By Will Stevens published March 18, 2013

How to Run a Content Marketing Campaign on a Budget: 5 Free Tools

zero-budget content marketing campaignPicture the scene – you’re an innovative marketer working for a company that is stuck in the past.

They have a website but they’ve never really paid much attention to SEO and they’re certainly not going to give you any money to engage in this newfangled “content marketing” the kids are talking about.

What do you do?

Well, believe it or not, it’s actually perfectly feasible to run a (basic) content marketing campaign on zero budget.

Don’t expect the results to be earth-shattering and remember you will need access to a strong writer to get the great guest posting spots that will form the backbone of your efforts.

However, with these five free tools you will be able to run a shoestring campaign that will demonstrate proof of concept to those holding the purse strings, allowing you to make a strong pitch for the kind of budget you deserve.

1. BuzzStream

Best known as a paid-for blogger outreach management system, BuzzStream also offers a range of free tools.

The most useful of these is the Link Building Query Generator: All you have to do is fill in a few straightforward bits of information and you’re presented with a huge list of potential search terms, which can then be used to look for blogging opportunities.

Essentially, the tool makes use of Google operator searches and the fact it produces a large number of potential queries means you’ll never be short of inspiration.

Sorting through page upon page of manual results can be slow going, so read on to discover the best way to handle the data these searches will produce.

2. The SEOmoz toolbar

Anyone who has spent a bit of time working on professional link building projects will know just how useful all of SEOmoz’s tools are.

But even if you can’t afford the subscription fee for the full package, you need the free SEOmoz toolbar in your life. When installed, it displays the domain authority and page authority of any site returned in a Google search.

For the prospective guest blogger, a high DA in particular is a sign that it is worth approaching a site for a link.

It’s a much more nuanced measurement of site quality than PageRank, a metric which has far less significance than it once did. PR can give you a decent guide to a site’s overall quality, but make sure you check its DA to get a fuller picture.

Tip: If you want to see the DA and PA for a particular page, simply paste the URL into Google and the toolbar will do the rest. Unlike the free version of Open Site Explorer, you are not limited to three uses per day with this method.

3. Google Docs

Hardly the most thrilling of tools you’ll use for guest posting, but having somewhere to keep track of all your efforts is vital.

Obviously if you’ve got Microsoft Excel that works just as well, but if you need a free equivalent then Google Docs is your first port of call.

So what can you do with it?

Well, first off, you can use it in conjunction with the two tools mentioned above.

First, set Google to return 100 search results, generate a search query using BuzzStream, run it and then export the data into a CSV file using the SEOmoz toolbar.

Open that file using Google Docs and you then have 100 prospects that you can evaluate based on site quality and DA.

If you’re a more advanced user of Google Docs you can use a free BuzzStream tool to extract the domains from your list of URLs, export the new list to a CSV and then pull the data into a Google Docs pivot table in order to remove any duplicates.

Spending a bit of time learning various functions and the formulas you can build from them will allow you to unleash the full potential on Google Docs, but even before you reach that stage you should find it useful for keeping track of who you’ve contacted and who you still need to contact.

Tip: Plenty of people have already done amazing things with Google Docs, so try searches like “Google Docs SEO tools” to see if you can find something which meets your needs.

Reverse engineering these documents is a great way to learn what you can do through clever use of formulas.

4. Social Crawlytics

Of course guest posting isn’t just about getting links – it’s also about generating traffic, and what better way to ensure your post will be getting an audience than by investigating a prospect’s history of social sharing?

The quickest way to do this is manually – a glance at their Twitter and Facebook stats should tell you what you need to know.

Remember though, it’s not just about followers and fans – remember to check for regular interactions, i.e., posts being retweeted or “liked.”

Once you’ve found a site that has a good following, you can use Social Crawlytics to help you craft the perfect guest post. The tool crawls a site and identifies the most shared articles, allowing you to create a piece of content perfectly suited to that site’s audience.

Look at the structure of the most-shared pieces and the topics they cover and then pitch something which will complement these posts.

If you do it right, the article will get plenty of visitors and the site owner will be keen to have you write for them again, increasing the chances of your site getting good referral traffic.

