Especially when you are a small business, a sole trader, or a start-up, you don’t have an endless budget to work with to help you develop your lifestyle blog. If your main reason for having a blog is to boost the profile of your lifestyle brand, then you are probably a bit reluctant to spend too much on it at first too – you need to see that it is delivering a solid return on investment (ROI) before you put loads of money behind it.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free tools out there you can use to take your posts to the next level – good news for anyone wanting to use a blog to market their small lifestyle business.
I’ve put together a list of the 6 tools that I use most often when I’m writing blog posts, whether for myself or for clients. They are all totally free, although most have a premium version with more features. I use most of these on a daily basis.
Just to reassure you, none of these are affiliate links. I’m not being paid to promote these platforms in anyway. They are tools I genuinely use and want to recommend.
1. Co Schedule Headline Analyzer
Do you struggle to write a good headline? I swear, it is the hardest part of putting a blog post together. Headlines are vital to how well a post will perform – they are the first thing people see and determine how likely it is they’ll click through to read.
Headlines also occupy that important H1 tag on your page, which helps search engines to determine what your post is about.
So, we know that headlines are important. But how to write a good one?
I really struggled with this, until I found out about Co Schedule’s Headline Analyzer tool.
It is free to use. You just type in your headline and it is automatically analysed. Your score is displayed at the top and, as you scroll down, you’ll see some further analysis on your word usage, headline length, and the type of headline.
This shows some of the options I tried for this post. For my own blog, I’m happy with over 70. For clients, I try to push it up past 75. The highest score I’ve managed so far was 83 (I’m not sharing what that one was, sorry – it was for a client!)
If you have sharp eyes, you might notice I’ve not actually used the highest scoring option for this post. That’s because the content still has to match the promise in the headline or readers will be disappointed. I’m writing about the tools, not blogging itself, so this option was a better fit for my content.
I also use the headline analyzer when I am pitching to prospective clients – a good headline matters there too!
So, if you want to get a better click-through rate on your lifestyle blog posts, definitely run your headlines through Co Schedule.
2. Unsplash / Pexels / Pixabay
If you are a fantastic photographer, or already have lots of in-house images you can use, feel free to skip ahead to #3.
Personally, I’m not a great photographer. Also, it has been difficult this year to get out and take pictures of anything that isn’t within about a 2-mile radius of my flat.
If you are like me, you might be wonder how to get free images for your lifestyle blog. When I first started freelance writing, clients would occasionally ask me about providing images along with the posts I wrote for them and I’d be at a complete loss.
I only knew about paid for options like Shutterstock. And there was no way I had the budget for that. Since I mainly work with small businesses and start-ups, my clients didn’t either.
Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to discover that there are actually a whole bunch of sites that offer royalty-free stock images you can use for your blog posts.
My favourite is Unsplash – it feels like it has the biggest library and I can almost always find something I like. But Pixabay and Pexels are both great options too. Just be aware that both of those will also show you Shutterstock images as part of your search. If you use WordPress, you’ll already have access to the free images from Pexels via your WordPress console.
The only issue with free stock images is that there are only a limited number to go around the vast number of people wanting to use them, so you do tend to find lots of other lifestyle businesses using the same pictures.
That’s why your copy needs to be on point to help you stand out. Which brings me to…
You’ve probably heard of Grammarly – they’ve got a fairly aggressive marketing team so for a while it felt like every YouTube video I watched had a Grammarly advert (or Monday.com).
I haven’t used their premium version, because I just don’t feel like it is necessary. But I do like their free grammar and spelling checker as an addition to the built-in grammar check in Microsoft Office. Especially because you can set different goals depending on your intended audience and tone of voice, and Grammarly will help you see if you’ve achieved them.
For me, Grammarly is useful when I am writing for American or Australian clients – it is an additional check that I am using the correct spellings.
But it is good for checking over writing in your native dialect too, particularly if you aren’t a very confident writer. Nothing brings down the quality of a blog post faster than bad grammar and misspelt words.
