It’s a mad digital world and to make sense of it, your marketing team is going to need a comprehensive digital toolbox at their fingertips. But there’s a Tsunami of digital platforms clamoring for attention and it can become very bewildering even for a seasoned professional, to decide which to invest in. The tools listed below are a short list of the most commonly used tools in our toolbox – trusted, tried, and true. In a few cases where we are testing a tool, we’ve added a test tube emoji 🧪 for transparency but they have promise and are worth the shoutout. There are no affiliate links in this blog, just an unbiased list of favorite tools you’ll want to consider for your own toolbox:
The beauty of “suite tools” is their all-in-one convenience. They generally include the following: competitive intelligence, backlink analytics, SEO intelligence, website auditing, branded reports, social listening.
Established in 2008, SEMrush (or old faithful) is a feature-rich, paid tool and a must in any digital marketer’s arsenal. When it comes to competitor data, SEMrush is a goldmine. Whether it’s using their traffic analytics tool to determine which channels your rivals are using, checking out competitor website traffic, using their organic research tools to determine your competitors SEO practices and keyword strategies, or using their backlinks analytics to check out link building opportunities, It seamlessly integrates with Google products, social channels, and Trello and the company offers free phone support. Its downside is its cost which starts at $119 USD a month if you buy into a subscription.
2. SpyFu 🧪
Remember GoogleSpy from 2005? Rebranded as Spyfu, this competitor tool is affordably priced at only $33 a month and is an excellent tool for both beginner and advanced marketers – if you are targeting the U.S. market (there are plans to expand to the UK in the coming months). SpyFu allows unlimited searches, unlimited projects (this is a big deal if you’re an agency), and unlimited exports. According to Spyfu you can search for any domain and see every place your competitor has shown up on Google including every keyword they’ve bought on Google Ads, every organic rank, and every ad variation in the last 14 years.
Another classic, Ahrefs has been around since 2011 and comes in at slightly less than Semrush at $99 a month to start. Its interface is easy to use and it allows you to search in multiple search engines (not just Google). It also gives you a recommended backlink estimate to rank for a particular keyword. If you can verify ownership of a website domain there is no limit to the number of websites you can monitor.
4. GrowthBar 🧪
The new kid on the block, GrowthBar is also very price friendly at just $30 USD per month. It was also just voted one of the top Chrome Extensions of 2021. Providing a lot of the same functionality as some of the big guns, GrowthBar provides keyword research, competitor research, and keyword tracking. Its coolest feature though is its Open AI. Third generation, Generative Pre-training Transformer ( GPT-3) is an autoregressive language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text. GrowthBar uses this to help content creators generate SEO outlines for blog and website content with the goal of having an SEO advantage on best ranking factors through “keywords, word counts, headers, images, links and more”.
5. Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is hands-down the best site audit tool available for technical and on-page SEO (including broken links, missing metadata, sitemaps, identifying temporary and permanent redirects, finding duplicate content etc.). A cornerstone tool that debuted in 2010, Screaming Frog can quickly crawl thousands of pages, even behind a firewall giving SEOs the ability to make informed decisions in real-time. They have an amazing support section and customer support. There are some cons: the interface isn’t pretty and the free version has a small crawl limit (500 pages). However, it’s a low commitment at only around $200 USD per year.
6. Google Search Console
Formerly Webmaster Tools, in 2018 the tool was updated and renamed Google Search Console to check indexing status and optimize visibility after some of this data was removed from Google Analytics. A free SEO tool at its core, its site auditing powers are awesome too. Search Console allows you to monitor server errors, site load issues, security issues, managing URL parameters, and more. It also keeps you up to date on any new best practices.
7. ClickFlow 🧪
If your SEO content is beginning to rank but needs a push forward, newcomer ClickFlow could add value to your strategy. A tool for both the content writer and the SEO to synergize, ClickFlow’s Content Editor “grades and levels up” your writer’s content. ClickFlow identifies those articles on your site that have a high visibility rate but a low click-through rate allowing your content writers to create more engaging title tags and meta descriptions to entice readers to click. Discover related keywords to include in your content, with the end goal of publishing the “most comprehensive posts in your space”, in order to gain more search visibility. A great feature, After 2 weeks Clickflow will show you how those changes impacted the ranking of your article.
Positioned as a free online writing assistant Grammarly that was launched in 2009 that reviews spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, engagement, and delivery mistakes in real-time. It uses AI to identify and search for an appropriate replacement for the mistake it locates as well as adjustments to style and tone. Unless you are a postgraduate in English literature chances are Grammarly will come in handy. The best part is that the chrome extension is completely free and if you want to upgrade to the premium version it’s only $12 a month.
Canadian landing page builder Unbounce has been in business since 2009 and is one of my favorite tools on this list. Allowing you to build optimized, custom landing pages (rather than driving ad traffic to a generic one-size-fits-all website), you can create unique landing pages quickly with their drag and drop interface. With over 100 conversion-driven templates (many industry-focused) it’s easy to a/b test other Unbounce created pages. Unbounce also gives you the use of dynamic text and the ability to SEO optimize your pages. A sweet extra benefit is Unbounce’s sticky bar and pop-up templates which work well. Packages start at $80 USD a month but if you require amp pages and a/b testing you’ll likely need the $300 a month package.
