For me digital marketing tools, apps and software are one of, if not the biggest expense I incur in running my business. I spend in excess of $2000/ month on various marketing and business tools with occasional extras. So for me choosing the right tool for the job and making sure it does what it needs to to pay for itself is extremely important. I trial a lot of software but don’t commit to paying for anything until I’ve tested it to death! Here’s a list of some of the tools I use and recommend, I’ve also written reviews of some of the tools I use most often.
Link Building Tools
I’ve been building links for SEO campaigns for over 10 years so I’ve seen a lot of software come and go, tested a lot of link building tools. Here is the link building software I’m using most frequently nowadays…
Ahrefs – Ahrefs is my tool of choice for link research right now. Their index of 150 billion+ pages makes them one of the biggest and freshest indexes and they have a host of tools for extracting really useful, actionable data for link research. Their custom metrics of “URL Rating”, “Domain Rating” and “Ahrefs Rank” are in my opinion the most useful snapshot measurements of the link value of a website or webpage.
Link Research Tools – LRT was the first tool I signed up for when I started freelancing and it was a huge amount of money for me at the time but I decided it was that pivotal to the type of service I wanted to provide for clients. I have been an on-off customer of Link Research Tools since and recommend them for heavy duty research based link building campaigns and link audits.
Buzzstream – I’m a big fan of BuzzStream for management of link building campaigns, whether you’re doing outreach, content promotion, guest blogging or buying links its the best way to keep your team and your links organised.
Accurate analytics are a must whatever type of campaign you’re running. Here’s some of my preferred analytics software and apps…
Google Analytics – It probably goes without saying that along with the rest of the world I use Google Analytics a lot and its my go to web analytics tool.
Hotjar – A great little tool for usability and conversion optimisation work, HotJar is the easiest way to record heatmaps of how visitors are interacting with your pages, where they’re clicking and how they’re scrolling through your landing pages. Try it out with a free trial or their free forever plan.
ClickMeter – ClickMeter is a useful tool for doing all sorts of clever stuff with tracking and analytics that you can’t do with other software. It also has built in features for click fraud monitoring and acts as an advanced URL shortener which is great for affiliates.
SuperMetrics – If you do a lot of work in Google Sheets or Excel then you’ll find SuperMetrics really handy for pulling data and updating it automatically from a huge number of different API’s including Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, AdWords and Twitter
These are the multi-purpose SEO tools I use most frequently. Unfortunately there’s no true “all in one” tool for SEO so if I have to use multiple tools and subscriptions to do different jobs…
Raven Tools – I’ve been a Raven Tools customer since about 2010 and have written a full Raven Tools Review here. Its a great tool for a number of different SEO tasks and if you’re managing campaigns across teams it keeps all your data in one place. I use it for most of the client reporting we do as an agency.
Ahrefs – Ahrefs is now much more than just a link index, their tools for tracking rankings, researching keywords and analysing content make it one of my favourite and most used complete SEO tools, hence its appearing twice on this list!
Tools I use for researching and writing content for clients and for this blog, then promoting it…
Buzzsumo – Buzzsumo is the best tool for researching ideas for content thats likely to get links and do well well on social media. Its also brilliant for outreach and Twitter Ads because it lets you download lists of influencers who have shared content similar to yours in the past and target your ads at followers of those people.
Whether its for SEO or PPC campaigns I like to use multiple tools for keyword research to make sure I’m getting the full picture…
Keyword Explorer in Ahrefs – I love the Ahrefs keyword explorer tool because it gives global search volumes and gives the best indication of how much traffic you might actually get from an organic listing and how search clicks are split between paid and organic listings.
Moz Keyword Explorer Tool – Although not as comprehensive as the Ahrefs tool Moz’s keyword tool gives really good similar keyword suggestions and keyword difficulty scores. You can run a couple of free queries a day if you’re not a Pro member.
Long Tail Pro – Most SEO’s focus on head keywords, the most popular and obvious keywords in any given market. That means most keyword research tools are designed to find those head terms. Long Tail Pro worked this out and developer their tool to focus on finding hidden, long tail keywords that most tools won’t surface.
