When I started writing this post I thought of only 10 items to share. Well…I fooled myself. Big time.
I couldn’t stop. Before I knew it I came up with a list of 51 tools and resources for online business. Things that I’m either currently using or have used in the last 18 months.
Took a break. Made myself a cup of coffee. Suddenly I remembered, “Hey! I know of another 20+ tools I’ve enjoyed”.
God help me.
I had to force myself to stop at 80. Rant over.
Before I continue, I need to clarify who this article is written for.
If you’re the founder of a startup, this list will give you dozens of stuff to try out and consider. If you have a small business or entrepreneur who wants an edge in the online space, then this is something you can chew on.
Please note: 90% of the tools I have personally used. I didn’t feel like doing a roundup of tools that I personally have never worked with. So feel free to share with me anything that you feel is missing. I will then personally go check out the tool and add it here if it lives up to my expectations
80+ tools and resources are all grouped under alphabetical categories:
Google Adwords (paid): There are roughly 11 billion searches on Google per month. That’s a helluva lot of people hungry for information. Google’s Adwords program offers you the ability to tap into that opportunity. You can write and publish ads that display on the search results. The ads are triggered based on a keyword a user typed in – a keyword that you loaded into the system. You only pay when someone clicks on the ad. The system in reality is a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea. People who are searching for something are a lot more receptive to advertising messaging as opposed to someone just being served a banner. You’re not pushing advertising onto them. They’re searching for it. You’re pulling them in.
Facebook Ads (paid): Facebook ads work very well for me. It’s great for lead generation when you have a proper lead generation page. You can be super targeted with your ads – really zone into your customer profile. If your business already have a Facebook Business Page, you can run specific ads to help you grow its fan base.
Business & Brand Protection
Plagium (free & paid): Don’t let people rip off your content. If you suspect that someone might be plagiarizing your content, simply copy and paste it into Plagium OR click the “Submit URL” tab and run the page address. It will show you exactly who has copied your content.
Google Alerts (free): A very handy alerts tool. Simply add your brand name and save your alert. Google will deliver the alerts to your Google account email address. This is a great tool to keep track of bloggers or other publishers talking about your brand.
TweetAlarm (free): Like they say on their website. It’s like Google Alerts for Twitter. Things can spread like wildfire on Twitter, and quick. With TweetAlarm you simply set the keywords or hashtags you would like to monitor (specific to your business off course) and set the alert frequency. TweetAlarm will make sure to not include tweets coming from your own account. Pretty nifty!
HyperAlerts (free & paid): What about Facebook! Thank heavens for HyperAlerts. Works pretty much the same as TweetAlarm. Simply add your business fan page to the HyperAlerts monitoring list and set your notification interval.
Google Drive (free 15gb): I’m a huge fan of Google Drive. I’ve got the apps installed on all my mobile and desktop devices. What I like most is that I can edit documents. Why would you use this? Well, if you travel a lot then then you can take your files with you anywhere. As long as you have a web connection. You get 15gb of free space and you can increase the size for a small fee.
OneDrive (free 7gb): Microsoft only gives you 7GB of free space. While it lacks in space it makes up elsewhere. It supports all major mobile devices – Android, iOS, Windows Phone and believe it or not…wait for it…Blackberry. Most impressive feature is the ability to collaborate across operating systems – it works with Windows and Mac. It lacks when it comes to integration with other 3rd party tools due to limited access to its API.
Dropbox (free 2gb): A household name by now for sure. The Dropbox desktop app is available for download on Windows, Mac and Linux. For mobile it’s available on iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Regardless of how big Microsoft and Google is, Dropbox is the only service that currently natively supports Linux. It also used to be the only cloud storage service to support Blackberry. That’s until March 2014 when OneDrive announced their app for BB.
Consumer Demand Research Tools
Adwords Keyword Tool (free): Let’s say you have a computer repair business in Los Angeles and would like to know how many people are interested in that type of service. If you’ve signed up to the Google Adwords program, you get access to its keyword planner! The keyword planner has recently been updated to include trend data.
