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  • Is Your Website Stuck in the 90s?

    Wednesday, March 1, 2017 by
    90s website Nineties nostalgia is already a thing. Companies and advertisers are catering to Millennials with retro mascots and products (Surge, anyone?) as the youngs reminisce about the good old days. Even if your audience is made up entirely of under-35 customers, there are some things about the ‘90s that are best left in the past—like these awful design elements from the heyday of Prodigy and CompuServe.

    It wasn't so easy to build a nice-looking site in the 90s. Thankfully, it's much easier today with the HostGator Website Builder.

     

    1. 1990s style website welcome pages

    In the ‘90s, many website landing pages were weird, pointless digital vestibules featuring a bland background, a notice that you had reached the website, and an “enter here” button you had to click to see the actual site. This seems pointless today, but in the 1990s, navigating to a website (as opposed to browsing around on a portal like AOL) was a new experience for many users. Welcome pages reassured them they were in the right place. 1990s Website Welcome Page Today: Don’t force visitors to do extra work to see your pages. Welcome pages, autoplay videos, or any other barrier between the guest and your site’s content can reduce conversion rates.  

    2. Cluttered ‘90s-style page backgrounds

    The ultimate ‘90s web design trope was a tiled-image nightmare of a background that distracted visitors from the site’s message and, in hardcore cases, created a sense of visual vertigo as your eyes scanned the page. Background photo tiles were the very worst, because the color variations in the images guaranteed that no matter what color the text was, some of it was bound to be unreadable. 1990s Website Background Today: Web page backgrounds should be neutral and definitely not tiled. Let the background frame your message instead of obscuring it.  

    The 1990s wacky font sampler

    Forget readability. One of the joys of having a website in the 90s was using as many fonts as you could on a single page. If that meant a header in all-caps lime green bold PAPYRUS or a huge block of text in purple 10-point Brush Script, at least they stood out a bit from all that tile behind them. 1990s Website Graphic Headers Today: Readability should be the number one consideration when you choose fonts. You can use free preview tools like MobiReady to see how your pages will display on large and small screens. If your chosen fonts don’t scan well, change them.  

    The number-one rule of 1990s font choices

    You had to use Comic Sans somewhere on your site. It’s hard to explain why. You had to be there. Comic Sans 1990s Website Today: Don't use Comic Sans.  

    Keyword stuffing and link building, ‘90s-style

    What’s a meta tag? In the ‘90s, you just included all of the keywords and every possible permutation of those keywords on each page, in plain view—usually in a big, ugly block of text at the bottom or in a sidebar. Bonus points if you used white text on a white background. Another popular black hat SEO tactic from the 1990s were buttons, badges, and visit counters that included hidden links. 1990s Website Link Button Today: Be selective about including keyword phrases in your text so you don’t incur Google penalties for keyword stuffing. Never display a block of keywords on your pages. Use meta tags to include the most important keywords for search engines without displaying them on every page. Be choosy about who you link out to.  

    ‘90s websites were like Spotify, but with prehistoric MIDI technology

    A surprising number of ‘90s-era websites autoplayed terrible, dinky-sounding MIDI-file music. Never mind that you could be using a library terminal, working in a crowded cubicle farm, or browsing at home while your baby finally napped. Unless you remembered to keep your system volume set to zero, you might have to jolt into noise-control mode when you landed on a new site. A lot of these sites didn’t include guest controls for the tunage, either. It was up to you to mouse to your volume control, slap the keyboard mute button, or navigate away as quickly as you could at 2400 bits per second. 1990s Website Midi Today: Keep your site quiet. If music is central to your business, make it easy for visitors to play tracks if they wish, but leave the choice to them.  

    Scrollin’ through the ‘90s

    Site text moved around a lot in the 1990s. Sometimes it scrolled in a loop like the signs in Times Square, sometimes it slid back and forth across the screen in homage to Pong. Visitors had to keep up and chase content as it zipped by. It was the ‘90s. People made site text move because they could. 1990s Website Example Today: Don’t try scrolling designs at home. There are ways to scroll text and other elements to make your site dynamic and visually appealing without freaking users out, but they’re advanced-level moves best left to experienced professional designers.  

    1990s websites offered an array of content choices

    Forget sidebars and navigation tabs. Many site designers threw all their content links into big, bulky arrays that were as ugly to look at as they were tedious to navigate. In many cases, you had to return to the array from each content page because there was no way to click through. 1990s Website Array Today: Arrays have their purposes. Organizing site content is not one of them.  