As well as Grammarly, I’ve used ProWritingAid and Hemingway to check my writing in the past. In both cases, there are free versions that, in my opinion, do everything you need. Each has slightly different features.
Ultimately, I still think it is important to cast a human eye over everything you write – AI technology can help, but doesn’t have the nuance that a person does. But if you need a quick way to check your spelling, tone, and grammar, Grammarly is a good option.
As I think we might have established by now, I am all about the words… and way less good when it comes to visuals like photography (and gift wrapping). That’s why Canva is one of my favourite things on the internet – it makes creating visually appealing content easy even for the design-challenged (like me).
Like many of these tools, Canva has a premium version that gets you access to more images and features, but I find the free version does pretty much everything I need.
I use Canva mainly for Pinterest and for infographics (like the one at the bottom of this post here). If I ever get time to go back onto social media, I’d also use it for branded social media posts and stories.
5. Moz Toolbar and Google Keyword Planner
So far, I’ve been focusing on tools to use for blog posts themselves. But, if you read my post on SEO, you might also be considering how to boost the search engine ranking of your lifestyle business, including your blog posts.
I’m not an SEO expert. However, when I write for clients, they are often looking to up their search rankings. Usually in those cases they’ll have come to me with their keyword research already done, but when I’m writing regular blogs for them, as I do for many clients, I also want to do some research myself before pitching ideas for posts.
For my purposes, the monthly price tag that comes with proper SEO tools are overkill. So I make use of these two free tools instead.
I know, technically this is two tools, not one. But I use them together, so I feel like they only get to count as one entry on the list.
As you might remember from the SEO blog post, when you are choosing your keywords you want ones that fall at the sweet spot of relatively high search volume and relatively low competition.
Google Keyword Planner helps with the volume part. It’s actually designed for paid-for advertising. But lots of people use it for this too.
You create a campaign with all your potential keywords, and it will tell you which ones have the best search volume.
(This isn’t a real search, I just wanted to give a quick example)
Ignore the competition column here – this means the competition for paid ads, not for organic searches. What you are interested in is the volume part.
Once you have ID’d some medium and high-volume keywords, you can use the Moz toolbar to check the competition. You just install it in Chrome.
Clear your cache first, so that your previous search history doesn’t affect your findings. Then do a Google search on each of your potential keywords.
Moz will show you a rating for the PA (page authority) and DA (domain authority) for the sites that appear for your keywords. It won’t show this for the paid ads that appear at the top, just for the organic results.
Just to be clear, these metrics aren’t used by Google. But they are a good indicator of the authority given to those pages. The higher the authority of the sites on page one, the harder it will be to shake them from that position.
Hard, not impossible. You should also have a quick look down the pages that appear to check relevance. If you can write a post for your lifestyle brand that is more relevant to the search query, you might still push them off top spot.
So, Keyword Planner gives you an idea of search volume, Moz toolbar tells you the likely competitiveness of your keyword.
Last one – and again this is more about what happens offsite to make your lifestyle brand’s blog a success.
Particularly when you have more than one person contributing content to your blog, keeping everything organised is essential. It saves you time by giving you one central place to link all your topic ideas, upcoming posts, keywords etc.
There are plenty of different options out there. I like Trello because it is free and easy to use.
I use Trello to keep track of my different writing assignments, including this blog and the work I have on for clients. Some of my clients also use it and invite me to their boards as an easy way to share ideas and know what I am working on for them (and when it is due).
I keep my own board pretty simple. I have five lists: pending, to-do, in progress, done (awaiting payment/publishing), done (archived). I use the colour tagging option to show me the urgency of items on the to-do and in progress lists.
Things move from list to list as they go from initial pitch to published post. It also helps me to track which invoices are still outstanding on finished articles.
The payment issue might be less important to you if you only write for your own company or blog. But if you commission freelancers (like me 😊), Trello can help you keep track of what isn’t yet paid for too.
And that’s it! My 6 favourite free tools for lifestyle companies (or anyone else) who want to make writing a regular blog less of a chore.
If you have some favourite tools that I’ve not included here, drop me a note in the comments. I can always do round two at a later date.