17 Free Tools To Improve Your Writing Online (And How to Use Them)


Keyboard and Coffee

Image courtesy of Fransesc Esteve

What should you pack into your web copywriter’s toolbox?

We’re not talking grammar guides and free-flow poetry here. These are web apps and software you can use to improve your web and SEO writing.

All have been useful to me over the years, though few are designed specifically for writers. Yet, if you use them in creative ways, they’re perfect for generating new topics, building more focused pages, organising your ideas – and generally writing better web content.

(By the way, if you notice a certain bias towards Google properties, that’s purely because they make some of the most useful stuff. Plus, if you’re writing with SEO in mind, Google is a good place to start!)

1. Wordle

Keyword density is one of the oldest myths in the SEO copywriting handbook. But, if you’re writing to get found online, it helps to see what terms stand out on your page. Wordle gives you a nifty image showing word prominence in a section of text. No percentages. No formulae. Just a nice, quick snapshot of your (or your competitor’s) content.

Just paste in a load of text, or enter a blog feed to get going.

Wordle Image

What's on Gordon Brown's mind? Wordled conference speech.

2. Visual Thesaurus

A handy visual reference for those times when you’re struggling for the right word. Only a free trial here, but it’s inexpensive to sign up for longer access.

3. Adwords Keyword Research

Why should a web writer think about keyword research?

Well, wouldn’t you like to write posts that people are interested in? Wouldn’t you like your articles to be found by as many people as possible? Keyword research lets you find out whether people are asking a particular question of Google, then helps you decide on how to phrase your title.

It’s also another way to get ideas for new posts, articles and pages.

Keyword Research

Enter a few keyword ideas in the main box. Select "Exact" from the Match Type drop-down. Then hit Get Keyword Ideas.


Keyword results

The top box will show close matches for the keyword ideas you entered. The lower box shows a range of related terms.

4. Evernote

Most writers are information junkies. Snippets of info here, stats there. One moment you’re reading a blog post, next minute you’re looking for images on Flickr. If that sounds like you, then you may find Evernote useful. Add notes, photos, URLs, phone snaps, screenshots – even handwriting – and have it sorted via a searchable, user-friendly interface.

Evernote

Evernote: post-it avalanche no longer.

5. Springnote

Similar to Evernote, but with a wiki-style, social slant. Useful for writers who want to share their notes and ideas and attract comments and opinion.

6. Google Docs

Create documents online, then share info and collaborate. Great if you’re working on projects with designers, developers, marketing departments or other copywriters and need regular feedback.

The other bonus of using Google Docs is that it doesn’t add the phantom code and mysterious characters that Microsoft Word is sometimes guilty of.

7. Freemind

Working on a complicated article? Trying to tie together all your ideas for a client’s website copy? Brainstorming a few ideas for a new project?

Mind mapping is a great way to visually connect all of your ideas. Freemind is a downloadable application that lets you build your own mind maps.

8. Google Wonder Wheel

Another tool for visual thinkers.

You access the Wonder Wheel by searching any term in Google, then clicking the Show Options link underneath the search box.

Search Options Google

Click the "Search Options" link beneath the search box.

Then, click the Wonder Wheel link in the left hand option menu (see the red arrow in the pic below). It”ll bring up a mind-map style diagram with related search terms and phrases. Keep clicking until you get bored!

Using Google Wonder Wheel

Click the Wonder Wheel link as shown to start

Looking at the suggestions that arise from clicking write web content, you can already see a few potential content ideas, such as “Write Web Copy For a Busy Audience”. In fact, that’s me sorted for a future blog post right there!

9. Measure Your We-We

*chuckles at the back*

Now, now people. Settle down. This isn’t as puerile as it sounds. Futurenow have a neat customer focus calculator that allows you to see how much you’re droning on about yourself. And, as everyone who’s ever sat with a pub bore knows, the more you go on about yourself, the less interesting it is for the other person.

10. Firebug

Again, this isn’t designed for writers. Instead, it’s a web developer’s add-on for Firefox (and now with a Lite version that works for IE and other browsers). Do I sense eyes glazing over on those of you that aren’t tech fans?

However, if you’re an SEO copywriter, Firebug is an easy way to quickly analyse the elements of any web page. For example, if you want to know which is the H1 tag, just click the Firebug icon and hover over the appropriate text.

11. WordPress.com or WordPress.org

Hey, you’ve got to get your content out there somehow! We use WordPress to power Scribblemill. It’s an easy to use platform, it’s free – and used correctly it has fantastic SEO benefits. WordPress.com is for simple hosted blogging. WordPress.org allows you to download the software and run it on your own self-hosted domain (with your own URL, much like here at Scribblemill).

12. Twitter Search

Twitter lets you see what people are talking about in real time (and it’s no surprise that Google has started adding tweets to their search results). For the writer, it’s a great way to sniff around for hyper-relevant article ideas.

Twitter Search

How about a post on the FA Cup?

Also worth noting trending topics for more inspiration.

13. Google Analytics

You need a website to use this one – and you need to install Analytics code. This free online software then offers a slew of useful stats, from how long someone spends on a page, to your most popular keywords.

There really are dozens of ways a canny copywriter can use Analytics results.

For example, if you find a particular page has a high bounce rate (i.e. people leaving soon after arriving), then you might want to work on improving the content. You can even get some new blog post ideas from looking at the various (and unexpected) terms people use to land on your site from the search engines.

14. Google Trends

Some keywords are popular on a seasonal basis (e.g. Christmas Trees, sun tan lotion, January Sales). Some keywords have a fleeting moment in the sun, then tail off when popularity wanes (e.g. Jedward).

Google Trends lets you plan your content depending on when a keyword is rising in popularity. (Of course, there are occasions when you might want to target phrases that are declining in popularity, but we’ll leave the strategy to you.)

15. Readability Test

If you’re trying to connect with the broadest possible audience, you need to make sure your writing is readable. That means using short, active sentences and words with few syllables.

This readability test works as a useful reminder if you’re straying too far into the land of verbosity, garrullousness and uneccessarily overcomplicated gramatical constructions. (Oh, alright. Waffling.)

16. Flickr

Not strictly a writing tool (unless you use the images to get inspiration for your content). However, if you’re writing blog posts, it’s worth considering just how much more appealing a page with a few well-chosen images is compared to a long, unbroken block of text.

17. Your Noggin

No tool is of any use if you don’t apply a bit of noggin.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the word, that’s your bonce, your nouse – your imagination.)

So, let me know if you have any tools you’d like to see on the list, or if you have any interesting ways of using the above. (We already use some of these in our SEO copywriting training courses, but we’re always interested to hear how writers adapt all kinds of tools for their own benefit!)


3 Comments

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  1. dave

    I also use iSpionage for keyword research, along with GoogleAdwords. I like combining more than one keyword tools for double checking, and things are safer.

    Reply
  2. Paul (Author)

    Makes sense, Dave.

    I think if you’re new to keyword research and just want to test the water, Adwords is fine. In fact, for most basic blog and article writing it does the job.

    But absolutely – use multiple keyword research tools to make sure.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Paul

    Reply

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