remote working.  Perfect, right?

Not exactly, no.

I was only a couple of months in and I realised the lack of human contact throughout the day was becoming a problem.  I was starting to be more reclusive and precious about my ideas, not wanting to talk to others in offline environments about work, often because it is so instant and you don’t get chance to go over your response before replying.  It was a confidence issue, the more I look back at it, which stemmed from not working with others regularly offline.

It took a couple of months for me to get away from that way of working and back into a position where I was working with others on a daily basis in-person, and ever since I’ve been a massive fan of traditional communication methods.

When it comes to content marketing, it’s all about ideas and opportunities, and as has been proven time and time again over the years, the best ideas and opportunities are so often the ones that come about as a result of talking.

You bounce ideas around, cancel some off and expand on others.  It instantly cuts down the amount of time you need to invest in the whole process, but makes it a more efficient process at the same time.

I know it can be difficult as people working in the digital industry, but when you’re developing and managing a content marketing strategy, book out a meeting room, grab some coffee and a few colleagues and sit down for an hour or two at least once every week – you’ll be surprised at just how productive the time is.

Content marketing is vital to the success of your digital strategy.  Don’t undervalue it, neglect it or fail to give it enough time.  There are numerous tools and resources available to help you make it a success – and these five are a perfect example of those that I use regularly to ensure just that.