Working efficiently and effectively in the digital space often means leveraging powerful software tools. The good news is that many of them are free, and in a lot of cases actually very easy to use!
Whether for research, optimization or collaboration, the following tools allow me to keep the digital marketing train rolling along at a respectable pace, stay abreast of changes and impacts, and stay accountable to my goals and to my teammates. Not bad.
Note: This is meant to be an overview – there is lots of in-depth content pertaining to each one of these tools online.
So sit back, relax, click a few links, open a few new browser tabs, and go for a few test drives (easy when it’s all free), and hopefully you’ll find something useful to help you during your week-to-week.
The rundown: Personal organization made (very) simple
Evernote is a super easy way to rapidly create organized “notes” to remember things; put it in a notebook and/or slap a tag on it, and forget it. Thoughtlessly syncs to ENs servers for seamless use on your desktop, tablet or phone (a huge benefit).
I’m of the mind that if you’re not using EN for home and business, then you’re not using your various devices to their full potential – feel free to disagree with me on that though!
How I use it
- Saving receipts
- To-do / shopping lists
- Lists of resources/links
- Passwords and login page details
- Strategy outlines
- Blog post ideas
- Saving important emails
- Etc., etc., very flexible!
Bonus 1: You can interlink notes, and they show up as green hypertext to distinguish them from web links. 🙂
Bonus 2: You get your own Evernote email address with your account, which can be used to forward important emails directly into EN! You can even specify which notebook you want the email to go to, as well as apply tags, all through the email subject line (see the “Pro Tip”).
Note: EN is weaker in regards to collaboration options vs. Google Docs, but I don’t tend to use them for the same purposes.
Here are my top picks from Google’s extensive suite of free products; I use these tools every day.
Hugely popular, but I suspect grossly underutilized.
I recently wrote an RVA post about GA, checking to see if you are getting the most (or at least, more) out of this powerful and versatile tool. In truth, GA goes deeper than my brief checklist – one point that I want to relate here is that analytics is not just a “set and forget” kind of thing – which some people may be “guilty” of doing(?)
How I use it
Many different ways – standard reports, custom reports, segments, channels, filters – so many of GAs features are actually quite useful! Digital marketing without analytics is kind of like putting a hand over one of your eyes and then trying to walk a tightrope.
One thing I find valuable is to have more than one set of eyes on GA; different people tend to have different styles of using the tool, and more insight tends to result. There is so much information that it’s hard for one brain to take it all in!
Note: If you can afford it, hire someone with some analytics “chops” (or train someone up within your organization). This doesn’t have to be their full time job (unless you’re really big), but you’ll be surprised at what they can produce, and where they can help steer your digital strategies.
This tool provides certain information about your website’s relationship with Google that you really can’t get anywhere else. It’s useful to make sure that everything is “tickety-boo” between you and Google Search.
How I use it
It’s a far more rigid tool than say, Google Analytics, and mostly just used to deliver information. In particular, I keep my eyes on the following reports (not exhaustive):
Top Queries / Top Pages Report
There is a smaller version of this data available within a (properly linked) Google Analytics view, but GA only reports the “top” results. To cut off a bigger slice of pie, you’ll need to look here. You can see the change over time (90 days max), as well as export the results.
This is a good place to look for any surprises – do you have fewer pages indexed than you would expect? How about far more? Time to talk to your webmaster.
Again, find out if you are bombing anything, or if the errors line up with your expectations. Errors here aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but I regularly find improvement opportunities by evaluating the pages in this report.
Disavow Links Tool
Have you done some shady backlink building in the past as part of a doomed-to-fail SEO strategy? You’ll likely need this tool to clear your name with Google.
Note: To my knowledge the disavow tool isn’t actually accessible directly within the WMT interface; rather, you’ll need to actually “Google” ‘disavow links tool’ to find and use it (or bookmark my link). They have instructions regarding proper usage here.
There’s definitely more to GWMT, but these areas are where I spend most of my time.
There is some overall information about your website’s speed found in Webmaster Tools under the Crawl Stats report, but to really get answers, turn to PageSpeed Insights. Share this with your webmaster where things start sounding too technical; this will give you some fodder for the discussion.
Note: Google does use web page loading speed as a ranking factor in Google Search, so it’s well worth optimizing this – not only for Google of course, but also for your visitors’ sakes.
Bonus: You can even view performance on mobile vs. desktop (actually it’s hard to miss this aspect of the tool).
This is a super handy way of getting an instant feel for the popularity of a search term (over time). The clincher? You can compare up to five terms at once to see relative popularity. See google.com/trends/
How I use it
Simple, type in the search term you’re interested in (for example, an RV brand name) and compare it to other search terms (perhaps other brands) that you want to test it against.
Other examples / questions that you can answer:
Is a more specific search term gaining popularity vs. a traditionally used broader term? There is speculation that searchers are growing more specific in their queries in recent years, depending on the search.
In general, are some search terms falling out of use?
Is a search term that you thought was popular actually not very popular at all vs. an alternate?
Note: Your research doesn’t need to be restricted to RV search terms, you can use it to do research on holidays for example, or other cultural events that might bear significance to your biz.
Ok we’re really getting “meta” here now! G Drive/Docs powers a lot of my record keeping, spreadsheeting, and shareable online assets.
Digital marketing can be a complicated space, and it’s often helpful to be able to slice and dice data, collaborate, and save files in a shared space. Drive does all that and more.
Think of it as dropbox + MS Office with a twist of Google’s flair for product excellence (not perfection mind you), and integration, i.e., automatic exports from some of Google’s other tools, GA, for example.
Note: I recommend using Google Chrome with G Drive/Docs; I just find it to be a slightly smoother experience for me vs. Firefox (at least, on a Mac, I can’t comment on Windows).
Moz / Ahrefs
Moz specializes in what they call “inbound marketing” – which includes organic search. They have a nice set of free and paid tools available. Ahrefs focuses more on delivering information about your website’s backlinks, and does a fine job of it.
How I use them
Open Site Explorer – one of the most popular and useful tools in the Moz suite IMO. This is one of a few similar tools that crawl the web to discover web pages that link to your (or your competitor’s) website. Useful for discovering new opportunities to build backlinks to your site, as well as identify unsuitable and/or spammy links (used in conjunction with the Disavow Links WMT tool mentioned above).
Moz also includes traffic summaries, search engine optimization suggestions, some social integration, and more. They even have a fun tool called MozCast that monitors fluctuations in Google’s search algorithm.
An alternative to OSE is the robust Ahrefs.com toolset, which is possibly even more useful for backlink analysis. The free version is sometimes good enough!
We happen to subscribe to Moz at RVT currently, so I get access to the whole suite, but if I had to pick just one back link profiling tool, this would probably be it based on my experience.
Note: If you want to try the full Moz suite, they have a 30 day free trial.
Given the $0 overhead (except for some of Moz’s tools), and the short learning curve, these tools are a win-win for even non-tech types.
Ah, but how many more powerful tools exist out there! This list could be huge…
But these are some of the tools that this user spends perhaps 80% of his time working with (ok, so there are also my browser extensions and the occasional bookmarklet, but we’re not going there today! :))