10 blogging tools and techniques to grow productivity and engagement

If you manage a website and a blog for your business, it is important that you embrace visuals and interactivity as plain text simply does not cut it anymore. In fact, there are loads of tools that you can use that will save you time, let you produce mind-blowing content and allow you to better engage your audience as well as connect with fellow bloggers. And, if you have not yet embraced such tools because you think it would take a lot of time and money, I am here to tell you, you are wrong. With the help of free (or almost free) websites and methods, which I list below, you can compete with the most respected blogs in your industry even if your budget is tiny compared to theirs.

Time savers

1. Post scheduling

The feature is invaluable if you are the only person managing your blog. It comes as standard in WordPress or Blogger and is well-known among users of these and several other blogging platforms. However, if you manage your blog via a CMS, which lacks this application you may think your options in this regard are non-existent. However, one choice you have is to download and use Windows Live Writer. This free software works similarly to other Windows Office products and allows you to create and edit posts in addition to scheduling them. You can add over 100 plugins to the software allowing you to develop and organize posts even when you are disconnected from the Internet.

Another tool you can utilize is ScribeFire. This is a simple browser extension you can get for Firefox, Chrome, Opera or Safari. It lets you edit and publish post directly in your browser and, of course, it allows you to plan releasing them in the future. The tool is free to use, which is excellent considering the number of features that come with the extension. If neither Windows Live Writer nor ScribeFire work you, you can try another tool called Quamana. This is a blog editor that works on both: Windows and Macs and like the others mentioned above, it is free to download and use.

2. Automated social sharing

Just like with blog posts, there are times when you are simply unavailable to update your social profiles and an automated solution, saves you time and helps to keep you in the minds of your followers. The two popular automated sharing solutions that I can absolutely recommend are: Buffer and Hootsuite.

Both of these tools allow you to manage multiple social networking profiles. They let you schedule messages, share all media formats, target specific demographics and analyse the performance of your social campaigns. Whereas Hootsuite allows you to connect to more social networks than Buffer, the advantage of Buffer is that you can connect your Bitly account to it (allowing you to personalize your shortened urls). You can also use simple text formatting in your messages and for Twitter, Buffer loads images directly in the message rather than as a link to them. Buffer and Hootsuite operate as a freemium software; the free account offers basic features and small number of profiles you can connect with and both companies offer several paid versions of their software.

3. Spam management

Most of the time when you delete spammy messages, you are battling with automated spam bots, which submit hundreds of posts a minute. If you use WordPress, you have many anti-spam plugins to choose from and the most popular is Akismet. There are also plenty of anti-spam modules in other content management systems such as Drupal or Joomla, while Blogger automatically sorts all comments, which appear spammy into a junk folder. If you use a CMS that does not offer spam management for comments, you have couple options. You can use a third party commenting system such as Disqus, which does a good job with scanning its users and deleting spammers. Or, you can use a combination of Captcha together with user registration to prevent and quickly block or delete visitors who abuse your blog.

Content enhancers

4. Meme creation

Memes are ever-present on social media since they are able to convey a message and tone, than an image or text itself is unable to. On blog posts, memes can serve to enliven text and emphasize a point. They are a great way to entertain an audience. All you need to create your own memes is some creative ideas and simple graphic editing software like Gimp. However, you can create them even easier with free tools like Imgflip, which you can use to build memes quickly out of your own images, screenshots, YouTube videos or graphs.

5. Video annotations

Annotations allow you to connect YouTube videos with your blog and, consequently, direct YouTube visitors to your own website. They are also very useful in linking between multiple related blog posts. Hence, you can use them as a promotion tool to grow readership, but also to increase engagement with content throughout your blog. To include annotations that link to your website, you first need to verify the ownership of the blog in your YouTube account. Follow steps presented in the video below to get it done:

6. Infographic design

Many bloggers ignore this content delivery method, because they do not have design skills to develop them. Yet, the number of very affordable applications that enable building sophisticated infographics is impressive. Of course, you do need to conduct your own research to get the data, but once you have collected all information and have an idea how to organize it, you can develop an infographic using temples from any of the applications listed below:

7. Surveys

Marketing research data can be either primary (research conducted by you and tailored to your data needs) or secondary (research based on data previously acquired by other companies). Most bloggers rely on the second kind, by quoting resources from other organizations and linking to the websites where the actual data is hosted. As a result, blogs, which perform their own research, often get loads of backlinks and visits from blogs that quote their data. This is what you can also benefit from by conducting a simple online survey using platforms such as: SurveyMonkey, Zoho or Wufoo.

Growth springboards

8. Content recommendation service

Content recommendation less obtrusive than banner and text advertising is now used by companies such as CNN, TIME, and Rolling Stone. Hence, this is not an insignificant approach, but a mainstream trend seriously worth considering. Check out Outbrain, Taboola and Zemanta. These three platforms offer very similar services for those who have lots of traffic and would like to monetize it as well as blog owners who are willing to pay to get more visitors that may be interested in their content. Engagement of the audience is the keyword here. As a blogger, involved readers are often the key to your success, so although content recommendation is not free, it is one of very few ways to increase readership with people who may actually be interested in your content.

9. Guest editorials

When you contribute guest editorials to other blogs, you can usually add a link back to your blog in a signature or the post itself, leading users to your pages. But more importantly, if your guest contributions are attention-grabbing, you will notice more people will start following you on social media and take interest in what you have to say. You can approach other bloggers via social networks or if that seems daunting, try Content Bloggers where you can connect with websites and writers opened to editorial collaboration. Whatever tactic you decide to use, avoid pitching ideas, that are off beam or inappropriate for the target audience of the website, for which you want to write.

10. Google+

If you have been ignoring Google+ for your social and outreach efforts, you are losing out big time! Below are just several features of Google+making it worthwhile for you to invest your time in this platform. And if decide reasons below are convincing enough, start exploring Google+ with this handy guide.

  • Pages, which benefit your SEO

Profile and pages you crate on Google+ will be indexed by Google in the same was as any other HTTP pages on the Internet. Your Google+ pages will acquire page rank, they will gain rankings for applicable keywords and they will pass on SEO benefits to other pages on the web, to which they link to. You are not able to realize similar benefits from using Facebook or LinkedIn.

  • Ability to claim authored content

When you create write on Google+ or associate content on your website with your G+ profile (using schema.org authorship markup), you can expect that your pages will start to appear in search engines together with your name and image linking back to your Google+ profile. As a result, more people will get to your content and this also means a much greater exposure for your personal brand.

  • Lots of ways to connect with others

You can send a direct post to any user, +1, re-share their content and create circles of users you want to post messages to. You can also join one of the thousands of interest-based communities that exist on Google+ or create your own one and invite others to join it. Finally, you can invite others to join a free video hangout with you, in which up to 10 people can participate and hundreds can watch.

  • Source of unique video content

The hangouts mentioned above can be easily recorded and uploaded to your YouTube channel using “Hangouts On Air”. Besides getting more exposure to the YouTube audience, you can download and edit the video files as you please. Clips from hangout sessions can then be embedded on to your website and serve as distinctive and valuable content for your readers.

In summary, it is likely you are already using some of the tools and tactics mentioned above. But why not use all of them to maximize your impact? All of the tools I describe are free to use or require very minimal investment. I am curious to hear if you have had experiences with other free tools and tactics that helped you achieve those end-goals and what which ones would you recommend?