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 course I was asked for a list of “essential tools” for digital marketing, so here they are…

2015 update: I originally created this list in 2012 and thought it was due an update - the feed reader tools and keyword tools have changed.

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 5+ years ago, I still find there’s no substitute for using this as a listening post for developments in your industry. When I wrote the previous post I used Google Reader to categorise sites to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in digital. When Google withdrew this since there was no revenue in it (Boo!) I used Reeder as an offline client on my Macbook Air and iOS for a while. But now I recommend Feedly since it's the most popular so you can see by the 'voice of the crowd' which posts are most popular.  Similar to the feature in PostRank that Google also killed off. Although feed readers aren't in fashion they are the most efficient way to scan the latest news in different categories. So if you don't use them try Feedly out - our analytics shows it's one of the most common referrers to Smart Insights - do bookmark us!

Feedly tool 2015

  • 2. Managing social media updates

I’ve used Hootsuite for posting updates to social networks and reviewing what others are saying for nearly five years now after using Tweetdeck back in the day - Twitter killed that one off for general use. Hootsuite seems to be comfortably the most popular free tool for posting and reviewing social media updates, 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. The paid version is worthwhile IMO for adding campaign tracking and extra reports.

  • 3. Finding influencers

There is no single free tool that works well for this - please suggest alternatives. 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 used to be the best source for finding business influencers because of grouping by narrower topics - but LinkedIn killed this - monetisation again. LinkedIn advanced search is probably the best replacement.

LinkedIn Skills

I'm interested to know alternatives readers use here - please share in the comments or on social!

  • 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.

When I first wrote this post I recommended the Google Keyword Tool, but now it's been renamed to the Google Keyword Planner, but is still an indispensable tool alongside the Google Webmaster Tools integration now that The Growth of Not Provided keywords means we can't use analytics reliably to find referring keywords.  The Google Keyword Planner (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! It's harder to get to now it's integrated into Google AdWords, but it's still free if you don't invest in AdWords.

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.

Ubersuggest

As I was researching this post for 2015 I noticed a new 'Tool on the Block' for keyword analysis - check out KeywordTool.io. It's like UberSuggest, but with better formatting - I often use this to show how local consumer behaviour differs, for example I was giving a training workshop to a Shredders manufacturer - quite a different term en France par example:

KeyWord Tool example

  • 5. Competitor site benchmarking

It used to be that Google AdPlanner was unbeatable for comparing audience size and dimension. That's been folded into AdWords as the Campaign Planner and now 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.

Today, my 'go to' tool for benchmarking is Similar Web, a freemium tool launched in 2013 and offering free stats on all sites including referrers. Here's how Smart Insights looks:

Similar Web Benchmarking

 

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

Lots of tools in this category, see our comparison of 6 best backlink analysis tools.

Of these, Majestic and Moz 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 markup analysis for SEO

Hubspots Site, now Marketing Grader for reviewing on-page for SEO 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. The Moz Toolbar is better from an SEO POV. Here's an example of the overlay to show our 'semantic markup':

  • 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.

Looking for a more comprehensive range of tools? See this excellent directory from Razor Social collated by Ian Cleary for a bigger selection of online marketing tools and services where you can select by category.

I hope this compilation is useful, what do you find most useful of the digital marketing tools we have covered here and other tools we don't?

 

Share your thoughts

  • This is a great list of free tools, and very insightful. Thanks very much http://www.pwrdigital.com

  • Merav commented on January 30, 2015

    I would like to recommend a software that I’ve been using
    recently named Capzool.com. Running a small business, I was mainly using social
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  • Hi Dave – Got to be screaming frog, buffer, feedly and rival Iq for me – cannot live without! Thanks for great post.

  • James Gurd commented on January 23, 2015

    Hi Dave, thanks for sharing. For influencer research, i’ve been trialling Buzzsumo and really like it. From an SEO point of view, using a crawl tool like Screaming Frog should be on a list – you really need to audit your site regularly to check in-depth and the license fee is incredibly good value.

  • Guest commented on January 23, 2015

    Hi Dave, thanks for sharing. For influencer research, i’ve been trialling Buzzsumo and really like it. From an SEO point of view, using a crawl tool like Screaming Frog should be on a list – you really need to audit your site regularly to check in-depth and the license fee is incredibly good value

  • jims hery commented on January 22, 2015
  • Chris commented on November 30, 2014

    Another great way for marketing is to convert your current web site into a native mobile app for the iOS and Android platforms. Millions of users go to the Apple store and the Google Play all together. Check out at http://www.web2nativemobapp.com
    Development is free! You don’t lift a finger. Great service for your business

  • chamara denipitiya commented on November 10, 2014

    nice article , you can visit http://www.youknower.com for more

  • Steve commented on October 28, 2014

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

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  • james commented on June 5, 2014

    Right information and helpful tools. Thanks for this article

  • Jeffrey Gonzales commented on June 2, 2014

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

  • Jason commented on June 1, 2014

    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.

  • Footrr commented on May 20, 2014

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  • Raman commented on April 23, 2014

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

    Thanks
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    Oshopindia.com

  • Great list, very helpful! Thanks

  • K.A. commented on March 14, 2014

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

  • Emil commented on March 14, 2014

  • Binaya commented on March 2, 2014

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

  • Joe commented on March 1, 2014

  • cmata commented on February 24, 2014

    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!

  • BarbNowich commented on February 20, 2014

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

  • george commented on January 15, 2014

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

  • Maria Gordon commented on December 1, 2013

    Great list, very helpful! Thanks

  • Anvesh commented on October 12, 2013

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

  • Pavan commented on October 6, 2013

    Good info. Thank You

  • Imran Ali commented on August 29, 2013

    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?

  • Jean commented on July 9, 2013

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

  • peter commented on June 10, 2013
  • Dennis Techman commented on May 28, 2013

    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 commented on November 4, 2013

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

  • pubload commented on May 16, 2013

    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

  • Mark Morphew commented on April 29, 2013

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

    • WhiteOwlAdmin commented on June 17, 2013

      Great in-depth list of marketing tools there Mark!

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

  • Vin commented on April 25, 2013

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

  • mpiatkowski1 Gazeta.pl commented on April 16, 2013

    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)

    • 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.

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

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  • khaled shams commented on March 22, 2013

    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.

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  • Daniel commented on March 3, 2013

    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.

  • Marti commented on January 30, 2013

    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.

  • sebastian commented on January 14, 2013

    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,
    S

    • 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.

      Cheers.

      Dave

  • Marlon Laing commented on December 1, 2012

    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

  • 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.

  • Steve Sims commented on November 30, 2012

    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.

  • donegalcottages commented on November 30, 2012

    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

  • Hannah Lund commented on November 30, 2012

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

  • excelent suggestions

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