As a content creator, I’m constantly looking for the best tools to help me be more efficient, stay on schedule, and make engaging content. As an indie author, all publication and marketing costs fall squarely on my shoulders, so I’m operating on a tight budget.
When I find free tools and plugins that make my life easier, it’s a win-win!
In this article, I’ll provide recommendations for free resources that I use on a regular basis to manage my blog, store and share files, generate QR codes, find great stock music and images, monetize my websites, improve my SEO, accept donations, and more.
Basically, I’m here to help other creators by sharing my experiences. Maybe you’ll discover your new favorite tool on this list!
- Free Content Creation Tools to Make Your Life Easier
- Best Free WordPress Plugins for Bloggers and Content Creators
**This is not a sponsored post. I am not directly affiliated with any of the tools, plugins, or platforms on this list, nor have I made any agreements with these companies to feature their products. I do not receive any monetary compensation for recommending these tools. All opinions presented in this article are my own.**
Free Content Creation Tools to Make Your Life Easier
1. Task Management To-Do Lists
I have a bad habit of trying to mentally manage my to-do list in my head. As you can imagine, that doesn’t always work out well. When I’m especially busy, I get overwhelmed trying to remember everything I need to take care of.
Initially, I started with the Microsoft To-Do app. It was very simple, very easy… but also very limited. It wasn’t really cutting it for me.
I moved to monday.com and got MUCH more organization and control over my workspace, still for free! My to-do list became much more sophisticated when I could create multiple boards for different aspects of my business. Within each board, I can create separate lists of tasks, assign a status to each task (such as idea, to do, in progress, paused, done, etc. — you have the ability to create and color-code your own statuses that suit your business), set a due date, assign a channel, and more.
This allows me to sort my list in various ways. I can organize it based on due date, completion status, or channel based on whether the tasks are for this blog, my other websites, my LLC, my Spring and Redbubble stores, social media, etc.
Monday.com also allows me to create automatic rules. For example, when a task is marked complete, it’s moved into a separate folder. After a certain amount of time past the due date, that completed task is then deleted. You can create your own set of defined rules if you want to automate certain tasks.
Even on the free plan, I was also able to add my assistant to my account. This allows us to create new tasks and assign them to each other so I can easily keep track of project statuses and event planning.
I will note, of course, that there are limitations with a free monday.com account. The individual plan is free with up to two seats. Upgrading to a paid account ranges from $8 to $16 per seat per month at the time this post was written, so if you have a small team, the pricing is reasonable.
If you want to give monday.com a try, use my referral link to earn free items when you sign up!
2. Free QR Code Generator
Do you use QR codes? If not, you’ve probably seen them around because they’re everywhere! On pet identification tags, restaurant menus, social media posts, cereal boxes, magazines, billboards… the list goes on. The number of QR interactions grew by a whopping 94% from 2018 to 2020, even though they were first invented back in 1994.
If you’re not leveraging QR codes yet, now is a good time to get started.
What exactly is a QR code? Basically, it’s a scannable bar code arranged as a series of black and white squares. Most smartphones can read these barcodes simply by opening the camera as if to take a picture. A pop-up then gives you the option to follow the link embedded in the code. Alternatively, there are also QR apps you can download.
Now… how do you make your own QR codes?
The easiest way is to plug your URL into a free QR code generator and then download a .png (or other file type) to incorporate into your design.
My top recommendation: QR Code Monkey. This is my go-to free QR code generator because it’s easy to use and provides customization options without charging you for the extra features. The screenshot below is a quick example I generated using this website (onthecobblestoneroad.com) as the URL.
QR Code Monkey allowed me to select unique shapes, choose my colors, and set up a gradient. You can even upload a logo into the design… all for free! However, if you need additional data such as scan statistics, there’s a paid option that gives you more bells and whistles.
3. Best Free Stock Music
If you make a lot of videos for platforms outside of TikTok and Instagram Reels, searching for free stock music without any strings attached can be a challenge.
I primarily use stock music for Patreon videos. Here’s an example of how I used stock music for a compilation video showcasing content from my Patreon community:
My favorite place to search for the best free stock music is free-stock-music.com.
Besides being free, what’s so great about this resource?
I love that you can search for music based on category, mood, length, and/or tempo. And it’s good music! You can also search for loops, sound effects, TV themes, and video game music (VGM). I typically search under the cinematic category, but you have a wide variety to find the right song for your content.
Are there any catches to using free-stock-music.com for your content sound needs?
Most of the music that populates in your results has a free download option, although there are a handful of songs that require a purchase. They’re easy to identify, so don’t stress about accidentally clicking on a song you have to pay for and getting stuck with the bill. The download button will either say “Free Download” or “Preview / Buy.” You don’t have to put in any payment information beforehand.
