10 free online marketing tools that every “hands-on” marketer should use

The best tools for understanding your online marketplace?

I find that on training courses, the tools I recommend to help marketers are always popular, especially the free tools… At a recent course I was asked for a list of “essential tools”, so here they are…

We aim to review and compare tools for managing different digital activities on Smart Insights, so we have many of these tools covered in other posts, so I’ll link to these where relevant.

There’s a diverse mix of free tools available, one of the enjoyable aspects of working in digital marketing today. I’ll start with the most widely used. Please let us know about the “essential free tools” you use in the comments.

  • 1. Reviewing the latest developments in your industry

There still isn’t a better alternative than Google Alerts for reviewing mentions of your brand name, competitor or sector names by entering keywords, so it’s widely used.

Although RSS isn’t “in vogue” as it was five years ago, I still find there’s no substitute for using this as a listening post for developments in your industry. Like many, I use Google Reader to categorise sites to keep up-to-date with and use Reeder as an offline client on my Macbook Air and iOS.

  • 2. Managing social media updates

I’ve used Hootsuite for posting updates to social networks and reviewing what others are saying for a couple of years now. It seems to be comfortably the most popular free tool for this, but many still don’t know it, it can be used as a personal social media management tool too. It enables you to quickly post to all the main social networks including Google+ company pages and review conversations and messages. I’ve trialled many paid tools, but none come close.

  • 3. Finding influencers

There is no single free tool that works well for this. You can use reputation tools like Klout, Kred or Peerindex, but I find that the use of Twitter autofollow means that this often skews the results.

Influencer tools

LinkedIn sector skills is a better source for business influencers in my opinion because of grouping by narrower topics.

LinkedIn Skills

A less well known tool is this Dofollow Blog finder which simply lists recent posts on a topic you select – it’s quite quick to scan and review sites that may be relevant.

  • 4. Understanding customer search behaviour

With search still driving the majority of visits, leads and sales for most businesses online, I believe that even marketers who outsource their SEO need to understand different types of customer behaviour when searching to help develop strategies for getting visibility AND creating content and messages to help meet consumer needs.

The Google Keyword Tool (tutorial) is still indispensable for this – I don’t think I have ever done a client training or consulting project where I haven’t used it!

Google keyword tool tutorial

Google Insights for search has now been folded into Google Trends essential for understanding seasonal search behaviour trends in different countries.

Google also has additional SEO analysis tools from Google Webmaster Tools which you can embed into Google Analytics as described by James Gurd in this post.

Ubersuggest is also useful for summarising the Suggest/Autocomplete behaviour in different countries to check your covering the main behaviours.


  • 5. Competitor site benchmarking

It used to be that Google AdPlanner was unbeatable for comparing audience size and dimension.


Now it’s limited to media sites, but still useful for finding size and quality of audience for partner and media sites and don’t forget about the related Google Placement Targeting Tool useful for remarketing and research.

Chris Soames has a another post here on the main sites for competitor benchmarking. You will probably have to fall back on Alexa or Compete today which don’t tend to give realistic estimates outside of the US. I have also have an in-depth post recommending many other online competitor benchmarking tools.

  • 6. Off-page backlink analysis for SEO

We also have a comparison of the 6 best backlink analysis tools.

Of these, Majestic and SEOmoz Open Site Explorer have to be the “must use” tools. I think for non-SEOs, the Backlink History is great for basic benchmarking of competitor success in gaining backlinks although link quality isn’t shown.
Majestic SEO

  • 7. On-page backlink analysis for SEO

Hubspots Site, now Marketing Grader is often mentioned as a useful tool by people on courses.

For reviewing on-page markup like headings and also mobile screen resizing I find Chris Pederick’s Web Developer Toolbar for Chrome and Firefox essential.

  • 8. Understanding overall online marketing effectiveness

I believe that Google Analytics or an equivalent is essential for all who work in marketing to master at some level.

To help here, we have many articles of advice you can access from our Google Analytics hub. The most popular is on using Google Analytics for social media marketing.

Google Analytics

If you know all these tools, try the Google Agency Toolkit where they group all their tools together.

I hope this compilation is useful, what do you find useful?!

  • http://cipriangherghescu.com Ciprian Gherghescu

    excelent suggestions

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  • Hannah Lund

    Thanks Dave! I didn’t know Hootsuite at all, so will start using now.

    • http://www.smartinsights.com/ Dave Chaffey

      That’s cool Hannah! I like to help – sure you’ll enjoy it.


  • donegalcottages

    For social media I use a combination of Hootsuite and Buffer. Both have their strengths and the basic offering of each is enough for most users

  • Steve Sims

    I’ve just signed up with Hootsuite as well, looks ideal for what I want and I was also unaware that this website was out there….Thank you.

  • http://www.wurlwind.co.uk Mark Stonham

    Thanks Dave, the LinkedIn Sector Skills is a great newcomer here, highlighting not just influencers but related skills, related LinkedIn Groups, related companies and jobs. All useful when looking for prospect companies and decision-makers.

