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13 Top Digital Marketing Tools (Incl. Tips on Using Them)

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13 Top Digital Marketing Tools (Incl. Tips on Using Them)

You can easily spend countless hours going through all the options and reviews of tools we have for digital marketing today. I’ve certainly tried too many of them throughout my career.

In this article, we’ll go through these 13 tried and tested digital marketing tools that I’ve used and liked over the years:

  1. Ahrefs
  2. Hunter
  3. Mailchimp
  4. SparkToro
  5. Brand24
  6. Smartlook
  7. Visualping
  8. Google
  9. Google Forms
  10. Google Analytics
  11. Google Search Console
  12. Google Sheets
  13. Google Data Studio

I’ll also include my favorite use case for every tool so you can apply that right away. Let’s dive in.

Most companies consider organic and paid search traffic to be some of their most important traffic sources. Having reliable and insightful data in this space is crucial—and that’s where Ahrefs comes into play.

Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO toolset for optimizing your own website, analyzing competitors, doing keyword research, getting content ideas, building links, and more.

Favorite use case: Finding content gaps between you and your competitors

There are countless use cases of the toolset, so I’ll just explain one of my favorite features: the Content Gap tool within Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

It shows keywords your competitors rank for but you don’t. These content gaps can quickly give you many new ideas for your content planning.

In Site Explorer, enter your own domain and then click “Content gap.” Your domain will automatically be prefilled in the “But the following target doesn’t rank for” field. All that’s left now is to list a few domains that are your organic traffic competitors:

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Ahrefs' Content Gap tool

Hit “Show keywords”:

Content Gap report results

You’ll get a huge list of keywords. Now it’s all about playing with the provided filters.

To increase relevance, let’s choose the option where at least two competitor websites rank for every keyword. You can do so by selecting it in the intersection filter. Then filter for the best keyword opportunities by setting a minimal search volume and relatively low maximum KD score:

Content Gap report results with filters applied

I’m certain you’ll find some great keyword opportunities this way.

Pricing

Monthly plans start from $83 when you subscribe for a year. There’s also a free tier called Ahrefs Webmaster Tools that can be used for verified websites.

As a marketer, you’ll sometimes have to send cold emails. If you’re in PR or link building, it will be a huge part of your job.

But many people don’t willingly share their email addresses with the public, and there’s enough spam out there already. Finding the right email address can take quite a while, and you often have to try and guess too. Hunter is an “email address finding” tool that will make it much easier for you.

Favorite use case: Finding and verifying email addresses in Google Sheets

If outreach is something you often do, you need a more scalable solution than looking up email addresses one by one. Using Hunter’s Sheets add-on, you can run email searches for all your prospects with one click:

Hunter's Sheets add-on filling email addresses the tool can find

This won’t find a matching email address for every prospect, but it usually finds one for a decent percentage of them. You can then use these prospects as your initial “hit” list to test the viability of an outreach campaign. If successful, you can continue finding the remaining email addresses using other methods.

Pricing

Monthly plans start from $34 when you subscribe for a year. There’s also a free tier that allows you to perform 25 searches per month.

Mailchimp is a marketing platform that has tons of products and features—from audience management to marketing automation. But it’s best known for being a leader in email marketing, and that’s what I always use it for.

Favorite use case: Email marketing personalization through segmentation

If you’re growing a newsletter, then you know that not every email you send is a hit. Sometimes, people complain, unsubscribe, don’t take the action you want them to, or don’t even open the email at all.

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There are two solutions to this: better emails and targeting. The first one is largely on you; the second is something Mailchimp can help tremendously with via audience segmentation.

Imagine that you’re running a sale, but you only want a certain customer segment to know about it. No problem. Take the customers’ email addresses from your CRM, tag them in your Mailchimp account, and select the tag as the receiver of that “sale” email. Done!

Pricing

Monthly plans start from $11. There’s also a free tier that allows you to send 10,000 emails per month.

