Five Free Tools That Every Business Should Be Using this Holiday Season

No matter how much your Internet marketing budget is, there’s always a price that everyone can afford: free! That’s why, for this holiday season, you shouldn’t pass up these helpful free tools to help you boost your website’s traffic. Here are some tools that every business should be using for the upcoming holiday season.

1. Google

Aside from the fact that Google can help you find whatever you’re looking for, they also have a lot of free tools that can help businesses promote their website better.

Analytics

The first step towards search engine optimization is to be able to find out how well your site is doing. Though there are several different types of analytics software, Google Analytics is not only free, it also has an easy-to-use interface. Not only that, it gives rich graphical depictions of your site’s traffic as well as important data, like where your site’s users are visiting your site from.

Website Optimizer

Website Optimizer is Google’s free website testing and optimization tool which allows you to conduct A/B and multivariate testing without having to install any software or setup a lot of confusing code. It takes a few minutes to launch (though you’ll probably spend more time doing homework on this tool) but in the end, you’ll have easy-to-understand reports that can help you find out what changes will improve your site’s user experience. Always keep the user experience at the top of your list along with driving traffic and scoring conversions.

Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools helps give you some insight to important issues with your site, including your site’s crawlability and who is linking to your site. A simple misplacement of a “/” in a robots.txt file can cause indexation problems, but you can create a robots.txt file using the “Crawler Access” feature of WMT. You can also submit your sitemap to Google so they can index your site.

AdWords Keyword Tool

Let’s say you offer a lot of different products or services and you aren’t sure which ones are being searched for the most. You can try a “shooting in the dark” approach and potentially waste precious time and money on optimizing your site for random keywords, or you can find out what keywords are being searched for the most by utilizing the data provided by Google AdWords. Perhaps the most common question about using this approach is: “Isn’t that just Paid Search data?” Technically, because it is being used for a paid tool (AdWords), it is—BUT, this data is being provided to give advertisers clearer information regarding the keywords they are bidding on. Google’s obligation to provide this data to advertisers is helpful for non-paid users. Though you should always take some of the data with a hint of salt, it is a good tool to help you narrow down some traffic-generating keywords that you may not have considered. Keep in mind these three things though:

  1. 1. Use exact match – broad match will contain the estimated search volume for keywords that contain variations of your keyword and might skew the numbers a bit. Here’s an article about Broad Match vs. Exact Match.
  2. 2. Search volume isn’t exact – the search volume doesn’t necessarily equate to the number of people searching for that term. It DOES help you see which keywords are searched for more relative to other keywords.
  3. 3. Don’t forget the two C’s: Competition & Conversion – even if a keyword has a lot of search volume, that doesn’t make it the best keyword target. You want to keep in mind that you will not only have to compete with other sites for the same keyword (some more than others) but you also want to focus on the keywords that drive the most conversions, which is dubbed Conversion Optimization. This is where rankings and good ol’ analytics data can help, but keep in mind that Google will no longer be reporting keywords for logged-in users.

Insights

What good is optimizing your site for any keyword if its only going to help you for one season out of the year? You can use AdWords to pull the average search volume but that doesn’t necessarily give you a good idea as to WHEN that keyword is being searched for the most. Seasonality affects some businesses more than others, and if you want to see when is the best time to be optimizing certain keywords, Insights can help. You can narrow down the report to Country, State and even Metropolitan areas. What’s more is that at the very bottom, it provides a list of some other related keywords as well.

YouTube

If you offer a product that has many uses, showcase it! Case in point: look at the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. If you didn’t know better, you’d probably think that it was only for the kitchen and bathroom. Not so! The great thing about YouTube is that you can showcase your product by having everyday people come up with creative uses – who then video tape it for you! It doesn’t stop there: videos can help supplement user manuals for customers who are more visually oriented, and it can also help you get some user generated content in the form of comments. It can also help you reach out to customers as a form of social media (the next tool on the list).

2. Social Media Sites

What would you do if you found out that a large percentage of your customers were spending time on the same street at the same time, every weekday? If you had the budget, you’d probably consider posting an ad on a billboard or put up a sign of some sort on that street, right? While you could eat up your marketing budget towards that effort, you could decide to take the free street by reaching out to your customers through social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. If you wish to go the paid route, you can also hire someone to help you with social media marketing, too. In the end, if your customers like what you offer, whether it’s a product or service, reaching out to them through social networking sites will not only help with customer retention and building brand awareness, it also gives you more exposure to each of your customer’s followers and friends. Here are some of the more popular social networking/sharing sites:

3. QR Codes

I can hear the scoffs now. OK, so this technically isn’t something that you put ON your website, but it can help boost your website’s traffic nonetheless. Have you noticed lately that more and more businesses, especially national retailers and restaurant chains have been including these intersting little graphics on printed materials, flyers and signs?

