We spend a lot of time talking about strategy here, but sometimes readers get curious about how we accomplish certain things in a sufficient time span. To address this, I decided to draft up a list of 7 tools that I think are vital to a content marketing and link building strategy.

This list might look a bit different from some of the other lists of SEO tools you’ve come across, since not all of these tools are intended strictly as link building or content marketing tools. Even so, we’ve found that these versatile tools make all the difference. Let’s take a look.

1. BuzzStream

Whether your intent is to build links or get some PR, BuzzStream manages to be incredibly useful for both content marketing and link building. While the link building tool may be more useful for SEOs and the PR and social tool may be more useful for content marketing consultants, the truth is that both are versatile enough to be used for both purposes, and that they are fundamentally the same tool.

Here are some of the reasons why I really love this tool:

  • When you find a site or an influencer that you like, all you need to do is hit a button in your browser toolbar and the site will be added to your database. Buzzstream automatically collects information like PageRank and Domain Authority and puts it into a sorted database.
  • Once a site is added, Buzzstream also automatically tracks down email addresses, social pages, and contact forms. This saves a huge amount of time.
  • You can easily filter and sort the database with custom tags, relationship stages, contact history, email templates used, locations, groups, domain authority, and link category.
  • The outreach tool tells you the response rate for each email template so you can optimize your outreach.
  • You can easily customize the outreach messages for each contact, both with direct edits and with automatic customization for names and so on.
  • Each contact comes with a full history or previous interactions like emails and tweets, as well as notes. There’s also a history for links built, and tab for profile information. If the site has an RSS feed, you can access it directly from the contact panel, making it easy to reference recent posts.
  • You can import contact information from other tools as well, such as FollowerWonk. If those records are incomplete, BuzzStream will also search for the same information it does when you add a site through the toolbar.
  • The link building version of the tool also offers some useful link tracking, reporting, and exporting tools that you can use to monitor your progress.
  • You can schedule emails to be sent out at a later time if it makes sense.

As with any tool, the key is to use it properly. Simply using the tool to pitch guest posts or beg for links can certainly get you some results, but you’re not truly using it to your potential unless you’re also using it to strengthen connections with influencers.

Another reason I like the tool? It’s actually pretty cheap. There’s a solo version of either tool for just $19 per month. That gets you up to 1,500 link contacts, up to 20 prospecting searches, and 10,000 social monitoring results.

2. Ahrefs

There’s always a bit of a debate when it comes to which link research tool is best. For me, Ahrefs is probably the best tool available if you have to pick only one. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Research by Analytics SEO suggests that Ahrefs crawls the most number of links per site and crawls the least number of duplicated links compared to Moz and Majestic SEO. It’s ratio of live links to dead links is better than either Moz or Majestic. After accounting for suspected duplicate links, Afrefs also has more total links in its index than Majestic. It also has more unique live links than any of the other options. All of this suggests that Ahrefs has the best overall link index.
  • Ahref’s timeline view of links (or referring domains) makes it very easy to track how quickly you or your competitors are acquiring backlinks, and while the total number of backlinks isn’t necessarily the best metric, this is extremely useful when you consider the value of link velocity. High link velocity, if it is (or looks) natural, can rank sites very quickly. This is because viral campaigns produce a large number of links quickly.
  • Automatically generated anchor text distribution graphs are incredibly useful for quickly identifying potential competitors whose seemingly huge link profiles may actually be very weak and at risk of penalties.
  • Ahrefs domain comparison tool makes it extremely easy to compare yourself with up to 4 competitors using very meaningful data.
  • The Ahrefs mention tracker is extremely underrated and a great way to measure how much impact your campaigns are having on web activity, become a part of that conversation, and drive additional links, traffic, and buzz as a result. It’s also useful as a way of finding topically oriented discussions and joining them.
  •  Timelines for the ratios of text/redirect, no follow/do follow, and site-wide/not site-wide make it easy to monitor the health of your site or your competitors.
  • It’s easy to view a list of not just all the links, but specific types of links like site-wide, do follow, educational, and so on.
  • The ability to sort links by rank, domain rank, or first seen is extremely helpful. You can view either the most authoritative links or the most recent links.
  • I love the fact that the list of links also tells you how many internal and external links are on the referring page, since a lower number of outbound links from a page means each link is typically more valuable.
  • You can limit the number of referring URLs from each domain to just one, so that you see only the best link from that domain. This gives you a better estimate of the range of sites that are linking to you or your competitor.

All in all this is my favorite link research tool. I still use OpenSiteExplorer for its Page Authority/Domain Authority metric, which still correlates better with search results than anything else, but Afrefs just seems to have a wider range of features and more data to work with.