Doing market research to understand your audience is essential to your marketing success. There are many methods to conduct it. While I’m a fan of traditional data gathering via surveys, interviews, etc., I also highly recommend using an online audience research tool like SparkToro.

SparkToro provides information about what any audience reads, watches, listens to, and follows. Those insights can be retrieved based on keywords, social media accounts, websites, or hashtags. All of those inputs can be used to better understand the audience in your niche.

Favorite use case: Discovering where competitors’ audience engages

SparkToro is easy to use and navigate. Let’s do an example analysis on the SparkToro audience by plugging in the company’s Twitter profile:

SparkToro text field to key in social account URL to acquire audience intelligence

The tool will return a lot of data regarding the demographics of the audience. But in this case, we’ll focus on social media accounts, websites, podcasts, and YouTube channels the audience follows and pays attention to.

Here’s an example of a report after filtering for personal social media accounts with fewer than 50K followers:

List of people and their social profiles, as well as data like SparkScore, no. of followers, etc

With data like this, you can easily spot new advertising and sponsorship opportunities across many different channels. Just put together all the insights by plugging in your competitors’ social profiles, websites, keywords, and any “owned” hashtags.

Pricing

Monthly plans start from $38 when you subscribe for a year. There’s also a free tier that allows you to perform five searches per month.

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Brand24 tracks mentions of keywords that you want to monitor across the whole web with a focus on social media. You can use it to identify and analyze online conversations around your and your competitors’ brands and products.

Favorite use case: Spying on competitors’ brand mentions

Brand24 revolves around setting up a project with keywords you want to track. These keyword mentions can then be segmented, filtered, and analyzed to gain actionable insights. All of those keywords should be brands, products, and hashtags in your niche. I’ll show you why you want to do this for competitors too.

So set up a separate project (or projects) with the name of a competing brand and/or product. You’ll encounter keywords that also have other meanings. You can either leave them out or apply the required and excluded keyword filters along the way to keep the irrelevant ones out of your reports:

Page to set up new project—in this case about Ahrefs

This competitor mentions monitoring allows you to:

  • Adjust your communication based on what works best in your industry.
  • Get product insights based on how people react to the development of your competitors’ products.
  • Assess how people perceive your brand and your competitors’ via sentiment analysis.
  • Benchmark your media reach and share of voice against your competitors.

I’m sure there are even more use cases. Here’s an example of data from a summary dashboard:

Summary dashboard showing key data and line graphs about "Mentions" and "Social Media Reach"

Pricing

Monthly plans start from $49 when you subscribe for a year. There’s no free tier, but you can sign up for a 14-day free trial instead.

Smartlook is a user behavior analysis tool that may surprise you with its capabilities if you haven’t researched such tools yet.

It can show you recordings of what your website visitors do on your website or heatmaps of what they click on the most. Yes, it adheres to data protection and privacy regulations like GDPR.

Favorite use case: Analyzing leaks in your marketing funnel

A marketing funnel is a system designed to attract and convert customers (or clients).

Funnel with four sections. From top to bottom (Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Conversion)

As you can see in the diagram above, the funnel gets narrower the further you go. Well, duh, that’s what funnels look like.

In marketing, this means that what you put into the funnel at the beginning (people aware of your brand) is always a much, much bigger sample than what you get at the end (customers). Many marketing objectives revolve around minimizing the drop-off between different stages of the funnel.

Smartlook can help you with this on your website. It tracks what it takes for each visitor to convert and shows you recordings of those who dropped off in the process:

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You can analyze the recordings of those visitors who dropped off, look for patterns, and optimize your website based on that.

Pricing

Monthly plans start from $39. There’s a free tier that allows you to record 1,500 sessions per month.

Website design and copywriting convey tons of information. They’re also constantly in development, being tested, and changing.

And whether you admit it or not, every website takes a bit (or a lot) of inspiration from competitors and other websites in the industry. So you need to know what’s going on in this area.

Visualping is a tool that keeps track of changes on any webpage. You plug in a competitor’s URL, set up alerts, and will be updated on any website changes.