Consumer Barometer (free): This tool provides deep insights into how people in 39 countries actually go about researching and purchasing different products and service throughout all channels – both online AND offline! The tool doesn’t spit out silly stuff either. Data and insights were collected via surveys and the sample size in each country had to be at least 2,500 people. Some more advanced countries had bigger sample sizes as can be expected. Oh and the data is updated every year. This is an incredible tool for any business owner or marketer who needs to understand where and how to position it’s marketing communication throughout the respective channels. An amazing piece of work.
Grok (free): Wikipedia is the biggest content hub on the web. It ranks number 1 for almost any keyword out there. Guess what, the stats on how many times each of those pages gets viewed are open to the public. A guys named Domas Mituzas put together a system to gather the access statistics from Wikipedia. Thanks dude! All you need to do is Google the keyword (don’t go too narrow) and take the name of the article and put it in Grok.
Rapportive (free): Imagine being able to see all the social media profiles information of your Gmail contacts? Sounds pretty rad right? That’s because it is. Rapportive is impressive, and you’ll notice it the very first time you use it. Simply install Rapportive to your Gmail. Open up a recent email sent to you and voila – suddenly all their information is available in the right sidebar. Where they work, their social media info and even a list of most recent emails exchanged between the two of you.
Xobni (free): Rapportive only works for Gmail. Xobni works for everything (includes Outlook), but at a price. There’s been some changes to the company recently. They’ve been acquired by Yahoo!. We might see Xobni getting a revamp and it’s features being bolstered.
GutCheck (paid): GutCheck allows you to do one-on-one interviews via video chat features – qualitative research! For businesses trying to validate anything, qualitative feedback is the best thing out there. Oh and they’re not expensive either. Way to go guys!
SurveyMonkey (free & paid): With SurveyMonkey you can build an online survey. The survey can be shared via link or embedded it on your website or Facebook page. Their free account allows you to ask 10 questions with 100 responses max per month. One would use the self-service tool if you have an existing audience you can tap into. But what if you don’t? SurveyMonkey also have a global survey panel (50 countries) which you can tap into. Supply them with your targeting criteria, geo-location preference and how many responses you want, and they’ll spit out a quote for you. Pricing varies depending on your brief.
99Designs (paid): It’s a competition marketplace where designers compete for prize money. The prize money is basically your ‘budget’. They compete against a design brief that you create. What’s great is that you get to see several designs before you pick your winner.
Fiverr (paid): Pay $5 dollars and get someone to design you a logo, or maybe a book cover? Try Fiverr. I’ve used it for small jobs. Don’t expect world-class work for $5 though.
Email Marketing Automation
Getresponse (paid): Probably the leader in the market right now. GetResponse gives you everything – signup forms, beautiful landing pages, email template creation, spam tests, top notch delivery rates, a friggin mobile app and a whole lot more. I use their service and I love it. Best damn purchase I ever made.
Campaign Monitor (paid): Also one of the best out there. Pricey though. Some of my clients use this and I’ve had an opportunity to play around with the backend on many occasions. Very easy to use! They also have great integration capability. Lightning fast support.
Mailchimp (free & paid): A first-in-class for sure. A bit on the pricey side once you go over the free plan. Did I say free? Yes, they have a free plan! You get your first 2000 subscribers for free! If you are starting a business and need to keep costs down, then go with their free account. It’s the perfect place to start in my opinion.
Aweber (paid): Confession! I have never used Aweber before. There are tons of people who use it and love it, especially marketers – die hard fans. Aweber, being so popular and all, probably has the most app integration capability amongst all the email solutions.
Images and Photos
iStockphoto (paid): I use iStockphoto most of the time. It’s got a massive database of quality stock photography with thousands being exclusive to iStockphoto. You can grab a
Dreamstime (paid): Sometimes if an image is too pricey on iStockphoto, I find it on Dreamstime.