3. FollowerWonk

I’ve found that FollowerWonk can be a great tool to discover influential people on the web. Once you’ve found them, you can export the data over to BuzzStream and start building some influential relationships. This is a crucial part of any content marketing strategy, and it typically plays a big part in link building as well. Here are a few of the reasons I like it:

  • The “search twitter bios” feature makes it easy to find influencers who are interested in or experts in subjects that are relevant to your business
  • If you have trouble finding somebody influential within a particular niche, you can use the “analyze followers” tool on somebody who takes an interest in that niche. It will tell you who that person follows.
  • To take things to the next level, you can use the “compare users” tool to look at who three people follow in common. This will reduce the number of results, but it will give you a list of influencers that these people follow who will be much more relevant to your niche.
  • If you are using Twitter yourself, FollowerWonk’s tools “track followers” and “sort followers” tools help you gain an understanding of your audience that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. You can find your most influential followers and build relationships with them, or take a look at the most influential people your audience members follow.
  • You can export your followers, followers of similar influencers, overlapped audiences, and so on. Importing that data into BuzzStream is a great way to quickly find out which of these tweeters have sites of their own, and which of those sites have promising link metrics.
  • One very useful chart tells you when your followers are most active on Twitter.
  • Hovering your mouse over a tweeter will tell you what percent of their messages are retweets, what percent are @Contacts, what percent of their tweets contain links, and what percent of their audience is engaged.
  • One of my favorite ways to use FollowerWonk: use it to find influential people who follow influencers that you have worked with. This pre-existing relationship will make outreach much easier.

Of course, you have to sign up for Moz Analytics to get FollowerWonk, and if you’re already using Ahrefs this might seem redundant. Thankfully, the free version of FollowerWonk is still fairly useful, especially for finding people who follow influencers you’ve worked with. I would recommend using at least the free version.

4. KISSmetrics

If there’s one thing most content marketers are missing, it’s data. They’re missing data that connects content with sales. Sure, Google Analytics will tell you which page led directly to a sale, but you typically miss all of the interactions that took place before up to that point that might have influenced the decision. That’s why I love KISSmetrics.

  • The absolute best thing about KISSmetrics is the fact that it allows you to work backwards. When a user becomes a customer, KISSmetrics connects all of their previous browsing history to their new account. This allows you to see farther back in the process, back to the original referral sources and pieces of content that connected them to your site. You can go deeper than just pointing to an increase in sales, and actually trace those sales back to the specific guest posts, social platforms, and content that started that user on the right track.
  • Since it traces individual customers instead of bulk traffic, you can see not only which parts of your site get used most often, but in which order. Use this to develop an understanding of what your buying funnel looks like. You may identify key pieces of content that make up part of a lead nurturing campaign.
  • KISSmetrics also tracks users across gadgets. Once a user creates a customer account, their scattered behavior across multiple devices gets linked together.
  • For each original referral source, you can track overall revenue, lifetime value, average revenue per person, and the total number of paying customers. Again, this is based on the traffic source that first sent them to your site.
  • You can also see how revenue differs across search terms, campaigns, product types, and of course, any content they might have seen along the way. This allows you to assign direct financial value to each piece of content.
  • Likewise, you can compare conversion rates across traffic sources, campaigns, search terms, product types, and content, allowing you to measure how all of these efforts are influencing sales on a per-visitor basis.

While KISSmetrics might not necessarily be your first choice, I strongly believe that you need a metrics package of some kind that can trace individual user behavior and how it is influenced by content. Without this, your knowledge of what’s working and what isn’t is limited, and it’s difficult to optimize your strategy.

One great alternative is HubSpot Analytics. While the data isn’t directly tied to revenue as it is with KISSmetrics, and it costs a bit more, it’s part of a comprehensive inbound marketing package, and it offers competitive reporting, SEO metrics, and so on.

5. MailChimp

If you aren’t doing email marketing, I don’t believe you’re really doing content marketing. True content marketing doesn’t capture demand, it creates it. The best way to do that in a modern setting is to capture a repeat audience and gradually persuade them to your point of view, or hold their attention until a need for one of your products emerges.

You have plenty of email marketing platforms to choose from, but MailChimp is my personal favorite for a few reasons:

  • As I said above, it integrates with KISSmetrics, which makes this very convenient. A good email marketing strategy is all about personalization, and since KISSmetrics pulls metrics down to the individual level, you can’t get any more personalized than that.
  • If your list is under 2,000 contacts, MailChimp is free, making it the perfect choice for list builders.
  • Reporting is straightforward and intuitive. By comparing your campaign’s open rate with your average overall open rate, as well as the industry average, it’s immediately clear how successful your campaign has been. And, again, I can’t stress how important it is that this reporting can be tied into KISSmetrics so that you can easily trace it all to dollars and cents.
  • Personally, I find MailChimp easier to use than any of the other email platforms.
  • MailChimp is friendly to designers who want to create their own signup forms, either from scratch or using their relatively easy GUI interface. Their interface for designing HTML emails is also more flexible than most, and they will host the images for you.
  • It’s easy to setup autoresponders that only respond to a specified subset of your audience, depending on what they signed up for.
  • Segmentation is crucial, and MailChimp makes it easy. You can segment emails to users in a specific area, subscribers with a certain level of engagement, recent subscribers, and subscribers who clicked certain campaigns, among other things. They also have a tool that allows you to create segments based on content they have looked at.
  • In addition to KISSmetrics, MailChimp integrates with Google Analytics and you can use it to create revenue reports.

