16 content writing and creation tools for freelance writers

Tools for research, writing, editing, SEO, and graphics every freelance writer needs in their workday.

Writing, editing, research, finding graphics, SEO optimization—they’re all part of delivering great work to your clients. The tools you use can help you work quickly and efficiently, but there are dozens (hundreds?) you can choose from.

Not sure where to start? Wondering which free tools are worth your time, and which paid ones are worth your money? Here are 16 tried and tested tools for every part of your freelance writing assignment.

SEO tools

1. Ahrefs

Ahrefs is an excellent, all-in-one SEO toolset. As a freelance writer, you can make the most of it by using it to:

  • Research keywords: Get the keyword difficulty, find related keywords and questions, traffic potential, and content already competing for the term
  • Track client results: Paste the URL for blog posts and pages you want to track and see their organic traffic, the keywords they rank for and how highly, backlinks they earned, and performance by country
  • Monitor your freelance writer website: Add your website as a project on your dashboard so you can track backlinks, organic traffic and keywords, and performance in different countries

💰 Cost: $99 per month, a $7 trial available for 7 days

Ahrefs is not a small investment, but it can take your search-focused writing to the next level. If you’re not ready to invest on a regular basis, you can research and track your content in batches every few months.

2. Keywords Everywhere

Keywords Everywhere is a browser add-on for Chrome and Firefox. It adds a layer of data to your search results on Google (as well as YouTube, Amazon, and more).

For example, you can see the search volume, CPC, competition, and a trend graph for a search term right at the top:

Then, you can also see a larger trend graph on the side, along with related searches (clicking on “Load Metrics” gives you data for these keywords, too):

Further down the column on the right, you’ll see what people also search for (along with data once you click “Load Metrics”):

💰 Cost: $10 for 100,000 credits (1 credit = 1 keyword). I bought 100,000 credits *ages* ago and still have more than half of them left, so this is a no-brainer purchase.

Keywords Everywhere lets you collect and analyze keywords quickly so you can research and write efficiently. It’s a low-cost power tool and works right inside the search engine you’re already using anyway!

3. Clearscope

Clearscope is the ultimate content optimization tool. Its key focus is making sure your content is relevant, complete, and comprehensive. In other words: it gives the answer or solution that matches the searcher's needs and intent.

Instead of repeating the same keyword over and over, use Clearscope to uncover related keywords and questions and grade your drafts against other high-ranking content.

You can use Clearscope to create an initial outline. Then, as you work through your research and build your draft, you can come back to Clearscope to make tweaks to your headings and sections to maximize your chance of ranking your article highly.

I’ve used Clearscope with several clients and created fantastic results (some articles outrank Wikipedia and bring in more than 10,000 organic monthly visitors!).

💰 Cost: $170 per month for up to 20 pieces each month

Writing and editing tools

4. Google Docs

If you’re still writing in a Microsoft Word document, you’re missing out. Google Docs is the simplest way to write, collaborate on your content with peers and clients, edit efficiently, and move through your document quickly and easily.

My favorite Google Docs features and capabilities include:

  • The outline panel on the left: Google Docs grabs your titles and subheadings and adds them to an outline panel on the left. Click on them to move quickly between sections.
  • Keyboard shortcuts: I rarely use my mouse while in Google Docs because I can turn text into headers, centralize or left-align my text, move between pages, and so much more just from my keyboard (see my favorite shortcuts below!).
  • Collaboration: It’s easy to share a document with a client or a collaborator with appropriate access levels. You can share through a link or by inviting someone using their Google email address.
  • Editing and version control: Add comments or suggestions using built-in collaboration features. When you have lots of edits to track, you can hop into version history and view the complete history of the document, name different versions, and restore a version if you want to. Unlike with Word, there’s one document that stores all that, rather than a dozen different files for different versions of the same work.
  • File sorting: You can sort all your work into Google Drive folders and divide them by client, year, project, and so on. No hunting through your desktop or downloads folder!

💰 Cost: Free (built into both free and paid Google accounts)

💡 Google Docs shortcuts that will make your life easier:

  • Type docs.new into your browser and you’ll create a new document!
  • ⌘+Shift+C (Mac) / Ctrl+Shift+C (PC) shows you your word count. Tick the box to keep the word count on at the bottom of the page.
  • ⌘+Option+[1-6] (Mac) / Ctrl+Alt+[1-6] (PC) turns a line of text into H1, H2 and so on. You don’t need to select the text, just place your cursor on the line you’re changing.
  • ⌘+Shift+E (Mac) / Ctrl+Shift+E (PC) will center your text (again, no need to select all the text, just click on the paragraph you want to align).
  • ⌘+Shift+L (Mac) / Ctrl+Shift+L (PC) will align your text left.
  • ⌘+Option+M (Mac) / Ctrl+Alt+M (PC) will add a comment.
  • If you use Google Workspace (paid version of Google’s services), you can save your templates to the template gallery on the docs.google.com dashboard. I use this to quickly access my brief template.

