No matter where you work or what you do, every job has its day-to-day challenges and sometimes inefficiencies. For me, when presented with the same challenge over and over again, little pieces of my heart begin to crack. [Sighhh] Just before it breaks into millions of tiny pieces, I find myself screaming: “There’s got to be a better way!” Feeling both ambitious and frustrated, I’ll begin my relentless hunt for an online tool that is the “perfect match” to solve my problems. Sound familiar?
Throughout my years in digital marketing, I have spent countless hours looking for tools to overcome various challenges and increase efficiencies in order to make my job (and life) easier. Tools that are love-at-first-sight for me tend to be cloud-based because they lay the M.A.C. down. Not the “putting moves on you, kind of mac” but rather provide mobility, accessibility, and collaboration.
Tools that also steal my heart have to K.I.S.S me first. You know…keep it super simple. If they want to “meet the parents” (AKA your boss) they have to be simple to use and easy to learn since nobody wants to invest a lot of time learning a new process. (Which I am sure many people can relate to!)
With thousands of business, marketing, and productivity tools out there, it makes it difficult to know which ones will best meet your needs. To save you countless hours of research and many bad break-ups, I decided to share with you my little black book of tools that I always can count on for a good time. Oh and did I mention they are all free?
1. Online and Cloud Based Business Tools
What I love about it: No matter the size of your business, Google Drive allows you to store, share and sync all of your business documents in one secure place with online file storage, AKA, the cloud. You can access your files, images and videos whenever you need it, from your laptop, tablet or phone. (The mobile app is great!)
I also like that you can sync your files to a designated folder on your computer. Any changes you make to your document within that folder on your computer are automatically mirrored in Drive, and vice versa.
The biggest plus here in my mind is that all of your files are stored in the cloud so you don’t have to worry about losing files if something on your computer breaks or you somehow manage to get a nasty virus.
What I love about it: I am head over heals for Google Docs for many reasons. Not only because it eliminates the need to purchase software like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel (sorry, but it’s true) but also because of how easy it is to collaborate with others within the same document at the same time. This really helps with version control and eliminates the need to send multiple emails back and forth with track changes or edits.
Since Google Docs is a free Web-based application, documents, powerpoints and spreadsheets can be created, edited and stored online. Files can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection and a full-featured Web browser.
Google Docs pretty much looks and operates just Microsoft Word so the learning curve is very small. Oh and if you are worried that creating documents using Google Docs won’t be compatible with MS Word, think again! Just export in the file format that suits you best.
What I love about it: If you are looking for a tool to keep all of your projects and tasks organized, Trello is it. Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process
They say that people who are most successful at their jobs tend to keep an ongoing, evolving, and sometimes never-ending “to-do” list to prioritize tasks, keep organized, and stay focused. Trello allows you to do just that! I recommend using this tool especially if you are an account or project manager.
What I love about it: Join.me makes it easy for those working remotely, presenting to a client, or even providing technical support to share a screen (or vice versa). Once the software is installed and launched, it’s as simple as clicking the green “play” button to start casting your screen. While there is a paid version available with enhanced features, I find the free version does the trick most of the time.
I tend to use Join.me as more of backup to Go-To-Meeting and Google Hangout but Join.me has got me out of some sticky situations when the others have failed, so there will always be a place in my heart for this tool.
2. Website Analysis Tools
What I love about it: Okay, so if you don’t have Google Analytics (GA) installed on your website, stop everything you’re doing and go do that now! Seriously! GA generates detailed statistics about a website’s traffic and traffic sources while measuring goals, conversions and sales.
Understanding how your customers are using your website is super powerful. By analyzing the collected data you now can better understand how customers are finding you online. From here you can strategize how to prepare your marketing efforts, boost sales, and achieve your business goals.
What I love about it: SEMrush is a tool that is similar to Google Analytics, except they use their own algorithm and provide much more detail regarding rankings and your online competitors. In a nutshell, it analyzes search engine result pages (SERPs), and provides detailed information about domains and keywords.
The competitor analysis is the particular feature I love most about SEMrush for both PPC and organic. If you are looking to do a little detective work to see what keywords your competitors are ranking for, then this is your tool.
