I am not a good writer and definitely a professional blogger neither. But as a hobbyist blogger for years I came to know some valuable tools that wished someone had shared with me without learning the hard way.
This post explains useful tools to help you to become a better blogger. Or even getting started with blogging without doing much of trial and error on your own.
Importance of good tools
When I started my blogging journey in 2013, I was unaware how goods tools could help to be a better blogger as well as gaining more audience.
At the beginning, I used to write mindlessly and publish. But was not getting the desired results (gaining audience). I blamed bad SEO on my site and overlooked the importance of content. Soon I became too frustrated that even gave up blogging for sometimes (January 2014 – April 2014). Then soon after I started to hate writing.
During that period, I went through each and every small process in my blogging workflow to know reason(s) of my failure. I eventually narrowed them down to multiple reasons. I figured that my posts suffer from (1) grammatical mistakes (2) bad headlines (3) poor knowledge representation and (4) not interesting topics.
Since then I focused on improving my blogging skills. Tried hard to find some good tools which definitely have helped me a lot that I am going to share.
Even though my skills improved compared with years ago, still I make the above mistakes but less frequent with help of good blogging tools. Yet, still, there is a long journey to become a professional blogger.
After reshaping my process, I started to gain some audience and better traffic despite publishing way less frequent nowadays.
Note 1: I discovered some of the following tools by myself and some from online courses. So, all credit does not go to me.
Note 2: I have no affiliation with any of tools mentioned in this post. I am not getting paid or receiving advertisement fee by putting their names here. I am not responsible for how well, good, bad, or evil they function. Use them at your own risk.
Necessary blogging tools
For simplicity sake, tools are divided into five categories and each is introduced separately in below.
Usually, good thoughts (ideas, a sentence, a quote) spark very quickly and gone in a blink an eye. Having a note taking application comes quite handy. There are numerous note taking apps, sites available. Below listed those worthwhile:
Evernote is a de facto note taking application. It has many awesome features and applications for Windows, MacOS, and mobile platforms (Android and iOS). Plus, solid extensions for Firefox, and Google Chrome. Evernote syncs your notes and allow you to seamlessly edit them anywhere, anytime.
There are three downsides to it.
- Since a year ago or so, Evernote does not allow users to have more than two active applications
- There is no native Linux application
- No support for markdown
Above reasons motivated me to seek for an alternative solution (see custom recipe section). I moved away from Evernote and just kept some of my archived notes there.
Recommendation: The best tool for those who just want to get started or get the job down and does not care about having markdown feature.
HackMD is an open source and completely free note taking platform that supports markdown. It allows you to convert your notes to presentation slides with a simple click which is awesome and saving you lots of times. Besides, most of the features supported by Evernote such as sharing notes, restrict editing of notes supported in HackMD.
If you feel adventurous enough, you could even deploy your HackMD instance. I must confess that I tried but failed to get it work!
Having all goodies, HackMD does not have native mobile app. This is a biggest missing part.
Recommendation: Use HackMD if you can live without a native mobile app. Or if you create lots of slides.
My custom recipe (Vim + Dropbox + iA Writer + Pandoc)
Well as the title indicates this is the workflow I established using four apps for note taking which so far works the best for my needs. Sharing it here so anyone interested can apply a similar approach or tweak it based their needs.
I use Vim with markdown plugin vim-markdown to write my notes when I am using my laptop and save them in Dropbox. Then when I am on mobile, I can add/edit my files saved in Dropbox using iA Writer which supports markdown syntax perfectly.
I choose Dropbox over other vendors because it has native (partially open source) app for Linux and makes syncing files fairly easy.
If I ever need to generate Pdf, HTML, or anything out of my files, I use Pandoc.
Recommendation: Use it at your own risk 😊 and if seeking ultimate flexibility.
Having a catchy headline is crucial to get more attention. If you take a look at most read Medium posts, you will see all have very strong headlines that encourage users to click and read. I have put some random examples of good headlines in below:
- 7 Pieces of Thinking That Can Free You From An Ordinary Life
- 77 Important Truths I’ve Learned About Life
- This 1 Habit Can Completely Rebuild Your Life
- Three Focus Failures and How to Avoid Them
- How to Make Money Online: 38 Remote Jobs in 2018
There are numerous tools available to help generating good headlines to get more attention. Keep in mind the headlines not only should be SEO friendly but also human-friendly. The latter has more importance because the ultimate audience is humans and will be impacted minimally by any changes on a search engine.
Note: Don’t abuse headline generators as click bait to promote low-quality contents or just to earn money. Good headlines make sense only when combined with high-quality legit contents.
Below is the list of some sites that could help to generate headlines.
Inbound Now has a tool, click here, to help to generate human-friendly titles. It suggests headlines with a blank word to fill. For instance, “The world worst […] advice”. If you pay attention to social media and many news agencies, you would realize they use very similar titles.