    Every 1990s website needed 37 pieces of flair

    Badges weren’t just for scouts in the ‘90s. Thanks to the magic of Windows Paint and JPEG files, the websites of the era were festooned with tchotchkes – maps of the country where they were based, small awards most people had never heard of, and web ring logos. Web rings actually served a purpose for a while, by making it easy for visitors to find similar sites instead of having to dig through Yahoo’s directory categories. Mostly, though, these pieces of digital flair were early types of social proof and community-building tools. 1990s Website Flair Today: Unless it’s relevant, there’s no need to fly your national colors on your web site. Too many visual distractions keep your visitors from focusing on your message. Design with your message in mind.   Still not sure if your site is stuck in the 90s? Compare it to the mother of all bad examples, The World’s Worst Website. Just be sure to put on your sunglasses before you click the link, and maybe mute your system volume. Then check out some inspiring design ideas and start building your site! HostGator Website Builder   Images courtesy of the WayBack Machine.
  • 7 Terrific Plugins for Your Mom Blog

    Tuesday, February 28, 2017 by
    Best WordPress Plugins for Mom Blogs If you run a mom blog, then hopefully you’ve already chosen to install WordPress. If you’re just getting started, then WordPress will be one of the best choices to start your blogging journey with. When the time comes to customize your site, you’re going to have a ton of options. Beyond choosing a theme, there are literally thousands of plugins to choose from. Plugins will help you create additional features on your site and can even improve its performance. Whether you’re educating other moms on raising their children, showing them how to stay sane while raising a family, or showing busy moms how to cook on the go, you’ll find some value in the list below. HostGator WordPress Hosting  

    1. W3 Total Cache

    W3 Total Cache Plugin What’s a caching plugin? What this plugin actually does is quite technical, but luckily you don’t have to understand what it does to gain value from it. Put simply, a caching plugin will speed up the performance of your website. A fast loading website is an absolute necessity, both in the eyes of your readers and Google. W3 Total Cache is one of the best plugins out there for speeding up your current blog.  

    2. Yoast SEO

    Yoast SEO It’s hard to make a recommendation for any SEO plugin that isn’t Yoast SEO. If you’re looking to get more traffic from search engines, then you’ll need to properly optimize your content. This plugin takes all of the guesswork out of optimizing your site’s content. Just install the plugin, and you’ll find an easy-to-use addition to your post composition screen.  

    3. SumoMe

    Sumo Me SumoMe is an incredibly valuable plugin if you’re looking to grow your email list. This plugin comes equipped with both pop-up and slide-up subscription boxes. This plugin also features a nifty social sharing bar that encourages users to share your content. Create Your Blog  

    4. Redirection

    Redirection Plugin Redirection allows you to easily create redirects. This plugin comes in handy if you have to change the URL structure of a certain page, or re-arrange your site. Most redirection plugins make it very difficult to change your URLs. This plugin is dead simple. Whether you need to disguise the URL of an affiliate link, or change the URL of an existing page, this plugin is your best bet.  

    5. Related Posts

    Related Posts Plugin Some WordPress themes come equipped with this feature, but others don’t. This plugin creates a simple carousel of your related posts at the bottom of post. This will encourage users to stay on your site longer and read more of what you’ve written, which is never a bad thing.  

    6. Sucuri

    Sucuri Plugin Sucuri is a paid plugin, but if you’re serious about ensuring your site remains secure, then this might be a good addition to your plugin arsenal. When your blog is small, security might not be at the top of your mind, but as you grow and your traffic increases, it’s definitely something worth looking into.  

    7. Disqus Comments

    Disqus Plugin Comments are an important aspect of building a community around your blog. If you’re looking for a great solution, then check out Disqus. This plugin encourages participation and makes it easy to moderate comments from your readers. We hope the plugin list above will help to improve the performance, usability, and traffic across your mom blog.   Did we miss any plugins above? Please share your favorites in the comments below.
  • The Ultimate Guide to Dedicated Gaming Servers

    Tuesday, February 28, 2017 by
    Gaming Server Hosting   Gaming servers are servers that are used to host games. If you have played an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game, then you have connected to a gaming server. However, a lot of gaming servers can end up being limited. Instead of playing the kind of game you want to play, you’re stuck playing in the customized environment that’s required for massive server play. Sometimes you just want a little more customization and control over your gaming environment. This is where dedicated gaming servers come in. Below we dive into what dedicated gaming servers are, why you would want one, and how to create your own for a few select games. Dedicated Server  

    What is a Dedicated Gaming Server?

