As an individual running the sales and marketing department for a small business, I am always looking for cost effective ways to enhance my knowledge and ability to market, while keeping costs down. The great thing about being in business today is that there are lots of free online marketing tools and resources that can both educate and provide usefulness to an online marketer.
Below are my first five (5) free tools that any small business marketer should be aware of and possibly using regularly in their day to day marketing. Next month I'll list of another group of free, useful tools for your business.
I'll start with a simple, but very useful tool that has been around a long time- Google Alerts. Google Alerts allows you to sign up for free email updates on the latest (and relevant) Google results for whatever keyword/topic (business, product, technology, individual, etc.) you wish to follow. Then, when your keyword shows up in Google, you get an email with the new information sent to you.
This is an amazingly easy and valuable tool that allows you to monitor the web for new news, PR, website updates, and more. I use it for tracking information on my own company, competitors, customers, industry trends, research and general topics that I what to stay on top of. Below is an example of an alert I received for "Marketpath," letting me know that our press release had been picked up and posted on an industry technology website.
You can also be creative and use Google Alerts as a marketing tool, to drive traffic to your own website. Think about it- it makes sense. Every time you post content on your website with a certain keyword (phrase), Google will send an automated alert to everyone who subscribed to Google Alerts for that keyword. The individual subscribed to the alert, because the keyword is relevant to them. If your content (post, PR, etc.) is also relevant for the keyword, Google Alerts will connect your site to that highly pertinent reader of your content. Check out this article for more information.
This is a great tool that provides lots of useful information about any website or web page, in regards to how the site or specific page is optimized for search (SEO). Just type in your company's URL or the URL of a competitor or related industry site, and you'll get good data about how that site is viewed by Google and other search engines. Information includes:
- Key words and phrases it looks like the site is optimized for
- Keyword density for those phrases
- Google page ranking for any term the site ranks for
- Links in and out of the site
- Google's PageRank for the site
- Alexa's site rankings
- Site load times
If you are a novice to all things SEO, the information on this site will help you learn. If you already have some basic SEO and key word experience, RANKS.NL will provide insight and ideas into how best to optimize your site for search and how other sites (competitors, industry sites) are hoping to compete for different keywords.
One of the great thing about interactive marketing and the web is that it allows markers to more easily measure their marketing activities and results. Yet, even in 2011, many small businesses don't pay attention to what is happening on their website. With Google Analytics, tracking your website marketing is both free and easy.
In simple terms, web analytics will let you know who has visited your site, what they did when they were there, and where they came from. More importantly, it will tell you how your prospects found you (which sites and key words), what content they value, and whether you converted them to leads or sales once they got to your site. By properly utilizing Google or other analytics tools, you'll be able to understand both your visitors and which initiatives are impacting them. Combine that knowledge with a web content management system that allows for quick and easy changes to your site, and you'll be on your way to improving your marketing bottom line.
Google Analytics isn't quite as simple as some of the other tools on this list (you'll need the analytics code put on each page of your site), but it is probably the MVT (most valuable tool) of free online tools. Google also provides great resources to quickly get you up to speed. For starters, try the Google Analytics product tour.
If your business ever produces press releases and utilizes them to generate website traffic or as part of your search optimization (SEO) strategy, then you should take a look at Hubspot's free tool. PressReleaseGrader evaluates your press releases and provides you with a marketing effectiveness score for that release. It also provides details as to which elements your release contains or is missing that might impact its effectiveness, including links, content, and key words.
If you want people (customers, prospects, vendors) to find your business, based on where it is located, then your business should be listed on Google Places. If you are not currently listed then you may already be at a competitive disadvantage. Think about this:
- 97% of consumers search for local businesses online
- 20% of searches on Google are related to location
Those are significant numbers you could be missing out on, as Google and other search engines emphasize local search. Listing your business won't guarantee any success, but can provide the following benefits:
- Increased local traffic to your website. If your listing contains the right keywords and information about your business, you can attract prospects to your site.
- Getting listed on online maps and directories. This helps customers and prospects locate you more easily. Some search users also prefer company listing with maps vs. listings without. You want your company in both types of search results.
- Provides promotional vehicle. If you choose, you can also leverage your local listing for promotional offers and advertising (not free).
Setting up your business on Google Places will take some time, but it is something every local business should do. I'd also suggest looking at similar local listing such as Bing Local and Yahoo Local, as they should provide similar benefits.
There you have it- the first listing of my favorite free marketing tools. Next month, I'll write about my second group of free tools. Until then, can you list your favorite free marketing tools?