Content marketing doesn’t work unless you capture an audience, and you can’t do that without an email strategy. Two great alternatives to MailChimp are GetResponse and Aweber.

6. Swayy

Content marketers need to stay on top of what’s trending in their niches, curate content to share with their audience, and get inspiration. I’ve tried a lot of tools that are meant specifically for content marketers, and the vast majority of them just don’t do it for me. That’s why most every tool I’ve mentioned so far is actually useful for a broader range of marketers. I simply don’t believe in tools that help you “write better” or anything along those lines.

Swayy is one glaring exception for me. I never thought I’d find a content discovery and curation tool that worked much better for me than, say, Google, combined with some social network/bookmark browsing. Swayy has proven me wrong. It’s an incredibly useful content discovery tool. Here’s why I like it:

  • If you’ve ever used something like, say, StumbleUpon, it brings that kind of serendipity to the content discovery process. You choose a series of topics that interest you, and it populates a feed with the most interesting content available for those subjects. This content discovery engine is so useful and entertaining that I think they could market it to the general public.
  • Swayy analyzes your social media accounts to better understand your interests, and the content gets even more relevant and interesting when you take that step. You can link it with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It doesn’t spam your followers.
  • Swayy aggregates content using tools that no other content discovery tool uses. It uses natural language processing tools to categorize articles, and it uses machine learning algorithms to identify the most interesting, most relevant content. They are in the process of patenting the discovery engine.
  •  You can get a lot out of Swayy using just the free version, the pro version is only $9 per month, and the business version is just $49 per month. That makes it the cheapest tool we’ve talked about so far, and it’s more than worth it.
  • I’ve found that the trending keywords are actually useful, as opposed to what I usually see in Twitter.
  • It’s very easy to share content with your followers using the tool.
  • While the analytics package isn’t mind-blowing, it’s nice to have all of your content curation metrics in one place. It tells you how many links you shared, how many were clicked, and the average number of clicks per link. You can also view the metrics for each link in a timeline, or see a graph of your number of shared links and your number of clicks over time.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the tool because it’s very simple and very easy to use. It’s just a great way to find content, and I would recommend every content marketer use at least the free version. Another tool in a similar vein is Scoop.it, which to me feels a bit more cluttered and less targeted, but it also shares more content to dig through if you’re looking for hidden gems.

7. Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator

A lot of content marketers will recommend an infographic tool like Piktochart, recommend using a meme generator, or point you to any number of other visual tools, but in my opinion these are all secondary and they don’t allow you to do anything that stands out. I personally believe that every content marketer should have a copy of Photoshop, Illustrator, or both. Modern content marketing simply needs visual content:

  • We need images to share on social networks. Heavily shared content on social networks, especially Facebook, is almost exclusively visual. While photos and Instagram can go a long way, the best way to pull a reader onto a blog post is with a stylized title, quote, graph, or guide. This means at least some graphic design is necessary.
  • We need images to break up text, and again, photos and screenshots can only go so far.
  • We need well designed landing pages with plenty of whitespace and visual imagery that look professional.
  • Infographics, visual guides, whitepapers, and ebooks need to look good and unique.

All of this requires a legitimate graphic design tool, or at least a free imitation like Gimp or Inkskape.

If you have to choose between the two, Illustrator will probably typically be your best bet. This is because it allows you to resize and move individual objects easily, making it the best fit for wireframing site designs, logos, titles, stylized text for social networks, and the kind of minimalist, shape-defined designs that are in vogue.

Photoshop, on the other hand, is more useful if you need to work images into your posts, or if you are creating something that resembles a more traditional doodle or painting.

A combination of both tools is often best, though any content marketer should be able to suffice with just one of them.

Conclusion

While tools should never become your marketing strategy, it’s virtually impossible to succeed with content marketing and link building without them. Tools that simplify outreach, discovery, measurement, and creation can help you hone your skills and outpace the competition.

I hope this list was helpful, and if you liked it we’d love it if you shared it with somebody who could benefit. Leave a comment if something is on your mind, and get in touch if you want to talk business. Thanks for reading.