With more and more entrepreneurs starting their own businesses each and every day, being able to spread the message about your brand gets even more challenging - especially if you are one of those entrepreneurs! We all know by now that financial decisions in the first 3 years of a startup are extremely crucial to the company's success. So, we thought we would start our own cheatsheet of sorts, culminating all of the free (or almost free) tools online to help you market your brand! We've distributed all these tools into specific categories that should make it easier to compare, and by all means let us know if we're missing any!
Social Review Sites
Yelp (free; paid enhancements)
Let's not forget the power of simply having an online business profile! If you are a restaurant, Yelp is #1 on our list of must-use tools to market your business. Yelp also offers a wide range of other services, from CPC Ads, to WiFi Marketing for in-store upsells, conversions, and customer behaviour analysis. Yelp will thank me for mentioning this I'm sure, but let's also not forget that customers who visit the Yelp platform are Pre-Qualified Leads, meaning they have the intent to engage with a business on Yelp soon after visiting the Yelp platform, and their experience on Yelp will likely dictate their decision. Yelp is also a great platform to be on especially if your business does not get a lot of drive-by traffic (or walk-by traffic in some cases), because the platform evens the playing field for competing businesses who don't have brick and mortar locations in high-density high-traffic areas. I would also be remiss by not mentioning that Yelp is the platform that populates business information on the native Maps app on all iOS devices!
Google My Business (free)
The almighty Google has to appear on our list at some point (and indeed it appears in many places), and Google My Business makes the cut for free tools that you absolutely need in your marketing toolbox. Having a Google My Business profile directly affects the appearance of search results where your busines appears and gives the users most if not all of the information they need to convert themselves into customers. If you are a brick and mortar restaurant, you absolutely need to verify your Google My Business profile, no matter the cost. We have been courting a potential client who has run into several roadblocks in her quest to have a Google My Business profile (see "Reaching Existing Customers Organically", from our article on "The Four Channels of Website Traffic You Need to Master for Website Success"), not the least of which are the fact that her brand's name is also synonymous with a common typo of a spice (which Google likes to correct you on of course). Google My Business information is also used to populate Google Maps business data, which in combination with a Yelp profile, creates the holy grail of brand exposure on maps applications.
TripAdvisor (free; paid enhancements)
It is not a bad idea to take the time to complete a TripAdvisor profile either (if your business is also in the hospitality industry). While you will not see nearly as many leads or customer reviews from TripAdvisor, and our experience using TripAdvisor found that their notification system alerting you to new customer reviews could use some work, there really isn't anything lost by creating a profile, and it is yet another free opportunity to promote your business to potential customers. Let's remember that most successful restaurants strive to achieve a 30% ratio for return customers, meaning that 70% of their customer base will be first time visitors. Every restaurant that plans on long-term survival needs a steady influx of patrons, and if you are lucky enough to be located in a tourist area, chances are they will be relying on vacation-themed apps like TripAdvisor to form part or all of their decision-making process.
Facebook (free; paid advertising)
Facebook by and large has been a leader for a long time in Social Media Marketing and B2C advertising, mostly due to its widespread user adoption. Some would argue that Facebook is no longer on trend with younger demographics, but I would disagree. Those that believe Facebook is old news often point to new platforms entering the social media elite like Instagram and Snpachat, however Facebook still represents a significant userbase. Facebook also has one of the most robust platforms for advertisers, making it incredibly useful for targeting the exact customer demographic you're looking for. Tread lightly though! Many a marketing budget have been blown on Facebook ads, and it is easy to spend lots of money and get little visible return back from it.
Twitter (free; paid advertising)
One of my largest frustrations on a day to day basis is trying to fit what I want to say into 140 characters. If this article is any indication, I'm sure you can recognize that this is sometimes a challenge for me. The great thing about Twitter and this 140 character limit is that you truly have to consider what is absolutely integral to the message you want to send, because you have no room for any extra fluff. Each word has to be carefully selected to both match the content you are sharing, while also having the quality of brevity to satify that character limit.
We owe Twitter a thanks for partial responsibility in the proliferation of all the curious acronyms that have gained so much traction as a result of this limit, and if you see your customers using them, here's a list of definitions for the ones you'll see most often: AFAIK (as far as I know), AMA (ask me anything), BFF (best friends forever), BRB (be right back), BTAIM (be that as it may), BTW (by the way), DAE (does anyone else), DFTBA (don't forget to be awesome), DM (direct message), ELI5 (explain it like I'm 5 years old), F2F (face to face), FOMO (fear of missing out), FTFY (fixed that for you), FTW (for the win), FYI (for your information), G2G/GTG (got to go), HMU (hit me up), HTH (here to help), ICYMI (in case you missed it), IDC (I don't care), IDK (I don't know), IKR (I know right), ILY (I love you), IM (instant message), IMHO (in my humble opinion), IMO (in my opinion), IRL (in real life), JK (just kidding), L8 (late), LMAO (laughing my a** off), LMK (let me know), LOL (laughing out loud), NM (not much), NVM (nevermind), OAN (on another note), OMG (oh my God), OMW (on my way), OP (original poster), PM (private message), ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing), ROFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing my a** off), RT (retweet), SMH (shaking my head), TBH (to be honest), TGIF (thank goodness it's Friday), TL;DR (too long; didn't read), TMI (too much information), TTYL (talk to you later), WBU (what about you), YOLO (you only live once), YSK (you should know). Believe me when I say that this list was pared down. For the entire list, check out Buffer's seemingly endless list of Acronyms and definitions, here.
