There are more than 5,000 marketing applications available, as you can see in the chart below. If you have a need for anything from a website to an online reputation manager, and everything in between, someone has built a solution for it.
With so many options though, it can be tough to figure out which ones to use. To make it easier, I'll share with you the top 5 categories when you're just starting out. There are free and low-cost options in each one. After that, I'll introduce you to a range of applications you may want to add, how to find them and how to choose good ones. And finally, how to keep it organized with a "marketing stack" of your own.
Beginner Marketing Tools
My favorite is Weebly for easy to use, brochure-ware websites — there’s a free version, but upgrading to the first paid tier makes sense for most small businesses. Squarespace, if templates are more important than ease of use, although it’s still relatively easy. Wordpress, if blogging is your business model. Shopify or BigCommerce for ecommerce. Learn more about how to choose a website builder
This isn't just one application, but a set of tools and they're amazing for the price. From selecting keywords to identifying seasonal trends, managing your site's visibility and traffic, it's hard to beat free. Get our Google Stack handout which explains the top 10 and where to sign up
Keeping track of everyone you’re in contact with is complicated without a CRM. I’m currently using Insightly, but there are many others. Check out this market grid from G2Crowd. Then scroll to the bottom to search for a CRM that's right for you.
A marketing calendar is a simple way to get a big picture of your business. You could use a monthly wall calendar, or a white board with sticky notes, but a technology solution allows for even greater flexibility, especially one that can be shared. I’ve discovered a free tool for managing my calendar and much more. If a spreadsheet and a database had a baby, this would be it.
There are hundreds of email marketing tools which cover the basics, like a list manager and the creation of good looking newsletters. My current favorite for super simple, yet neat features, is MadMimi. When you want to get more sophisticated, use MailChimp. The only downside is that the price goes up significantly once you’re beyond the free plan. It can automate just about anything you can think of when it comes to email marketing. If you're just starting your business, it now comes with a free landing page creator, so you can collect emails even before you launch your website.
What are the Next 5 Marketing Tools?
I recommend getting as close to free as possible, and not just a 14-day trial. That's not going to cut it for the long haul. Many of my favorites, like the following, all offer pro accounts for a fee, but there's plenty of functionality that's free for the taking:
Gumroad — Ecommerce for digital products, like my ebooks
Screaming Frog — Website analysis
SEMRush — Search Engine Optimization
Zoom — For webinars and sharing my computer screen with clients during conference calls
Where to Find More Marketing Tools
- Find a fit with the apps you’re already using. If MailChimp, for example, is your email tool, take a look at their integrations directory for ideas.
- Visit one of the universal connector sites, like Zapier, to see what they integrate with.
- There are many app directories that will let you do a filtered search. These include G2Crowd, ProductHunt, and CabinetM.
- Take a look at what your competitors are using. My favorite free app for looking under a website's hood is BuiltWith.
- If you need even more resources, Screenchecker has a long list.
What Makes a Good App?
When evaluating email marketing tools, I’ve come across ones that seem to have a great website, but when you start to use them, they break down. Make sure they’ve been around for a while. Even a few years can make a big difference, because they’ve had time to get the bugs out and they’re not going to disappear anytime soon. Check the copyright date, the about page, make sure the site works properly and you can find what you need easily. These are all clues.
Features and Functionality
Does it do what I need it to do? To save time, it's good practice to think about the features you need before choosing sites to evaluate. The marketing messages can become overwhelming too.
If I’m investigating a new category of app, say for project management, I'll go through these steps to create a features list for myself:
- Search Google for something like, "project management apps for small business"
- Pick the first one that looks like an app; they're probably one of the bigger players
- Navigate to their features list, then use that to highlight what I'm really looking for
- Then I try to find the best match for just those features — more features aren’t always better, and you often pay more for them. A tighter fit is typically more economical; sometimes even easier to use.
Since testing out a marketing tool can take so much time, I want to get some idea of how it would feel to use the app. Whatever you finally choose, you're going to spend a lot of time with it, and the less it feels like a chore, the better. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I like the overall look and feel? Good design always makes me happy.
- Can I easily do what I need to get done, without hunting around? Is it intuitive or am I always looking for help? A good user experience is everything.
- Are the instructional materials easy on the eyes and understandable? Annoying or too much training is a bad sign — that means the software either has too many features you don't need or the user experience isn't good.
Speaking of customer support, if you’re not very techie you’re going to want help when you need it. Is chat available and responsive? Once again, check their support pages. Are they easy to follow and solve your problem? Try calling their support line to see how quickly they answer. Speak to someone and see how helpful they are.
Even though I'm suggesting you use as many free tools as possible, there may be some that are just so good the features are worth paying for. However, there really are some cases where "you get what you pay for" isn't necessarily true. Here's my pricing rule of thumb: if prices aren't listed on the site, they're probably too expensive.
Once you’re happy with the above checklist, read what others think about the software you're evaluating. You could do a general search, but the marketing app directories I mentioned before, like G2Crowd, have reviews too.
If there’s a community of users right on the site, see what they’re saying and if any complaints really stand out or are people just loving it?
Organize Your Tech Life with a Marketing Stack
If you need inspiration, here are some great examples of marketing stacks. You'll see that these companies go way beyond the basics I've outlined above.