This a curated list of the digital marketing tools and resources I use personally, and recommend for building and running your online business.
I have tested every recommendation on this page. Some of these are free products, some are paid, and some have a free initial trial. I suggest that where a free option is available, you start with this and only upgrade to a paid version when it becomes necessary, and once you’re sure it suits you.
Before we get into the resources, an important disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase, I may earn a commission (at no cost to you). I only promote products that I know and recommend from my own personal experience. I would never recommend anything just to earn a commission, but if there are affiliate links available for products that I recommend anyway, then of course I’m going to use them — be silly not to!
Website Creation & Blogging Tools
Wix allows you to build your site online without any coding skills or specialist knowledge. Weebly is another similar service. Both are free in their basic form, very easy to use, and produce good results with a lot of ready made templates to help you get started.
For a Blog, or a more complex website requiring a Content Management System (CMS), there is only one choice in my view – WordPress.
WordPress powers most of the websites in the world, including this one.
It is free, but you will probably want to customise it with additional Themes and Plugins, which may or may not be free. It’s worth spending a small amount to get a professionally designed Theme to give your site the look and feel you want.
This site is built with the Genesis Theme from StudioPress, but there are many hundreds of different Themes available. Elegant Themes have some great WordPress Themes, including the very popular Divi Theme, which has been used in some very successful sites.
I use different types of hosting for different requirements — everything from inexpensive Shared Hosting with Bluehost, through virtual Cloud Servers, to Dedicated Servers which are specialist pieces of kit physically bought and built by me, located in bombproof Datacentres with T1 connections. There is no one size fits all, it’s a question of picking the solution that is most appropriate for your needs and budget.
This particular site is hosted on a Cloud Server with RackSpace, which works very well for me. I have several sites hosted on this server, but it is a Linux Server that is self-managed which means you need good UNIX skills. And the ability to cope with a bit of stress (ok, a lot of stress) when it all goes wrong!
RackSpace have Managed Cloud Servers too, which would probably be a better solution for most people. And probably for me too, if I’m honest…
RackSpace pride themselves on their Fanatical Support, and it really is good, although of course they are not the cheapest. This is a premium product, and it’s not necessary or worthwhile unless you’re hosting a lot of sites or you need the maximum performance and scaleability. I would recommend RackSpace if you need a high-end solution, and if your business is far enough along to afford the cost (not that it’s hugely expensive — this particular server costs me about £100 per month).
For smaller requirements, and particularly when you are just starting out, you want something that is quick, easy and cheap. For this I use Bluehost shared hosting which is about as cheap as you can get, but works absolutely fine. You will see lots of people online complaining about Bluehost (and every other hosting company for that matter!), but often these people have unrealistic expectations — they are usually trying to get a Rolls Royce for the price of a Skoda and then moaning when they don’t get it.
I’ve never had any problems with Bluehost, and you certainly can’t knock them for the cost of their basic service. When you grow and need more, you can upgrade to their Cloud and Dedicated Servers, so you have an upgrade path when you need it. Their setup and installation process for WordPress sites and Blogs is particularly easy — you can do it in 10 minutes as I showed in this article.
Email Marketing and Listbuilding
Your email list is probably the most valuable marketing asset you can have your your business. I have produced a comprehensive free course on the whole subject of listbuilding, which will show you exactly what to do to build your email list as quickly and effectively as possible. I recommend you get the free course to understand the techniques fully, but the main tools I use are:
AWeber is probably the world’s favourite email and autoresponder service, used by most of the top marketers. I use it myself, having switched from MailChimp a few years ago. It does everything you want it to, without paying extra for complicated features that most people never use.
I also use and highly recommend ConvertKit, which offers a lot more sophistication in the way you can interact with your subscribers. For example, when somebody buys one of my books on Gumroad, they are automatically imported into ConvertKit, and sent a series of welcome emails without me having to do anything. If I decide to send a promo email for the book, then ConvertKit will exclude people who have already bought the book. One of the most useful features is the ability to ‘tag’ people according to their interests, so I can tailor the emails they receive to make them more relevant to them.
