I find that on training courses, the tools I recommend to help marketers are always popular, especially the free tools… At a recent course I was asked for a list of “essential tools”, so here they are…

We aim to review and compare tools for managing different digital activities on Smart Insights, so we have many of these tools covered in other posts, so I’ll link to these where relevant.

There’s a diverse mix of free tools available, one of the enjoyable aspects of working in digital marketing today. I’ll start with the most widely used. Please let us know about the “essential free tools” you use in the comments.

  • 1. Reviewing the latest developments in your industry

There still isn’t a better alternative than Google Alerts for reviewing mentions of your brand name, competitor or sector names by entering keywords, so it’s widely used.

Although RSS isn’t “in vogue” as it was five years ago, I still find there’s no substitute for using this as a listening post for developments in your industry. Like many, I use Google Reader to categorise sites to keep up-to-date with and use Reeder as an offline client on my Macbook Air and iOS.

  • 2. Managing social media updates

I’ve used Hootsuite for posting updates to social networks and reviewing what others are saying for a couple of years now. It seems to be comfortably the most popular free tool for this, but many still don’t know it, it can be used as a personal social media management tool too. It enables you to quickly post to all the main social networks including Google+ company pages and review conversations and messages. I’ve trialled many paid tools, but none come close.

  • 3. Finding influencers

There is no single free tool that works well for this. You can use reputation tools like Klout, Kred or Peerindex, but I find that the use of Twitter autofollow means that this often skews the results.

Influencer tools

LinkedIn sector skills is a better source for business influencers in my opinion because of grouping by narrower topics.

LinkedIn Skills

A less well known tool is this Dofollow Blog finder which simply lists recent posts on a topic you select – it’s quite quick to scan and review sites that may be relevant.

  • 4. Understanding customer search behaviour

With search still driving the majority of visits, leads and sales for most businesses online, I believe that even marketers who outsource their SEO need to understand different types of customer behaviour when searching to help develop strategies for getting visibility AND creating content and messages to help meet consumer needs.

The Google Keyword Tool (tutorial) is still indispensable for this – I don’t think I have ever done a client training or consulting project where I haven’t used it!

Google keyword tool tutorial

Google Insights for search has now been folded into Google Trends essential for understanding seasonal search behaviour trends in different countries.

Google also has additional SEO analysis tools from Google Webmaster Tools which you can embed into Google Analytics as described by James Gurd in this post.

Ubersuggest is also useful for summarising the Suggest/Autocomplete behaviour in different countries to check your covering the main behaviours.


  • 5. Competitor site benchmarking

It used to be that Google AdPlanner was unbeatable for comparing audience size and dimension.


Now it’s limited to media sites, but still useful for finding size and quality of audience for partner and media sites and don’t forget about the related Google Placement Targeting Tool useful for remarketing and research.

Chris Soames has a another post here on the main sites for competitor benchmarking. You will probably have to fall back on Alexa or Compete today which don’t tend to give realistic estimates outside of the US. I have also have an in-depth post recommending many otheronline competitor benchmarking tools.

  • 6. Off-page backlink analysis for SEO

We also have a comparison of the 6 best backlink analysis tools.

Of these, Majestic and SEOmoz Open Site Explorer have to be the “must use” tools. I think for non-SEOs, the Backlink History is great for basic benchmarking of competitor success in gaining backlinks although link quality isn’t shown.
Majestic SEO

  • 7. On-page backlink analysis for SEO

Hubspots Site, now Marketing Grader is often mentioned as a useful tool by people on courses.

For reviewing on-page markup like headings and also mobile screen resizing I find Chris Pederick’s Web Developer Toolbar for Chrome and Firefox essential.

  • 8. Understanding overall online marketing effectiveness

I believe that Google Analytics or an equivalent is essential for all who work in marketing to master at some level.

To help here, we have many articles of advice you can access from our Google Analytics hub. The most popular is on using Google Analytics for social media marketing.

Google Analytics

If you know all these tools, try the Google Agency Toolkit where they group all their tools together.

I hope this compilation is useful, what do you find useful?!