Rank Tracking Tools
I’m a big advocate of accurate rank tracking to measure the overall health of your website whether you’re actively doing SEO work or not. Retrieving rankings is a pain because you’re constantly fighting Google’s spam controls and personalisation. Don’t try and gather ranking results yourself, use a rank tracking tool to do the heavy lifting for you…
Authority Labs – I use Authority Labs for my large scale SEO projects when I need reliable rankings for thousands of keywords.
SE Ranking – A great little rank tracking tool I recommend to SME’s who just need to track rankings for a handful of keywords. You can track weekly rankings for up to 50 keywords for as little as £2.50/ month which is great value.
I think I’ve probably used every major email marketing tool over the past 10 years but these are the ones I prefer to use today…
Aweber – Aweber is my email marketing tool of choice for most campaigns. I find its easy to use, has good deliverability and their automation tools mean for most campaigns you won’t need a more complicated (and expensive) marketing automation solution.
Drip – I also really like the simplicity of Drip for setting up marketing automation and auto-responder campaigns. Check it out if you’re looking to do clever stuff with email delivery sequences.
Not all website hosting is created equal! You need a reliable host with good support so if you’re thinking of switching hosts I always recommend firing off some support tickets to them before you commit to see how responsive and useful they are. I’ve had some terrible experiences with some of the world’s best know hosting providers so don’t get sucked in by a big brand…
TSO Host – I’ve used TSO Host as my main hosting provider for the past 4 years. Their support is brilliant, hosting is very affordable and really reliable. Use coupon code JMCCOM for 10% off any hosting you buy with TSO Host.
WPEngine – About a year ago I started hosting WordPress sites for new projects with WP Engine the specialist WordPress-only host. I’ve found WordPress sites run much faster on WPEngine than on any other host I’ve used (including TSO Host) so thats a massive factor for me. Starting at $29 a month its more than you’d expect to pay for your average shared hosting plan but the extra speed is worth it for me.
CloudFlare – I use CloudFlare for DNS hosting, its the best way to setup DNS for WPEngine and they have a host of great free features to help with the speed and security of your site (paid options too).
Here’s a few tools I use to manage and stay on top of social media…
Buffer – I use Buffer to schedule social media posts on Twitter and Facebook. I have the awesome plan, but the free plan is pretty good too.
Feedly – A neat free tool to keep up to date with your favourite blogs and news channels in one place.
Gleam – Gleam make it really easy to run social media competitions where you enter by following or Tweeting .
Content Management Systems/ Website Builders
If you need to build a website these are the platforms I’d recommend to most small to medium sized businesses…
WordPress – WordPress is obviously the defacto system for blogging and I also use it for lots of other non-blog websites with content management needs.
Square Space – I recommend Square Space for small businesses/ freelancers who need to get a simple good looking site online and don’t want to pay out for a designer. I’ve used this system to help friends get online and have been really impressed with the ease of use and the quality of the sites you can build.
And if you’re building an online store or need to take payments I’d recommend these ecommerce tools…
Shopify – I run the ecommerce dropshipping part of my business on Shopify and its the ecommerce platform I always recommend for anyone who wants to start an online store.
Samcart – If you’re selling a single product or just a few products and all you really need is an order form and payment processor take a look at SamCart who offer a template based hosted solution for ecommerce checkout pages
Gravity Form + Stripe/ Paypal Add-On– Similar to the above, if all you need is a simple order form and payment and you’re familiar with WordPress then I’ve built solutions before using Gravity Forms along with the Paypal or Stripe add-on. Simple but effective and there’s no ongoing fee’s for the software.
Unless you have a large organisation and a lot of customers and staff I usually find CRM systems to be more of a distraction than a time saver to be honest but if you need one, here’s what I recommend…
Infusionsoft – If you definitely need a CRM the one I’d recommend for SME’s is InfusionSoft although it can be bloody complicated to get to grips with. Make sure you definitely need a CRM and be aware if you’re mostly need a system for email marketing automation, one of the core features of InfusionSoft, then you can probably get that functionality out of email marketing systems like Aweber or Drip which offer pretty sophisticated marketing automation which is much simpler than running these campaigns in InfusionSoft.