If you choose a free song, the “Free Download” button will take you to a separate page to initiate the download. In most cases, you can use the stock music for any project, even commercial purposes, as long as you copy and paste the credits provided on this page.
For example, here is the page that appears if you try to download “Silhouette of War,” which is the song I used in my Patreon intro video:
Free-stock-music.com is easy to use and offers a great variety of high-quality songs. As long as you credit the artist properly and don’t use it as background music for your own musical work, you’re in the clear!
4. Free Stock Images
As a member of Wealthy Affiliate, I have access to their database of free stock images, plus other resources like Jaxxy (which is normally a paid SEO tool) to search for low-competition keywords.
But you don’t need to join an affiliate program to access free stock images (although you certainly can if you want extra resources, training, and support). When sifting through my image results from Wealthy Affiliate’s search feature, I noticed that most of the free stock photos came from Pexels and Unsplash.
These are my top two recommendations for free stock images! Both of these websites are very easy to use and offer beautiful photos you can use for free.
(I’ll note that almost all of the photos I use on this website are either screenshots or photographs that I took myself. Since On The Cobblestone Road started as a personal résumé website for my writing, art, and photography, I prefer to use original work. However, I have another website called Green Witch Lunar Witch where I mostly use stock images, and this is where I base my recommendation.)
5. Document Storage & Sharing
I’ve been using Dropbox to store and share my documents for a long time and have, for the most part, been happy with it. In the two offices where I’ve worked, both companies also used Dropbox, so it’s a common platform for businesses and professionals.
Google Drive offers similar features if you’re looking for an alternative. With both Google Drive and Dropbox, you can:
- Log in to your account on any computer to access your files
- Download an app to manage your files on a local drive so you can save them directly to your computer without having to log in on a web browser
- Give other people access to view, edit, and/or download certain files or folders
- Access documents across multiple devices, including your desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone
- View almost any type of file
- Access your files offline
Despite the similarities, I personally prefer Dropbox. I find it easier to navigate, organize my workspace, and share files.
A free Dropbox account starts with only 2 GB, but you can quickly earn additional storage space by completing various tasks such as watching the Get Started tour, connecting your social media, writing a review, downloading the Dropbox app, referring friends, and more. (Speaking of referrals… you can use my referral link to get extra storage space when you sign up.)
Because I take high-resolution photographs and work with large Photoshop files and Word documents, I ran out of space and upgraded to a paid plan after using the free version faithfully for a while. Dropbox offers competitively priced personal, family, and business plans to choose from.
Your Google account, in comparison, has 15 GB of space… but remember that this storage is combined across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos, so it can still fill up very quickly even though it seems like you’re starting with more.
Best Free WordPress Plugins for Bloggers and Content Creators
When I started my first two websites, I decided to purchase my own domains, SSL certificates, and WordPress hosting plan from GoDaddy to give my websites their standalone authority. I later added a third website through Wealthy Affiliate and opted to have my own domain for that one, too.
But I still operate on a tight budget, so while those expenses were necessary, I’m always on the hunt for the best free WordPress plugins to elevate my websites without costing any extra money.
Here are my top five recommendations that I actively use on a regular basis:
1. Ads & Monetization
I talked about website monetization in an earlier blog post about extra revenue streams for indie authors (and other bloggers/creatives). If your website is monetized, whether that’s through Google AdSense, Share-A-Sale, Amazon Associates, or another monetization program, you’ll need a way to insert custom html code into your posts and pages.
I’ll be totally upfront here — I did not go about this in a strategic manner when I first started tapping into affiliate marketing. When I first began Green Witch Lunar Witch as part of my Wealthy Affiliate training, I made the rookie mistake of inserting the custom html directly into my blog posts.
Here’s an example of html code for a Google AdSense ad:
Every time you want to include a specific ad or feature a sponsored product with an affiliate link and image, you need a different code. As you can imagine, things get messy quickly.
Why is pasting html code directly into blog posts not a good idea?
If that code needs to be updated for any reason, you’re now stuck going into each and every post to change it manually. And yes, it’s exactly as tedious as it sounds, especially if you’re written a lot of blog posts.
I quickly realized that the best way to handle custom html for ads is to utilize a plugin that manages all of these codes for you. By creating a set of ads inside the plugin and then assigning a shortcode to each ad, I could simply insert the shortcode I needed into the post instead of the actual html. Then, if the html code needed to be updated later, I could make the change in the plugin and have it update automatically in every single blog post and web page that contained that unique shortcode.
Which WordPress plugin is best for managing ads?
I started with WP Quads and had nothing but trouble, both on this website and GWLW. When I revisited my published blog posts, I realized that some of the ads weren’t showing up. The only way to fix the issue was to go into WP Quads, open the ad as if to make edits, and click through the steps (without actually making any changes), then publish it again. After refreshing, those missing ads magically reappeared in my articles… until a few weeks later when they’d disappear again and I had to cycle through each ad all over again to force an update.