Related post: 16 Google Docs tips and hacks for freelance writers

5. Headline Studio

Headline Studio is a tool from CoSchedule that analyzes your headlines and suggests improvements to make them stronger and higher-ranking in search.

You’ll get insights for word balance, word and character count, headline type, reading grade, sentiment, clarity, and skimmability. The SEO Score tab (available with Premium) shows you keyword and competitor insights.

You can create 25 versions of a headline until you find the best one and even use CoSchedule’s word bank to get ideas for words to experiment with in your headline.

Cost: Free, premium available from $9 per month (you get three premium headlines upon signup and can purchase more if needed)

6. Hemingway App

Hemingway App highlights complex sentences, potentially unnecessary words, passive voice, and adverbs to help you make your writing bold and clear.

I love it because it makes editing fluff out of your writing really easy.

You don’t need to follow Hemingway’s recommendations perfectly, but even if you implement part of the suggestions, you’ll make your content more readable, skimmable, and useful. 

💰 Cost: Free for the web app, $19.99 for the desktop app (both Mac and PC)

Grammar and spell checker tools

Pretty self-explanatory: grammar and spell-checking tools are pretty useful for catching typos, grammar issues, spelling mistakes (including for American vs. British English), and other errors that are easy to miss.

Like with Hemingway, you won’t necessarily take every suggestion at face value, but you’ll definitely catch unwanted mistakes.

I have two recommendations here, with a caveat:

7. Grammarly (the really popular one)

I used to use Grammarly religiously, both with a browser extension and on Grammarly.com (I even had Premium for a while), but I stopped. I have concerns around privacy (some details here and here), specifically with the browser extension.

Grammarly collects “all text, documents, or other content or information uploaded, entered, or otherwise transmitted by you in connection with your use of the Services and/or Software.” (Source: Grammarly’s privacy policy)

So while the extension is handy to spell-check your emails and other personal messages, Grammarly collects them, and I’m not okay with that.

If you really want to use Grammarly (it is a good editing tool, after all), I recommend skipping the browser extension and instead using the Grammarly.com interface where you can paste your piece of content (and give Grammarly access to just that).

💰 Cost: Free, or $12 per month for Premium

8. LanguageTool (the privacy-focused one)

LanguageTool is an open source, privacy-friendly alternative to Grammarly.

You can run your text through their checker without creating an account. Of course, there’s also the option to create a free account where you can store your texts and build your personal dictionary, as well as a browser extension.

LanguageTool also offers a Premium option with advanced suggestions, longer texts, and add-ons for Google Docs and Microsoft Word.

💰 Cost: Free, or €48 per year for Premium

Plagiarism tool

9. Copyscape

Want to check your content against plagiarism? I recommend doing this with Copyscape for your research-heavy content.

If you use other sites for statistics, quotes, steps, technical information etc., you’ll want to make sure you’re crediting your sources, paraphrasing, and properly quoting the content you used in your research.

You can run a free Copyscape search on your live content by entering a URL. This will show you up to 10 results.

For content you’re writing for clients, I recommend purchasing some credits and running your content through Copyscape Premium before submitting it to the client. This will cost you 3 cents per search up to 200 words, and an additional 1 cent for each next 100 words.

For example, you’ll pay 12 cents for just over 1,000 words. You’ll end up with a list of results that match your text. You can then click “Compare Text” next to each result, review what matches, and decide if you need to update your citation or paraphrasing.

You’ll pay less than a dollar to make sure your piece of content is sparkling clean. Totally worth it.

💰 Cost: 3 cents per search up to 200 words, and an additional 1 cent for each next 100 words

Research tools

10. Evernote

Evernote is a digital note-taking tool. You can use it for many different note types, like text, images, videos, GIFs, links, sketches, and more.

That’s what makes it a great tool for your swipe file.

A swipe file is a collection of pieces of content like landing pages, emails, blog posts, thank you pages, subscription forms, and anything else that inspires you. By keeping them in a swipe file and tagging them appropriately, you can always tap into your growing library of inspiring examples of marketing, messaging, and writing.

Here’s a portion of mine:

I typically grab screenshots with either the Full Page Screenshot browser extension or CleanShot (both covered below), or I send a link I like into Evernote. Then, once a week, I go to my new notes and screenshots to file them into my Evernote swipe file and add appropriate tags.

I’ve set my swipe file up as an Evernote notebook, but you can use any structure that works for you.

💰 Cost: Free for 60MB monthly upload limit, or $8 per month/$70 per year for upping the monthly upload limit to 10GB

11. Swipe Files by Corey Haines

Swipe Files is a community and membership run by Corey Haines, formerly head of growth at Baremetrics, aimed at SaaS marketers and founders.

I love it because it’s packed with hundreds of examples of landing pages, Facebook ads, emails, pricing pages, and almost any other marketing asset you can imagine and the reasons they work so well.

As a writer, I appreciate the shortcut to finding great examples for client articles. On top of these teardowns, there’s also a master swipe file, a Notion database with 1,200+ screenshots of marketing pieces—video ads, classic ads, Black Friday landing pages, and more.

