35 essential marketing software tools for content beginners
Are you intimidated or confused by all the marketing software tools needed to create and manage content?
Especially when you’re just starting out, the technology required for content marketing can seem overwhelming. Certainly the many facets of content marketing mean that a lot of different apps are needed. Beyond that, there’s an almost unbelievable number of marketing software tools out there!
How do you find the ones that will do the job, are relatively easy to use and are either free or low cost?
This content beginner’s guide to marketing software can help you.
Always know what tools you need.
Download this complete list for free!
Exploding marketing technology landscape
As a career marketer in the software industry, I’ve watched with fascination as the number of marketing software tools exploded over the last few years. Indeed, the software budget in the marketing department often eclipses that of the IT department these days!
Scott Brinker, who writes the Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, has been following this phenomenon closely since 2011. He publishes an eyesight-challenging chart each year listing all known marketing software tools.
As of May 2017 Mr. Brinker identified an astounding 5,381 individual marketing solutions to choose from, up 39% from last year. There are now 4,891 unique marketing software companies listed, up 40% from last year. Whew!
On the chart above, major categories of marketing software tools are listed across the top. The color bars in each column are sub-categories. And those tiny smudges of color and text are the product logos in this immense landscape! (Follow the link above to access a high-resolution image.)
The combined size of the second and third categories – Content & Experience and Social & Relationships – is about 40% of all marketing software tools. That means that there are now about 2,000 tools that are relevant to content marketing.
No wonder you’re overwhelmed.
Marketing software tools: Selection criteria for beginners
Marketing software ranges from simple website plugins to enterprise-class integrated automation platforms.
In recommending the marketing software tools below, I’ve applied filters of essential functionality, ease of use and affordability. I’ve used all of these tools myself, either for content marketing on this site or for my small business clients.
With thousands of tools available, you’re certain to find alternatives to my personal favorites. But I know from experience that these tools work, and work well together.
Ultimate guide to marketing software tools
Here’s my list of 35 essential marketing software tools for content beginners.
Please note that I’m an affiliate advertiser for some of these products. If you follow my link and purchase one of these affiliate products, I’ll earn a commission – at no additional cost to you.
Always know what tools you need.
Download this complete list for free!
WordPress.org (not .com)
A website platform such as WordPress is sometimes called a content management system (CMS) because it manages the task of storing and presenting text, graphics and other content on a web page.
WordPress comes in two flavors: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Both are free, are used by millions of bloggers and content marketers, and make the process of structuring a website relatively easy.
But only WordPress.org gives you the flexibility and control to use your own domain name, use premium themes and plugins, advertise and sell online, access your site’s files and more.
The trade-off is that you must “self-host” a wordpress.org site on a hosting service or your own server, which carries a modest cost.
The Content Marketing Startup site is managed on the WordPress.org platform.
A website hosting service operates specialized web servers that house and manage websites. They charge a fee for the space your site occupies on their server, similar to rent, freeing you from the technical aspects of operating the server itself.
I highly recommend hosting your WordPress-based site on Bluehost. (affiliate link)
Bluehost powers over 2 million websites worldwide. They offer a variety of hosting plans for a range of needs. They provide a one-click installation of WordPress.org. And all plans include a free domain name. (Buying your domain from the service that hosts your blog is easier than transferring it from somewhere else.)
Bluehost offers really low introductory prices for your first year, and even their ongoing prices are very reasonable – just a few dollars a month.
Most importantly, Bluehost’s technology is fast and stable, and their customer service is reliable and helpful. After researching and using several other hosting services, I’ve settled on Bluehost and I’ve been very satisfied with my choice.
This site is hosted on Bluehost.
A theme is like a template for WordPress: It provides some predefined tools and layouts within your WordPress editor so you can create a site with a particular look and function.
Themes help you define your website’s typography, layout, graphic treatment, menu behavior, color settings and more using tools that range from intuitive editors to complex coding modules.
Divi from Elegant Themes (affiliate link) is one of the most capable, flexible and intuitively visual themes around. It’s used by thousands of website developers from beginners to experts.
I especially like the ability to create a huge variety of modern layouts simply by clicking a radio button or a check box. Detailed HTML or CSS coding is supported but isn’t required to get great results.
Pages and posts you create in Divi are fully “responsive” meaning their size and layout adjust automatically for desktop, tablet and mobile display screens.