Favorite use case: Getting inspired by UX and CRO tweaks on competitors’ websites

I’ve made a lot of decisions based on website monitoring. Generally, the most common use case for any marketer is getting inspired by how your competitors try to squeeze more out of every visitor to their website.

In other words, we’re looking for user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) tweaks that we can adopt on our website without having to do all the research and A/B testing.

All you need to do is to set up the tracking of your competitors’ websites, and you’ll get alerted whenever there is any noteworthy change. For this use, it’s enough to set up the checking frequency to occur daily or even weekly.

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You can also opt in for “any change” or “tiny changes,” as those tweaks can range from small changes in copy to just changing CTA button positions and colors:

AWT page on left; on right, options to customize monitoring frequency of AWT's page

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t blindly copy whatever your competitors do and should always vet the ideas.

Pricing

Monthly plans start from $10 when you subscribe for a year. There’s a free tier that allows you to perform 150 checks per month.

This doesn’t need any introduction. We all use Google every day. It has the largest index of webpages on the planet and arguably the best search algorithm.

But marketers aren’t often utilizing its potential for their day-to-day work. It’s a great tool to find link building prospects but is even better for maximizing the power of internal linking on your website.

Favorite use case: Finding internal link opportunities after publishing new content

Every website has internal links (one page pointing to another on the same domain), but many sites neglect the power and impact they can have on SEO. Adding internal links to your newly published content can make Google discover and index it faster and, what’s more important, rank it on the SERPs.

To do this with the help of Google, we’ll have to use search operators, i.e., commands that help you refine and filter search engine results. It’s easy. All we need here is the site: operator that only shows you results from a certain domain (or a part of it) and “search term” for exact matches of the query.

Here’s what it would look like if I were working on updating internal links pointing to this exact article:

Site operator used to find term "digital marketing tools" on Ahrefs' blog

As you can see, I get three results this way. I’m sure there are more opportunities than these, as I’m only using the exact match of the main keyword I’m targeting here. Let’s broaden the results using the OR search operator:

OR search operator used to find terms "digital marketing tools" and "online marketing tools" on Ahrefs' blog

That’s much better. We’ll just have to decide when to link to which article, as we also wrote an “online marketing tools” article in the past. It’s a similar topic, so overlaps are expected.

Pricing

It “only” costs you your data. 🙂 Oh, and one more thing. As the rest of the article is focused on free Google products, I’ll leave out the “pricing” section from now on.

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Google Forms is a useful, free tool for creating survey questions and distributing and analyzing your survey results.

Favorite use case: Conducting a simple market research

OK, let’s face it. Google Forms likely doesn’t have another use case in marketing. But it’s a really handy tool, given the importance of market research.

To make it work, you need a sizable audience whom you can distribute the survey to. Ideally, you can distribute via email, but social media can be used too.

Creating good surveys that provide the data you’re looking for can sometimes be tricky, but you shouldn’t try to do any rocket science here.

Below is an example of a recent survey we sent to our email subscribers:

Ahrefs' Digest survey on Google Forms

And this is what one of the results looks like:

Pie chart showing most respondents (around 90%) want brief summaries of each Ahrefs blog article

This clearly answered our questions about the usefulness of our updated newsletter format.

Google Analytics (GA) is a free powerful tool where you can find tons of insights and information about your website traffic, conversions, audience, etc.

However, using it properly and knowing what you should even want from it takes quite a bit of knowledge and experience.

If you haven’t used GA yet, the good news is that there’s a new version, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), that will soon replace the older GA most marketers of today are familiar with. You’ll be starting on a clean slate. (P.S. I tried to learn my way around GA4 recently and think this is actually an advantage.)

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Favorite use case: Analyzing conversion paths

Knowing which marketing channels led to your customer conversions is invaluable. GA4 took a massive step forward in the way it interprets and displays the data (learn more here if you’re feeling nerdy), so here’s how to get it.