In addition to the frustrating problem of ads vanishing from my posts, the plugin had a weird glitch that prevented me from creating new ads. As I went through the process of making a new ad and then publishing it, WP Quads hit a point where it was recycling shortcodes… which meant I ended up with two different ads that had the same shortcode, so the website couldn’t differentiate and know which one to use. This happened on two different websites operating under two different WordPress plans and logins — this website is hosted through GoDaddy, and Green Witch Lunar Witch goes through Wealthy Affiliate’s system.
Clearly, the plugin was the issue since it was failing to perform on two completely separate websites. On one site, I successfully created about five ads before the shortcode generation failed, and the other started glitching when I hit eight, so it wasn’t a matter of reaching a maximum for the free version. Yes, I contacted their free support forum. No, I never heard back.
My replacement for WP Quads and hands-down, five-star recommendation for a free monetization plugin is Advanced Ads by Thomas Maier, Advanced Ads GmbH.
This nifty plugin did everything WP Quads was supposed to do with none of the glitches. I’ve created more than fifteen ads on a single site so far without any recycled shortcodes. As you can see in the screenshot below, I can easily make a new ad, paste the html code, set display parameters such as alignment, margins, position, et cetera, and then generate the ad.
In addition to html ads, I can upload my own images and link to them a URL, allowing me to create my own ad banners such as this one:
All I had to do was input the shortcode into the back end of this blog post. If I ever need to update the image, I just have to change it once in Advanced Ads. It will then automatically update here in this post and every other post containing that shortcode.
Advanced Ads is a wonderful, free plugin that does everything I need to easily and efficiently manage the different types of ads on my websites. I can tell the ads to show up automatically at various places, such as the beginning or end of my content, sidebar, header, or manual placement with a shortcode (my usual go-to so I have total control over where the ad appears).
2. Free Table of Contents Plugin
Is there a way to manually create a table of contents in WordPress without a plugin or extensive coding knowledge? Yes, there is. This HubSpot article can take you through the steps to do it manually within WordPress’s Gutenberg editor. It’s simple enough to follow along even if, like me, your knowledge of html coding is minimal.
However… it’s a lot more tedious to manually create a table of contents inside each blog post than it would be to just install a free plugin. Why make life harder with unnecessarily time-consuming tasks (especially if the plugin is free)?
My recommendation: Heroic Table of Contents by HeroThemes.
This plugin is insanely easy to use because it does almost all the work for you. Once you insert it into your post or page, the plugin automatically takes your headings and inserts them into a clean, simple table of contents with clickable links that take a user directly to the section they want to read. (I used this plugin for this post, so you can test it out for yourself at the top of this article).
Editing is also easy. Below, you can see the a screenshot showing the back-end editing options:
If you don’t want certain headings to show up, you can click the eye icon to hide them. If you want to relabel headings in the table of contents without altering the text in your post, just click the pencil and type in the text you want to display. You can organize your table of contents with a plain, numbered, or bulleted list that’s mobile-friendly and optimized for SEO.
Because this plugin is so ridiculously simple, there aren’t a ton of customization options. For me, that’s perfectly fine. I wanted a clean, easy-to-navigate table of contents for my longer blog posts, and that’s what I got with this plugin.
As I add or delete headers, the plugin automatically updates my table of contents so I don’t have to do any extra work or risk accidentally forgetting a section I added at the last minute.
Seriously… it doesn’t get any easier than this FREE WordPress plugin! Stop doing extra work!
3. Simple Pop-Up Tool for WordPress Website
Ah, pop-ups. Users often hate them, but marketers love them.
I resisted having a pop-up on my website for a long time before I finally caved. Again, I’m all about simple and free. I wanted a plugin that would allow me to design my own pop-up in Photoshop, upload the image with a link, and control when/where it shows up.
I tried a few options and settled on WP Popups by timersys. No coding skills needed to use this plugin, which offers a few basic templates to use with the free version (you don’t need to be a Photoshop expert… that’s just my preference).
The free pop-up plugin offers multiple display options, including:
- Show your pop-up on specific web pages, templates, posts, etc.
- Filter users based on whether they came from search engines, arrived from a particular page on your site, ever commented on your articles or pages, and/or have been cataloged into specific user roles
- Show pop-ups to users based on whether they’re logged in to your website
- Control whether your pop-up appears on mobile, desktop, and/or tablet devices
- Choose whether or not to have your pop-up show for Google’s crawler bots
- Specify pop-up rules based on post type, template, name, format, status, and taxonomy
- Specify pop-up rules based on page template, name, and type, or if the page is parent
Other settings within your control include:
- Choose from five different popup locations
- Trigger pop-up after X seconds / after scrolling % of page / after scrolling X pixels
- Auto-hide the pop-up if the user scrolls up
- Change font color, background, borders, etc.