    A gaming server is a dedicated server or server cluster with the requisite amount of hardware and resources to be able to run the game fluidly. Most games, like World of Warcraft and Minecraft, will not allow a person to charge people to play the game, as the game is the property of the gaming company itself. If you have a private server, however, you can play a version of a game that deviates from the official version. You can charge people to play the game (although you should check the official rules first), or add character customizations or gameplay resections. Of course, you can also simply set up a server to play with your friends.   

    Why Would I Want a Gaming Server?

    Well, to put it simply, these games are fun. World of Warcraft is a strategy game and Minecraft is like Legos for adults. The more players there are, the more fun it can be. But in order to have multiple people playing these games with you, you either need to have a LAN party and a server at your house, or you need a dedicated server. With a dedicated server, you can play with your friends no matter where they are, as long as they have their own computer and an internet connection. Rental servers can seem like a good course of action, since you don’t have to take care of any of the technical elements yourself, but they can have problems of their own. Sometimes the remote host won't update the software soon after an update is released, or there are lag issues during gameplay. If you’re looking to get the most from your online gaming experience, then setting up your own dedicated server is often the way to go. Get one here.  

    You've Intrigued Me... Now What Do I Do?

    Setting up a dedicated server can get a bit technical, but the freedom of having your own online gaming environment can be quite tempting for some gamers. The steps for setting up your dedicated gaming server will be different based upon the actual game you want to play. We offer a few tips below for getting your server setup for two of the most popular online multiplayer games, WOW and Minecraft. Before we jump into creating your very own server it’s important to note that you should think twice before charging people to play on your server environment. Depending on the game, this may or not be legal (here's Minecraft's position, for example). Create a private gaming server for passion, not profit. That being said, let’s dive in. If you already have a dedicated server, great! Go ahead and install your game of choice and go to town. If you don’t have a dedicated server, you can get a great deal with HostGator.  

    How to Set Up a WOW Server

    World of Warcraft is played by millions of gamers around the globe. By utilizing the power of a private server you can emulate the experience of playing online while customizing certain elements for your own enjoyment.   1. Download Your Tools Before you set up your server and start customizing you need to have some basic tools. For starters, you’ll need to install a tool called AC Web Ultimate Repack. For the steps below we used this one . You’ll also need to install the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 Service Pack.   2. Map Data Next you’ll need to collect your current map data, which you can get from your existing WOW account. You need to currently have access to the game to make the private server work. Open up the WOW folder and locate the maps file. Then go to C:/AC Web Ultimate Repack/ Tools/Map Extractor enUS and copy the maps folder and the ad.exe into the folder. Run the ad.exe program.   3. Configure Your Database Find the file called ascent-logonserver.conf Open it, and find the area that begins with LogonDatabase Hostname= Now, make sure you change the information, so it looks like the text below: LogonDatabase Hostname = "127.0.0.1" Username = "root" Password = "ascent" Name = "logon" Port = "3306" Type = “1"   4. Configure Ascent Realms Navigate to the file called ascent-realms.conf, and locate the portion that starts with <Realm1 Name= Then change the details, so they look the same as the text below: <Realm1 Name = “The Name of Your Server" <--replace this with the name of your server Address = "127.0.0.1:8129" Icon = "RP" Colour = "1" Population = "1.0" TimeZone = “1”>   5. Configure Your World Finally, it’s time to start customizing certain elements of your world! To get started with this, navigate to the file called ascent-world.conf With this file open you can then adjust the values under the <Rates Health= section to customize the gameplay experience.   6. Alter the realmlist.wtf File Now go back to the WOW directory and find the file called realmlist.wtf Delete the contents of the file and replace it with set realmlist 127.0.0.1 You can then start your server by running Control Panel.exe within your SC Web Ultimate Repack directory. Once that runs, click on the first three buttons that appear and your server will be live. You're ready to game!  