For Pop-ups and other opt-in forms I use and recommend Thrive Leads. It really is the best solution for WordPress sites, with unparalleled features, and controls to avoid upsetting your visitors whilst still maximising conversions. For non-WordPress sites, I use SumoMe.
For creating Landing Pages (dedicated pages designed to maximise sales or signups), I use another Thrive product — Thrive Landing Pages. Again, this is a superb product which allows you to create very highly optimised landing pages quickly and easily. It’s far better than the ubiquitous LeadPages which everybody uses. If, like me, you are going to use more than one Thrive product, they have a very good value membership scheme which gives you access to all the products for one low price. At the moment this is just $19 per month for unlimited sites.
I use the following WordPress Plugins on every site, and regard them as pretty much essential for every WordPress installation:
- SEO: Yoast SEO (free) — simply the best SEO tool for WordPress. Period.
- Security: Wordfence Security (free) — prevents hackers breaking into your site and much more besides
- Backup: UpdraftPlus (free) — automatic backups to Amazon S3, DropBox, Google Drive
- OnePress Image Elevator (free) — allows you to copy and paste images directly into your blog posts
- WP Retina 2X (free) — Makes your website look beautiful on Retina displays
- Thrive Leads and Thrive Content Builder (paid) — optin forms, landing pages & custom page layouts
- AMP and Glue (free) — automatically creates Google AMP mobile optimised pages
- Disqus Comment System (free) — the best blog commenting system with SEO benefits too
- Eggplant 301 redirects (free) — redirect moved pages, broken links etc
- Shareaholic (free) — Social Sharing buttons to get your blog posts shared on social media
- W3 Total Cache (free) — The highest rated cacheing plugin to speed your site up
There are other plugins that I use for different sites, depending upon their needs, but I consider the above to be a core requirement for all sites.
Social Media Management and Automation
Social Media can take up a huge amount of time if you’re not careful. Here are some of the tools I use to reduce the amount of time I have to spend on Twitter and Facebook but still maintain a very active and engaged presence:
Postplanner (free version available) is my favourite tool for scheduling Social Media posts. It’s very similar to Buffer, which I also like, but with one major advantage. Postplanner will allow you to recycle posts automatically, and indefinitely, whereas with Buffer you have to do this manually.
Why is this important? Well as you know, these days organic reach on Twitter and Facebook is tiny. Most of your followers will not see your posts — typically only a few percent see each one. The way to combat this is to repeat your posts several times, so that they eventually get seen by everybody.
Will this repetition annoy your followers? No, because they aren’t seeing the posts anyway — that’s why we’re doing it!
Another product I use to automate some of my social media activity, and keep my Twitter and Facebook feeds full of quality, interesting content without having to create it all myself, is Twitterfeed (free).
You can read about how I use both these tools to create an engaged and growing following on Social Media, by doing very little work, in this article: How to get traffic from Twitter.
If you have any favourite tools or resources, please leave them in the comments below.
Both of these tools do similar things, and I wouldn’t say one was any better than the other, they are both very good. They tend to give slightly different results in that one will often find backlinks and keywords that the other doesn’t, so I use them both.
If I had to pick one, I would say Ahrefs tends to be slightly for backlinks, and SEMRush slightly better for keywords, although the difference is slight. I do particularly like SEMRush for it’s site auditing feature, which is extremely good for finding any oversights or mistakes in your SEO.
Keyword Research Tools
As discussed in this article on How to find keywords nobody else is using, I use Google AdWords KeyWord Planner which is the standard tool used by everybody, and KW Finder which tends to come up with some different ones.
A tool that I’ve just started using is Long Tail Pro, which combines features from several different tools in one place and therefore saves a LOT of time. It pulls search volumes and keyword ideas from AdWords, gives a keyword difficulty score from Majestic, shows you the top 10 results in Google SERPs for that keyword, as well as the number of organic results. I tend just to use KW Finder and Long Tail Pro these days, as you can add any good ideas from KW Finder into Long Tail Pro and let it cruch all the numbers in one place for you.
It’s particularly good if you’re researching keywords for a niche website, because as well as all the above, it will also show you if domain names containing the keyword are available, and give you an idea how expensive it would be to advertise on AdWords.