This essay originally was published on July 27, 2023 with the email subject line "CT No. 177: The year five tool stack, hiring & Diet GA4."
It’s the annual “here’s how I build content and research client work” tool stack issue. To be honest, there aren’t a ton of new tools, although I’ve definitely gone more in-depth, expanded my use of existing tools, and taken advantage of new features.
We haven’t published software reviews on The Content Technologist in over a year for a number of reasons, but we’re looking to add some back in when we figure out the best way to manage them, editorially. In the meantime, here’s our tool stack!
An asterisk (*) indicates a new tool in 2023.
A dagger (†) indicates a partner tool, meaning that I may receive a percentage of referral income if you use my link to sign up.
We’re getting into events and video, my friends! Since last year, I’ve tried a number of content production tools, but my stack has largely remained the same, with a few notable additions.
- Writer† - I officially partnered with Writer in 2021, and I’ve been using them as my writing and grammar checker since then. They’ve added a ton of AI-powered tools in the past year that I’ve been using to edit and set baselines for my projects. In the crowded field of AI-generated content, they’re doing the work in the business.
- Google Docs - When you can’t write directly into the CMS, Google Docs is there for all your word processing needs. We’ve been using Google Docs for editorial management of our different writers and, to be honest, it’s as good as a third-party project management system for the current size of our operation.
- Descript† - I used Descript to build the Understanding GA4 course, and I’m still a subscriber even though that course is complete. While it’s as tricky and time-consuming to use as any media editing tool, I’ve grown familiar with its quirks and made workarounds. Its automated transcription and script-based video editing is wonderful for solo creators like me (although I don’t know that I want to build a whole course in Descript by myself again). For a relatively low cost, it does the trick.
- Wondershare Filmora* - What Descript lacks in visual editing capabilities, Wondershare Filmora makes up. If I need to easily edit in a mask or new cut of a video, I use Filmora. Both Filmora and Descript are easier to use if you’re familiar with existing video editing software, but they’re also both easy to learn when you don’t know what you’re doing.
- Craft Docs - Still loving Craft Docs, although I don’t use it for newsletter drafting anymore (see above about Google Docs).
- Hopin* - The newest addition to our tool stack! We’ll be using Hopin to present our upcoming virtual events series. No review yet, because I haven’t used it enough to discover its capabilities (and bugs... there are always bugs...), but I’m into its promise.
- Elgato Facecam - Sometimes, I still use my “professional” camera, although it’s been buggy lately.
- Shure MV7 - Still a great microphone for when you need to sound more crisp, clear, and professional.
- Google Analytics 4 - Last year, I still really liked GA4. Now, having transitioned so many clients to it, my love has... dwindled.
- Rockee.io* - We’re just getting started with Rockee at The Content Technologist, but I’m excited use this unique content analytics platform to get more feedback from our web audience about content that resonates with them.
It’s the same as it has been the past two years.
- Screaming Frog - Slightly spiffy new interface, same ol’ Screaming Frog.
- Mangools - Still the best low-cost access to useful keyword data!
- Ahrefs site audit - A fantastic site audit tool (and it’s free).
- Google Search Console - Never gonna give you up, GSC.
- Moz Link Explorer and Toolbar - I still build competitive scorecards with Moz the exact same way I did last year.
Editorial, email and website management
- Ghost† - Y’all know I love Ghost. It’s still my dream content management system.
- Typeform - Dominates all other webform platforms. Period!
- Canva - In the past year, Canva introduced a desktop interface, and it’s still fairly low cost for its broad capabilities.
- MailerLite* - After a failed attempt at using a community platform for the Understanding Google Analytics 4 course, I landed on MailerLite and rebuilt the course using email automation. Am I happy with MailerLite’s automation? Not exactly. But it’s inexpensive, and now that I’ve built it, it’ll do for the moment.
- BEE Pro*† - is an excellent platform-agnostic email builder, and I know that even if I ditch my current automation software, the email-first content I’ve built will look the same, no matter which email service provider I use. Having a separate tool simply for building and storing evergreen email content is an added expense, yes, but I find that it’s worth the security of knowing that I can build high-quality email content that’s not directly connected to my ESP. (I first reviewed Bee several years ago, and I’m excited that it’s still around because it’s very much what I need for email content management.)
Information architecture and UX
No changes since last year!
- Flowmapp - Flowmapp just went through a massive visual upgrade, and I believe more features are on the way. It’s my favorite tool for sitemapping and template building.
- Mural - I still use Mural, but this one might be on the chopping block for next year and replaced with Miro, its more popular replacement.
- Figma - Figma’s now the clear winner in the UX design software battle, so of course I use it on the daily.
Business and project management
- Bonsai† - Now my full client project management tool! Honestly, my freelance business would be so much more chaotic if I didn’t have Bonsai to organize contracts, proposals, and project management. I’ve also started tracking my time in Bonsai so I can understand which client projects are most profitable.
- Quickbooks - Same pro tip as last year. Use the accounting software your accountant likes.
- Calendly - An essential, as much as it consternates me.
- Zapier - Essential to maintaining our email automation and data management
- Airtable - So many Airtable databases on the backburner. So little time.
- Otter.ai - If you’re not using a transcription tool like Otter for interviews and client meetings, you’re doing content wrong.
Connection, co-working, and community
- Slack - Every agency I work with uses Slack. So do I. It’s great.
- Discord - I’m in a few Discords but find that, if I’m not in there for work, I’m not really using digital community platforms for play anymore.
- Google Meet - No, it’s not as good as Zoom, but it’s included in my Google Workspace subscription, so it’s cheaper.
Deletes from the past year
- SparkToro - Rand Fishkin runs a really amazing media company that happens to be supported by a software platform. Unfortunately, the platform has focused too heavily on social media top-performers and not enough on deeper research, so I've cut for cost reasons. But I’d add back if I were doing more audience research for clients!
- Notion - I’m ehh on Notion. Since I read Notion’s TOS more closely, I’m reluctant to house proprietary IP, since I know that data is crawled and sold to advertisers. Yes, that’s also how Google collects its sold data, but it weirds me out that a documentation publishing platform like Notion is monetizing in this way.
- Toggl Track - Now using Bonsai for this. Sorry, Toggl! You’re a good solution, just not for me.
- Pocket - I’ve cancelled my bookmarking system and am in search of a new one. Pocket is good, but since I can’t share folders of certain links with colleagues anymore, it’s less useful than it once was.