About five years ago, I counted 27 tools that I was using as a digital marketing professional. As someone who works mostly with small and medium sized businesses, I need to know a little about a lot and I also need to know how everything fits together. From keyword research, to copywriting, email marketing, social media marketing, web development and even graphic design, I’ve got a tool for just about everything.
Now in 2015, my list of tools has grown upwards of 50, all of which are valuable, but many of which I use for special circumstances. However, if I had to choose a primary set of tools I would recommend as “must haves”, there are six that have consistently earned my trust. I’ve obviously not included all components of digital marketing here, but here’s my list of “must have” digital marketing tools:
Content Management System – WordPress
The content management system that I can’t live without is WordPress. I use WordPress to build nearly all of my websites because it’s well designed, easy to customize and works well for search engines.
A content management system is basically a software system that is often created as an open source program; however, there are other content management systems that are privately built. WordPress is a robust, free content management system that can be customized and built into your own look and feel by using themes which are pre-built that you can modify. A positive element of using a content management system, especially an open source content management system, is that you have the power of thousands of people working together to build, manage, and improve the software.
In 2014, nearly 22 percent of all websites were built using WordPress, according to Web Technology Surveys. WordPress owns a 60 percent share of the content management system market, followed by Joomla (9 percent) and Drupal (5 percent). Currently, 36 percent of all websites are built using a content management system.
Website Analytics – Google Analytics
The impact that Google Analytics made on digital marketing can’t be understated. Before its introduction, the log file analysis programs were pretty difficult to use and even more difficult to create valuable, detailed audience segmentation analysis from.
Nearly every organization that I’ve worked with has employed Google Analytics to monitor their website traffic, including some of the larger sites such as The Chicago Tribune. The fact that it’s free and easy to install makes Google Analytics a no-brainer.
It’s one of those tools that can be easily used by a novice, but provides a virtually unending stream of opportunities to tremendously deep segmentation and audience analysis. For anyone who is considering a more than cursory relationship with the product, I would recommend taking advantage of some of the free education resources within Google Analytics Academy. An hour or two within the Academy will open your eyes to some extremely powerful tools and information that will benefit you and your websites for years to come.
Landing Page Generator – Unbounce
Unbounce is a great tool to create world class landing pages for lead generation, mobile apps, webinars, events, long form sales letters and pretty much anything else that requires a user to complete a form. Digital marketers typically use a landing page that includes an offer in exchange for customer contact information such as an email address.
The beauty of Unbounce is it makes creating and testing landing pages extremely easy, yet the quality is top shelf. The product offers tons of pre-designed landing pages for just about any application that are easily customizable using their visual interface. You don’t need any programming experience, but Unbounce does offer virtually unlimited development customization if that’s your thing.
Since the power of digital marketing comes from improving performance through optimization, Unbounce fits in perfectly with our objectives. The software offers page performance data such as visitors and conversions, but it also makes split testing a breeze. This is where the system pays for its $50 monthly cost as we can immediately learn what’s working, what’s not and make adjustments.
Keyword and Competitive Research – SEMrush
SEMRush is a powerful research and analysis tool that helps identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for your website and your digital marketing. It can tell you which keywords your website ranks for as well which keywords your competitors’ website ranks for.
My favorite things to use SEMrush for include tracking organic search results, advertising competitiveness, keyword competitiveness, competitor analysis and backlink research. If you’re looking for a quick analysis of your website, check out the SEMRush website audit tool, which will provide you with a list a issues to correct on your website to improve its performance.
Just like many of the other tools on this list, SEMRush appeals to both newbies and advanced digital marketers because it’s easy to use, yet provides limitless opportunity for advancement. SEMRush costs $70 a month for a pro subscription, but it’s definitely a tool that I would recommend as worth the investment for now and in the future.
Social Media Management – Buffer
I use the free version of Buffer to publish to and manage much of my social media marketing projects. As the saying goes, it’s incredibly easy to spend a great deal of time within social media marketing without a great deal of return. That’s why a tool like Buffer is essential, because it allows you to get a lot done with a relatively small investment in time.
With Buffer you can post to your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest accounts from a single interface. You can also schedule all of these posts so you can batch your social media efforts, maximizing your time in the process.
In addition to posting, Buffer provides solid analytics to measure the impact and success of your posts and responses. Social media marketing can be consuming and eventually lead into a deep abyss of wasted time without an efficient and effective tool like this.
Website Presence Management – Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools is a service that helps you monitor and maintain your website’s presence in Google’s search results. This is another free, yet incredibly important tool from Google that helps keep an eye on the health of your website.
I’ve used this service on more than one occasion to help identify that one of my websites contained malware. Google Webmaster Tools provides detailed information on what search queries are sending traffic to your website, how your pages are appearing in search results, which sites are linking to your website and whether your site is performing well for mobile visitors.
This is a great service that gives you a constant connection to Google. If there’s an issue on your website, you can make adjustments and ask Google to re-crawl your website after your changes have been completed. You can also connect Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to get even more great information and analysis.