    How to Set Up a Minecraft Server

    Running a Minecraft server is much easier than a WOW server, so if the tutorial above overwhelmed you, give Minecraft a try! The steps below are for those who are running Windows machines. We already covered setting up a Minecraft server on a Mac in a previous blog post.   1. Check Your Machine The first thing you’ll need to do is ensure your machine is equipped to host a personal server. For starters you’ll need enough RAM. The common requirement is 1GB of RAM for every four to five players you’re going to host on your server. To test your machine you can use the tool called CanIHostaMinecraftServer.com. This will tell you how many players your current system can support. The most basic of HostGator's dedicated server plans can support 48 players - it only goes up from there!   2. Update Java Check that you have the latest version of Java installed. You'll need it in order for your server to work properly.    3. Download the Server Next, download the server file from Minecraft. Pro Tip: Create a folder on your site to store all of the necessary server files.   4. Install the Server Now all you have to do is open the .jar file you downloaded and the program will install all of the necessary files for you. Finally, locate a file called eula.txt and change the value eula=false to eula=true  Save the file. Now your server is ready to rock! For a full list of Minecraft customization tweaks you can check out the guide here.   Of course, the games highlighted above are only the beginning. Nostalgia for old games has been on the rise lately, so there's never been a better time to take advantage of those gaming skills you cultivated as a child! And don't forget: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start!
  • Your Final Checklist Before Launching Your Website

    Monday, February 27, 2017 by
    Website Checklist You’re so close. Your designer has sent over the finished site. It looks good and checks all the boxes you need it to. You’re almost ready to launch. This is a big moment, but before you actually put your website out into the world, you want to be extra sure everything is just right. Devote a little more time to completing these fifteen steps and you can launch with total confidence that your website is ready. Dedicated Server  

    Review Every Page

    Your first few steps can all be treated as one big project. You want to go through the entire website, page by page, and do each of the following on every page as you go. Keep a spreadsheet as you go through this process to help you keep up with which pages are complete and what updates you still need to make.  

    1. Proofread each page.

    Even the best writers and editors know how easily a typo or misused word can slip through. Even if your copywriter or content team proofread everything once already, do it one more time. Read over every page on the website to make sure it makes sense, supports your brand strategy, and doesn’t include any embarrassing typos or grammatical errors.  

    2. Check that paragraph styles and spacing are working correctly.

    Sometimes the formatting that looks just right in a word processor ends up looking funny on your website, or the spacing gets messed up in the transfer. In addition to checking for typos, check to make sure the text on each page is formatted in a way that looks good and makes it easy to read, and that the spacing is consistent throughout.  

    3. Check the links on each page.

    While you’re on each page of the site, go through and click on every link. You want to make sure that:
    1. None of the links are broken.
    2. They all take you to the page they’re supposed to.
    3. They open in a new tab, particularly if they take users to another website. (You don’t want to encourage them to leave your site.)
    In the future, you can use a free broken link checker tool to help, but for now when you want to check for all three things, you should do it manually.  

    4. Confirm that all images load correctly.

    A website with images that don’t load looks sloppy and will tarnish your brand’s reputation. Review each page to ensure that all images are showing up as they should – both the important images that are large on the page, and the smaller stuff like social media icons. Nothing turns a user away than arriving on a website that looks like this: Check new web pages load correctly  

    5. Confirm on-page optimization.

    Search engines completely dominate the way people use the web today. Therefore, every website owner has to think about SEO. Hopefully, by the time you’ve reached this point your webpages are already optimized for SEO, but you should make a point to check that all of them have basic on-page optimization down. That means that you’ve:
    1. Determined a keyword to optimize each page for based on research.
    2. Included the keyword in: the URL for each page, the title tag, the page headings, the copy for the page and the image names and alt text.
    3. Write a meta description that includes the keyword.
    While you’re checking that each of these fields has been filled in and includes your keyword, also make sure that everything is spelled correctly. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to proofread the stuff that’s not on the page itself. Don’t make that mistake. Keep in mind here that you don’t want to overdo it. Keyword stuffing is bad for SEO and more importantly, for the user experience. Make sure all uses of the keyword feel natural and don’t hinder how a visitor would experience and understand the page.  

    6. On each page, ask yourself: is it clear what you want the visitor to do next?

    Before you move onto the next webpage, confirm that you know what the goal for the page is and feel confident that the design, copy, and images all work to support that goal. If you want people on that page to sign up for your email list, make sure the email signup form is easy to find and the page makes it clear why it’s worth it for visitors to do so. If the goal of the page is to sell a product, make sure that the copy is persuasive and the next steps to complete a purchase are clear. Your website as a whole should have a goal, but each individual webpage should as well. Use this step to make sure those goals are clear and the pages are ready to meet them. [bctt tweet="On each page, ask yourself: is it clear what you want the visitor to do next?" username="hostgator"]  

    Check the Website as a Whole

    The page-by-page review will take you time, but it accomplishes some really important tasks. Once you’ve gotten through that, there are a few things you need to look into about how the site works as a whole.  