Instagram (free; paid advertising)
Instagram has gained a lot of traction over the past few years, and is quickly growing as one of the most influential places to engage with customers. Instagram is also a little more challenging for businesses to penetrate because Instagram blocks links in posts. Like Facebook, you can hashtag to your heart's content, because the character limit is a 4-digit number. The focus on Instagram is primarily on visually-aesthetic content, so when creating engaging customer content on Instagram, remember that the photo should be the focus. If you're planning to add some marketing dollars to boost a Facebook or Instagram post, the best way to do that is through Facebook (Instagram was bought by Facebook and now they are sister-companies). Beware though that when advertising on Facebook and Instagram, there is a limit on the amount of text that is allowed to appear in the photo of an ad, and if there is too much, your ad will simply not run, period. When posting content, to get around the problem of not being able to add a link ot the post, a lot of posters use the phrase "Link in Bio" or "Link in Profile", which tells the viewer to click on the link that appears in your profile. You only get one profile link, so change it up with your content to create conversion opportunities!
LinkedIn (free; paid advertising)
For businesses that rely heavily on a business-to-business marketing plan, LinkedIn is probably your greatest Social Media tool. Everyone on LinkedIn is there for business purposes, whether to showcase their career to potential recruiters, a corporate profile to share business successes with others in business, or to get feedback and ideas from other business influencers. If you choose to amp up your content with some marketing dollars, you'll likely notice that LinkedIn is substantially more expensive than it's social peers. This is because LinkedIn is a pre-qualified market of users. People on LinkedIn, again, are there for business, so if you're advertising your business on LinkedIn, there is a pre-qualification factor that enables LinkedIn to successfully charge that premium (because businesses will pay for it). LinkedIn is also a great place to advertise job opportunities for key positions in your business where you absolutely need the best possible candidate.
Snapchat (free; paid advertising)
Snapchat is often overlooked as a marketing opportunity within Social Media. For those unfamiliar with Snapchat, my recommendation is to dive in and learn how to use it. If you're an outside-the-box thinker, you'll quickly realize that there are some substantial opportunities to develop marketing strategies that leverage the power of Snapchat for user engagement. Agreed, using Snapchat in your marketing mix is not a rookie playbook move; you'll definitely need a keen marketing team to make it worthwhile. Snapchat, however, is not a free tool to advertise your business. If you use Snapchat to market your business, you will be opening your wallet. The beautiful thing, however, is that at least for now, Snapchat remains quite affordable for businesses looking to capitalize on an event marketing opportunity. If you're curious, do some research into Snapchat filters. To engage your customers in a promoted Snapchat filter, you create a geo-fenced area and pay Snapchat based on the size of the geo-fence and the length of time your promoted Snapchat filter will be live. It is a great way to make it even easier for your customers to advocate on behalf of your business by having customers share selfies branded with your content on their social accounts.
Web Development Tools
Google Analytics (free)
Google Analytics is by far the best (free) tool on the marketing for understanding how your customers are engaging with your website, and potentially other online marketing assets that support Google Analytics tracking. Google Analytics is enterprise-grade analytical software that is easy manipulate, and also for those well-versed in its use can be a powerful tool for pin-pointing bottlenecks, customer behaviour patterns, and conversion statistics. If your business sells products or services directly on your website, some eCommernce platforms also support Google Analytics eCommerce tracking, which allows you to integrate your sales data directly into your Google Analytics tracking and look at analytical information about your website content on a profitability level. This lets you identify which content is driving conversions on your website, turning viewers into customers, and which content is not. It should not come as a surprise then, that you can use this knowledge to focus your marketing efforts on promoting the content that drives the highest conversion rates to achieve the highest potential for success.
Google Search Console (free)
How your website appears to Google matters a great deal. Ask an SEO expert, and they will give you some derivation of the concept: "Customers won't find you, if Google doesn't understand you". And they are 100% right. If Search Engines are the gatekeepers to millions of potential customers looking to buy products and services, then logically it makes sense to make your website easy for Search Engines to read and understand. Google Search Console will show you information about how many pages from your website have been indexed by Google (telling you essentially which ones can be found on Google), lets you identify sitemap.xml files to use when searching for your content to be indexed, and can also privde you with some other valuable insights. If your website takes advantage of the AMP (accelerated mobile pages) protocol, which is primarily used to serve news and article content as fast as possible with the smallest file size as possible (with mobile devices in mind), then the Google Search Console will warn you about errors in your use of the AMP syntax. Google Search Console will also let you see just how Google receives your page when it retrieves it, allowing you to monitor if your robots.txt file is too restrictive.