  • Marlon Laing

    i have been using SroutSocial, but having had a look at Hootsuite, i have realised that SproutSocial is limited, it only connect to facebook, twitter and a personal LinkedIn profile

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  • sebastian

    Great article Dave, I wanted to know what your opinion was on consolidated online marketing tools? They really seem to be emerging as a dominant force for implementing marketing strategies. I’ve read lots on Hubspot and Raven but all they seem too expensive, but I’ve also seen mention of
    My Viral Web and wanted to know if anyone here has heard anything on them?
    I’ve also been using Hootsuite as well to manage all my social media platforms and it really does make the job easier.
    Thank you,

    • http://www.smartinsights.com/ Dave Chaffey

      Hi S, yes we use Hootsuite paid version and it’s great.

      We also use Raven for weekly reporting. I think Hubspot only has c6,000 customers, since it’s quite high fees and really suited for B2B lead gen companies with budget for it. I think most companies will need to use a range of tools and will probably be more cost-effective than a single tool
      Viral Web looks new – don’t know about that.



  • Marti

    Great list, thanks! Personally, i think that Colibritool is also worth mentioning. We use it and it’s doing great job, especially with Google Analytics integrated with.

  • Daniel

    Great list, thanks David. For competitor site benchmarking you should use http://www.similarweb.com which is a new alternative to Alexa with robust global data.

  • khaled shams

    Thanks to writer for free share of secret news, one of the most important for know about online marketing technique. Your post help me for go ahead.


  • http://twitter.com/profits_online PocketBigProfits.com

    This is a great article with great information, especially when it comes to the ease and organization of managing social media posts.


  • mpiatkowski1 Gazeta.pl

    Hi! I was using SEO MOZ but I switched right now to Colibri http://colibritool.com. It includes the main functions I need (SERP Tracking, Conversion measurment, Competitor analysis, backlinks counting)

    • http://www.smartinsights.com/ Dave Chaffey

      That may be a more cost-effective option for some – thanks for sharing – of quality and freshness of link data may not be as good as SEOmoz or Majestic.

  • Vin

    Thanks. Here are other useful internet marketing tools: http://www.slideshare.net/aidviet3/internet-marketing-tools-19921441

  • http://www.facebook.com/eli.duhon.apac Eli Duhon

    Nice list, here is another one http://www.infinitools.com

  • Mark Morphew

    Nice list, here’s another great list of online marketing tools http://www.marksmarketingtoolbox.com

    • WhiteOwlAdmin

      Great in-depth list of marketing tools there Mark!

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  • pubload

    i prefer using lifetime software with free updates as on page seo analysis are too high and seo software do same job http://www.pubload.com

  • Dennis Techman

    Speaking about social marketing tools I would tell a couple of other tools including BuzzBundle (http://link-assistant.com) – this software product is relatively new, however it is one of the most powerful tools I’ve ever used.

    • John O’Riordain

      I agree with Dennis. BuzzBundle has a broad media coverage which perfectly suits my needs.

  • peter
  • Jean

    You should try http://www.WooRank.com

  • Imran Ali

    A great article with some excellent resources. Thanks for the article. I am interested in using Hootsuite to manage my social media accounts. How much does it cost?

  • Pavan

    Good info. Thank You

  • Anvesh

    Nice article really nicely written and helpful. I used hootsuit.

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  • Maria Gordon

    Great list, very helpful! Thanks

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  • george

    Is there any free on line tool for doing campaigns to help for selling a product?

  • BarbNowich

    Bitrix24 is one of the best free marketing management tools around IMHO

  • cmata

    Thanks for this list! As a Marketing student you have provided me with the equivalent tools I have acquired over my 4 years of study!

  • Joe

  • Binaya

    Great , happy to read some tips. http://www.pristinetrekking.com

  • Emil

  • K.A.

    (Y) Here is what I use for marketing: https://toolsstar.com :) I hope it helps :)

  • http://www.marinosanastasiou.com/ Marinos Anastasiou

    Great list, very helpful! Thanks

  • Raman

    Nice Article.. We shall use this for our site Oshopindia.com


  • https://footrr.com/ Footrr

    Great article. I hope everybody who reads walks away with lots of new knowledge.

  • Jason

    Thank you for the marketing tool list and the well written way in which you delivered them. What do you think would be the best one of these tools for driving traffic to a newly established sight such as mine http://honestonlinemoney.org.

  • Jeffrey Gonzales

    love it! information is on point! this might help as well! http://theaffiliatemanifesto.com/?user_id=3145 good day

  • http://www.greaterlondonwebdesign.co.uk james

    Right information and helpful tools. Thanks for this article

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  • Steve

    Mr. Social http://www.mrsocial.me should be on this list

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    Development is free! You don’t lift a finger. Great service for your business

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