Tip: If your company has a blog of its own, you can use these methods to direct your internal content strategy as well.

If that blog is maintained by someone other than you, introducing them to Social Crawlytics could gain you an ally in your push to establish content marketing as an integral part of the company’s strategy.

5. Followerwonk

Recently acquired by SEOmoz, Followerwonk is an excellent tool for finding social influencers operating in the same niche as you.

And, with a little bit of magic, you can narrow the search down to find people who have websites, turning it into a guest blog prospecting tool.

Rather than searching for a blog and hoping it has a good social media presence, this method allows you to find someone who has a good social media presence and a blog.

Simply type your keyword into the main search box, then click “more options” and use a domain extension such as “.com” in the URL box. Carry out your search, and you’re presented with a list of people and details about their social media following.

As always, you’ll want to assess the sites to see if they’re worth contacting, and remember it’s possible to buy Twitter followers, so don’t be taken in by high numbers – always check interaction levels as you want to guest post for someone with an engaged audience.

The tool now includes a social engagement metric, but it always helps to cast your eyes over something to see what you think of it.

Again, look through the account to see how many retweets and replies someone is getting, if it’s none or very few, then your post isn’t going to get a good level of exposure so you can leave them off the list of people to contact.

The next step

Once you’ve built up a list of promising sites using the methods detailed above, you can start pitching guest posts to the owners and, with a bit of effort, you should start getting articles on sites that have highly engaged audience members who are interested in what you have to say.

The upshot of this is greater brand visibility and increased traffic to your site as people click through the link in your author biography to see what else you have to offer.

If you’re not sure about how to go about pitching or creating content, there are plenty of great articles out there offering actionable advice, so make sure you read them.

Reaping the rewards

If all goes well, you should quickly build up a list of good links that are passing traffic to your site — if they’re converting into sales, that’s even better.

Take the relevant data from Google Analytics, create a presentation and dazzle your bosses with it.

By showing them proof that what you’re doing delivers tangible results, you should be able to secure the budget needed to expand your content marketing efforts.

How to Run a Content Marketing Campaign with Zero Budget

Image via Shutterstock.com

Author: Will Stevens

Will Stevens is an off-site SEO specialist for Webfusion, one of the UK's leading hosting businesses. You can follow the company on Twitter @WebfusionUK.

Other posts by Will Stevens

  • http://twitter.com/ysekand Yousaf

    Thanks for the shout out :)

    • Will Stevens

      No worries!

  • Bobby Burns

    I love this stuff! My advice to all my clients is to spend as little as you have to until you really can and you want to. Thanks for the tips!

    • Will Stevens

      Thanks, Bobby!

  • Brooke Palm

    This is great. Thanks!

    • Will Stevens

      Thank you, Brooke!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Elmyraaa Sophie Talbot

    Very useful for my lil business thanks ;)
    Sophie at Star Buys for Little Ones

    • Will Stevens

      Thanks, Sophie!

  • http://twitter.com/edbmarsh Ed Marsh

    will – your title is deceptive. this is a list of free tools the facilitate some background activities of a content marketing program. but the core of a content marketing campaign is, naturally, content. and creating high quality content requires resources (at least time that would be spent on other tasks, and more likely funding for outsource expertise.) the resources required are what doom many content marketing efforts by SMBs (I assume the target of your piece based on appeal to inexpensive.)

    content marketing offers more insight, control and return on a lower cost for qualified lead than nearly any other marketing approach. it’s a fabulous value and a field leveler for SMBs – but it’s not free.

    • Will Stevens

      Hi Ed. I guess I both agree and disagree. I get your point about content often being expensive, but I would argue there are loads of people out there who create great content but feel they lack the resources to get it out there.

      And then there’s the debate over what counts as a small business. If you’re a one-man band and you’re no good at writing, then you’re going to have to outsource that side of things. (But then one-man band operations will have plenty of other things to think about).