    7. Check how it looks on mobile.

    A lot of the people that come to your website will be doing so on their mobile devices.  You have to make sure your website is mobile friendly. You can start by simply pulling up your website on your own mobile phone and doing some browsing. Does it look ok? Is it easy to find what you need and move from one page to the next? Try filling out a form or making a purchase. Was any part of the process difficult to do? You can also use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to see if the search engine deems your website a good experience on mobile (which matters for SEO). If the tool determines that your website isn’t mobile friendly, it will helpfully tell you why, so you can make changes. Mobile Friendly Test  

    8. Check the site speed.

    People don’t have the patience for a slow loading website. In fact, people now expect websites to load in less than a second. If your website makes them wait, there’s a good chance they’ll click away and find themselves another website to visit instead, potentially one of your competitors. [bctt tweet="If your website makes them wait, there’s a good chance your visitors will click away." username="hostgator"] You can find a number of free site speed tools on the internet to test your site with, such as GTMetrix and Page Scoring, both of which provide reports that help you understand what’s working and what’s slowing your site down if it’s not fast enough. GT Metrix Page Scoring  

    9. Test it on different browsers.

    Different visitors will be coming to your website through different browsers. By this point, you’ve checked how the website looks through the browser you use the most often. Now it’s time to go back and test it out in all the others. The most popular browsers you should be sure to check are:
    • Chrome
    • Internet Explorer
    • Firefox
    • Safari
    • Opera
    As you did when checking your device on mobile, don’t just pull up the homepage on each. Do some browsing, fill out a form, and make a test purchase. You want to know now if something’s not working on a particular browser, not after it’s caused you frustrated visitors and lost sales.  

    10. Check that your favicon is in place and showing up.

    Even if you haven’t heard the term favicon, you’ve seen them around. They’re the images that show up on the tab at the top of your browser. For example, the HostGator one looks like this: Favicon A favicon won’t make or break your website, but it’s a nice little branding opportunity that’s good to get into place before you launch. If you already have a logo that will work as a Favicon, then this step will be easier, otherwise you’ll need to design one (or hire someone to design one for you). Keep in mind when choosing the right favicon for your site that’s it’s going to show up tiny, so don’t bother with too much detail. Once you have an image ready, load it to your main directory and insert the proper code into each of your webpages. It’s easy to set up and your website will immediately appear that much more legitimate and established with a favicon in place.  

    11. Check that any forms on the site are working correctly.

    Most websites include contact forms or forms for lead generation (such as those people have to fill out to download an ebook.) Every form on your website needs to be tested out before launch, not just to make sure that you can fill it out easily without problem, but also to make sure that the information the form collects is sent to the right place. If it’s supposed to go to your CRM or be sent to you in an email, check that it ends up where it’s supposed to. If your forms don’t work, not only will you lose out on valuable leads and contact attempts, but you also risk providing a disappointing experience to prospects that are expecting something from you.  

    Last Minute Steps to Get Ready

    You’re almost there! You just have a few more general steps to take in order to be ready to launch.  

    12. Determine if you have a custom 404 page ready.

    Hopefully, by fixing all your broken links in step #3, you won’t have to worry about your visitors ending up on an error page any time soon, but inevitably at some point they will. Be prepared. Set up a custom 404 page that continues your branding and helps customers figure out where to go next. As an example, ours gives people a few different action items they can follow, so we decrease the risk of losing them. HostGator 404 Page Your 404 page doesn’t have to be clever, but it doesn’t hurt. A 404 page with a cartoon alligator dressed like Sherlock Holmes or a clever message like the one NASA uses dulls the frustration of a broken link. 404 Page  

    13. Double check that you have a system for continual backups.

    Technology’s done a lot to improve our lives, but it’s not perfect. Most of us have dealt with the dreaded experience of losing valuable digital data or documents in one fell swoop due to a technical failure of some sort. The website you’ve worked so hard on should not suffer that fate. Most hosting platforms (including HostGator) offer a service for automatic backups. It’ll cost you a little money, but those few bucks a month can save you from the catastrophe of losing your website. You’ll be glad you spent that money if the day ever comes when you really need that backup.  

