Want to increase your online marketing, focus & productivity? These programs and apps are our list of essentials for small business owners!
(First published in 2015 and substantially rewritten)
We are suckers for productivity hacks. Show us some technology that will shave a few minutes off something that we have to do, and we will be downloading and logging in almost as fast as our sprint to our coffee machine for our first coffee of the day.
Here are 26 of the programs our team couldn’t live without. Some are web apps, some are programs, some are extensions and some have smartphone apps to go with them. All are budget friendly (most have free options), and are perfect for small businesses.
Content Marketing Apps
1. Buffer – Free/Paid | Web/App
One of the top reasons people unfollow/unlike a business on social media is that they share updates in intense bursts. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Twenty things all once. Nothing.
Buffer solves the problem by spacing out your updates throughout the day. By scheduling the updates you avoid the whole feast vs famine problem. And the best bit? By paying for the Feedly integration you can Buffer your posts directly from within Feedly. What that means is you put things into Buffer as you read without having to do a two-step shuffle with your browser.
In most cases, the free Buffer plan works for the casual user. If you manage a number of social media accounts or want to Buffer to Pinterest, then the paid plan is worth its weight in coffee beans. The paid plan also allows you unlimited updates which means you can schedule your blog reading/social media updates once a week/fortnight and create a solid social media presence over the whole week.
Want to get started with Buffer? Our beginner’s guide to Buffer makes it easy!
2. Feedly – Free/Paid | Web/App
If you read more than one blog, rather than trying to remember to go back to see if they have published something new, you can gather the RSS feeds from each blog into Feedly.
Sort blogs feeds into your own folders as you add them into Feedly, and never be stuck for something to read ever again. It is like your own personal newspaper.
This app can save you hours each week. You can read the headline and the first few sentences of each blog and then work out if you want to read the article in depth. Feedly also plays nicely with Buffer.
3. Keyword tools – Free/Paid | Web/Program
Keywords are not dead in the world of content marketing. You still need to use the words that work in your content. Finding the right keywords is still a bit of an art form, and is getting trickier by the day as Google throttles access to keyword data. Some of the tools we use are, Keywords Everywhere (Paid), Google Adwords (Free to set up) and my trusty Market Samurai (Paid).
4. BuzzSumo – Free/Paid | Web
If you want to know what content is working around the web, then this is a first-rate place to start. Type in a term and you will be shown the top performing content on that topic over different time periods. You can see how also many shares a particular piece of content had on different platforms. Why do it? If you find a topic has loads of shares, then it is a hot topic and likely something that your clients may also be interested in. Sort of like a digital version of a crystal ball.
5. Google Trends – Free | Web
Are terms increasing or decreasing in popularity over time? What are the top trending stories from around the world? Tap into the power of Google and track how many searches are happening for your industry over time.
For example, type in the term “small business” and you will notice this interesting trend. I am sure a clever journalist could turn this image into a story about how small business is dying.
6. Small PDF – Free/Paid | Web
Have a Word document and want to convert it to a PDF? Or PDF to Word? Want to split your PDF or compress it so it isn’t as large a file?
If your budget doesn’t stretch to the Adobe diamond encrusted suite of products, there are loads of converters out there. The only problem is that not all of them convert nicely with clickable hyperlinks in them.
This becomes an issue when you create a fabulous ebook in Word, with lovely hyperlinks in the document to take people to your site or other locations. You pop it into most PDF converters, and you will find the hyperlink doesn’t show up or doesn’t work from within the pdf.
Smallpdf is our go to for all things PDF related. It’s a fabulous tool that works brilliantly out of the box.
7. Bitly – Free/Paid | Web
Want to know how many people clicked on a web link? Need to shorten a web URL to fit into Twitter? Bitly is the leading link shortener on the market. It takes your long link and makes it short and snappy. Paid Bitly options allow to brand your short links for even more marketing oomph.
8. Thesarus.com – Free
Stuck for a synonym? Looking for a word that rhymes with …? Need a word that means the opposite of the one you are using? Thesarus.com is a user-friendly online Thesaurus that gives dynamite alternatives. We flick between using Thesaurus.com and Word Hippo but can’t beat the orginal and the best, Thesarus.com.
9.GrammarlyAffiliate link: Which means if you purchase anything I will receive a small commission. Thanks for your support. – Free /Paid | Web/App/Integration
Grammarly is a freemium app that helps prevent embarrassing spelling and grammar mistakes in real time. Available on multiple platforms including web, app and integration with Microsoft Office, it’s a spell checker on steroids that ensures that you’ll never make a spelling or grammar error on your social media posts again.
Want to test out Grammarly? Our Beginner’s Guide to Grammarly makes it easy!
10. Unsuck It – Free | Web
Business jargon can be a nightmare to decode if you aren’t in the know. Unsuck it is here to save the day and brighten your mood at the same time. A free programming tool that translates any jargon inputted into simple to understand terminology with a snarky twist.
For example, when the term “Freemium” is inputted, the definition that comes out is “Positioning a product or service as free but holding back the useful stuff until the customer pays up. An adaptation allowing an internet-based business to survive an extremely harsh business environment. Extortion.”
The humorous twist to the definition makes it more entertaining to read while still getting the point of the phrase across to the reader.
So, if you are looking for assistance in decoding an email full of jargon, looking for a new way to describe a co-worker, or just looking for a way to entertain yourself give Unsuck It a go.
11. Portent – Free | Web
Lack of content giving you trouble, but you just don’t know what to write about? Portent is here to help inspire you. By typing in a subject, you are given a suggested blog post title alongside a few helpful tips to assist you with the writing process.
For example, by typing in Marketing, we were given the title “How to start using marketing” as well as some pieces of advice to help your writing including:
- Create a simple guide that makes the reader’s life easier and you’ll have an audience for it.