PhotoPin (free): A search engine for finding creative common photos. If you don’t want to splash out money on images, this is a great site to start with. When you do a search for images you’ll notice the first 2 rows on the results page are actually sponsored results. That’s because PhotoPin is an affiliate for Shutterstock – another stock photo supplier.
DotSpin (free & paid): Instagrammers also known as “Igers” have an eye for beautiful scenery. They take pretty pictures and share it with the world. Then someone came up with the idea of DotSpin. A place where Igers can sell their photos and the author doesn’t have to share who took it. Neat thing is, if you’re prepared to give the author credit you can use the pics free of charge.
Image Capture & Editing
Techsmith Snagit (free trial): If you’ve never heard of SnagIt before, your life is about to change. Taking screenshots, editing them and putting them into Powerpoint, Word or your website content management system is a massive headache. People who still use Microsoft Paint to do this don’t know what they’re missing. It even has built in video capture. If that’s not enough, it even comes with a free app called “Techsmith Fuse”. With Fuse you can push any image to your SnagIt desktop editor in a few seconds. Free trial available.
Techsmith Jing (free): This is a lighter version of Snagit. It doesn’t come with an editor, but it has super fast screenshot and sharing features. Making a screenshot and copying the image to your clipboard is lightning fast. Still beats paint by a zillion miles.
PicPick (free): It’s like a swiss army knife. It can do screenshots pretty well and has an editor almost similar to SnagIt. Neither it’s screenshot nor editing capability is as good as SnagIt, but it’s a pretty good free option.
Adobe Photoshop (free trial): This is the KING of image editing software. The majority of epic designs you see today were most probably made in Adobe Photoshop. There are tons of tutorials on the web on how to do crazy cool stuff with Photoshop, but be warned, Photoshop has a bit of a learning curve.
Gimp (free): An open source (meaning free) editing tool with many similar features to Photoshop. Has a steep learning curve, so you’ll have to Google many ‘how-to’s’ when trying to do something in Gimp.
Landing Page Optimization Tools
Optimizely (free trial): I have no experience in Optimizely. What I can tell you is that it’s a direct competitor of Visual Website Optimizer. Optimizely also offers a product whereby you can run split tests on your web pages without actually making any code changes to the page itself. I created a trial account once and I’m disappointing that I didn’t take enough time to review the service. My agency only used Visual Website Optimizer and I’m well aware that Optimizely is a direct competitor. From what I have read elsewhere, users seem to feel that Optimizely is a little easier to use (less complicated). There are some reports that at some point the Optimizely script was sometimes problematic on commerce checkout forms, but this is likely resolved now.
Clicktale (free & paid): This is not a split testing tool. Clicktale is a high end onsite user experience analytics tool. It’s got really advanced click tracking, heat mapping, scroll mapping and form tracking tools that can tell you exactly where blockages or usability issues are on your page. A tool like Clicktale can identify problems easily. You can then test the potential solutions with tools like VWO or Optimizely!
CrazyEgg (free trial): CrazyEgg is also a user experience analytics tool, but in my opinion a little less advanced than Clicktale. For the beginner to novice user it’s perfect though. Also it’s far less expensive than Clicktale when it comes to recording and processing big chunks of data.
SessionCam (free & premium option): Very different to all the above tools, but have some similar features.. Here you actually get recordings of how your visitors browsed your website. You read that right – you actually see how their mouse moves around the page. It’s got some flipping rad features like zooming in on form submissions. It can also show you how people used your site on a mobile phone. Some similar features include heat mapping, scroll mapping and aggregated reporting data. They’ve got a free account. Get it now!
Lead Generation Tools
Leadpages (paid): To build your subscriber list you need an effective capturing tool. Email automation tools don’t have the best looking capture forms. In walks LeadPages. All the top publishers are using LeadPages. And now I have too. Leadpages have stunning lead generation pages available. It integrates with tools like GetResponse or Mailchimp with a few clicks. You can also build really good looking lead generation popovers. It’s all hosted on your site or can be hosted on Leadpages.