    14. Sign up for Google Search Console.

    A Google Search Console account gives you the means to communicate certain things directly to Google. If you want to submit new content for crawling by Google or remove pages you don’t want to be indexed, this is an easy place for you to do that. It’s also a good spot to check in to see if there are any issues with your site’s performance. You can get a quick snapshot of issues like manual penalties or detected malware. As such, it’s an important account to have set up before your launch.  

    15. Make sure Google Analytics is set up.

    Finally, the most important tool for tracking your website’s performance over time is Google Analytics. Every site owner should have a Google Analytics account set up by the time their website launches. If you don’t have one already, time to get started. You can set up an account by simply following the instructions here. You’ll be provided with a tracking code that needs to be added to every page on your website. Once your website has launched and you start getting visitors, you’ll be able to access detailed data on who is visiting your site (demographically speaking), how they found you, and what they did once they reached your website. Google Analytics Now it’s time. If you’ve fixed every error you encountered in the course of taking these fifteen steps, then your website is as ready as it’s ever going to be. Unleash it onto the world and get ready. Your website may be finished enough to launch, but once it’s out there, it’s time to start paying attention to what works so you can start the never-ending process of making your website better in the days to come.  A website can be ready to go live, but a successful website is never really done.
  • Inexpensive Online Marketing Tools You Should Be Using

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 by

    Cheap internet marketing tools

    Whether you’re a lean startup or a budget conscious behemoth, there’s nothing wrong with saving a few dollars, especially if it’s on something as important as online marketing. But with plenty of snake-oil salesmen and low-quality services out there on the internet, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

    Luckily, you can find a number of the most important online marketing tools every business needs at either very little cost or no cost at all. To make your search for the best inexpensive online marketing tools out there easier, we’ve rounded up a list of 21 tools worth checking out.

    HostGator Website Builder

    Tools for Marketing Research

    Great marketing is built on a foundation of good research. To reach your target audience effectively with the right message, you have to first understand who they are and what they care about. And to position yourself effectively in the industry, you need a good understanding of who your competitors are and what their marketing strategy looks like.

    Performing audience research to build accurate personas and competitor research to clarify your positioning are two crucial early steps in every marketing effort. Here are a few tools to help you do marketing research that won’t eat up much of your budget.  

    1. SEC.gov

    Cost: Free With government mandated filings for publicly traded firms, posted in plain view for all to see, the SEC stands as a veritable gold mine of information for learning more about your competitors. Two primary items drive the usefulness of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s postings. The first one is comprehensive annual reports in a readily accessible PDF format. The second, however, is probably the most attractive for time conscious tycoons. XBRL (short for eXtensible Business Reporting Language) meta-tagging of vital financial statistics ensures that data can be cataloged and presented in quick-reference, easy-to-understand tables. The combination makes for an insightful look into competitors, risks, and market trends.  

    2. Instant Survey

    Cost: Free Instant Survey’s continuing adaptation and development are just accessories to the fact that it performs one basic task extremely well: collecting customer feedback. From real-time results to random assignments for answer order, even seasoned marketers will find exactly what they’re looking for. Free online survey tool Instant Survey is currently in beta and, for now, free for both the basic and pro versions. In the future, the pro version is likely to jump up to $10/month, but for many small businesses the basic version will provide many of the features you’ll need.  

    3. Survey Monkey

    Cost: Free and paid plans Survey Monkey is one of the other top choices for conducting surveys to learn more about your audience. It offers the ability to make and send surveys, as well as sophisticated data and analytics that can help you make better decisions based on the results. NPS Survey Like Instant Survey, they offer a free basic version, but they also have a couple other plans for anywhere from $25/month to $85/month that provide more useful features, such as custom themes, rich data, and unlimited questions and responses.  

    4. Census.gov

    Cost: Free While querying your existing customers can be useful, brand new companies (and even established names) can always benefit from understanding the clients they haven’t made yet. This is where the US Census comes in. From information about median income and population distribution to detailed facts like computer and internet use, there is no shortage of useful tools to help paint a picture of potential customers. But the Census doesn’t just document people. Detailed information about industries, employment, trade, and so on can help your business understand the greater context of your market. Between these exhaustive statistics and a bevy of research articles on the data itself, there’s no question that whatever you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it here. Did we mention it’s free?  

