If you’re like me, you’re probably always seeing ads or reading about new tools to help grow your online business.
You probably end up testing way too many of them, or signing up for ones that you just don’t need.
To help you out, I’ve put together a list of the best tools I’ve found that have directly contributed to the growth of my business. These aren’t tools that are just nice to have, they are the ones that have been responsible for delivering measurable results for me.
I’ve split them into categories for you to make it a bit easier to follow. Enjoy!
Quick note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you end up deciding to purchase the tool, I do receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. That's not why I recommend them. I recommend them because I really do use and like each and every one of them.
Content Creation & Research
Struggling for content ideas? BuzzSumo has you covered!
BuzzSumo lets you enter a phrase/keyword or a URL and then it lists the most shared content relating to that topic or website.
So lets say you enter ‘online business tools’. BuzzSumo will then list the most shared content on the web for that topic. You can even see exactly how many times it was shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+.
If you’re ever struggling to come up with ideas for new content, give BuzzSumo a try. One of my favourite ways to use the tool is to find popular pieces of content and then go and create something better. I know that if people are interested in that topic and I can create something better than an already popular article there is a good chance my content will be successful.
SEMRush is my favourite tool for growing my business at the moment. It’s an awesome way to discover topics and keywords that my competitors are finding success with.
The tool has a lot of functions , but here’s a really simple way for you to use SEMrush right now (free):
- Head over to the site, enter the domain of one of your competitors & hit search
- You’ll see a section called ’Top organic keywords’. Under that section, click ‘View full report’
- Now you’ve got a list of keywords that are generating the most traffic for that website!
For each keyword you can see where that site ranks in Google, how many times the keyword is searched for each day, how difficult that keyword is to rank for (KD) and how much of that sites traffic comes from each keyword.
This is a great way to find hidden gems to focus your content on with the goal of ranking on the front page of Google.
Picking the right keyword is a whole new post in itself, but just remember you need to pick keywords that have high search volume and aren’t too hard to rank for. In this example you can see that Social Media Ranks no. 13 for ‘Pinterest’ and 14% of their search traffic comes from that keyword. Does that mean you should try to rank for the term ‘Pinterest’? Of course not! Unless you have a site that’s as popular as SME, you have no chance of competing for that keyword so skip it and move on.
Look for keywords that you think you might be able to rank for, and then do more research to find out if it’s a good idea.
I’ve only been using it for about 3 months, but SEMRush has already helped me:
- Discover a topic to create an infographic around that brought in over 150 new email subscribers and counting for a brand new blog, and also generated tons of high value backlinks
- Find 3 separate high traffic, low competition keywords. All I had to do then was create epic pieces of content for those keywords to get ranked on the front page of Google
- Find and fix errors on my sites affecting SEO
- Track keyword rankings
Thrive Content Builder (Landing Pages / Opt-in Pages / Sales Pages)
Every online business needs to create landing pages & sales pages at some point.
It’s possible to code them from scratch or use your Wordpress theme’s built in page builder, but those methods are usually difficult/expensive. A page builder lets you create landing / opt-in / sales pages quickly and easily, and with features like pricing tables, countdown timers, lead generation forms etc.
There are a ton of options out there that will get the job done, and I’ve used my fair share of them (LeadPages, Instapage, ClickFunnels, WP Profit Builder). But I eventually came across Thrive Content Builder (TCB) and have stuck with it ever since.
Here’s why I’m such a big fan of TCB:
1. It does everything I need it to and more – I haven’t found myself wanting for a single feature yet. And the benefit of using a WordPress plugin for your landing pages means that if something is missing it’s likely you can get it using an additional plugin.
2. One-time payment – Unlike a lot of page builders, you can get TCB for a single one-time payment rather than having to pay a monthly fee. I really like this model, and it’s insanely cheap compared to a lot of competitors.
3. Lots of great templates – The Thrive team have created a wide variety of templates for you to choose from, and they have just released the ‘Thrive Template Cloud’, an ever growing collection of new, free templates for you to download and use.
4. Flexible page builder – The drag and drop page builder means your pages are fully customisable. It’s really easy to start with a template that’s close to what you want and then use the page builder to get it just right.
Thrive Leads (Lead Generation)
I’m sure you’ve seen websites with those pop-ups that ask you for your email address? What about opt-in forms at the end of blog posts, or those forms you see in the sidebar?
Those are all made possible by a list building tool. My favourite one is Thrive Leads, and here’s why it’s my go-to:
1. It’s got every opt-in type you’ll ever need, including opt-in boxes, pop-ups, exit intent pop-ups, sidebar widgets, 2-step, and even one-click email opt-ins.