The oldest tool on the list, established in 2001, Mailchimp still performs, especially for SMBs who are doing their own marketing. It’s very easy interface allows you to design, automate and manage email campaigns. With its audience targeting tools, AI creative assistant to help create custom designs, this all in one email marketing suite is a robust platform at an exceptional value. Their free version even allows for up to 2000 contacts.
11. Active Campaign
For enterprise-level campaigns, Active Campaign is a great option. Founded in 2003, this platform has an intuitive drag and drop email builder with multi-step automation capabilities. It also provides dozens of beautifully designed templates and some nifty segmentation options. It includes a lead scoring system, split testing and other advanced features including a CRM. They also offer free phone support starting with their $9 a month basic subscriptions.
Interactive video platform Tolstoy has democratized this once prohibitively expensive technology. An incredible custom experience, interactive video helps you communicate with your customers based on their feedback as they are in the driver’s seat. From qualifying leads, onboarding new clients, promoting your products and services, collecting feedback, and more, Tolstoy allows your users to navigate to the content that is most relevant for them.
Interactive content platform Outgrow, established in 2016, is an exceptional lead qualification and generation tool. Using one of the thousands of pre-optimized templates, you can create quizzes, calculators, chatbots, polls with personalization easily – and without any design or development expertise.
On the market since 2014, Hotjar helps marketers to better understand how customers are engaging with your website and why they may be dropping off or not converting. Through heatmaps, session recordings, polls, instant customer feedback and other behavioral analytics functionality you are able to really dig deep into user behavior. Easy to install using Tag Manager, Hotjar conveniently integrates with popular website platforms and starts at just $39 a month after the free trial.
15. Lucky Orange
A simpler (and less expensive at only $10 a month) tool than Hotjar, Lucky Orange has been around longer as well (2010) and offers heatmap and session recordings as well as a tool aptly named “conversion funnels” which shows you where users are abandoning their website process. There is also a responsive live chat tool.
16. Google Optimize
Google Optimize is a testing tool that enables you to run website experiments including A/B testing, multivariate testing, and redirect tests. Optimize allows you to test variants of web pages to see how they perform against an objective. The tool monitors the results of your experiment and tells you which variant is the winner. It’s also completely free and very intuitive and easy to use and integrates with Google Analytics making it easier to analyze reports. Download their free Google Chrome extension to edit your site in live mode. It’s disadvantages are its testing limitations. You can only run 5 tests at the same time with three or less goals.
Fundamentally a social media management tool Hootsuite launched in 2008 as a social media management tool. Over the years the company has added on competitor intelligence and analytics functionality including side-by-side competitor comparisons of key performance metrics including mentions, engagement, sentiment, and exposure in your market segment. They also provide a competitor report builder that can customize to compare activity overviews, stats, growth, and more. It’s also super affordable at $29 per month for 10 social profiles & 1 user.
18. Facebook Ads Library
Facebook offers marketers a transparency tool to check out your competition. Called the Facebook Ads Library it’s super easy to use. Get free access to robust data including total ad spend, ad copy, ad length, call to action, and landing pages. Furthermore, Facebook Ads Library allows you to toggle between active vs. inactive ads, impressions, and platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Audience Network, and Messenger) and shows you ads based on location by allowing you to toggle by country.
19. Sprout Social
Sprout Social has transformed since its inception in 2010 into one of the leading social listening tools on the block. Due partly to its affordability compared to some of the new kids on the block, Sprout Social touts itself as an enterprise-grade social media management platform that provides powerful solutions for social listening and analytics, customer care, and employee advocacy, and yet it’s priced very moderately at $99 per user a month (after free trial period). It’s also supremely easy and intuitive.
The most intuitive design platform for the non-creative, Canva is used by 30 Million users to date and as of last year was worth a sweet $15 Billion USD (in just 9 years). It’s a great platform and I would be remiss to exclude it from this list. With an easy-to-use desktop interface and excellent mobile apps, the free plan is very rich and the paid plan starting at $119 a year is even richer. Used to develop creative for social media, ad banners, presentations, and other visual content you have access to stock photos, audio, video, hundreds of thousands of templates, and loads of cloud storage. You can even schedule and post social media content to 8 platforms.
21. Google Analytics & Tag Manager
While these two different tools can work independently I see them as working in tandem and as one solution.
Google Tag Manager (GTM) established in 2012 works seamlessly with GA allowing non-developers to manage marketing tags for conversions and remarketing through the use of tracking pixels in an easy-to-deploy interface. To best understand what gets categorized as a tag, consider that Google Analytics is considered a “tag”. Prior to GTM, code had to be manually added to a website in order to track events. Now any number of third-party tools can be added to GTM or you can build a custom tag. GTM integrates natively with dozens of platforms including Google Ads, HotJar, Crazy Egg, and beyond.
Established in 2011, CallRail has been a saving grace for marketers when clients complain about how to track inbound phone leads driven from paid ads. CallRail provides complete visibility of traffic sources, length of call, and other call intelligence. The platform allows you to view interactions with ads, keywords, and campaigns. Easy to set up the basic tool is $45 a month.
Are there are other tools in our toolbox? Most definitely. Are they important? Darn right – think marketing automation, Amazon, video creation, design, productivity, influencer marketing, and beyond – however, we’re not using them daily. Featured in previous articles, I plan to share more tools in future content. Are you a digital marketer? What are your most essential tools?