Go to Advertising > Attribution > Conversion paths, select the conversion event you want to analyze, and check the impact of your traffic source of choice. Here are some details of organic search traffic:

Conversion paths showing details about organic search traffic

Google Search Console (GSC) is one of the most powerful free SEO tools out there. It’s no wonder, given it provides the most accurate data you can get about your website and search traffic straight from Google. Everyone with a website should have a GSC account.

You can use it to find and fix technical errors, submit sitemaps, see what you rank for, learn how much traffic your pages get, and more.

Favorite use case: Understanding Google through URL Inspection tool

Diagnosing technical SEO issues can be tricky sometimes. The URL Inspection tool provides information about the way Google sees a specific page on your website.

You can look up any of your pages using the address bar at the top of the GSC interface:

URL Inspection report results

You can click through all the tabs. Here’s a snippet of the information you get from the Coverage report:

Snippet of Coverage report showing information on crawls and indexing

PRO TIP

Once you get the hang of GSC, install the Search Analytics for Sheets add-on that allows you to easily export the data to your Google Sheets. GSC itself isn’t very suitable for any in-depth analyses, and it has various limitations. So this add-on is a great workaround without having to use the GSC API directly.

Recommended reading: How to Use Google Search Console to Improve SEO (Beginner’s Guide)

Spreadsheets are a daily tool for many marketers. Google Sheets is my choice, given it’s cloud-based and integrated with other Google apps. I’ve always loved digging into data and interpreting it, but I guess most colleagues don’t share my sentiment.

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Anyway…

Favorite use case: Gaining data insights from pivot tables

The official help page for pivot tables explains them perfectly: They help you summarize data, find patterns, and reorganize information. They’re especially useful when you have a bigger data set.

To create them, click on Insert > Pivot table, select the data you want to base the pivot table on, and then reorganize the data to your liking.

For example, here’s one of my latest uses of pivot tables for my Wirecutter SEO case study. I needed to have a simplified view of a bigger dataset with some filters applied to it:

Example of pivot table in a Google Sheet on left; pivot table editor on right

Creating reports can be a repetitive and time-consuming task. This calls for automation, and Google Data Studio (GDS) is here to help with that.

Creating reports in GDS is based on pulling data through connectors of the data sources. At the time of writing, there are 610 different connectors, so the reporting capabilities here are huge.

Favorite use case: Combining multiple data sources

The main use case is also my favorite one. You can combine data from most, if not all, of your marketing platforms into one neat report that gets updated with fresh numbers (or based on whatever time frame you choose).

Here’s an example of me putting together data from GSC and Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker into one report:

Data on the Ahrefs blog from GSC and Ahrefs' Rank Tracker, respectively, pulled onto one report

These are the basics of GDS. Once you get comfortable creating such reports, you can try to do more fancy stuff like blending data from different sources or whatever else pleases your reporting desires and needs.

Final thoughts

Is this it? The complete list of tools you’ll ever need to do digital marketing? Well, no. But it will cover a huge percentage of your potential needs.

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That being said, there are digital marketing disciplines I’ve never been involved in much, such as organic social media or anything related to design. So, really, I can only recommend using MeetEdgar as a social media scheduling tool and Canva as a foolproof design tool based on the experience of my colleagues and friends.

Got any questions? Ping me on Twitter.



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How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views)

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How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views)

Creating and selling educational courses can be a lucrative business. But if you already have a product to sell, you can actually use courses as a marketing tool.

Back in 2017, about two years after joining Ahrefs, I decided to create a course on content marketing.

I had a very clear understanding of how an educational course would help me promote Ahrefs.

  • People like courses – Folks like Brian Dean and Glen Allsopp were selling theirs for $500 to $2,000 a pop (and rather successfully). So a free course of comparable quality was sure to get attention.
  • Courses allow for a deeper connection – You would basically be spending a few hours one on one with your students. And if you managed to win their trust, you’d get an opportunity to promote your product to them.

That was my raw thought process going into this venture.

And I absolutely didn’t expect that the lifespan of my course would be as interesting and nuanced as it turned out to be.