Hybrid Connect (paid): This is a plugin for WordPress that I recently discovered. I’m very pleased with the purchase. Hybrid-connect is different to LeadPages. While LeadPages is superior when it comes to creating lead generation landing pages, Hybrid-connect excels at creating optin-forms & widgets. It’s super easy to set-up – if you’re on WordPress of course.
Evernote (free + paid): Evernote is a free app that allows you to collect information into a virtual notebook. It syncs across all devices – desktop and mobile. So you can make notes anywhere, any time. They also have a browser “web clipper” that allows you to note down web pages or parts of it. There are a ton of handy features.
Lastpass (free + paid): With LastPass you can save all different your login details. It also centralises all the information in your LastPass account. Don’t worry, the data is completely encrypted therefore not even LastPass knows what your details are. Only you know. LastPass has a browser plugin which makes filling in forms with your personal details as easy as clicking a button. This is a must have tool if you spend a lot of time online.
SEO Tools & Training
DistilledU (paid): The number 1 place to learn SEO.
SEO book (free & paid): If you’re not hiring someone to do you SEO, then you have to tackle it yourself. They also have a huge range of free and paid SEO tools. Many of those free tools are the bread and butter of many good SEO practitioners.
Moz local (paid): If you’ve ever done SEO to get local listings, you’ll know it takes a lot of time. Moz makes this easy with their Moz Local product.
Buzzstream SEO Tools (free & paid): Another great selection of free and paid SEO tools to speed up your optimization efforts.
Open Site Explorer (free & paid): If you know SEO, you’ll know how important inbound links from other authority websites are to your SEO rankings. Open Site Explorer can give you a view of all the inbound links, how authoritative they are, what anchort text was used and lots more.
AuthorityLabs (free trial): Keeping track and monitoring the search engine rankings of your money keywords is important. What’s even better? Keeping tabs on your competition!
Camtasia (free trial): If you want to create professional looking screen recorded video tutorials, then Camtasia is what you need. I’ve used Camtasia for a long time and I can say that it’s easy to use and produces really good looking screen recordings.
Articulate’s Storyline (free trial): Build interactive learning courses that are coupled with questionnaires. Overlay your course slides with your own audio and annotate with special character packs. This is the most intuitive and advanced e-learning authoring tool on the planet. Will set you back roughly $1,500, but it’s flipping awesome.
Screenflow (free trial): Screenflow is like Camtasia, but made for Mac users only. Many Mac users who have used Camtasia say that Screenflow has the edge. Definitely check this out if you’re on a Mac. I’ve never used it, but hear great things.
Social Media Image Creation
ShareAsImage (free & paid): The guys from ShareAsImage saw this and created a platform that allows you to do just that. Choose from beautiful images, or upload your own, overlay your text and export in a second . You can even add your logo. Really simple. Super intuitive.
Canva (free & paid): If you need more features, Canva will do the trick. Canva offers you the ability to design on different size canvasses. You can upload your own images or choose from a massive library.
Piktochart (free & paid): If you think pretty pictures with quotes get shared a lot, think again. Infographics are king when it comes to shareable creative. I’ve never used Piktochart, but many of my blogger buddies use it and they swear by it. Give it a go and let me know how it goes!
Social Media Tools
Hootsuite (free & paid): Hootsuite makes this really easy. In my opinion, Hootsuite is the best choice for any business starting out on social media or even aiming to increase outreach on the networks. It’s relatively simple to use and the free version has more than enough features for most.
Buffer App (free & paid): By far the easiest tool for scheduling your posts.
TwitterFeed (free): I’ve been using Twitter feed since 2008 and I don’t plan on stopping. TwitterFeed allows me to take the RSS feeds of my blog and other publications and feed them through to my social profiles. What ends up happening is that my social media profiles automatically share high quality content at certain intervals. This tool is huge time saver.
Adbeat (paid): Use AdBeat to gather intelligence on your competition’s Google and other display campaigns. Adbeat supports the most comprehensive list of ad networks out there. They can pretty much tap into any market globally. Powerful tool at a cost effective price might I add. Starts at $99 per month for Google only.