What I love about it: If one of your job responsibilities is maintaining or optimizing a website, you already know that links very quickly become broken, because of moved, deleted or changed URLs. And otherwebsites that you might link to might become broken to.
A broken link on your site is a dead end for your visitors and will also be bad news for your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Integrity is one of a few cloudless tools that I actually enjoy and frankly I wouldn’t consider using any other tool for checking broken links. It quickly scans your site for images as well as all internal and external links. It’s more comprehensive than other broken link checkers I’ve used before.
My favorite feature of this tools is when it detects a problem, you can double-click the broken link for more detailed information and it will show you the exact location of the broken link and how many pages it appears on. To take it one step further, you can launch the broken link within your web browser and it will actually highlight the broken link for you on the page. Pretty cool, huh?
What I love about it: If you are a business owner who is focused on growing your business within a specific geographical location, BrightLocal is an important tool to use. Have you ever asked yourself “Why isn’t mybusiness showing up on local Google Map listings?” or “How are all of my competitors listed before me when searches are performed for my products and services?” BrightLocal can help identify clues to help answers these questions and give you insight on what to change to improve those rankings.
Both agencies and internal marketing departments can use this tool with easy to perform SEO audits, track keyword performance, and identify citations to submit to local directories. The results of these reports will provide a roadmap for improving your local listing performance.
3. Marketing Material Creation
What I love about it: If you have ever used Adobe PhotoShop in the past, then using Pixlr will be a breeze. If you have never used PhotoShop in your life, that is okay too! Pixlr makes it super simple to edit and manipulate photos in the cloud. This is a tool that I use almost everyday. Although it has some drawbacks, it’s a great FREE cloud-based photo editing tool and can pretty much do anything you would need to put together a really sharp looking website banner or any type of digital creative you may need.
Since it’s cloud-based, the Pixlr editor can save files in the cloud so you can work on your image editing on any computer, any time. Once it’s saved online, you can share the image URL with your team members for approval or even send directly to your clients. Just be careful you don’t close down your web browser without saving first!
What I love about it: I can’t say enough good things about this tool. A colleague of mine stumbled upon this tool one day and I haven’t stopped using it ever since. Canva is a cloud-based graphics environment that provides you everything you need to easily create a wide variety of marketing material and content. You can create beautiful engaging designs for Web or print which can include blog graphics, presentations, Facebook covers, flyers and brochures.
What I love most about this tool is all of the templates that are available to jump-start your creativity and the hundreds of free elements, fonts, icons and images you can use for your design. Just select what you are working on (Twitter graphic, Facebook post, blog image, etc) and the dimensions are already pre-set.
What I love about it: Infographics are all the rage now and Piktochart allows you to create amazing infographics with little design experience. Since it’s a web-based infographic software, you’re able to work on your projects any time, anywhere. It also stores your graphics in the cloud for you making them accessible from all your devices.
Choose from one of their templates to get you started or start from scratch and use their library of images, icons and fonts to create a super engaging graphic. Looking to spice up a report? No problem. Import your xls, xlsx, csv files or use Google spreadsheets and make your data come to life.
What I love about it: I have to admit, when I first heard about Prezi and saw what it could produce, I was intimidated. I literally said to myself: “I am never going to have enough time to learn how to do that!” But guess what people, I am living proof that you shouldn’t rule things out until you test it yourself!
Prezi is the hotter, sexier version of Microsoft PowerPoint. Unlike PowerPoint slides, Prezi gives you a limitless zoomable canvas and the ability to show relationships between the big picture and fine details. This creates a really impactful and memorable presentation.
To familiarize yourself with the tool, I recommend choosing a template from their library and running through it a couple of times without any information added. This will allow you to see the relationship and position of the elements on the canvas. I find that this is the best way to learn but there is also a bunch of how-to videos available to help get you off the ground.
This tool has solely restored my faith that not all presentations have to be boring!
What I love about it: This is a new tool I recently added to my arsenal. Although the free version has some limitations, I really like this tool because it gives you the opportunity to add engagement points right on top of your image. These points could be a number of things that people can interact with, such as a specific call to action or a video. These can help drive your website visitors to specific pages on your site and help increase conversions.