      But SMBs (depending on what definition you look at) can have hundreds of employees and millions in turnover. Once you’ve got a marketing team, even if it’s only a couple of people, then you can run a content marketing operation without doing anything more than paying the wages you would have been paying anyway. That might not be free, but to my mind it is zero budget in that you’re not spending anything additional on the project.

      And if you have a marketing team and you’re not capable of producing good quality written content at the very least, you probably need a new marketing team.

      It’s true, the best content marketing projects require a significant investment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do worthwhile ones for next to nothing.

      Maybe the problem is that SMBs have unrealistic expectations about content marketing both in terms of what they can get out of it and what they should be paying for it.

      • Chuck Kent

        Will, I have to agree with Ed Marsh here. Your title is misleading… I only continued reading based on the trust I have in CMI, which this doesn’t help maintain. It also perpetuates an industry-damaging misconception that content marketing, social media et al are no-cost ventures, and thereby diminishes the perceptual value anyone involved in content strategy, planning or creation. That said… nice little list of free content tools for anyone on a tight budget. Hey, there’s a more truthful title!

        • http://twitter.com/michelelinn Michele Linn

          Chuck and Ed, you both have a point on the title that we should have thought about during the editorial process. We certainly did not intend to perpetuate the misconception that content and social media marketing are no-cost ventures, but we can see how this title does that. While we do hear content marketers within organizations complain that they have “zero budget,” we make every effort to make sure our titles stay true to the content of the post. For the record, we have changed the title from the original, “How to Run a Content Marketing Campaign with Zero Budget,” to “How to Run a Content Marketing Campaign on a Budget: 5 Free Tools,” to take your feedback into account

          • Chuck Kent

            Well, if you’re actually going to listen to and engage us, how are we ever going to enjoy just ranting? :) Thanks for the reply.

          • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

            I’m happy to listen to a well-thought-out rant any day!

          • patcii

            For what it is worth – I disagree with Chuck and Ed. The object of the title, “5 Free Tools”, tells you what the article is about. The first part of the title tells you the category. It’s like a movie title. “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” tells you that the movie is about Khan and it is set in the world of Star Trek.

          • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

            FWIW, the original title was How to Run a Content Marketing Campaign with Zero Budget, which I do think could be misleading. I think the current title is much more descriptive and accurate. Thanks for weighing in!

  • http://twitter.com/CreativeBuyer Anne Miles

    There is a way to gather and curate content without having to pay for a fabulous copywriter too if this helps. It wont work for all niches but it could work for some. You can source video content from YouTube and collect them and link to them on your website (embed them in your site) and offer some commentary or choose content of value to others.

    There are also plenty of articles that are in creative commons (which means they are created to be freely shared providing the author is credited). You can find them on many of the articles sites such as articles.com

    Some businesses benefit from curating products too – I’ve forgotten the names of some examples right now but I’ve seen some where products are collected by colour, by theme, by ‘look’ and the curation of this collection encourages and offers a way to buy them that wouldn’t normally be there. The site itself hasn’t cost anything – it is just time to be creative about collecting them and arranging products in a way that people want.

    The value is in how you pull the related content together and the commentary you provide as much as the content themselves at times.

    • Will Stevens

      Hi Anne,

      Content curation is definitely a great idea. My biggest reservation about running it on a tight budget would be that all the best examples I’ve seen have involved nifty design on top of the curation. But that said, if you’ve got an in house designer or are a designer yourself that’s a great alternative to creating written content of your own.

      • http://twitter.com/CreativeBuyer Anne Miles

        Very good point Will – the ‘home’ of this content needs to be relevant to the crowd and be on brand. Nice addition, thanks.

  • http://www.longislandmarketingcompany.com/ Long Island Marketing Company

    We use SEO for chrome extension but this list gives us some more content distribution tools to consider.

  • http://twitter.com/magnussandman Magnus Sandman

    Hi Will and all readers, (disclaimer, I work for Marketing Automation Company Leadsius)
    All those tools you’ve listed are great but I think you missed one new tool that is completely free to use, Leadsius Marketing Automation FREE. It have all basics that every MA system provides and a perfect fit for SMB:s to start run their Content Marketing Campaigns on. You all should check it out http://www.leadsius.com
    Cheers!