The QR code (which stands for "Quick Response") is simple: don’t bother your customers with having to memorize your site’s URL, or remember what your handle is on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn—just let them scan the QR code with their smart phone (that has a QR code reader app installed) and voila! They’re on your site, or if you’d prefer, you can create one to direct your customers to your social networking profile (whatever that might be). Test it out on the QR code to the right (but be warned, it can be a lot of fun playing around with this). Here’s a QR scanner for iPhones.

Just remember, always use in moderation, or in this case, probably just limit yourself to one QR code. That is, of course, unless you wish to track the effectiveness of your printed media by creating separate QR codes with tracking codes that Google Analytics can pick up. Warning: only use this strategy if is worth your time doing the extra work, otherwise, it’s going to end up costing you in the long run. You can use a free QR code generator like GoQR.me.

4. Feedback Forms

Communication is a two-way street and every business benefits from hearing feedback from their customers. This, not suprisingly, also applies to websites. However, pop-up windows with surveys are annoying and sending an email to customersupport@website.com is time consuming for your site’s users. Make it easy for your users to let you know about their opinions by creating free forms for your site at Freedback or Wufoo. Not a web development expert? That’s okay. These tools are pretty easy to use and require little to no coding.

Was your checkout process long and complicated? Did your site’s visitors have to create an account to make a purchase? All of these things are important to know because these can hurt your conversion rate. Are your  visitors experiencing problems loading certain pages? Are some pages buried too deeply to get to within 3 clicks? This can hint to site architecture issues that could be frustrating your visitors, too. Be good to your users and make their experience on your site as frustration-free as possible. In the end, this may help you one-up your competition.

Of course, the whole purpose of optimizing your website is to build on its strengths whilst not wasting your efforts in fruitless labors. Getting feedback from your site’s users can help you get useful information by using your visitors as a free R&D department. Find out what your users like and what they don’t like, and start testing out those changes. You might be surprised with the results. However, you might also want to know a little bit about user behavior from the visitors that aren’t filling out your form(s), which brings me to the final tools in this list…

5. Heat Mapping

It’s important that I point out that there are different types of heat mapping software that track two actions: clicks and eye movement/attention. Eye tracking is just as insightful on your site as it is your overall search engine optimization since placement of listings can also influence user behavior.

For example, in a study conducted to track Google users’ attention on SERPs (search engine results pages), not surprisingly, most users’ eyes wandered to listings that were above the fold, and more specifically on listings that were accompanied by graphics, whether they were Places icons, video screenshots, or product images. This sort of data shows the importance of optimizing not only your images, but your Google Places account, YouTube videos, and Shopping Feeds. You can use software by Attention Wizard to track the attention of users on your site, but you will have to pay for it.

However, the next-best-thing (sort of) is a free software that tracks clicks on your website. Click Heat is an open-source software that was released under the GPL license so it’s free to use, but be prepared to do a little more work on the backend of your site. If you aren’t really into diving into FTP or coding, Google’s Website Optimizer might be the better option for testing out effective site architecture and design changes.

Connect with Amanda Thomas on Google+

2 Comments

  1. Miguel

    There are SO many good tools out there! This was a great synopsis. Another thing that I like to do is look for startup’s blogs because they tend to "bootstrap" and almost always they blog about what cool new free tools and services that they are using and that helped them. Amanda, what is your twitter handle? I’d like to follow you, I love your posts, especially those about Excel!

  2. Amanda Thomas
    amanda

    Hi Miguel!

    Thanks for commenting and for bringing up a great point about startup blogs. It’s nice to read about how other people are finding creative approaches to improving efficiency while still providing value. I’ve just followed you on Twitter. If you really enjoy Excel-related tweets, I also recommend following Richard Baxter from SEO Gadget (@richardbaxter). He’s got a lot of helpful insights using Excel with search, and you can also visit his blog (http://seogadget.co.uk/author/Richard-Baxter/) too! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>