Divi is part of Elegant Themes’ collection of dozens of themes. The entire collection costs $89 for annual access or $249 for lifetime access.
This site was built and is updated using Divi.
Writing is a huge part of content marketing. Although you can write directly in WordPress or your theme’s editor, entering and formatting more than a few words can quickly get unwieldy.
Microsoft Word (or if you prefer, Google Docs or Apple Pages) helps you focus on your written content creation without the distraction of formatting for a website. Once you write and polish the words you can easily copy and paste them into your web page or post. Typography such as headlines, subheads, bullets, italics and other styling is usually retained.
Word can be licensed as desktop or online software, either standalone or as part of the Office suite.
Email and subscription forms
Your email list and email communications are vital to your content marketing success. Without them, your efforts would mostly be limited to reactive rather than proactive content distribution.
ConvertKit (affiliate link) is a sophisticated email and subscription form service that’s powerful yet easy to use. It maintains your email list and makes it super simple to write and send emails. It helps you insert opt-in forms anywhere on your site, with a wide variety of formats and triggers. It can maintain multiple list segments and automate email responses and sequences with ease.
By seamlessly blending data collection with email automation, ConvertKit is uniquely designed to meet the needs of bloggers and content marketers.
ConvertKit subscriptions start at $29/month for lists of 1000 subscribers or less.
I use ConvertKit on this site for all my subscription forms. I also built the landing page One-night stand with it. If you’re a subscriber to this blog, you’ve seen ConvertKit emails from me in your inbox. And if you’re not yet following Content Marketing Startup – please send me your name and email address using any of the forms on this site, and you’ll see ConvertKit in action!
Canva is a guided design tool available as a web app or iOS app. It creates a wide spectrum of document types including presentations, social media graphics, info-graphics, ebook covers, flyers, and charts.
Its chart collection is impressive: a full complement of Excel-type numerical charts, 3-, 4-, and 5-circle Venn diagrams, and even mind maps.
Canva includes millions of free and low-cost images and has an extensive photo editing function that goes way beyond Apple Photos.
There’s a free version, or upgrade to Canva for Work for $12.95/month.
PowerPoint (or if you prefer, Apple Keynote) can be used to create complete presentations such as stories, value propositions, product explainers, process descriptions and more. Entire presentations can be saved as PDF or uploaded to social channels such as LinkedIn’s Slideshare. It’s also an easy way to create individual graphics that can augment other content.
Apple’s photo app provides simple editing that can help you create image content. You can crop, resize and rotate images; change formats; reduce image resolution; adjust exposure and tint; retouch; and import and export images.
Grab is a free screen capture utility that comes with Mac OSX.
There are certainly more extensive screen recording programs. But for pure simplicity and the ability to easily capture still screenshots, Grab is a great.
With Grab, you can create visual content showing anything that’s on your computer screen.
Spark has taken clear aim at non-designers. All of Spark’s visual content types – social graphics, web pages, and animated videos – use a guided design approach that takes the guesswork out of creating good-looking visuals.
One smart feature of Spark is that it automatically creates the optimal size of visual content for various platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, a blog post and more.
Spark is free and available both as a web app and a series of three iOS apps.
What? Excel, a graphics app?
Excel (affiliate link) (or Apple Numbers or Google Sheets) has many easy ways to turn text and numerals into visuals. You can create graphs and charts from data, format information into tables or convert text into graphical lists, concepts, processes, relationships, hierarchies and image collages.
Ebooks can represent some of the most effective content in your library.
Although it has its quirks, Apple’s iBooks Author program is very good at just one thing: creating good-looking and functional ebooks.
iBooks includes dedicated functions for cover design, chapters and sub-chapters, tables of contents, glossaries and more. You can choose one of several starting templates in portrait or landscape layout, or start with a blank document. There’s even an option to create “responsive” ebooks (called ePubs) that resize automatically when viewed on different devices.
iBooks created in iBooks Author can be saved as PDF files or as Apple iBooks, which can be viewed natively on iPads with all the attendant swipe and zoom gestures.
iBooks Author is free from the Mac App store.
I created some of these ebook examples using Apple iBooks, including Content Marketing Isn’t a One-night Stand and The 5 stages of analytics maturity.
Unless you’re a professional graphic designer, or just really like to learn and use higher-end software, Adobe InDesign might not be for you.
InDesign is incredibly rich in design and layout features, which come at the expense of ease of use. But once mastered, it can be used to create almost any type of graphic layout, including ebooks.
