Last week I shared links to some friend’s social media and blogs. This week I’m going to write about five essential tools that every blogger should be using. These tools will make blogging easier. They’ll also help you produce more consumable content. With a bit of work, you’ll be pumping out more clickable content in no time!

The most basic tool you need is a text editor for writing your blogs. Of course, you have several options: 

  • Microsoft Word
  • Office 365
  • Pages
  • Google Docs 

Google Docs gets my vote. You rarely need the power of more powerful text editors for a simple blog post, and Google Docs works great.

Google Docs is my go-to editor for writing blogs

First, Google Docs saves your work to the cloud. Your files are available anywhere with any Internet connection—no thumb drives. Second, Google Docs auto-saves every few minutes, resulting in less lost work. You also have version histories if you need to revisit a previous idea that you’d scrapped. 

A screenshot of keyboard shortcuts used to format text in Google Docs

Finally, Google Docs has several helpful keyboard shortcuts that are easy to memorize. Once you start using them, they’ll save you so much time.  A few of my favorites are:

Basic Shortcuts: 

  • CTRL + C → copy
  • CTRL + V → paste
  • CTRL + SHIFT + V → paste without formatting (match current formatting)
  • CTRL + F → brings up the search bar
  • CTRL + H → brings up search and replace
  • CTRL + Z → undo
  • CTRL + SHIFT + Z or (CTRL + Y) → redo
  • CTRL + A → select all text

Intermediate Level Shortcuts:

  • CTRL + SHIFT + C → displays total words & characters (entire doc/selected text)
  • CTRL + K → insert a link to the highlighted text
  • CTRL + SHIFT + 7 → create a numbered list
  • CTRL + SHIFT + 8 → create a bulleted list
  • CTRL + SHIFT + ALT + Z → switch to editing mode
  • CTRL + SHIFT + ALT + X → switch to suggesting mode

The last two are great for collaborating on a blog. Your co-author can see your changes/suggestions, accept or reject them, and go back to editing. Yeah, I’m looking at you two guys. 😏

Easily structure documents and blog posts with headings

But my favorite shortcuts are for headings! These headings carry over into WordPress, but I’m not sure about other platforms. BTW, I’ve found composing in WordPress to be tedious and cumbersome. I’d say 98% of what I do in Google Docs copies into WordPress without issue.

  • CTRL + ALT + 1 → Heading 1 (only use this for the title of your post)
  • CTRL + ALT + 2 → Heading 2
  • CTRL + ALT + 3 → Heading 3 (you’ll rarely need more than this)
  • CTRL + ALT + 0 → Normal Text

This saves me so much time, and as a bonus, I have a handy little document tree in the left-hand pane. Navigation made easy! And so much easier than setting up headings in WordPress!

A screenshot showing the document structure pane in Google Docs

As a bonus, you have a built-in spellchecker (CTRL + ALT + X). It’s not the best out there, but it’s a start. Any red or blue squiggly lines are worthy of investigation! I suggest running spellcheck yourself, since not all errors get highlighted while typing.

A few bonus tips about pictures in blog posts

Pro Tip 1: You can paste pics into your post in Google Docs. When you copy and paste the whole document into WordPress, the pics get added too. But…make sure to leave a blank line between any pics and text. If you do that, WordPress will add them as images. Without the extra line, they often get imported as part of the paragraph. When that happens, they won’t display across the entire width of the screen. 

Pro Tip 2: Use pictures—a lot of pictures. Somewhere in the vicinity of one pic for every 300 words. If you’re going to use images other than your own, be sure to have explicit permission to use those pictures. Your other option is to use free (or paid) stock photos. Some stock photo sites require attributions and some don’t. If a site requires picture attributions, include them.

Pro Tip 3 (My favorite free stock images sites):

I knew squat about grammar before teaching English—now I understand Grammarly’s suggestions

Yes, you should be using Grammarly. I don’t care how well you write. It will cut down on your typos, and most of the time, it knows the grammar rules you don’t. Even the free version is quite powerful. This is another reason I use Google Docs—Grammarly has a Chrome extension. You can edit in Grammarly’s editor, but I’ve had no issues using the Grammarly extension in Google Docs.  

