As cliché as it sounds, we eat with our eyes. I’m not just talking about how a plate of food is, or isn’t, presented to us in a restaurant, but also how content is presented to us.
With the evolution of Panda, webmasters and content marketers alike are upping their production game. Whilst churning out guides and blog posts may help you to slip through Panda’s furry grip on the search results, your content needs to look good in order for your readers to want to consume it, and want to return to discover more.
Now, it’s all well and good saying that your content needs to look great in order to deliver results (we’re talking increases in traffic, new users and session durations), but the problem is that creating beautiful content doesn’t always come as easy to some as it does to others. On top of that, not all of us have access to a design team to do the legwork for us or the expensive software to get it done.
Unfortunately, this situation is more common than you’d think. How much interesting data and how many genuinely helpful blog posts are hiding behind a less-than-appealing façade because of small budgets and an absence of skill?
After all of that doom and gloom, you’ll be pleased to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The internet, whilst mainly filled with cats and bacon (sometimes together, sometimes on their own), is also filled with loads of free and easy-to-use tools that could make a world of difference. Today I’ve gathered together some of my favourite, free tools that will have your boss, colleagues, and maybe even yourself feeling like a design pro.
Got some interesting data but don’t just want to dump it on the page in a bar chart, or smother those eye-opening statistics in pages and pages of explanations? Infogram is for you.
You can create interactive and responsive infographics complete with charts, maps, photographs, videos, and text. A free account will suffice for basic projects (you can choose from a number of templates with different colour schemes), but if you’re looking to be able to take your data visualisation to the next level, it may be worth upgrading to one of their two paid plans.
Great for quick data visualisation that looks like it took hours.
From presentations to posters, social media graphics to business cards and even kindle book covers, you can use Canva’s countless templates to create stunning custom graphics for almost every situation.
Upload your own images or choose from a range of free or incredibly cheap backgrounds. Add customisable text and graphics, and suddenly that blog post has an eye-catching header image, your presentation has gone from drab to fab, and that eBook you spent hours labouring under doesn’t have a plain text cover. It’s simple to use, and their “Design School” blog will help you with everything from inspiration to techniques.
Great for those who need a little of everything.
Whether you need to touch up photos from your last event or just need to tidy up some promo images, Pixlr Editor is an online photo editor with a professional edge.
If you need Photoshop but aren’t quite ready to commit to the pricey package, then Pixlr is a great alternative. Whilst it doesn’t have all of the functionality of Photoshop, you can edit images quickly online without restrictions. You can even use Pixlr on your mobile device, and they’ve also just released an offline version. I’d recommend checking out the rest of the family including Pixlr Express and Pixlr-o-matic too!
Great for when you need Photoshop but don’t have it.
If you need to create a bunch of images with some short and snappy quotes, then this is the tool for you.
This is probably a tool best bookmarked by those managing the social media for your company. Whilst it’s quick and easy to create basic images for your blog posts, these could work really nicely for Instagram, Twitter, G+, and Facebook. You can use the pre-loaded background or upload your own images. Select your typeface, and you’re done.
Great for giving those last-minute social media posts a little extra something.
You’ve got an excel spreadsheet full of data that would go perfectly in a timeline. You could list all the dates in a text post, or you could create an infographic. If you really want to make an impression, why not make an interactive timeline?
Timeline.js is cool. Really cool. It allows you to build visually-rich interactive timelines that can include everything from photographs to PDFs and webpages to videos. So wave goodbye to those dull timelines of yesteryear and make something fun! It’s really easy to use; just download their spreadsheet template and fill in the columns with your data, links, and other media. Drop the URL to your Google spreadsheet in the box at the bottom, and hit preview. Ta da! Instant timeline!
Great for making timelines interesting.
Doing a guide and need to illustrate one of your points? Forget about Ctrl + Alt + PrtScn and working with the grainy results. Download Skitch and say hello to crystal-clear screen grabs.
If you’re putting together a step-by-step guide, there’s no better way to illustrate your point than by including screen grabs and showing your reader exactly what they should be seeing at each and every stage. This is where Skitch comes in. It’s easy to select the exact area you want to show off, and adding annotations, quick sketches, shapes and arrows is even easier! Suddenly your wordy guide becomes a much more useful visual guide. Mission accomplished.
Great for when you need to illustrate a point.
Need to quickly edit an image? PicMonkey is an incredibly simple tool that will allow you to resize and edit images quickly.
Whilst there is a paid version of PicMonkey that includes a few more features, the free version is still powerful enough to meet most of your needs. From basic editing to overlays and photographic effects, you’ve got it all! Some of the fancier effects are saved for paying members, but we don’t think you’ll miss those on a free plan.
Great for quick photographic touch-ups and easy custom graphics.
So there you have it: my favourite tools for making visual content on a budget. What tools do you like to use when cash, and a design team, are in short supply?