- Configure background opacity
- Select how many days until the pop-up displays again
- Use shortcodes for social networks
WP Popups also has a premium version with extra features such as scheduling, geolocation, additional display options (such as full-screen mode), A/B testing, animation effects, a timer to auto-close, tracking and analytics, and more.
So far, the free plugin has satisfied my needs. It’s easy enough to navigate without having to search for online tutorials, and it gets the job done without a lot of unnecessary features.
Whether you stick with the free version or upgrade to the premium, WP Popups has my vote of confidence for a trusty, simply plugin to add pop-ups onto your WordPress website.
4. SEO Tool for WordPress
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of ensuring your website is configured in a way that maximizes its discoverability and readability for search engine crawlers to read, catalog, and rank.
Google is the driving force behind SEO best practices. At SEO’s most basic core, Google wants to make sure it’s giving users the best experience when they search for information, so it’s going to prioritize the websites that are clean, easy to read, informative, and trustworthy. (Check out some of my basic SEO tips and guidelines in this earlier post.)
As far as free SEO plugins for WordPress go, the two big players are Yoast SEO and All-In-One SEO (AIOSEO).
Both are good, but my preference is AIOSEO. I find its tools easier to navigate, and I appreciate the individual page and heading analyses it provides with tips on how to improve your content to make it more SEO-friendly. All of this data is conveniently located in the sidebar and at the bottom of the post you’re working on.
In less than ten minutes, you can set up advanced WordPress SEO features in All-In-One SEO, including:
- XML sitemaps
- Optimized search appearance
- SEO meta title, meta description, keywords, and focus keyphrase
- Open Graph SEO Knowledge Panel information
- Social media integration
- SEO search console / webmaster tool connections
- Local SEO
- Schema markup for SEO
Basically, I love this plugin because it’s easy, free, and provides tips to improve your search engine optimization. That’s not to say that Yoast can’t also offer all of those perks too, but I personally found AIOSEO to be more user-friendly.
5. Best Plugin for Donations on Your Site
Accepting donations is a small but potentially lucrative way to add another passive income stream in addition to monetizing your website with ads and affiliate links.
When I first started opening my site up to donations, I played it safe with a platform I already knew — PayPal. But while that free donation plugin was functional… it wasn’t the prettiest addition. Basically, it was a yellow button that said, “Donate.” Supporters could send money via PayPayl or a credit card.
But I have a hard time asking for money. So, when I came across Buy Me a Coffee, I found the much gentler invitation to “buy me a drink” more appealing than blatantly asking for a donation. (Note: the default for this platform/plugin is “buy me a coffee,” but I don’t like coffee. Luckily, you can tweak the wording.)
The Buy Me a Coffee plugin for WordPress is a free way to encourage your readers and fans to easily make a donation. You can change the button color to match your website’s branding, add a small widget at the corner of the screen, customize a pop-up, and embed the button into your sidebar.
But Buy Me a Coffee doesn’t have to stop with your website. Within the platform, you can post exclusive updates for your followers and enable regular membership charges (similar to Patreon’s model) with extra perks for your members.
There’s a lot of potential with this platform. You can use it minimally to accept donations or dive much deeper to create a steadier income stream. Buy Me a Coffee is free to use, but keep in mind that they’ll take a small fee out of your revenue (again, no different than Patreon or PayPal).
All of the tools and plugins I listed in this article are ones that I personally use on a regular basis while creating content, whether I’m blogging, creating exclusive videos and posts for Patreon, working on my next novel, sharing files between devices, or engaging with my social media followers.
Remember that free usually comes with limitations. I always recommend doing a free trial or downloading the free version of a plugin FIRST to test it out and make sure it does what you need it to do, even if you intend to pay for the full version later.
In many cases, I had a specific need and was looking for a particular solution. More than once, a product’s details and reviews made it seem like a perfect fit. But once I started using it, I realized that it wasn’t.
As always, I learn by trial and error to find the tools that work best for me. I hope this list of recommendations helps you!
Any free tools or plugins you love and think others should know about? Post your recommendations in the comments!
I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first two novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series both received the Literary Titan Gold Book Award in 2020.
After working as a freelance writer for a time, I was shocked by how many website articles are actually written by paid "ghost writers" but credited to a different author. It was a jolt seeing my articles presented under the name of a high-profile CEO or an industry expert with decades of experience when in reality, I had none of those credentials. Just a talent for writing and the time to research topics. Ghost writing is perfectly legal and a VERY common practice.
You won't find that here on my website. I do not and never will pay a ghost writer, then slap my name on their work as if I'd written it. This website is 100% authentic. No outsourcing. No ghost writing. No AI-generated content. It's just me... as it should be.
If you would like to support my work, check out the Support The Creator page for more information. Thank you for finding my website! 🖤