    Tools for Website Analytics

    Online marketing isn’t possible without a website. It’s the home base all your other marketing is pointing toward and if it doesn’t do its job well, all that other work could be for naught. These affordable tools can help you make sure your website is doing its job well – and if it’s not, figure out what changes you should make.  

    5. HostGator Web Hosting

    Cost: As low as $3.95/month We know, we know, it’s a shameless plug, but we had to include it. A key part of running any successful marketing campaign is using your website to its full potential. To do that, you need a web host you can rely on. HostGator offers a variety of hosting plans for small businesses. You can choose WordPress hosting to easily get your blog up and running or you can get a dedicated server to handle huge influxes of web traffic. Whichever plan you choose, our team is available 24/7/365 to help. Low cost web hosting  

    6. Google Analytics

    Cost: Free If you have a website, you should have Google Analytics. Google tracks most of the important data that tells you what’s working (and what’s not) with your online marketing.  You can see how many people are coming to your site, how they found you, and what they do once they get there. And those are just some of the more obvious metrics to monitor; when you dig deeper you can learn so much more. Google Analytics Dashboard The information businesses get from Google Analytics is invaluable, and yet the tool remains 100% free.  If you haven’t set up Google Analytics for your website, make that your top priority.  It won’t take too long and you’ll start getting some serious value out of the tool relatively quickly.  

    7. Google Content Experiments

    Cost: Free Formerly called Google Website Optimizer, Google Content Experiments is a tool included within Google Analytics that allows you to set up A/B testing experiments to test out how changes to your website can produce different results. You can pit two landing page designs against each other, try out different copy on your home page, or see if a different CTA button makes a difference. The tool even allows you to go beyond A/B testing and test out more than two versions of the same page – up to 10. The results will be easy to track and clearly visualized within Google Analytics, the tool you should already be using to track your website metrics.  

    Tools for Content Marketing and SEO

    Content marketing and SEO aren’t the same thing, but they go hand in hand. As such, tools that will help you out with one will often be useful for the other as well. For any business practicing content marketing and SEO, these tools can help make your efforts stronger without adding much to the costs of your work.  

    8. Google Keyword Planner

    Cost: Free Keyword research is one of the most important steps in any SEO strategy (as well as any PPC strategy), and Google Keyword Planner is one of the most essential tools available to do it. And like the other Google tools on this list, it’s entirely free. It allows you to research how popular and valuable different keywords are based on how frequently they’re searched in Google and how much businesses spend on them in Google Adwords. This can help you expand your list of relevant keywords beyond the ones you brainstorm yourself in order to better shape a content strategy. There are plenty of other keyword tools out there you can use, but between its low, low price (free) and the wealth of data Google’s able to access in providing you the tool, it’s the best one to start with.  

    9. Google Trends

    Cost: Free Surprise, surprise - we have yet another Google tool on the list! The company has so much data that it’s in a powerful position to provide it to businesses in useful formats, and it does so in a number of ways we can all appreciate. Google Trends Google Trends takes the billions of online searches per day and breaks them down by category, top hits, and geographic region. As if this wasn’t helpful enough, the service even prepares graphic data and customizable reports using the Explore feature. But the real strength of Google Trends lies in the name: Google. Utilizing the most heavily trafficked search engine on the web provides instant access to the behaviors, thoughts, trends, and interests of a cross-section of the population that would otherwise take a huge amount of money and time to survey on your own.  

    10. Keyword.io

    Cost: Free and paid plans You know when you start to do a search in Google (or YouTube or Amazon or any number of other search tools) how sometimes you’ll see a dropdown menu of suggestions finishing the phrase you started? The creators of Keyword.io had the idea that all those suggestions for finishing a phrase could become valuable fodder for marketers to understand what their customers are looking for, and by extension what topics they should be covering in their content strategy. So they put together a tool that lets you see the autocomplete options for a number of commonly used search tools. Google Keyword Research You can enter in a word or two and see a list of the autocomplete keywords that are commonly used that include or are related to the words you entered. You can use Keyword.io for free if you stick with the basic version, or upgrade to one of the paid versions with more features and data access for $29 or $49 a month.  