2. It’s easy to use – Pick a template, use the drag and drop builder to customise it, and connect up with your ESP. That simple.
3. One-time pricing – Just like TCB, Thrive Leads can be had for a single one-time payment rather than ongoing monthly fees.
You might have seen this opt-in popup on my home page. That’s done with Thrive Leads:
Active Campaign (Email Service Provider)
If you’re collecting email addresses, you need somewhere to store them. That’s where an email service provider (ESP) comes in.
Your ESP will also handle your automated email sequences (autoresponders), which is really important as you start to grow.
Sure there are free options out there (Mailchimp), but personally I don’t recommend them. I’ve used a few different ESP’s and finally landed on Active Campaign and never looked back.
The important thing is to choose an ESP that will be able to meet your needs now AND in the future. Sure, most of them will be fine for you now, but eventually your business will grow and evolve. Changing to a new ESP isn’t easy. It’s actually a massive pain in the ass, and the more forms & automations you have, the more difficult it is.
Here are a few things to consider with an ESP:
- Automation – Can you set up automated email sequences? How robust is their automation solution? The best services (ActiveCampaign included) can trigger automations based on form submissions, tags being added / removed, link clicks, and even based on web pages they visit on your site.
- Deliverability – You don’t want your emails to end up in the spam folder. I won’t go into detail, but some ESP’s have a better deliverability rate (less emails end up in spam) than others. Pick an ESP with high deliverability.
- Ease of use – It’s easy to tell you to set up fancy autoresponders, but depending on the ESP you use it’s not always easy to implement them. I like AC because it’s got a powerful, but easy to use drag and drop automation builder.
- How do they count subscribers? Most ESP's bill based on subscriber numbers. But they don’t all count subscribers the same way. Some count the same subscriber twice if they are on 2 different lists. Personally I think that’s stupid. I’d recommend picking an ESP that counts a subscriber once no matter how many lists they are in (that’s how AC does it).
SumoMe offer a pretty incredible set of tools for your Wordpress site. And for beginners they are completely free until you build up a decent amount of traffic to your site.
Here’s what I use from the SumoMe suite:
- Heat Maps – See where your visitors are clicking on your web pages. This is a great tool for helping you understand how people are using your site and what is most popular across your various pages.
- Content Analytics – This lets you see how for down users scrolled on your blog posts. Tells you how far down the average user read and shows you how many people read to certain points. Great if you’re working on improving your content to keep people engaged for longer.
Super Simple Webinars
Webinars are easily one of the most effective ways to sell your products or services. With a webinar (or online workshop, video conference, online seminar), you live stream a video presentation to your audience, and they can interact with you via a chat interface.
At some point in your business you’re going to want to start hosting webinars, and every person you talk to will have different advice on which platform / tools to use.
The platform you choose should depend on you individual business needs and how you plan to use webinars.
There are some big name solutions out there that are very robust, but they can be very expensive. If you’re just getting started with webinars, these solutions are probably going to be overkill for you.
The good news is there is a free solution from Google called Hangouts on Air (HoA) that’s perfect for beginners and more experienced, larger businesses as well.
HoA can be a bit confusing and difficult to use. Fortunately the WebinarAlly WordPress plugin makes your life a bit easier in this respect.
WebinarAlly is a low cost plugin that lets you easily embed a HoA onto any page on your website. In a couple of clicks you can create and embed the webinar, and then it just takes a click to go live when you want to start your webinar. You don’t need WebinarAlly to use HoA, but it saves a lot of time and headaches. For $27, I think it’s well worth it.
The other major component of a webinar is the chat box.
My favourite tool for embedding live chat on my webinar pages is ChatWing. It’s free for the base level, which is all most people will need.
There’s not much more to say really. Quick & easy to embed a chat box on your webinar broadcast page, and it’s free.
Creating Visual Content
Finally, I want to mention Piktochart. It’s an awesome tool for creating really nice infographics, presentations, posters and reports.
You can pay thousands of dollars to have an infographic professionally designed, but for a lot of people that’s just not practical. Piktochart is about $29/month, so it’s a much more affordable option.
They also have a ton of really nice templates, so you’re not starting every infographic from scratch.
I mentioned above how I created an infographic that brought in 150 new subscribers and a flood of traffic to my new blog. Well I created that infographic using Piktochart!
I’ve even started using it to create charts and diagrams to display data in my blog posts. Honestly, it’s up there with SEMRush fighting for the position of my favourite business tool at the moment.
That's it. My favourite tools that are helping me grow my online business right now.
Know of any others that you think I should check out?
Let me know in the comments below!