If you struggle to put together a content marketing plan that keeps you on-track, you’re not the only one.
When I first started in the marketing world, I headed to my trusty PC and opened up the only software I knew how to use: Microsoft Word.
A Word doc housed my entire content marketing plan, and I did everything in there–from writing buyer personas right through to drafting blog posts.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve made the switch to Google Docs–a better, more inclusive word processing software that feels like a huge upgrade from slow Word documents that make my computer resemble a sloth.
(I actually use the entire GSuite for email and creating spreadsheets, too.)
But just like any software you’re using, you want to know how to get the most out of it, right? Particularly how you can “hack” Google Docs to make it better for you.
I asked 11 content marketers for their best Google Doc hacks to help you do exactly that.
Here’s why content marketers *actually* prefer Google Docs
Before we dive in with the hacks, let’s quickly chat about why you should be using Google Docs, anyway.
Google Docs is an incredible (free) tool that allows marketers to get to grips with their content marketing strategy.
I recommend it to everyone. Including you.
But it’s no use for me to sit here and harp on about the value of using Google Docs for content marketing. You want to know why real content marketers–and not just figurines I’ve made up from the top of my head–use it, right?
That’s why I asked a bunch of content marketers why they actually use Google Docs (over another program like dreaded Microsoft Word).
Here’s what they said.
95% say it’s easier to collaborate
Google store their Docs in the “cloud”–which means files aren’t saved to your PC. They’re saved to an online drive that can be accessed with your regular Google account.
And because these Docs are stored online, you can share them with collaborators–something which 97% of marketers do:
In other words: It’s perfect if you’re working with a writer, researcher and editor on a single Doc.
(It trumps the entire Dropbox and Word integration, where you’ll end up with five versions of the same file when multiple people open the document simultaneously.)
64% say editing is easier
Of all the reasons why content marketers use Google Docs, 64% said one of their main reasons was because “it makes the editing process easier”.
It’s true: Editing in Google Docs is much easier than tracking changes in a Word doc.
You can use Google Docs’ suggesting tool to delete and rewrite sections, and with the ability to leave comments about the changes being made, it’s a fantastic feature that makes sure writers, editors and blog managers on the same page.
60% prefer it because you can work across multiple devices
Have you started writing a blog post on your PC, but want to continue on your laptop while taking the train home? With Google Docs, that’s not a problem. Since documents are stored in the cloud, all you need to do is sign into your Google account and pick up where you left off.
60% of the content marketers I asked said this was one of the main reasons why they use Google Docs for content marketing.
(I don’t blame them.)
Other reasons include:
- It’s less distracting (4.27%)
- The ability to work offline (5.56%)
- They prefer the formatting (6.84%)
- Usage of built-in tools like the dictionary or templates (6.41%)
- Ease in copying to a CMS (5.98%)
6 content marketers share their best Google Doc hacks
But how can you make the most out of this free tool?
Here are six marketing experts sharing their answer:
1. Create your own keyboard shortcuts
Fancy slashing the time you spend researching, writing or editing a piece of content? Considering the average blog post takes 3 hours and 28 minutes to write, any second you can shave off is valuable time you can use elsewhere.
You can use keyboard shortcuts for Google Docs to do that. Some of the most popular for Mac users include:
- ⌘ + Shift + 8: For a bullet point list
- ⌘ + K: To insert a link
- ⌘ + Shift + C: To find word counts
- ⌘ + Shift + S: To start voice typing
- Option + Shift + Arrow: To move up/down a paragraph
But Harry Dance, Digital Marketing Consultant at Eagle Online, takes this a step further. He told me how he creates his own shortcuts to save even more time:
“For ease you can create your own shortcuts by accessing ‘Preferences’ from the ‘Tools’ menu. This allows you to enter shortcuts for symbols or words – under ‘Automatic Substitution’.
Not a bad idea.
2. Map your content outline with heading tags
Another incredible feature available at your disposal when using Google Docs is the outline.
Here’s Brent Trotter, Content Strategist at Clique Studios, explaining how he uses the document outline to help with his content marketing:
“Use the document outline! It’s especially great for outlining and writing longer pieces. It helps editors skim through to various sections. And if you’re using H1 and H2 tags, it makes importing into a CMS (like WordPress) much smoother.
To view the Google Docs outline Brent talks about, head to View and click Show Document Outline:
You’ve got a concise outline that shows you what your Doc includes, without having to scroll back through your content and add one manually.
Bonus: Grab my free content outline template. It’s the exact Google Doc I duplicate and work from whenever I’m creating a new piece of content:
3. Use suggestion mode to track changes
We already talked about the ability to edit documents with the Suggesting feature. But it’s not just another tool you can use to track changes.
