Covers keyword research, topic clusters, grammar, SEO optimization and productivity tools.
Surges is 100% independent, but some links may earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.
You’re ready to make it in content marketing.
You’ve done your research. Found your angle. Drafted an outline.
Now it’s time to tell your story.
Yet, however talented a writer you might be, it’s rarely the best writing that finds its way to the top of Google.
These days you need to satisfy both readers and search engines. Thankfully there’s a plethora of free content writing tools to help you do both.
This article takes a look at our favourite writing content writing tools for SEO and readability, as used by the best SEO content writers out there.
Good writing deserves to be read.
But for your content to rank, it also needs to be optimized for search engines to present you top of the hundreds of billions of webpages on the internet.
Google’s algorithms uses multiple weighted indexes rooted in keywords and its principle of E-A-T - expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
Pro SEO writers rely on these skills to write SEO content that ticks all the boxes. The very best use free SEO writing tools to automate the planning, creation and optimization of SEO friendly content, and to improve engagement with readers.
In short, their secret is multiple tools.
SEO writing tools can assist in areas such as article outlines, grammar, headlines, expert quotes and plagiarism checks.
But there’s also keyword research, SEO copy briefing, on-page optimization and finding great imagery.
And help now even comes in the form of AI writing assistants.
We also take a look at some top writing productivity tools to get you in the zone and keep the content creation process flowing.
All of these can help you craft high quality content that attracts the maximum number of eyeballs and algorithms, and scale up your content marketing efforts.
→ Top tip: How to hire SEO writers – the best websites for SEO copywriters
One of the all-time top scorers in our marketing tool reviews.
Semrush boasts 40 powerful SEO tools and an in-built SEO coach to help you write like a pro, rank higher and secure backlinks.
If SEO doesn’t come naturally to you, you’ll love its keyword research and writing tools. Everything is geared towards focusing on finding and seizing content gaps, gamifying the optimization process and tracking your gains. If you’re still unsure, Semrush has some generous free tools.
Semrush advantages include:
Readymade SEO content templates
Best for: Beginner to immediate content writers, looking for an all-in-one SEO research and writing platform
Surfer is a SEO workout for your website’s content, getting it in better shape for search engines.
I am an avid paid user, putting every article I write through Surfer’s four-step process for researching and writing rank-worthy content. I’ll introduce you to its AI writing assistant in the next section, but first meet Content Planner - its tool for generating high-potential topic clusters in seconds based on your seed keyword. A single piece of content is no longer enough. You need topical authority.
The Content Planner supplies a wealth of content ideas, complete with the primary keywords to target, plus a rundown on the type of content that’s occupying Google’s top slots for it at the moment. No more manual research needed!
Surfer’s UI is incredibly easy-to-use - addictive even - putting advanced SEO copywriting techniques at the disposal of people who like to write first and foremost.
Surfer SEO advantages include:
Best for: professional SEO Content Writers and anybody looking to monetize their blog
Further reading: Check out our 30-day experiment using Surfer, in which it help my content achieve +117% clicks and +280% impressions from Google
Serpstat is another solid SEO all-rounder.
What it lacks in the SEO writing department, it makes up for with its powerful database of keywords, content gaps and in-depth competitor analysis. Its Content Marketing Ideas tool finds high-potential content suggestions based on people’s common searches and unanswered questions. Gaps its other features can help you fill.
Serpstat might not have the added frills or joyful interface of its main rivals, but its price is far more reasonable as a result. I have used it myself since 2016 and remain a big fan of its generous usage allowance.
It offers seven core modules:
Best for: Serious SEO professionals or content marketers trawling long tail opportunities.
If you’re anything like me, you either spend too much or too little time on keyword research.
MarketMuse accelerates that step of the process using AI to take care of the manual work. It finds and ranks the best content opportunities based on how difficult it would be for your site – not a generic site – to rank for them.
It then gets to work on the content creation process, sizing up your efforts against the best competitor posts for the same topic and helping you to outrank them. MarketMuse’s AI can take care of content briefs, first drafts, search engine optimization and workflow tracking. Helping you to scale up your content marketing, without the extra overhead.
Best for: Digital marketing agencies wanting to publish more and rank higher every time
Search intent is the ‘why’ behind a search query.
