September 26, 2016
/ by Jim Dougherty
Tech tools make me seem like a better writer than I am. If left to my own devices I write in a passive voice, I habitually use compound sentences, and my vocabulary choice is less than ideal (humblebrag – I use too many syllables).
On a weekly basis, I get a platform to the communications and marketing communities and need to write effectively for them. My content pieces are often readable and coherent despite my abilities because of a gauntlet of tech tools I use to improve them before publishing (I also have good editors, which for the purposes of this piece we’ll ignore).
What I want to do in this post is examine tech tools that improve different dimensions of your writing. Whether it’s optimizing your writing for search discovery, making the text more readable, or avoiding the contraction “you’re” when you want to use the possessive, “your.” Some of these tools may help make your writing better, with little additional work by you.
Tools to improve your headlines
According to Copyblogger, 80% of readers never get past your headline. Of course, a mean (average) is a misleading way to consider this: great headlines get tons of click-throughs and attention. Great content with a poor headline frequently gets ignored.
Of course, there are numerous tips for improving your headlines, but there are also some sites that evaluate your headlines to estimate their effectiveness at generating reader interest (and these tools are free to use):
I’d caveat using these tools by saying that (from personal experience) you can manipulate your headlines so thoroughly that you score high by their measures and completely obfuscate the topic of your post. As with any tech tool, it’s important to make sure that how it’s guiding you to write passes a “common sense” test.
Tools to improve your readability
If you’ve ever looked for a spell-checker in WordPress, you probably have heard of “After the Deadline,” an impressive spell-checker that was acquired by Automattic and incorporated into its signature “Jetpack” plugin. No longer developed as a stand-alone product, ATD also had some portability issues with its Chrome extension (specifically with Google Docs) and didn’t work with Office.
One newer alternative that many content creators are using is Grammarly, an all-encompassing freemium spelling and grammar check tool that has a fully-functioning Chrome extension, Microsoft Office extension, and works well with WordPress. The free version does a cursory spell-check, and the premium version corrects grammar as well. Ever since getting my premium account I have a recurring nightmare about the “passive voice” prompt. My voice is also less passive.
While Grammarly is perhaps the most popular tech tool for readability, there are also many alternatives, such as Ginger, WhiteSmoke, Hemingway, and Grammarbase.
Tools to improve your markup / organization
Writers who edit in WordPress may write directly into the cloud by default, but there are a class of “desktop blog editor” products that offer additional features and ease that WordPress proper cannot.
For example, I’m editing this in one of the most popular blog editors: Open Live Writer. OLW integrates directly to my site, has all of the formatting options of WordPress, and has some cool bells and whistles like importing hyperlinks from the clipboard rather than cutting and pasting (and it remembers your last settings, so you don’t have to click-though each time you post a link to make sure it opens in a new window).
Other desktop blog editor options include BlogDesk and BlogJet.
If you’re writing longer content pieces or content that might be edited or arranged by section, Scrivener might be a helpful tool for you. Scrivener doesn’t do HTML markup, but it does allow you to write different sections of content independently from each other and re-arrange the parts quickly into a whole. I use it for longer content, content with multiple contributors, and for the book that I will someday write yet continue to put off.
Tools to improve your speed
Siri. Cortana. Alexa. Google Now. Although it still has its quirks, voice recognition has come a long way and continues to grow as so many companies push its boundaries.
One of the ways that you can leverage voice recognition for your writing is to dictate rather than write. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to write some of my content, and it is much faster (initially). Another benefit of Dragon over other speech recognition is that it works for nearly any site with the same functionality.
Talking “as you write” requires a little bit of getting used to, but it’s far faster to speak into a microphone than it is to peck away at a keyboard. The caveat to this speed is that it takes much greater concentration to proofread and to edit.
Believe it or not, sometimes speech-recognition software doesn’t write what you want it to. I infamously submitted a post with “you’re” substituted for “your” after dictating the post to WordPress – which I normally only do when posting to Facebook or when leaving comments on sports message boards.
Alternatives: Search for how to dictate with Cortana for Microsoft products, or dictation with the other AIs. I’ve tried some of the apps in the Microsoft and Chrome stores, and they aren’t reliable enough to recommend for professional writing.
Tools to improve your distribution
The Holy Grail of content is getting someone to read (or watch) something that you’ve worked so hard to publish. One of the most cost-effective ways to do this is to use a blog-sharing tool like Triberr.
On Triberr, you connect with other content creators who write about similar topics and share each other’s content (all of the sharing is manual). Triberr is a formalized type of blog-sharing group, yet for many businesses “grassroots” promotion like this may not be an option.
You (probably) should have focused on this a long time ago, but an email subscriber list is one of the most efficient ways to regularly deliver content to the people you want to read it.
Email subscribers are high-barrier-to-entry contacts that you’ve migrated from social media or have otherwise incentivized. Once they’re subscribed, the likelihood that they will opt-out of your content is low (although you still need to make it good enough to read). Why is this a tech tool? Typically you’ll use a CRM solution like the Cision suite to manage your subscribers and segmentation.
Paid distribution is one of the most reliable ways to distribute your content to the people you want to consume it. Facebook, Google, and even Twitter have broad segmentation options to target audiences with your content.
Tools to improve your SEO
SEO is such a nebulous concept for most people because it’s a not a reliable referral source for most businesses or it is a referral source for niche keywords.
Search favors bigger companies, so most companies will probably see search as an aspect of their business that is (somewhat) out of their control.
SEO tools can help you optimize for SEO without spending a lot of time and resource to do it. Tools like the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin minimize the amount of work you have to do to optimize for search by highlighting small improvements you can make to your content.
This is a small sample of the many tools that are available for crafting content that resonates best with your audiences. Whether you use these tools or find others that fit more specific needs, hopefully, this gives you an idea of how software can help make you a better content creator.
Get more tips for crafting, sharing and repurposing your content with Cision’s white paper The 3 Stages of Expanding Your Content’s Reach: Creation, Distribution and Amplification. Download this free guide for step-by-step instructions that will establish your authority and expand your reach with content.
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