Cara Hogan, Content Strategist at Zaius, told me how this feature alone helps her to manage a large content team:
“This is not exactly groundbreaking, but I’m a big fan of suggesting mode for editing. I manage both an in-house team and external agencies and freelancers, so it’s important for them to see and understand my content edits. It’s also great to see when they accept my changes so I know we’re making progress.”
Patrick Whatman, Content and Communications at Spendesk, echos that–and takes advantage of the revision history he’s able to view when working on a Doc. He says:
“Revision history is a big one. It’s nice to be able to make changes without thinking too much about it, knowing that you’re safe–you can always go back and find earlier versions of a draft.”
Fancy jumping onto Patrick’s tip? View the revision history for any Google Doc by heading to:
File > Version History > View Version History
…Or, if you’re using a Mac, you can use this fancy keyboard shortcut to view previous versions without making a click: ⌘+Option+Shift+H
4. Use different permissions when managing a content team
How many times have you clicked a link to a Google Doc, only to see the message “you don’t have access to this document”? It’s frustrating, and it’s one of the big reasons I was so reluctant to make the switch from Word to Google Docs.
But it’s an easy problem to solve: Make sure your collaborators have the correct permissions before inviting them to read, edit or view it.
Head over to File > Share and enter the email address of the person you want to invite.
Then, click the edit button and select the permission you want to give:
Don’t worry. Here are some examples of when you might want to use each permission setting:
- Can edit: Inviting your editor to make changes to the document using the Suggesting feature.
- Can comment: Inviting a proofreader to scan over the content, but not giving them permission to edit the document itself.
- Can view: Sharing onboarding guides–such as buyer personas, tone of voice, brand guidelines and style guides–with new content hires.
Here’s Karl Reynolds, part of the Sleeknote content marketing team, explaining how Google Docs’ view-only feature is perfect for style guides:
“As a content marketer, it’s important that all members of the team are producing consistent content that adheres to your company’s style guide. Whether it’s the spelling of particular words or the way you display the time and date, a coherent approach is key.
This is even more important if you have freelancers and guest contributors producing content, and can save you time when it comes to proofreading and editing.
A great way to ensure consistency is to create your editorial style guide in a Google Doc. This way, it can always be updated or added to in real-time, and questions can be asked and answered via the ‘Add a comment’ function.”
5. Create your own template
Creating the same style of content on repeat?
Tracey Wallace, Editor in Chief at BigCommerce, swears by templates when using Google Docs to manage her content:
“Template-ize it. When you have a lot of collaborators, the template makes it faster for everyone to come in and do the work they need to to move the process along.”
Fancy creating your own templates? Start by opening a fresh Google Doc and designing your template. (Don’t forget to leave placeholders for text, images and headlines.) Save the Doc to your Google Drive.
Next time you need the template, open the same Doc and press File > Make a Copy:
3 Google Doc add-ons to improve your content process
Goophy: for GIFs
Fancy embedding a few neat GIFs into your content?
“Digital readers are prone to distractions. This is why I tend to use animated GIFs in my less formal posts. In this regard, the Goophy Google Doc add-on makes it easy to search for and insert the right GIF from without leaving Google Docs.”
Wordable and WordHTML: for copying to WordPress
One major bugbear of mine is how difficult it is to copy a nicely-looking (and formatted) Google Doc into WordPress. But a few smart marketers have found brilliant tools that make copying from Google Docs to WordPress a dream.
“My favorite tool for quickly (and super easily) converting Google Doc content into HTML I can paste into wordpress is a free (!!!) tool called WordHTML where it takes literally 30 seconds to convert into a usable format for my blog.”
But if you’re not shy about putting some cash into this part of your content marketing (and want a tool to do all the hard work for you), Alex Birkett, Sr Growth Marketer at HubSpot, recommends Wordable:
“Wordable! If you use WordPress and you write in Google Docs, it’s a no-brainer for saving time uploading & formatting blog posts.”
…As does Ong Si Quan, Marketing Manager at Ahrefs:
“We use Wordable (one-click export to WordPress) at Ahrefs and that has saved us so much time! I recommend everyone use it so they don’t have to struggle with formatting in WordPress.”
Grammarly: for error-free content
Here’s Christina Pashialis, a B2B marketer, explaining why it’s one of her favorite tools:
The recent Grammarly/ Google Docs combo is a dream come true for writers! It fixes up your shoddy grammar directly in Google Docs.”
Even on days where you think your grammar and spelling is on-point, Grammarly tells you it’s not–and gives you the chance to fix it before it’s pointed out by clients.
(A word of warning with Grammarly, however: there have been some privacy concerns. Check you’re OK with this before installing.)
Over to you…
But whether you’re researching, writing or editing, these Google Docs hacks are sure to serve you well.
Now it’s time to start using them.