    11. Portent’s Title Generator

    Cost: Free Content marketing requires generating what often feels like an infinite list of topic ideas to create content around. When you’re working on your content calendar and you start to feel like you’ve exhausted every relevant idea you can come up with, Portent’s Title Generator can help you get the juices flowing again. The free tool drops the keywords you provide into popular headline formats to help you come up with new subjects to add to your list. The results may be hit or miss, but the tool can be a boon to your topic brainstorming sessions. Blog Topic Generator  

    Tools for Social Media Marketing

    One of the subsets of digital marketing that gets the most buzz is social media marketing, and for good reason. Social media platforms are some of the best spaces to meet your audience where they hang out and gain insights into what they’re talking and thinking about.  

    12. Social Networks

    Cost: Free Just as widespread in use as search engines, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all provide a unique opportunity for research. Besides being heavily-visited and free distribution channels for content and product announcements, these services stand as one of the most potent methods of rapid-fire data gathering on the internet today. While surveys and census data can provide powerful insights, social networking exists in a space where people are encouraged and happy to communicate and provide feedback. The ability to simply click in a comment box, fire off a response, and hit enter, all in a matter of seconds, means an outlet for customers, and a steady stream of intel for you. Creating a comprehensive picture of your market is no easy task, but with some low cost options at hand, the job becomes a little easier. Remember to combine information from all sources and get whatever value you can out of each service. At the end of the day, you’ll have a better understanding of your target market, and you’ll save some money in the process.  

    13. HootSuite

    Cost: Free and paid plans Social media manages to be an important marketing tool and a serious distraction for procrastinators all at once. Having a frequent presence on there is generally a good thing – unless it becomes all you’re doing. HootSuite makes it possible to manage all your social media profiles in one space and create a schedule of updates in advance. That way, you can approach social media strategically with a well-thought out plan, instead of doing it as you go and getting sucked in. HostGator HootSuite HootSuite provides a free plan that will work fine for some small business users, as well as paid plans for larger businesses and social media professionals that allow room for more users and profiles.  

    14. Buffer

    Cost: Free and paid plans The other main player in social media management is Buffer. It also lets you schedule your updates in advance and access multiple social profiles in one centralized space. There's a free plan, as well as paid ones with access to more users and social media analytics. The features and functionality are similar, so you might consider giving both Buffer and HootSuite a try to see which one you prefer the look and feel of.   

    15. Followerwonk

    Cost: Free and paid versions Followerwonk is a helpful tool that provides a deeper level of analysis to your Twitter use and that of other people in your industry. It makes identifying the people to target for influencer marketing easy with social authority rankings, and helps you strategize growing your follower list by better understanding your current followers and their influence. Follwerwonk  

    Tools for Email Marketing

    Email marketing is one of the most powerful forms of online marketing you can do. According to one report, it’s been shown to have a 3800% ROI. That puts it well above any other type of online marketing. To do email marketing, you need a good email marketing software to manage and execute your strategy.  

    16. Constant Contact

    Cost: Starts at $20/month Constant Contact helps you build your email lists, manage them, create emails from visually appealing templates, and track the important metrics from each marketing email you send out. It’s easy to use and gives you the means to improve your email marketing over time based on the rich data and analytics the product provides.  

    Other Valuable Marketing Tools

    We’ve covered the main categories, but we’re not done yet. Here are a few more affordable tools that can make your life easier as a marketer.  

    17. Canva

    Cost: Free Images are a huge part of online marketing, but for some marketers, they feel like the hardest part. Stock images don’t perform as well as original ones, and original ones are a pain to create. Canva makes putting together original images that look good much easier. They have tons of templates, backgrounds, images, and fonts you can use. While many of the images they make available are free, there are some you can grab the usage rights to for a small price (generally a dollar). Canva Free Online Image Creator If you’ve been struggling with creating worthwhile images, signing up for Canva can immediately make that struggle easier on you.  

    18. Headline Analyzer

    Cost: Free We already looked at a tool for helping you come up with titles; this one helps you gauge how successful your titles, social media updates, and email subject lines will be by comparing them to what data says works best. Simply enter your headline into the tool and it will generate a headline score for you, along with tips for alternate suggestions that are likely to perform better. (Note: for your first use, you will have to provide some basic information about you in order to use the tool, but no payment information.) CoSchedule Headline Analyzer The analysis is quick, thorough, and helpful. By taking a couple minutes before you publish or send each post, social media update, or email, you can get a fast, valuable idea of how to make it better.   There you have it. While you can find loads of online marketing tools out there that will gladly eat up your budget, you now have 21 suggestions for options that can strengthen your online marketing without adding much to your overall marketing costs. Did we miss one of your favorite tools? Let us know in the comments!