Natalie Adler Skarzynski
5 Free Digital Marketing Tools I Use on the Regular
6 minute read
As a digital marketer, it feels as if my toolkit is always growing. New services frequently make their way onto my radar screen, and over the past few years I've developed an affinity for a handful of them. Below are five tools I use all the time to help with social media management, visual content creation, and SEO. Most of these tools operate on a freemium model, meaning you can use the basic version for free but have upgrade for more sophisticated features.
One of the best-known, best-loved tools for social media management, Hootsuite has several different pricing tiers. Individuals and smaller brands with fewer channels can certainly get away with using the free version, but I have also used one of the paid versions at previous companies and enjoyed the advanced analytics that came with it.
I primarily use Hootsuite to track activity across social channels, both outgoing posts from the brand and incoming messages and posts from customers and prospects. Within the tool, you can set up various "Streams" tailored to a particular social network, search term, or activity type (Timeline Posts, Direct Messages, etc.). The Streams are extremely helpful for at-a-glance assessments of what might require attention. Streams can also help you uncover connection opportunities with potential influencers and other like-minded organizations or individuals.
The other feature I use most in Hootsuite is the scheduling feature. I like to block off time one day a week, usually Monday, to schedule a brand's social posts for the week. I will occasionally schedule further into the future as a particular campaign may dictate. Doing one bulk scheduling session a week allows me to "set it and forget it," while still making it easy to stay up-to-date and add other posts during the week if necessary (example: some piece of news comes out during the course of the week).
Hootsuite's link shortening and tracking ability is a nice feature, as well as its social analytics. One of the only shortcomings of the platform lies in the inability to easily monitor comments on existing Facebook posts that may require attention. For instance, an upset customer may post their complaint as a comment on a completely unrelated post. Since Hootsuite doesn't notify me of this, I still use Facebook's native Page Manager notification center to monitor and respond to this type of activity.
Disclaimer: I am not and never will be a graphic designer. But as a content marketer, I am often called upon to design something -- be it a compelling social media image or a mockup of a new image we need to have created. That is why I love Canva. This free service enables design-challenged people like myself to create beautiful, classy-looking images and documents. They have templates, fonts, free images and icons, and an easy-to-use interface to bring it all together.
You can use Canva for free, but they have recently introduced a premium version of their offering called "Canva for Work." In addition, be mindful as you create your design that not all of their design elements are free. Although many basic images and icons are free to use, others cost $1 each.
I typically use Canva to mock up concepts that I would later pass on to a design professional. Canva really shines in the creation of social media images, although I have used similar layouts to create my own blog post feature images and email headers. One of my favorite features is the ability to import your own images, such as a company logo or existing brand imagery.
In the same vein as Canva, Pixlr is a nifty little tool from Autodesk that enables digital marketers like myself to accomplish simple design tasks. Anyone familiar with Adobe Photoshop will be perfectly comfortable using Pixlr Editor, though I tend to leave its more robust features to the real professionals.
Pixlr is my go-to for basic image work such as re-sizing images, adjusting brightness and saturation, cropping to a certain aspect ratio, or merging several images together. I tend to use it more for editing existing images than creating new ones. (See above: not a graphic designer.) The simpler features of Pixlr serve me well, enabling me to handle easy things myself instead of pestering the graphic design team.
Google AdWords Keyword Planner
Ah, AdWords. Love it or hate it, Google's ad platform is a powerful thing. I use the Keyword Planner for keyword research, as it lets me quickly check a set of keywords for traffic volume and competitiveness. It is also handy for generating new keyword ideas. I could delve further into the wild world of keyword research, but that could be another post!
The tool itself is free to use. Just log into AdWords, then go to Tools > Keyword Planner to get started. You'll notice an angry-looking red bar in the image above, taken from my personal AdWords account. I am not currently running any ads, but still have access to the tool. For anyone out there who wants to use the Keyword Planner but does not have an AdWords account, be mindful -- when I signed up for a new AdWords account, it walked me through creating my first campaign, requiring me to enter billing information and the like. Seeing that I would not have access to tools like the Keyword Planner without first completing this wizard (tricky, Google, tricky), I created a test campaign. Then, as soon as this process was completed, I immediately paused the campaign. No dollars were spent, but I gained access to the full AdWords interface, including the Keyword Planner. Worth a few minutes of hassle, in my opinion.
Moz Open Site Explorer
I have many good things to say about Moz (formerly SEOMoz) as a company. They produce wonderful content that is so helpful for SEO practitioners like myself, and their Moz Pro SEO analytics product is quite nice.
One of Moz's many useful tools includes Open Site Explorer, which allows you to input any domain and analyze its backlink profile, domain authority, and more. It can be used to better understand your own domain's link profile, as well as gathering link ideas from competitor sites.
Not all of the features of Open Site Explorer are free to use without being a Moz Pro Subscriber, and keep in mind that you can only run up to three reports per day without signing up for anything. This is definitely a great tool for link research, and in lieu of a more robust link tracking tool, can be used to track your progress over time -- just be sure to save the results of each report in an Excel sheet.
Bonus Tool: Fiverr
I say Fiverr is a bonus tool because unlike the rest of these, it is not free. However, it is extremely reasonable and can definitely come in handy for smaller marketing teams. Everything from graphic design to copy editing to voice over services, all in increments of $5. For instance, editing 1,000 words or providing two logo design concepts might constitute one $5 "gig."
In the past, I have used Fiverr for simple graphic design projects, like removing backgrounds or recoloring certain items within a photo. For me, these projects go beyond what I can do (quickly, anyway), yet are smaller or simpler than what I might ask a regular design freelancer to do.
Another benefit of using Fiverr, in addition to its low cost, is that many service providers on the site will do a quick turnaround time. Any time I have engaged someone on Fiverr, they have promised to deliver in 1-2 days but have usually delivered the project the same day.
So there you have it -- several free (or inexpensive tools) from my digital marketing toolkit. Best of luck putting them to work for you!