It’s the way SEO is heading, meaning you’re far more likely to rank higher if you’re directly answering those queries.
AnswerThePublic crawls the autocomplete data of search engines, turning it into high-potential phrases and questions closely related to your keyword. The tool beautifully visualizes the key questions to answer and how you can stitch them together to form a topic cluster.
Advantages of AnswerThePublic:
Best for: SEO Content Marketers wanting content frameworks based on actual search queries
Anybody on a budget can also check out the free Google Keyword Planner found within Google Ads. You don’t need spend anything on AdWords ads to gain access. You just need a Google account.
At the heart of Surfer is an excellent Content Editor that gives you a content quality score (out of 100), based on factors such as target keyword density, title and meta descriptions, headers, internal and external links, related phrases and NLP. “What is NLP?” you’re asking.
NLP, or Natural Language Processing, is the artificial generation of human-like text. Surfer puts NLP to work to ensure your writing is prepped for search engines, with a few tweaks here and there potentially making a big difference to overall rank performance.
I’m totally hooked on the tool and the results of my experiments with it speak for themselves.
Best for: Anybody looking for all the core content writing tools for SEO in a single subscription
Yoast is the world’s number one WordPress SEO plugin.
The free tool has the usual technical analysis, sitemaps and Schema.org integration to help search engines understand your content and return it in rich results. However, it can also perform Readability analysis to make sure it’s as readable as it is rankable. It looks at:
What’s more, it can do all of this in 20 different languages: English, German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Indonesian, Polish, Portuguese, Arabic, Swedish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Turkish, Czech, Norwegian, Slovak, and Greek.
HubSpot is famed for its generously free CRM, however it also packs some excellent marketing tools.
That includes its blogging platform, allowing you to draft content and receive SEO advice directly within HubSpot’s blog editor. Within the same window are some excellent collaboration tools – leave comments and feedback for other writers, track changes etc – and the ability to embed personalized calls-to-actions to convert readers into subscribers and customers.
HubSpot even has a free Blog Ideas Generator. Simply enter a noun to unlock a year’s worth of potential blog content. This is high level stuff, not at all rooted in SEO, but could spark some interesting angles to go at.
Best for: marketing departments looking to SEO for lead generation
Keyword stuffing is an absolute no no but you should ensure your focus keyword(s) in all the important on-page elements. This free Keyword Density Checker will count their frequency in Title tag, Meta description, Headers, Body, Bold elements and Image alt tags. Without these, search engines will have a hard time fully understanding your content.
Simply enter a URL to get your count. Too low and you know what to do. Don’t forget related phrases too.
Best for: SEO Content Writers optimizing existing content or on a budget
Top tip: Publishing is only half the battle. Don’t forget to refresh top performing pieces regularly.
“It is perfectly okay to write garbage as long as you edit it brilliantly.” - C.J. Cherryh
Grammarly’s editing tools check the tone and grammar of your content before you hit publish. Making sure you express yourself clearly and error-free.
Doing so, this grammar checker goes far beyond just punctuation and spell checks. Write within the tool or upload a draft and Grammarly will scan it for labored sentences, paragraphs and passages. Then its AI proposes much improved alternatives you can switch to in a click.
Upgrade to Premium and you’ll also get a helping hand with the fluency of your article and new ways to bring your writing to life. Plus, if you’re using freelancers, there’s a handy plagiarism checker against 16 billion web pages.
Best for: taking your writing to the next level and ensuring readers keep coming back for more
Named after Ernest Hemingway, so admired for his succinct writing. I’m a big fan of this free app.
There’s no need to sign up or login. Write away on the Hemingway homepage and you’ll see you Readability score change in real time.
Sentences are color-coded for different types of issues, with tips on how to improve them.
Hemingway counts the instances of each, so you can edit them out in the name of clarity. The tool also predicts reading time based on word count.
Best for: the quickest, cheapest and easiest way for SEO pros to improve their overall writing
PaperRater is a stripped back and 100% free automated proofreading tool, primarily focused on academic writing.
Type away and be alerted to opportunities to improve your words. You can select the level of education you’re writing for (e.g. 10th Grade, Post-Graduate) as well as the type of content (e.g. Short Story, Blog Post, Review) to get more relevant recommendations, which come in the form of a snappy report.
PaperRater rates your writing on the following criteria:
As per your school days, your submissions also receive an academic score. A+ I’m sure!