A screenshot of the Grammarly Chrome extension being using in Google Docs

My only complaint is the lack of keyboard shortcuts while checking docs. And yes,  I’ve contacted Grammarly.  Not a deal-breaker, but I would appreciate it. Like Google Docs, it suggests corrections as you type. It uses solid red lines for spelling and solid blue lines for grammar issues, similar to Google’s squiggly lines.

One of the most helpful grammar suggestions Grammarly makes is passive voice detection. Without going down a grammar rabbit hole, it is generally preferred to write in the active voice. It’s more direct and stronger.

  • The woman drove the car. (Active voice)
  • The car was driven by the woman. (Passive voice)
A profile view of a woman with long hair and sunglasses driving a car

The passive is not ‘wrong,’ but writing in the active voice is typically preferred in blogs. It’s not always possible to rewrite sentences in the active, but it’s a good idea to cut down on your use of the passive.

Finally, even if you use Grammarly, you should still use Google Doc’s spellcheck. I’ve found the two tools catch things the other doesn’t. A couple of clicks for some added peace of mind—what have you got to lose?

Forget everything you learned about writing long, complicated sentences to sound authoritative

The Hemingway App is another excellent tool for writers. I found it while learning about copywriting. I use it with all my blog posts and many of my work projects. There is a desktop app, but the webpage works for me.

When I finish writing a blog post, I run it through Google spellcheck and Grammarly. Then I copy and paste the whole thing into the Hemingway App. If you have pics in your blog post, it’ll ignore them, but it’ll preserve text formatting.

Once you paste your writing into the Hemingway App, you’ll immediately see some stats on the right. 

Left—stats before using Hemingway / Right—stats after using Hemingway

In general, shoot for a lower readability score. If you’re over Grade 9 or 10, Hemingway will suggest that you lower the score.

After that, you’ll see the handy word count—click on ‘Show More’ to see more info. You can do the same info using CTRL + SHIFT + C in Google Docs. Next, you’ll see adverbs. I’d be shocked if you pasted your blog into Hemingway, and it said you’d met the goal for adverbs. We tend to overuse adverbs in our writing (I’m incredibly guilty of this 😏). I’m getting better, but I can usually get rid of several superfluous adverbs using Hemingway.

Though not always possible, you should try to use descriptive verbs in place of adverbs. Don’t say the man ran quickly. Say the man bolted. Don’t say the woman walked carefully.  Say she crept. You won’t be able to omit all the adverbs from your writing. And you shouldn’t. But like the passive voice, try not to use them too often.

I’m trying not to be ‘passive’ aggressive, but try to minimize its use

Speaking of the passive voice, what’s next on the list? Yup…instances of the passive voice. Grammarly will sometimes offer suggestions for correcting the passive voice. But Hemingway will only alert you to the presence of the passive voice. It’s up to you to rephrase your writing to get rid of the passive voice where possible—and when desired.

In school, were you forced to learn lists of vocabulary words? And were you encouraged to use those words as often as possible? But that isn’t always such a great thing. Utilizing complex verbiage to create the illusion of superior intellect results in an appearance of pomposity. I mean—using big words to seem smart makes you look like an ass.

The next two stats will be most helpful. If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, have you ever felt that I write in short, choppy sentences? Hopefully not. I’ll wager that you didn’t notice, but I do tend to write in shorter sentences.

This doesn’t always happen in my first draft. But I use Hemingway to reduce the number of “hard to read” and “very hard to read” sentences. After nine months of using Hemingway, I’m getting better at doing this on my own as I write. But Hemingway always reminds me I can do better.

A bronze statue of Hemingway sitting in a bar

With Hemingway, I tend to work on one section at a time and then copy and paste it back into my Google Doc. Then I delete that section (the editor has a weird habit of jumping back to the top of the doc). You’ll want to use CTRL + SHIFT + V to paste without formatting. If you don’t, your text will be in a different font with a gray background.

If you want people to read your post, they’ve gotta click on it first

The title of your blog and the headings within your post are sometimes referred to as headlines. If you study copywriting or content writing, you’ll learn how important they are. I am by no means an expert, but as I look back over my blog titles, I can now see which ones were ‘winners’ and which ones were not.

There are thousands of pages about how different headline types grab readers’ attention. I would encourage you to do your own research in that area. But for now, I’ll share a tool I use called Headline Studio from Coschedule. You can use the website, but I prefer the free Chrome extension. You put your headline in, and it gives you a ‘score’ related to how compelling your headline might be.  