AdGooroo (by quote): We’ve used this for many of our clients. It provides very rich intelligence on competitor paid and organic strategies, exposes weaknesses and highlights opportunities. From the invoices I have seen gone out, I can say the pricing for AdGooroo isn’t cheap. I think at the time it was between $2,500 – $5,000 per month for two of our clients combined. Don’t take my word for it. Consider getting a quote from them.
SocialAdNinja (paid): They have a huge database of over 400,000 Facebook social PPC ads. You can get access to data segmented by gender, age, relationship status etc. or search by keyword. The whole goal of this service is to help you identify better opportunities in and around Facebook PPC ads. This is definitely the place for people who do a lot of Facebook advertising and who don’t want to waist money ‘testing’ on their own.
Team Collaboration Software
Kona (free & paid): For personal and small group collaboration. Kona is simple, intuitive, can manage different size teams, mobile integrated and it’s free. In 2013 a poll was ran on LifeHacker and Kona came out on top amonst user satisfaction.
Asana (free & paid) : An enterprise-level team collaboration system, yet simple enough for individuals or small teams. Asana is used by some of the most popular startups around the world. When I first used it I was amazed at how quickly I was able to find my way around. It’s remarkably intuitive for such a robust system. You can get a free account for up to 15 people. Any more and you pay.
LiquidPlanner (free trial): Powerful collaboration and project management system. I was most impressed by its Task Schedule Planner. It also has built in estimation for task completion dates. LiquidPlanner is the definite answer for when your projects are BIG and complex.
Podio (free & paid): It’s got it all and then some. Project management, team collaboration, workspaces etc. But the most impressive feature of Podio is that something called it’s App Builder. You can build your own team workflow (no tech skills needed). If you are sales manager with a team of 8 people, you can create workflow under which your team needs to operate. You can optimize the workflow too.
CentralDesktop (free & paid): This is the mac daddy. The big boss. If your organisation has the money, check out CentralDesktop. I got the guys from CentralDesktop to demo their product to us last year and I was blown away. It had everything you could ask for from a project management and team collaboration platform. It’s something special. Comes at a hefty price though.
Klok (free & paid): Klok is a pretty straight forward time tracking app. I find it very intuitive and easy to use. The reporting is also very useful.
Timecamp (free & paid): Most time trackers use a manual stop-start. For most people that is perfect. For some it’s not. Some people who jump around between tasks every minute, need something that automates the process. Timecamp is perfect for those scenarios.
CreativeWorx TimeTracker (paid): I have not used CreativeWorx TimeTracker but it seems like it’s going to make a big wave. It’s got automated tracking, but it shares similar features of Klok. Best of both worlds.
User Experience Research
Qualaroo (paid): If you want to improve the conversion rate on your website, start analyzing the ‘intent’ behind people’s visits. Qualaroo is a tool that allows you to understand what your visitors actually want and what’s stopping them from achieving it. This non-intrusive technology runs on your site in the form of a survey box. Many of the companies I have worked with love the data feedback.
iPerceptions (free & paid): Also an on-site customer experience survey tool. Their approach is different. With iPerceptions a user receives a popover when first visiting the site. The popover starts by asking you whether or not you would like to participate in a satisfaction survey when you are done browsing the site. If you choose YES, you will receive an exit survey. Response rates aren’t bad!
Video Calling / Video Conferencing
Google Hangouts (free): Use Google Hangouts to turn any conversation into a video call with up to 10 friends. You can share web cams or your can share your screen. I love Hangouts because it’s easy to use, it’s built into a social network, it’s fast and coolest of all, it’s free.
Skype (free & paid): Skype has been around for a while now, so chances are pretty good you are familiar with it. But did you know it has a group call feature? You can add up to 25 people to a group call. One really nifty feature of Skype is that you can use your Skype credits to dial people into the call who don’t have Skype (from their mobile or landlines).