I may not be a great designer, but I know what I like. I usually create mockups of what I need stuff to look like in one of these tools and then pass them to a designer to refine before they go for development…
Mockingbird – The tool I use for wireframing sites, landing pages and funnels to share with designers.
Invision – I use Invision to bring site designs and prototypes to life and effectively communicate how I want pages to look and work between designers and developers
Instapage – There’s a few good landing page builders around these days and I’ve used most of them with different clients at some point in time but the one I personally recommend and prefer is Instapage.
99Designs – If you need to get a logo, infographic, landing page, or just about anything else designed in a hurry and don’t have a go-to design guy or gal try running a contest on 99Designs. I’ve had some great stuff designed by them for clients in the past and because of the contest format, you get drafts from multiple designers which greatly increases the chances of the designers coming back with something you like on the first attempt.
There’s about a zillion plugins out there for WordPress but I try to avoid them as much as possible to use a single plugin with multiple functions where possible because every plugin you add is an extra resource thats slows own your site and creates a potential security risk. Here’s a few themes and plugins I would recommend though…
Genesis Theme – I use the Genesis theme by StudioPress for WordPress sites, I’ve always found Genesis themes load quickly and are really easy to customize.
OptinMonster – I’ve used a few free and paid tools for optin forms and popups in WordPress and my favourite has been OptinMonster.
SumoMe – If you don’t want to pay for a solution for optin forms I would go with SumoMe, its also a paid tool but has good features for free as well.
Day to Day Business Tools
These are the tools I probably spend most time in and they’re mostly free or pretty cheap…
G Suite (Previously Google Apps for Work) – I have 3 company accounts with Google’s pro Gmail solution because I find it much easier to have my calendar, email and Google Drive all under one account, so I only need to login once for all my business apps.
Evernote – I use the free version of Evernote for everything from quick notes to full on blog posts. Great if you work across multiple devices.
Slack – Slack is how I stay in touch with my team, VA’s and contractors. Its like a professional version of MSN Messenger! The free plan gives all the features most small businesses will need.
Google Drive – Google Drive is my default cloud storage system. Its included in Gsuite so no need to pay extra for something like Dropbox.
WeTransfer – For big file sharing and sending stuff to people who aren’t on our Google Drive I use WeTransfer. Its free to send big files like videos and high res images.
Trello – I’ve only recently got into this but I’ve moved my old to-do lists from Evernote to Trello and I’m loving it. Great way to organise all sorts of stuff. I know people use Trello for way more complicated stuff as well. I’m just using the free account at the moment
I couldn’t stay on top of my company accounts without these guys…
Crunch Accounting (UK Only) – I’ve been a Crunch Accounting customer for years and years and I’ve written a full Crunch Accounting review here. If you’re based in the UK and run a small business which sends invoices I highly recommend them.
Xero – I also recommend Xero and use it for my ecommerce business accounts along with their Shopify plugin.
VA’s & Outsourcing
Keep your staff overheads down and keep things simple and productive with these time savers…
Time Etc – Time Etc is a really easy way to hire competent VA’s for all sorts of admin tasks. Its more expensive than hiring a VA directly but you’ll get good people working on your task who just get on with it and get the job done.
People Per Hour – I hire a lot of freelance talent on PPH including designers, developers and writers. It has a higher quality of freelancer than you’re likely to find on sites UpWork and Freelancer.com
Moneypenny/ Penelope – The call answering service I use to make sure phones are always answered even when I’m busy or the office is empty.
We advertise all over the place but probably 90% of our 7 figure annual ad spend goes on these networks…
AdWords – No introduction needed, I spend a ton of money on AdWords whether its search, display or YouTube campaigns.
Facebook Ads – As above really, I’ve been using Facebook Ads since 2009 and its still getting better and better.
Twitter Ads – Twitter Ads isn’t as intuitive as the first 2 but when you crack it you can get some really amazing results in some markets with Twitter.
Perfect Audience – The network I usually recommend for display retargeting campaigns