The lessons of my course have generated over 500K+ in total views, brought in mid-five-figures in revenue (without even trying), and turned out to be a very helpful resource for our various marketing purposes.

So here goes the story of my “Blogging for Business” course.

1. The creation

I won’t give you any tips on how to create a successful course (well, maybe just one). There are plenty of resources (courses?) on that topic already.

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All I want to say is that my own experience was quite grueling.

The 10 lessons of my course span some 40K words. I have never attempted the feat of writing a book, but I imagine creating such a lengthy course is as close as it gets.

Scripts of the course in Google Docs.

I spent a tremendous amount of time polishing each lesson. The course was going to be free, so it was critical that my content was riveting. If not, people would just bounce from it.

Paid courses are quite different in that sense. You pay money to watch them. So even if the content is boring at times, you’ll persevere anyway to ensure a return on your investment.

When I showed the draft version of the course to my friend, Ali Mese, he gave me a simple yet invaluable tip: “Break your lessons into smaller ones. Make each just three to four minutes long.”

How did I not think of this myself? 

Short, “snackable” lessons provide a better sense of completion and progress. You’re also more likely to finish a short lesson without getting distracted by something. 

I’m pretty sure that it is because of this simple tip that my course landed this Netflix comparison (i.e., best compliment ever):

2. The strategy

With the prices of similar courses ranging from $500 to $2,000, it was really tempting to make some profit with ours.

I think we had around 15,000 paying customers at Ahrefs at that time (and many more on the free plan). So if just 1% of them bought that course for $1K, that would be an easy $150K to pocket. And then we could keep upselling it to our future customers.

Alternatively, we thought about giving access to the course to our paying customers only. 

This might have boosted our sales, since the course was a cool addition to the Ahrefs subscription. 

And it could also improve user retention. The course was a great training resource for new employees, which our customers would lose access to if they canceled their Ahrefs subscription.

And yet, releasing it for free as a lead acquisition and lead nurturing play seemed to make a lot more sense than the other two options. So we stuck to that.

3. The waitlist

Teasing something to people before you let them get it seems like one of the fundamental rules of marketing.

  • Apple announces new products way before they’re available in stores. 
  • Movie studios publish trailers of upcoming movies months (sometimes years) before they hit the theaters. 
  • When you have a surprise for your significant other (or your kids), you can’t help but give them some hints before the reveal.

There’s something about “the wait” and the anticipation that we humans just love to experience.

So while I was toiling away and putting lessons of my course together, we launched a landing page to announce it and collect people’s emails.

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The landing page of the course.

In case someone hesitated to leave their email, we had two cool bonuses to nudge them:

  1. Access to the private Slack community
  2. Free two-week trial of Ahrefs

The latter appealed to freebie lovers so much that it soon “leaked” to Reddit and BlackHatWorld. In hindsight, this leak was actually a nice (unplanned) promo for the course.

4. The promotion

I don’t remember our exact promotion strategy. But I’m pretty sure it went something like this:

I also added a little “sharing loop” to the welcome email. I asked people to tell their friends about the course, justifying it with the fact that taking the course with others was more fun than doing it alone.

Welcome email with a "sharing loop."

I have no idea how effective that “growth hack” was, but there was no reason not to encourage sharing.

In total, we managed to get some 16,000 people on our waitlist by the day of the course launch.

5. The launch

On a set date, the following email went out to our waitlist:

Course launch email.

Did you notice the “note” saying that the videos were only available for free for 30 days? We did that to nudge people to watch them as soon as possible and not save them to the “Watch later” folder.

In retrospect, I wish we had used this angle from the very beginning: “FREE for 30 days. Then $799.”

This would’ve killed two birds with one stone: 

  1. Added an urgency to complete the course as soon as possible
  2. Made the course more desirable by assigning a specific (and rather high) monetary value to it

(If only we could be as smart about predicting the future as we are about reflecting on the past.) 