Best for: SEO writers targeting academia audiences or website owners checking freelancer work
Probably only useful if you’re relying on outside writers. Make sure their content is 100% original before (Paid) or after (Free) it’s published on your site.
Copyscape’s advance Copysentry feature will also send an email alert if and when it picks up other sites copying your content. The service automatically monitors the web for copies of your pages, which could result in a Google penalty due to no fault of your own.
The site also has some useful guides should you ever find yourself in that unfortunate position.
Best for: Vetting new writers to scale up your SEO content writing
WebFex is a quick and simple readability checker relative to the US schools grade level system.
Enter any URL and WebFX will return a score against widely used readability tests, including:
Scores are based on counting variables such as words, characters, sentences, syllables and complex words. With the results of each test so similar, featuring them all is a bit of a gimmick. Nevertheless, WebFX’s Readability Test does have some useful measures, such as % of complex words and average words per sentence. If only they told you what to aim for.
Best for: Adding marginal gains to your writing and simplifying complex topics
TextOptimizer coaches you to better SEO content by revealing the related keywords your article is missing.
Simply enter your URL and it’ll call up Google search results, extract search snippets and apply semantic analysis for many related terms for your seed keyword. Add them to your content, hit refresh and see your score shoot up.
Paid features involve deeper analysis, such as possible intent, an optimization engine to structure and format content, and Excel exports.
Back to the free version of TextOptimizer – it’s a wonderful gateway into NLP and free alternative to Surfer for anybody on a budget. TextOptimizer claim that 70% of the pages optimized by the SEO content optimization tool ranked higher in a month.
Best for: SEO Content Writers getting started in NLP and wanting a free resource
A cliché is a phrase that, due to overuse, is seen as lacking original thought or substance. Examples of clichés include:
They rarely add anything to your writing. Even worse, they often turn readers off.
This free Cliché Finder finds and highlights clichés in your writing so you can remove them before the damage is done.
Best for: Overcoming bad SEO writing habits, particularly in longform content
There’s a place for it in the office and long tail organic traffic, but your average reader hates jargon.
The imaginatively-named Unsuck It promises to find any in your writing and offer easy-to-understand alternatives. Making your content clearer and more appealing to your online audience in the process.
Examples could be ‘A company-wide pep rally’ instead of ‘All hands’ or ‘The lower part of a browser window’ versus ‘Below the fold’. A playful site with a good sense of humor.
Best for: Writers trying to demystify complex industry topics for potential customers
Align all your writers with easily editable templates for key marketing guidelines, including Customer Personas, Tone of Voice and Content Strategies.
I’ve used Xtensio’s Marketing templates as a shortcut to getting everybody on the same page and new freelancers and suppliers focused on the target audience. All guidelines are living documents, meaning they can stay forever up-to-date, with in-app notifications alerting users any important changes.
Best of all, Xtensio’s templates are highly visual, making it easy for new starters to get on board quickly.
Best for: Marketing Managers and Editors overseeing a team of writers
Want to know the secret behind more engaging writing?
Talk to readers using their own words.
The voice of the customer is a critically important business asset. Not only can their feedback inform the topics to write about, but also what phrases to use.
Tools such as SurveyMonkey allow you to capture their thoughts and pain points and then mirror that exact language back to the target audience when promising solutions. You can get similar insights from customer reviews too.
Best for: Web content writers wanting to keep clients long-term
HARO is a free service, sending 75 opportunities for free media exposure direct to your inbox every day. The email lists stories journalists are working on but missing expert quotes, which is where you come in.
However, there’s another way to use HARO, that not many writers know about…
Brands with enough clout (usually defined by Domain Authority) can list the blog stories they’re working on too, inviting expert input in return for free exposure and a backlink too, if you’re feeling kind.
With a mailing list of 800,000 sources strong, you’ll never be short of willing contributors, whatever your niche.
Best for: SEO writers looking for a well-rounded article and topical authority
According to HubSpot (2021), 70% of marketers rely on content marketing for leads, meaning it’s an ever competitive space.
Ensure your writing stands out from the crowd with a compelling headline. SEO headlines can be awfully formulaic, so it’s a valuable resource.