A massive bonus is a community of SaaS marketers and founders, which means you can chat with and learn from people from companies that might be similar (or identical!) to your dream clients.

💰 Cost: $99 or $399 per year, depending on the tier you choose

12. Toby

Toby is the perfect tool for you if you tend to accumulate browser tabs while you do your research. (I’m definitely guilty of that!)

Although I prefer to use what I need from the page and paste the URL into the doc I’m working in, sometimes that’s not possible because I need to jump between multiple resources.

So instead of having 30 tabs for the entirety of my research and feeling overwhelmed every time I sit down to work, I save them as collections in Toby.

I can’t function without Toby anymore and it brings a lot of clarity to my mind. Try it out!

💰 Cost: Free

13. Full Page Screenshot

Pretty self explanatory: Full Page Screenshot is a Chrome extension that makes it *really* easy to screenshot an entire webpage.

Instead of struggling with your mouse and/or touchpad to capture a website from top to bottom, you can click a single button, and the job is done. You can then save the screenshot or delete it.

I use this particularly when screenshotting for my swipe file (explained as part of the Evernote section)—hence the research tool category. After I add the screenshot to the Evernote folder, I delete it from my downloads. Easy!

💰 Cost: Free

Graphics tools

14. CleanShot

If you ever take screenshots of examples to use in your writing (I really hope you do), you’ll love CleanShot. And if you’ve been looking for an easy way to make screencasts or GIFs based on screen recordings, CleanShot is pretty much a superpower.

Without exaggeration, CleanShot is probably the tool that made the most difference to the visual element of my writing.

I used to take a screenshot that would then be saved to my Dropbox, and I’d drag it from my Dropbox into a Google doc I’m working on. If I wanted to make any edits to the screenshot beforehand, I had to do so manually in Preview.

With CleanShot, it’s a different world altogether. You take the screenshot and then you can just save it, or copy it and save it, or edit it, then copy it, then save it… All smoothly going from one step to the next.

And when I say ‘edit it’, I really mean you can go crazy: blurring, highlighting, numbering, arrows, lines, text… It’s excellent. Here’s an aggressive demo of many of these features:

You can also record your screen, with or without your face in the recording, and turn it into a video or a GIF. Super simple to do.

💰 Cost: One-time payment of $29, Mac only (you can save some money per licence if you buy more than one licence)

15. Canva

Canva is a user-friendly tool to make graphics for your blog posts, social posts, ads, and any other marketing asset you’re creating.

Use the free version to do a lot: create graphics of any size or dimension, use templates, upload your own graphic elements, add backgrounds, and more.

With the Pro version, you can also create a brand kit, resize your designs, access premium stock photos, get extra storage, and create folders to categorize your designs.

💰 Cost: Free, or $12.95 per month for Pro

16. Squoosh

Squoosh is an image optimizer. The way it works is simple: you upload an image, choose the quality you want, and download a new version of the image—one that takes up much less space (but looks equally good).

I’ve tried a few other similar tools, but none are as smooth and straightforward as this one. Everything is done locally on your computer, so your files are safe, too.

💰 Cost: Free

Third-party graphics

I recommend building a list of reliable sources of graphs and charts you can reference when you write. The longer you do this, the better your list will be! Here’s a list of places you can start:

  1. Industry household names for reports (for example, for marketing that would be eMarketer and Marketing Charts)
  2. “State of [industry]” reports (just add your industry and dive through search results)
  3. “[topic] statistics” image search (just add your topic)
  4. Statista
  5. Our World in Data

Build your own list and shorten your time to find great graphics.

Bonus: Classes to make your writing excellent

If you want to learn from the best, but want to also learn efficiently, check out these Skillshare classes by folks at CoSchedule, Contently, and more.

Side note: these classes are premium classes, meaning you need a paid subscription to watch them. If you take any of these classes through the links below, you’ll also get a month of Skillshare Premium free (if you don’t already have a paid account) 👌 You can cancel your subscription any time.

  1. 10x Marketing: Content Marketing That Stands Out & Gets Results by Garrett Moon of CoSchedule

Learn what it means to create ‘competition-free’ content. Then, find out how to prioritize 10x opportunities (those that can bring you and your clients 10x results), and build an efficient process.

This is a short, 30-minute class, but if you want more of this, I warmly recommend Garrett Moon’s book 10x Marketing Formula.

  1. Content Marketing: Blogging for Growth by Eric Siu of Single Grain

This is a great, deeper dive (80 minutes) course on brainstorming topics, outlining and writing your blog posts, writing great headlines, and making your blog posts visually appealing.

  1. Powerful Storytelling Today: Strategies for Crafting Great Content by Soledad O’Brien of Starfish Media Group

Take this course to learn the elements of each great story, how to research your topics, create compelling narratives, and interview people like an expert. It’s 36 minutes long.

  1. Writing for Brands: Freelancing in the Age of Content Marketing by Brian Maehl of Contently

Get tips for working with brands, learning to market yourself, and mastering crafting your pitch. The class is only 32 minutes long, great for kicking into gear quickly.

Use this list to build a powerful content writing toolkit and delight your clients through every project you take on.