InDesign is a Cloud-based app priced at about $20/month ($49/month if purchased as part of the entire Creative Cloud suite.)
Take a look at The new model of insurance marketing in these ebook examples for a sample of an ebook created with InDesign.
Unbounce is a landing page powerhouse that’s drag-and-drop easy. Even novices can create good-looking custom landing pages with great layouts, integrated data forms, action buttons, images, download delivery, thank-you pop-ups and more.
More importantly, Unbounce is dedicated to helping you create landing pages that convert page visitors into action-takers. They’ve got some insightful video tutorials on how to create high-converting pages, and their A/B testing capabilities help you try different headlines, images, colors and other variations to see what gets visitors to act (convert).
Pricing for the Essential plan starts at $79/month (with annual billing). There’s a free 30-day trial period.
Social Media Management
Buffer finds, schedules and analyzes social content for you across multiple channels. It searches for articles in your niche in multiple feeds and places them in a handy “content inbox” where you can click to share them to your chosen channels. Each social channel can have a different posting schedule so you can optimize the time and day for that audience. And Buffer’s analytics tell you which posts have performed the best in terms of exposure and engagement.
A free version manages up to 10 scheduled posts per social account (limited to one account per channel). The next step up at $10/month adds more posts per channel, multiple accounts per channel and support for Pinterest.
Post Planner (affiliate link) helps you post items to multiple social networks and schedule posts for future automated delivery.
First, it helps you find the right content to share. Discover new content by keyword, hashtag, Facebook page or Twitter handle. Gather your favorite content in one place.
Next, it helps you plan and schedule your posts. Create a plan for your pages and accounts, then plug in your content streams. Automatically recycle popular posts.
And finally, Post Planner manages your posts. Organize planned and posted content in one screen. Edit on the fly. View by vital stats to make better decisions.
There isn’t a free option but subscriptions start at a low $3/month.
Sniply (affiliate link) automatically places a call-to-action banner on any link you share, with a link back to your site or social profile. That way even curated content is linked to your site.
There’s a free version, with paid subscriptions starting at $29/month.
With a Google Alert you tell Google which keywords to search for, and Google will send you a regular email with links to recent web material that matches. Scan through the links to find content items you’d like to share with your tribe (a process called content curation).
Google Alerts is a free service.
SEO and analytics
Google Analytics tracks and reports website traffic. Google Analytics is now the most widely used web analytics service on the Internet.
Basic features are free, and they’re pretty robust. There’s a premium version – Google Analytics 360 – but at an annual license fee of $150,000 I don’t recommend this for startups and beginners!
This site uses Google Analytics (free version).
Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools) is a no-charge web service by Google for webmasters. It allows webmasters to check indexing status and optimize visibility of their websites.
I’ve registered this site with Google Search Console to ensure it’s known to Google and has no crawling errors, and to see how my site shows up in Google searches.
This essential WordPress plugin helps you write better content, analyzes your pages and posts for search engine compatibility and even checks the readability of your page content.
A handy green-yellow-red rating system across a checklist of SEO and readability factors helps you quickly hone in on the elements that will help you optimize your web content the most.
Yoast SEO is a free plugin, with a premium version available starting at $69 for a single site.
Google Keyword Planner helps you identify the search volume and level of competition for your keyword candidates.
You’ll need a free Google Adwords account first, although you don’t need to buy any ads to use the Planner.
Wistia is a video hosting platform that helps you market with video and analyze your video viewing performance.
Because video files can be huge, it pays to have them hosted on a specialized server that’s optimized for speed. The tools in Wistia allow you to manage multiple videos, customize the video player and controls, use video content to enhance your SEO, and understand how viewers interact and engage with your video content.
There’s a free plan, with paid plans starting at $99/month.
Animoto sets images and video clips to music. You intersperse text headlines to tell your story, and can access an extensive royalty-free music track library and a variety of pre-defined visual styles. The videos created by Animoto are particularly useful for evoking a brand image, but can also be applied to explainer-type videos that convey a more structured message – especially if your audience likes music!
Their personal plan starts at $8/month. A Professional plan is available at $22/month and includes a 14-day free trial.
PowToon helps you create animated videos with pre-defined characters, actions, backgrounds and props. Record your own voice track or import a professional voice recording (see VoiceBunny). It includes a limited set of music tracks or you can license and import your own.