Web Analytics Tools
Google Analytics (free): By far the most well known, most widely used web analytics platform on the web. Google analytics is completely free. Over the years it has grown into a beast. If you know a bit about web analytics then give Google Analytics a try. For most people GA is a bit too complex. If that is the case, check out the next tool on this list.
Clicky (free & paid): I have recently installed Clicky on my website, alongside Google Analytics. Clicky really impressed me. It’s super simple, it collects really deep, insightful data and it’s also free. Well, if you get more than 1 million page impressions per day, then Clicky will start charging you.
KissMetrics (paid): A tool that isn’t entirely a web analytics tool. It’s more like customer analytics. The data is incredibly in-depth. Kissmetrics can give you data around the lifetime value of your customer. They’ve given business owners the ability to see into the future – sounds kind of lame I know. Let me put it this way. Kissmetrics tracks the data of unique users, aka a person. If you buy from a business once (and you like the experience), chances are good you’re going to do that again. Imagine you buy from a business 4 times a year. Their web analytics don’t know the journey YOU took. They only know, from looking at their sales records, that you purchased 4 times. Kissmetrics however can shine the light on your purchase behavior rather. That is the type of data that can help a business optimize it’s funnels to improve bottom-line. Powerful stuff.
WordPress (free): GrowthNerd is built on WordPress. If you’re trying to get your business online, WordPress is the perfect CMS for the job. It’s robust, feature-rich, scaleable and it’s free. There are loads of premium WordPress themes available. Just Google “wordpress premium themes” and you’ll find a gazillion to browse through.
SquareSpace (paid): If you don’t want to get into all the technical setup of your website, then check out SquareSpace. They make it really easy for a business to get a web presence. It won’t look crap either. They have some awesome templates, plus your website will be mobile responsive. It even comes with built-in e-commerce functionality, making it easy for you to sell your stuff online. You won’t have the same level of customization available to you like on WordPress, but heck…most people don’t need to go that far. I have to confess, I have not used it. I have watched an episode of Small Empires on The Verge about SquareSpace. They showed the ins and outs of what makes it good.
Scrivener (free trial): It’s a complete writing studio. A writer’s dream. It makes the process of writing so much easier because it helps you organise your writing. It also has a ‘distraction free’ mode for writing. It’s fit for any type of writer, whether you are a blogger, journalist or even book writer. Scrivener is definitely one of my most used apps.
StyleWriter (free trial): The one thing Scrivener cannot do is make you a better writer. You see, writing is an artform. The key to getting your message across to your audience is to write in plain English. People hate reading complicated words and phrases. StyleWriter helps to improve the readability of your writing and I must say, it’s probably the best software I’ve come across for doing this properly.
Bluehost (paid): 5 years ago Bluehost was a nobody. Today they are one of the top 5 best hosting companies. For $4.95 per month you get Unlimited domains, Unlimited websites, Unlimited storage, a free website domain name, automated backups, and loads more.
Hostgator (paid): As far as I’m concerned Hostgator is right up there with BlueHost. From my experience I can say Hostgator has really good support. They also have similar package than BlueHost.Please note: GrowthNerd is not hosted with any of the above. I’ve chosen the leading local host in South Africa as I wanted my server location close to me.
DreamHost (paid): I have not hosted with Dreamhost before so sorry, I cannot really comment on them from that perspective but rather from what others are saying. Voted by many as the best host in 2013. Dreamhost gives it’s customers a heck of a lot of value for money. Just check out the features and additional ‘freebies’ you get from signing with them.
asmallorange (paid): They’ve been voted one of the top 5 webhosts in the world by the LifeHacker community. Personally, I think it’s because of their customer support. It’s flipping epic. Their prices are very competitive and they have a product specifically for bloggers. Definitely check these guys out.
Please remember that technology is not the end in itself, but a means to an end. Using 3rd party technology won’t make your business great. Use technology to discover, enhance and improve your business and processes. If you have a good business model and are fulfilling against it, technology will amplify your bottom line. I hope you enjoyed this post and at least found one tool or resource that will help you and your business!