SEO Site Checkup (free; paid membership)
When working on your own website's SEO, SEO Site Checkup should be the first place you look for ways to improve. It covers all the basics, like making sure that you have the necessary html tags in use and used properly, analyzing the basic security of your website, checking whether your website has a favicon, structured data, and much more. It will also give you tips on how to improve problem areas. How do you know when you've done enough? SEO Site Checkup scores websites out of 100, and you should be satisfied with nothing less than a 90 or higher. You can also use SEO Site Checkup to keep tabs on your competitor's SEO scores with the paid membership. If you are a marketing or web design agency, they also have white-label report features with the paid membership as well, and the cost is quite reasonable for the analytics you get from them.
SEOptimizer (free; paid membership)
A lot of what SEO Site Checkup does, is also present in SEOptimizer, but they take scoring a step further, and also give you detailed feedback on your social media activity, and your site's usability on both desktop and mobile. Just like in purchasing, where the standard is to get more than one quote, you should never rely on just one SEO Analysis Tool for feedback. We use both these tools here, and together find them quite comprehensive.
SEMRush (free; paid membership)
Just like bad things, good things come in threes too! Getting a third opinion on your website's SEO performance is crucial. If you want your website to hit consumer engagement out of the park, then you absolutely need to add SEMRush to the mix. SEMRush is great for detecting additional problems with your website that SEOptimizer and SEO Site Checkup might not find. Testing whether there are any duplicate description meta tags in your site is such an example. Why are duplicate description meta tags a problem? If Google for example wants to knwo what a page's content is all about, and you have 17 pages with the exact same description meta tag, why should Google index all 17 pages, when according to your description meta tag, they are all the same thing? Don't let Google be lazy! Make sure Google indexes each and every page on your website by typing out unique description meta tags matched to each page's content. Overall, SEMRush has some excellent features that help fans of templating make sure they are not going a-stray. You can also use SEMRush to analyze the performance of your website in specific keyword search results, and track your progress improving (or harming) your results over time.
Social Media Marketing
Hootsuite (free; paid membership)
If you thought we were done talking about Social Media, then you were mistaken! Getting your brand in front of consumers is so easy everyone is doing it - but not everyone is doing it well. Hootsuite is a great tool for scheduling your social media content, and at the time of this article, it is currently free for 3 social accounts or less. We love to schedule our content in Hootsuite because you can see visually all of your content all at once in a sleek user-friendly design. By itself though, the free version isn't much to appreciate. That's where the next two tools come in handy!
Buffer (free; paid membership)
It is entirely possible to manage the scheduling of all your social profiles and still pay nothing for your troubles by using apps to help you. Buffer is a nice Hootsuite alternative, but also has limitations on the number of social accounts you can link up to.
IFTTT (free; paid membership)
If there is any tool in this article that you absolutely need to use if you haven't already it's IFTTT (IF This Then That). Think of IFTTT as a tool that does things when certain other things are triggered. For example, if you know that your Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Pinterest content are all going to be exactly the same (when I say exactly the same I mean same photo, same ad copy, etc), IFTTT is a great tool to post once, and let that post trigger automatic posting on all the other social accounts!
As an example, we use Hootsuite to schedule our posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, each because their content and layout are different (Facebook is the entire post, Twitter only has a 140 character description, and Instagram has "Link In Profile" in place of the actual link). When a new Facebook Page Post with an image is discovered (which is every facebook post we create), IFTTT sees the post, and copies it to LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Pinterest, and sends it to Buffer for Google+. (Sorry Buffer, that's all we use you for) Did I mention we do all of this for free? And that's not all! IFTT is such a well-connected platform, you can use it for things like home automation, task management, messaging, notifications, CRM and more!
Mailchimp (free; paid upgrades)
We only have one email marketing tool on the list, because the truth is we only need just one. Mailchimp does a great job of doing everything you need to when it comes to email marketing. As for the seasoned professional delving into transactional emails for their website, sorry but they do that too - or rather their sister company Mandrill, which is integrated into Mailchimp. If you are just starting out though, don't get worried, because Mailchimp has a really simple UX design, so it is super user-friendly. Yes, it's true that pros will always do a better job than a novice when it comes to Mailchimp, but Mailchimp does a great job of levelling the playing field, giving even it's free users high-quality enterprise features.
The list above basically spells out our marketing guilty-pleasures for 2017. If you've read this far, we hope it's not because you've gone TL;DR and skipped to the conclusion! Use these tools in your own marketing, and you'll save a pretty penny for your efforts! If you liked this article, do us a favour and tell everyone on the planet, m'kay?