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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cost: As low as $3.95/month
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
If you’ve been struggling with creating worthwhile images, signing up for Canva can immediately make that struggle easier on you.
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.)
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!
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.