Free Options to Popular Paid Marketing Services and Tools
Free Book Preview: Brand Renegades
What tools do you use to get your online marketing work done?
Can you do all the same work of a digital marketer, and do it for free?
Is it possible to have all these great tools without paying a cent?
It was a fun challenge to come up with a way to build a $0 marketing stack, to find free alternatives to popular paid tools and services. I’m grateful for all the amazing companies out there that offer such value for so little. Here’s the list I came up with for free alternatives to paid tools. I’d love to know what you think!
What’s in the stack?
The $0 Marketing Stack: Free Alternatives to Paid Tools
For a quick overview, here are the tools I found that seemed to be great, free options for some popular paid services.
- Google Analytics
- Simply Measured
- Open Site Explorer
1. Social Media Scheduling: Buffer
Great, paid options if you can swing it: Sprout Social, MeetEdgar
Perhaps our best time-saving tip for social media marketing is scheduling posts ahead of time for your social profiles. You can batch the social media marketing process: Do all your curating and composing all in one go, then spread those updates out across the next day or week.
How we use Buffer: The forever free plan at Buffer lets you connect a profile from each network (one from Facebook, one from Twitter, etc.) and to schedule ahead 10 posts for each network. If you share three posts per day, that means you can stay three days ahead all the time.
We’ve found a lot of value in the hand-picked content suggestions (thanks to Courtney who finds all that great content!), which are easy to read then add.
- Hootsuite (free for your first 3 social profiles)
2. Design: Canva
Over 2 million people trust Canva to help with creating images for social media, blog posts, and practically any other use you can imagine.
How we use Canva: The optimized sizes and built-in templates make it fast and easy to create tall pictures for Pinterest, rectangular ones for Twitter, square for Facebook or Instagram, and any size in between. We find Pablo (another free alternative) to be great for Twitter-sized images of 1,024 pixels by 512 pixels, and Canva to work really well for all else.
3. Real-time Analytics: Google Analytics
Great, paid option if you can swing it: Chartbeat
Google Analytics does pretty much everything in terms of tracking the traffic to your website. It’s a huge, monstrous amount of info, generously given away for free.
How we use Google Analytics: As a social media marketing team, we appreciate the ease with which we can see traffic from the different networks (Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals). We can check the engaged reading time by looking at Time on Page. And for the real-time stats of who’s on our site right now, we can simply click on Real-Time > Overview.
- Go Squared (free for the first 100 visitors and 1,000 data points)
- MixPanel (free for 25,000 events per month)
4. Website optimization: Hotjar
Great, paid options if you can swing it: KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg
Let’s say you’re curious how your visitors are actually using your website—where they click, how far they scroll, etc. Tools like Hotjar can show you exactly what your visitors are doing, via heatmaps, clickmaps, scrollmaps, and visitor recordings. Hotjar also has options to analyze your funnel and to insert messages and surveys to your visitors.
How we use Hotjar: User research can be incredibly powerful stuff. I find great value in seeing how someone interacts with blog posts. How much of the post do they read? Where do they pause? What do they click? Seeing all this information helps me design my posts in a clearer way.
5. Reports: Simply Measured
Great, paid option if you can swing it: SumAll Reports
Simply Measured offers enterprise-level analytics and management for big brands and their social efforts. It has a wide array of free tools for the rest of us, too.
Among Simply Measured’s reports are these:
- Twitter Follower Report
- Twitter Customer Service Analysis
- Facebook Fan Page Report
- Facebook Content Analysis
- Facebook Competitive Analysis
- Facebook Insights Report
- Instagram User Report
- Social Traffic Report
- Traffic Source Report
- Google+ Page Report
- Vine Analysis
Phew! That’s a lot of reports!
How to use Simply Measured: Each of these reports costs no money, although Simply Measured will ask for a Twitter follow or a Facebook mention in exchange for the free report. You can save loads of time in pulling reports from this one location as you seek to gain insight on where your social media efforts have been going lately. They’ve got all six major social networks covered: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, and Pinterest.
6. SEO: Open Site Explorer
Great, paid option if you can swing it: Moz Pro
is a great free tool for checking your domain and page authority and also for checking how many links you are getting and from which source. You can also check your competition. But the free version only gives you 3 reports per day. Signing up offers unlimited reporting on all your links, keywords and competitors.
How to use Open Site Explorer: Plug your blog’s URL into Open Site Explorer to see the high-level stats like page authority and incoming links. You can also click over to the Just-Discovered tab to see recent links and Top Pages to see which pages on your site get the most links.
7. CRM: Charlie
Great, paid option if you can swing it: SalesForce
A lot of the best CRM tools (Customer Relationship Management) help you stay abreast of your current and future customers. Think of a futuristic address book. The best ones are loaded with features and information. Charlie is a bit of a quick-and-easy hack to get to know a person really well.
How to use Charlie: Intended as a tool to help you prep for meeting new people, Charlie gives you a full run-down of a person—social media profiles, biography, interests, big news, etc.—by looking at your upcoming calendar or running an email address. If you’re wanting info on a single person ad-hoc, simply enter their email address into Charlie, and they’ll tell you everything.