A screenshot of the Chrome extension, Headline Studio

You’ll want to use the free version—trust me. The first paid plan starts at $108/year for five headlines a month. Even as a paid copywriter and content writer, I find this pretty steep. I had no issue paying for Grammarly Premium. I didn’t give it a second thought. But this price tag left me choking and sputtering over my morning coffee.

You can tweak each of your five headlines, and you get about 25 iterations per headline. But I find the price excessive for personal use. To use it professionally, I’d need one of the higher-tiered plans based on the number of articles I write per month. I’m not prepared to fork over $350–600 a year for that.

You don’t get access to all the goodies with the free version—but you get some good stuff. Of course, the higher the score, the better—usually. Like everything in this post, these are tools! Google Docs spellcheck gets suggestions wrong. So does Grammarly. They both miss things (like the typo a friend commented on in last week’s post). The Hemingway App may suggest omitting an adverb that may convey a nuance you deem necessary.  

A picture of a multi-tool with all the tools opened and on display

Remember, Headline Studio is another tool. Your headline with a score of 68 won’t necessarily perform worse than another one that scores 77. Speaking of which, you’ll notice the circle turns green at 70. That’s the baseline I shoot for. I’ve written hundreds of headlines in the past nine months. I’ve yet to score in the 90s (keep reading 😉). There are times I’ve used headlines that scored in the high 60s. The choice is yours.

But look at the stats, especially the sections marked yellow or red. They’ll give you clues about what you’re doing wrong or what you’re missing. For example, the original title of this blog scored an 85. It got green for everything except the first stat—word balance. Headline Studio felt my headline had too many Common Words and no Power Words. BTW, Emotional and Power words are hidden with the free version, but you can always Google your own lists.

I played around with it and came up with the title that appears now—my first headline in the 90s! I like the original title. I’m a little worried the current title is somewhat ‘click-baity.’  But it will be an interesting experiment. It’s my highest scoring headline yet—I’ve gotta give it a try!  

Last week, I mentioned a previous blog post: All 12 English verb tenses—clearly explained [with examples]. It’s the post that gets the most hits from online searches. It scored a 68. Headline Studio is a tool, not a magic bullet.

An image of a silver bullet

My vast nine months of knowledge shared with you in under 2,500 words

That’s what I’ve learned about blogging since I started my journey. Even in this short time, I look back at some early blogs and cringe. But we don’t get better unless we do. I wouldn’t have been able to write this post unless I’d written my first one.

To finish, I’ll share some quick tips I’ve picked up along the ways:

  • Write in short paragraphs of 3-6 sentences. Go back and look at this post if you think I’m joking.
  • Break up the wall of text whenever possible: pics, bullet lists, tables. Anything other than paragraph after paragraph.
  • Write to someone. Have someone in mind when you write. Don’t try to write to your legions of vast followers. Individuals consume blogs. If you connect with one reader, you’ll likely connect with another.
  • Write casually, like you’re talking to the reader. You may even experiment with dictating your blog and cleaning it up afterwards.
  • Include a CTA (call to action), typically near the end. What do you want your reader to do? Don’t hint at or imply something—tell them. (Check out the end of this post for an example)

That’s all I’ve got, for now. I’m still trying to use all the tips and tricks I’ve included here in my personal and professional writing. But like most things, the more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s a work in progress.

Did I miss any blogging tools you can’t live without? Got a stock image site I missed? I’d love to hear about them! Comment below or get in touch with me on social media!

5 thoughts on “5 free tools every blogger needs in their arsenal to boost clicks

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience! We’ve been using Google Docs and then pasting into WordPress, trying to jam it into a format we figured out in WordPress. We definitely need more pictures too.
    And CTRL-Shift-V is AMAZING. I hate that I can’t use it in Office, it’s only the most useful keyboard shortcut ever.

    1. Happy to share what little I’ve learned in the past few months. Lots more to learn, but always glad to help others avoid a few headaches. And yes, CTRL+SHIFT+V rocks.

  2. “I was missing” the Hemingway app only.

    I’m using Grammarly for all corrections after I write and shape my blog posts directly in WP. I guess it’s all down to how used we are with the apps. I sparingly use Google Docs, not because of its functionality but because I thought Grammarly should suffice for my needs.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. My pleasure! Glad you found something of use! And definitely try using the Google Docs spell check. It catches stuff Gramnarly doesn’t.

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