A free version provides limited features, with more extensive capabilities starting at $19/month.
Wistia recently released a new online video tool called Soapbox. It’s a free Chrome extension that allows a Chrome user to create great-looking videos in just a few minutes.
Soapbox records your screen and your webcam simultaneously, then allows you to switch between the two or take advantage of a unique “split-screen” view.
I love this name!
Voicebunny (affiliate link) is an online service that records your script with a professional voice actor.
Write a script for your video. Choose a professional voice talent from hundreds of available actors. Get a recording back quick as a bunny, at a surprisingly low cost.
Prices vary depending on the actor chosen, but start as low as $69 for a 150-word script (about 60 seconds).
Plugins extend the functionality of the basic WordPress.org system and are a vibrant part of the WordPress toolset.
It’s best practice to limit your use of plugins in order to maintain the stability of your website platform. But I’ve found a few plugins that are essential marketing software tools for content beginners.
Use the Plugins / Add New menu in your WordPress dashboard to search for and install these plugins, or follow the links below for more details.
Akismet checks your comments and contact form submissions against a global database of spam to prevent your site from publishing malicious content. You can review the comment spam it catches on your site’s “Comments” admin screen.
You’ll need an API key to use Akismet. Keys are free for personal blogs; paid subscriptions are available for businesses and commercial sites for as little as $5/month per site.
Akismet protects this site.
This plugin helps you create a simple Coming Soon Page or Maintenance Mode Page. You can work on your site in private while visitors see a “Coming Soon” or “Maintenance Mode” page.
A free version and a paid “pro” version are available.
ConvertKit is an email service that makes it easy to capture leads by easily embedding email data collection forms anywhere on your site. This plugin makes it a little bit easier for those using WordPress.org by automatically appending a lead capture form to any post or page.
The ConvertKit plugin helps me implement subscription forms throughout this site, including those you see in this post.
Divi 100 Article Cards
This Divi theme extension provides a custom design for the Divi blog module. It features bigger and bolder text, stronger graphic elements and cool hover effects.
This plugin is free but requires a subscription to the Divi theme (affiliate link) to operate.
I’ve used this plugin in the middle of the home page of this site to highlight my three most recent blog posts.
Monarch lets you add graphical sharing links for over 20 different social networks on any page or post. When a reader clicks on one of these icons, he or she can share their commentary and a link to your content on the social network.
You can see examples of the Monarch social sharing buttons in action on the left side and the bottom of this post. Go ahead – try it now to share this article on marketing software tools!
The Monarch plugin comes as part of an Elegant Themes subscription (affiliate link) that also includes Divi and dozens of other great WordPress themes.
With over 22 million downloads, Wordfence is the most popular WordPress security plugin available. It’s a web application firewall that stops you from getting hacked.
Wordfence is free, with a premium upgrade available.
I protect this site with Wordfence.
WP Limit Login Attempts protects your site from brute force attacks in which a person or program repeatedly tries usernames and passwords to gain access to your website administration. The WP Limit Login Attempts plugin limits the rate and number of login attempts and blocks failed IPs temporarily. It also blocks bots by using Captcha verification before allowing entry of administration credentials.
It’s essential protection for this site.
Large image files may be slowing down your site without you even knowing it. WP Smush uses super servers to quickly “smush” every one of your images and cuts all the unnecessary data without slowing down your site. WP Smush scans every image you upload – or have already added to your site – and cuts all the unnecessary data before adding it to your media library.
WP Smush reduces the file size of all images on this site.
Marketing software tools I haven’t tried yet
There’s much more that can be done with content marketing including selling products online and offering online courses. I plan to learn about these functions – and the marketing software tools needed to deliver them – in the near future.
Here are some of the tools I hope to research, try and report back on:
I’ll be looking at WooCommerce, Paypal, Square and other ecommerce and payment tools.
I’ve heard good things about WooCommerce as an online retailing plugin for WordPress and know that it’s integrated with the Divi theme.
I’ve used Paypal and Square to accept and make offline payments and will evaluate them for use online in a content marketing platform.
Online course platforms
The ability to create and sell online courses is central to many content marketing and “passive income” business plans, including my own. I’ll look at Teachable, Kajabi and Udemy as well as others.
Share your questions
While this is a long list, I may still not have covered the marketing software tools or categories you’re wondering about. If not, or if you have questions about any of the tools I’ve described here, please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!
Always know what tools you need.
Download this complete list for free!
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