8. Email inbox insights: Sidekick
Great, paid option if you can swing it: Cirrus
Sidekick can track your outgoing email to tell you when the recipient has read your email. It’s a very, very advanced read-receipt. Plus a lot more.
How to use Sidekick: You can gain a lot from the Sidekick notifications about your email, and there’s also a lot of value that Sidekick adds to your inbox itself, with a sidebar of information on everyone who sends you a message. The sidebar includes links to all the person’s social profiles, plus a stream of recent tweets.
9. Landing Pages: WordPress
For those who are running their website or blog via WordPress, perhaps the fastest and easiest way to set up a landing page is simply to create a new page. If you blog with WordPress, the blog content you create falls into Posts. The static content for landing pages—“Download our ebook,” “Sign up for our webinar,” etc.—can be made quite easily via Pages.
How to use WordPress: Build a new landing page in WordPress, and use this as the focal point of your social media ad campaign or your social media updates. Certain plugins like WooDojo even let you hide the content in your sidebar for particular pages, which could be a great option for minimizing the look of your page.
- Unbounce free plan (includes Unbounce branding)
10. Twitter management: Crowdfire
Great, paid option if you can swing it: Crowdfire premium
Twitter has been so generous to open up its app to developers to make some really great tools. Sure, you can manage your Twitter profile directly via Twitter (an always free option), or you can try out tools like Just Unfollow, which allows for bulk sorting and filtering of your followers, along with insights into the demographics of the people in your audience.
How to use Just Unfollow: One way that many experts recommend to keep your Twitter following count in line with your Twitter follower count is to routinely check to see which accounts are following you back and to remove the ones that aren’t. With Just Unfollow, you can do this quickly and easily all from one page—and even whitelist the unfollowers whom you’d like to keep following.
11. Blogging: Medium
Great, paid options if you can swing it: Ghost
It feels a bit funny to list Medium as a tool (it’s really more of a network or social media site), but when it comes to starting a new blog as cheaply and quickly as possible, Medium can’t be beat.
How to use Medium: Many young startups kick off their blog at Medium, where they enjoy a built-in audience from the start and have networking tools to help their content spread. Plus, one of Medium’s newest features is an email newsletter where you can automatically get in touch with people who follow you by sharing your latest articles.
12. Video: Wistia
Great, paid option if you can swing it: Wistia Pro, Vimeo Pro
Once you’ve created an amazing video to share on social media or your website, where will you put it? The default seems to be YouTube, which is quick and easy but comes with less control and potentially some unrelated ads or suggestions. Wistia is made for marketers’ videos because the player keeps people on your page—or sends them precisely where you want them to go next.
How to use Wistia: After you’ve uploaded your video, you can hop into the settings and add things like call-to-action buttons or email capture formsat the end of the video. Wistia also makes it easy to view heatmaps and viewing trends of your videos, like how far most people get through your video, when they pause or click, etc.
13. Share buttons: SumoMe Share
Great, paid options if you can swing it: Easy Social Share Buttons
The ubiquitous share buttons you see along the side of blog posts, many of them come from SumoMe. The any-website buttons (you don’t have to run a WordPress blog to use them) are part of the SumoMe suite of website products. If you’re okay with some SumoMe branding, you can add the buttons for free to any page and customize the networks that appear by default.
How to use SumoMe Share: SumoMe gives you a lot of control over the appearance of the share buttons, both in which buttons are displayed and where on the page they’ll sit. One of the great features also is that they look good on mobile devices, so you maintain a great way to encourage sharing no matter where your audience is reading.
14. Analytics: Segment
Great, paid options if you can swing it: Usability Tools
I’ve heard Segment described as the one and only interface you’ll ever need for all your third-party apps. And I sure do see it recommended a lot. From what I can gather, Segment makes it easy for anyone—engineer or not—to connect new software to your website; once the Segment snippet is added, you can connect other apps like MailChimp, Google Analytics, etc. just by clicking around in your Segment dashboard. Segment handles all the visitor data for you.
How to use Segment: Rob Sobers put together a really handy guide to how he’s set up Segment for his SaaS business.
15. Testing: Peek
Great, paid options if you can swing it: Optimizely, User Testing
When it comes to understanding how people are using your website—A/B testing, user testing, that sort of thing—there are some really fantastic paid options that can give you lots of insights. There’s also Peek, a free tool from User Testing that lets you see and hear a five-minute video of a real person using your website.
How to use Peek: For first-time insights, you may wish to have a person go through your website or blog from the home page. Later on, you might ask for someone to test out a certain flow through your website by starting someone on a landing page. The tests take about 2-3 days to complete, and you can run three Peek tests every month.
Over to you
Which of your favorite tools would you add to this list?
Did you notice any new ones that might be worth trying?
I’d love to hear from you about the free tools you’ve found most helpful and how you’ve put them to good use. Feel free to add any thoughts at all in the comments below. I’m looking forward to chatting!