CoSchedule’s free Headline Analyzer rates your proposed headline for quality metrics that are proven to get more social shares, SEO traction and traffic. This includes:
Just make sure the recommendations don’t clash with your original keyword research and what you want to rank for.
Best for: Writers who care about the ROI of their words
Airstory is a Chrome extension that helps you build your content brick-by-brick, section-by-section. The drag-and-drop builder allows you to save your online research – be that interesting quotes, statistics, images - as a card, Trello style.
Before you know it, you’ve all the ingredients of a great story that you can move around with ease and collaborate on with others.
When you’re ready, you can drag your notes into Google Docs, or where you write online.
Best for: Writers big on research and wanting to stay organized
I’ve sung the praises of Surfer SEO a lot in this guide, however the automatic outlines feature also deserves special mention. Nested in its Content Editor, it’ll speed up your workflow by analyzing what’s currently at the top of SERP and turning it into a brief for your writers or first draft.
Surfer’s content blueprints include:
All of this gives you a huge headstart if you’re writing on unfamiliar topics and serious about that number one spot in Google.
Best for: SEO Content Writers with tight deadlines or wanting to write foolproof briefs
Adding exclusive interviews to your content adds much to the final product but it also involves more work. Thankfully, there’s automation for that.
I use Rev to transcribe the audio Maker interviews on Surges, because life’s too short.
It typically takes was delivered in 2-3hrs from submission and they’re as close to 100% accurate as far as I can tell.
Rev costs $1.25 per minute and $0.25 more for a verbatim or time-stamped transcript.
Best for: Quickly getting transcripts of interviews and podcasts out the door
Artificial intelligence has been working its magic on short form content – headlines, social captions and product descriptions – for a while. Speeding up content flows tenfold or more. However, they’ve been less than convincing on long form content. That is, until Jarvis.
I’ve not ventured there myself, yet, however those that use Jarvis’ AI copywriter swear by it.
Jarvis AI advantages:
Best for: Website content velocity when paired with solid SEO fundamentals
Another tool in my writing toolkit. Unlike other to do lists, Llama Life helps you actually tick things off. It does so by prioritizing what matters most, allocating time windows and removing distractions.
So, if you’re faced with a new topic and heavy word count, you can make things easier by breaking it down into bite-sized, manageable tasks.
Llama Life even has soundscapes to help you concentrate and drown out any distractions.
Best for: Writers who work best in bursts, following a rigid process
According to this article by Like No Other, We touch our phones 2,617 times a day. The most addicted amongst us do so 5,427 times a day. That equates to 3 out of every 24 hours — at least half of which is at work.
Distractions are everywhere. And unless you’ve got access to a remote cabin in the woods, there’s no shame in using ‘blocking’ software to get in the zone.
Freedom app syncs blackspots across Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome to create totally focused writing sessions. It can tune out doom scrolls on social media, catchy cat videos on YouTube, news sites and your most visited websites for a set period of time. Giving you back your focus to get started and meet those pressing deadlines.
Best for: Easily distracted writers who need to zoom in and tune out of daily life
Special mention also for SelfControl, a free version for Mac that has been part of my writing stack for 7+ years now.
Stock photography has been ripe for disruption for a while.
Unsplash has fast become the world’s largest collection of free photos kindly donated by top photographers around the world. You’re welcome to download them to use how and where you like, no strings attached. Crediting is welcome but not mandatory.
Special mentions also go to Startup Stock Photos, for free startup culture images, and DrawKit and unDraw for their bumper libraries of free illustrations.
If you’re not thinking about internal links when you write, you’re missing a trick.
Link Whisper trawls your site for contextual internal link opportunities that make relevant articles more discoverable and helps Google to understand which pages are the most important.
The WordPress plugin automatically makes these suggestions as you type and can go back over old articles, fix broken links and pull in target keywords as anchor text.
Best for: SEO content writers with access to their CMS and concerned with bounce rate
If you don’t have a WordPress site and want the same results, you can find this same functionality within Surfer’s excellent Content Audit tool. As used by yours truly.
The very best SEO Content Writers focus on the impact of their writing. Comprehensive SEO toolkits such as Semrush, Ahrefs and Serpstat can help you to track your search engine rankings, which may change significantly over time.
→ How to buy and sell startups → 100+ free startup directories for link building → How to use software review sites for marketing → Search Engine Optimized Writing: top tips for 2022