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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…

2017 update: I originally created this list in 2012 and thought it was due an update since 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. For many more tools suggestions - check out our free guide.

  • 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!

  • 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.

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?

 

By Dave Chaffey

Dave is CEO and co-founder of Smart Insights. He is editor of the 100 templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ Digital Marketing experts. Our resources used by our Expert members in more than 80 countries to Map, Plan and Manage their digital marketing. For my full profile, or to connect on LinkedIn or other social networks, see the About Dave Chaffey profile page on Smart Insights. Dave is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Emarketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing.

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