Once it was live, the course started to promote itself. I was seeing many super flattering tweets:

We then took the most prominent of those tweets and featured them on the course landing page for some social proof. (They’re still there, by the way.)

6. The paywall

Once the 30 days of free access ran out, we added a $799 paywall. And it didn’t take long for the first sale to arrive:

This early luck didn’t push us to focus on selling this course, though. We didn’t invest any effort into promoting it. It was just sitting passively in our Academy with a $799 price tag, and that was it.

And yet, despite the lack of promotion, that course was generating 8-10 sales every month—which were mostly coming from word of mouth.

A comment in TrafficThinkTank.
Eric Siu giving a shout-out about my course in TTT Slack.

Thanks to its hefty price, my course soon appeared on some popular websites with pirated courses. And we were actually glad that it did. Because that meant more people would learn about our content and product.

Then some people who were “late to the party” started asking me if I was ever going to reopen the course for free again. This actually seemed like a perfectly reasonable strategy at the time:

7. The giveaways

That $799 price tag also turned my free course into a pretty useful marketing tool. It was a perfect gift for all sorts of giveaways on Twitter, on podcasts, during live talks, and so on.

Giving away the course during a live talk.
Me giving away the course during a live talk.

And whenever we partnered with someone, they were super happy to get a few licenses of the course, which they could give out to their audience.

8. The relaunch

Despite my original plan to update and relaunch this course once a year, I got buried under other work and didn’t manage to find time for it.

And then the pandemic hit. 

That’s when we noticed a cool trend. Many companies were providing free access to their premium educational materials. This was done to support the “stay at home” narrative and help people learn new skills.

I think it was SQ who suggested that we should jump on that train with my “Blogging for Business” course. And so we did:

We couldn’t have hoped for a better timing for that relaunch. The buzz was absolutely insane. The announcement tweet alone has generated a staggering 278K+ impressions (not without some paid boosts, of course).

The statistics of the course announcement tweet.

We also went ahead and reposted that course on ProductHunt once again (because why not?).

All in all, that relaunch turned out to be even more successful than the original launch itself. 

In the course of their lifespan on Wistia, the 40 video lessons of my course generated a total of 372K plays.

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Play count from Wistia.

And this isn’t even the end of it.

9. The launch on YouTube

Because the course was now free, it no longer made sense to host it at Wistia. So we uploaded all lessons to YouTube and made them public.

To date, the 41 videos of my course have generated about 187K views on YouTube.

"Blogging for Business" course playlist.

It’s fair to mention that we had around 200,000 subscribers on our channel at the time of publishing my course there. A brand-new channel with no existing subscribers will likely generate fewer views.

10. The relaunch on YouTube [coming soon]

Here’s an interesting observation that both Sam and I made at around the same time. 

Many people were publishing their courses on YouTube as a single video spanning a few hours rather than cutting them into individual lessons like we did. And those long videos were generating millions of views!

Like these two, ranking at the top for “learn Python course,” which have 33M and 27M views, respectively:

"Learn python course" search on YouTube.

So we decided to run a test with Sam’s “SEO for Beginners” course. It was originally published on YouTube as 14 standalone video lessons and generated a total of 140K views.

Well, the “single video” version of that same course has blown it out of the water with over 1M views as of today.

I’m sure you can already tell where I’m going with this.

We’re soon going to republish my “Blogging for Business” course on YouTube as a single video. And hopefully, it will perform just as well.

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The end

So that’s the story of my “Blogging for Business” course. From the very beginning, it was planned as a promotional tool for Ahrefs. And judging by its performance, I guess it fulfilled its purpose rather successfully.

A screenshot of a Slack message.

Don’t get me wrong, though. 

The fact that my course was conceived as a promotional tool doesn’t mean that I didn’t pour my heart and soul into it. It was a perfectly genuine and honest attempt to create a super useful educational resource for content marketing newbies.

And I’m still hoping to work on the 2.0 version of it someday. In the past four years, I have accrued quite a bit more content marketing knowledge that I’m keen to share with everyone. So follow me on Twitter, and stay tuned.



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