Recommendation: It is very good and generated titles are very popular.
HubSpot is very different species compare with Inbound Now. It generates ideas/titles. The process is simple, just provide three nouns and you get a title.
Most of the headlines do not make sense for technology-related topics such as Computer.
Once I attempted to get a good headline from Hubspot and supplied following keywords:
Consequently, received a list of garbage titles:
- 5 Tools Everyone in the Linux Industry Should Be Using
- The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Terminal
- Think You’re Cut Out for Doing app? Take This Quiz
- 10 Signs You Should Invest in Linux
- 14 Common Misconceptions About Terminal
Recommendation: Judge yourself by the given example 😉. It is a handy website to get some ideas though.
Buzzsumo does not generate headlines but instead pulls the latest popular headlines available on the Internet for a given topic and provides some useful statistics about each. It is a very good place to get some ideas when you want to give a title for an article.
Recommendation: So far is the best tool available to give some clues and help to generate titles based on facts not generated garbage words.
There are many sites are out there to generate titles. I didn’t find any worthwhile to allocate a dedicated section for each, so I put those encountered in past here with some example each generated for a given word which was “Linux”. Let’s have some fun 😀
Some example titles generated by SEOPressor
- How To Leave Linux Without Being Noticed.
- The Worst Advice We’ve Heard For Linux.
- 5 Questions To Ask At Linux.
- 10 Things You Should Know About Linux.
- How Will Linux Be In The Future?
Tweak Your Biz
Some example titles generated by Tweak Your Biz
- 9 Reasons Abraham Lincoln Would Be Great At Linux
- Top 90 Quotes On Linux
- How To Rent A Linux Without Spending An Arm And A Leg
- What Can You Do To Save Your Linux From Destruction By Social Media?
- What Zombies Can Teach You About Linux
Some example titles generated by Portent
- Why Linux is the 51st Shade of Grey
- How Linux is bringing sexy back
- How to stay popular in the Linux world
- What Jezebel should write about Linux
- Why Linux sucks more than new Star Wars
Recommendation: Use them if you want to generate sarcastic contents such as Sudo Satirical , otherwise, your own very crappy title would be way better than what generated by these sites.
Not only you can generate headlines but also you can analyze headlines you came up with to see how good they are.
Unfortunately, I only found only one website to do headline analysis.
Coschedule is the only headline analyzer I ever used. I discovered it a few months back. It provides a very detailed analysis for a given title which is surely useful. It is free to use, you just need to sign up. Analysis usually helps me to generate better headlines and/or tweak the existing ones.
Recommendation: Use it to know more about how good your headlines are.
Adding more pictures to your articles is helpful to avoid boring readers. However, finding a picture from Google is very bad idea because in almost all cases they are copyrighted. Using them eventually can cause some troubles.
One option is to take pictures by yourself and use them. But not everyone is a photographer and for people like me, photography is tough and unpleasant.
The best alternative could be to use sites that offer pictures freely without any copyright. There are many sites available and all are good equally. Here, I just introduce two only.
I personally have not had any experience with Unsplash but heard many bloggers highly recommended it. Based on my quick observation, the pictures are quality and free of copyrights. So it should not be any harm to use. Only it does not have pictures for all topics.
Recommendation: Depends on topics you are seeking it can be good or bad. Picture qualities are reasonably well.
Pixabay is a community driven repository with full of high-quality images on different topics. I didn’t find any other advantages over Unsplash.
Recommendations: A large database for a variety of topics consists of 1.2 million high-quality pictures.
Graphic design and logo
If you need any online low-cost designs you can find many on the Internet. I only experienced a single one which is Canva and I would say it is a good tool and simple enough for anyone to get started with and use it.
Grammar and proofreading
To proofread your writing and correct grammatical, punctuational errors I highly recommend using Grammarly. It is the best tool available and has awesome features, some are paid and some are free. The free version is good for starters but does not satisfy all needs such as plagiarism checking, etc. The web interface also provides vocabularies if you click on a word plus translation of words if you have the extension installed in your browser.
On the downside, the premium cost of Grammarly is too expensive and not everyone could afford easily.
Improve writing skills and quality
Besides checking for errors and proofreading, you might want to improve your writing skills to make high-quality contents. Hemingway is a tool to help you to provide suggestions on your writing and guide you to improve. The feature I really like about it is suggestions to simplify the sentences so readers can follow easily.
Yes, Medium is a writer social media that is gaining more popularity daily. I recommend to cross-post your blog posts to Medium to get more readers and spread your words more effectively. You also can use Smedian to collaborate on Medium publications.
If you are not confident enough to publish in Medium, you can first gain some confidence by taking some online writing courses to sharpen your writing skills.
Tracking republished articles
To keep track of your articles that republished in other platforms, I highly recommend using Google Alert. You can easily know what sites republished your articles.
Also published on Medium.