- Getting started can be the hardest part. Try starting from the middle out.
- Don’t write bored. It’s impossible to edit that feeling out.
Both the title and the advice help give you inspiration towards writing your next content piece. And if they don’t inspire you the first time around just hit the arrow next to the keyword to get a new title until you find one that works for you.
12. SlideShare – Free | Web
One of the best ways to maximise your content is to repurpose it for other platforms. SlideShare is the Youtube of slideshows and is much loved by Google with over 60 million views a month.
SlideShare was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012 and was originally started as a way for businesses to share slideshow presentations among employees. It’s now used to share slideshow presentations globally and is a key source for information on practically any business related topic.
Turn your blog posts and other content into a SlideShare presentation, and drive extra traffic back to your website or your LinkedIn profile.
Want to test out SlideShare as part of your content marketing strategy? Check out our handy Beginner’s Guide to Slideshare.
Social Media Apps
13. Hashtagify.me – Free | Web
Need to know the best hashtag to use in a social media share? Want to know which hashtag is more popular #1 or #2? Hashtagify tells you the top 10 hashtags around a particular tag you are interested in, and gives you details of popularity of a particular term, as well showing you the most recent uses of the term. Very handy way to make sure that you are not using a tag that has been taken over for nefarious purposes or has turned into a bit of a joke.
Quickpin – Free | Extension
This is a cool Chrome extension. If you are into Pinterest you know that the standard Pinterest Chrome extension does not allow you to pin from Facebook to your boards.
15. Facebook Debugger – Free | Web
If you are having trouble with Facebook not pulling the correct pictures from your website, Facebook Debugger is your first point of call to troubleshoot.
In the Sharing Debugger tab on the homepage, paste the URL of the page that isn’t working and click Debug. From there you will see a preview of what the page looks like when shared
To fix an image problem go to the Time Scraped line and click recrawl. This will make Facebook go back over your page and update it with any changes you have made to it, ensuring that the view is current.
This is a useful first step and a simple fix for most Facebook-related website sharing problems. If this doesn’t fix the issue though there may be an issue on the website’s end that needs to be fixed instead.
16. Lumen 5 – Free/Paid |Web
Video is the future of social media but getting in front of the camera is a scary thing to most people. But there is a way to help you get into the video market without appearing on film at all. Lumen 5 is a relatively new startup that takes a content piece that you have already published online, pulls it apart to get the key points out and turns it into a set of slides with related images to make them look pretty.
From there you can change the text, the images and even the music, before adding your branding to the end card and publishing the video. Lumen 5 automatically optimises the video to maximise engagement for your audience while still making sure that it’s long enough to get your point across.
Depending on how much you want to change the process can take as little as 5 minutes to complete. We use Lumen 5 with our blog post videos, and we have seen a spike in engagement and clickthrough’s to the base articles after publishing every video.
Graphic Design Apps
17. CanvaAffiliate link: Which means if you purchase anything I will receive a small commission. Thanks for your support. – Free/Paid | Web/App
This is our hands down, favourite program of the past decade. It has a user-friendly design, which is why we use it a few times each day to quickly create things. Visuals are a core part of content marketing, and being able to quickly create stunning visuals in minutes is a game changer. If you need graphic design in a hurry, then Canva is an essential tool. Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Canva for tips on how to get started.
18. Pictaculous – Free | Web
We admit it. Some of our team are colour challenged and their ability to put colours together is on par with their ability to cook (Instant Noodles anyone?) With Pictaculous, you upload an image and the colour elves get to work and give you a range of different palette options to play with. Makes it look like you have a decent interior designer on tap.
19. ColorZilla – Free | Extension
If you have ever struggled to match a particular colour from a photo or a website, this free extension for Chrome and Firefox is the answer. It is simply a colour picker, so you just hover the eyedropper over the colour you want to know the code for, click the dropper and the colour is saved to your colour clipboard. It tells you RGB and Hex. Brilliant if you are doing something in CanvaAffiliate link: Which means if you purchase anything I will receive a small commission. Thanks for your support. and want to get the colour just right.
20. Compressor.io – Free | Web
Did you know that websites become slow when they are filled with dozens of images that are uncompressed? Image compression is a key part of an effective website. It takes more time to load an uncompressed image which has full resolution, than it does to load a compressed image, so it slows down the websites speed.
By running all your images through a photo compressor before they get uploaded to your website, it reduces the impact on your website’s speed. Compressor.io is free to use program which can reduce the size of an image by up to 90%, and compress 4 different types of photos (jpeg, png, gif and sfg) making it the perfect all-rounder for your compression needs.
21. [email protected] – Free/Paid | Web/App
Brain hacks are some of my favourites to explore. As a copywriter, I need to be able to switch into clear focussed mode at the drop of a pencil. That’s where [email protected] comes in.
This is music scientifically designed to move your brain patterns into focus mode. There are special options you can choose if you have ADHD (which my teenagers seem to like). There is not a whale noise amongst any of the [email protected] music options. All I can say is this really works for me and [email protected] is my permanent working backing track.
Web Essential Apps
22. Gravatar – Free | Web
Have you wondered why some people have a photo that seems to follow them around the web? Gravatars are the secret. Set up your own Gravatar and you too will be seen everywhere you go. Want to know how to set up your Gravatar? Our Beginner’s Guide to Gravatar will walk you through it.
23. Breach Alarm: Should I Change My Password – Free/Paid | Web
How would you cope if your personal details were hacked? Over 87,000 passwords per day are stolen around the web. Breach alarm offers a free service to notify you if your details are amongst those released on the web. Breach Alarm won’t stop you being hacked – but at least it will tell you if your details are on the web so you can take action and change your passwords.
24. Google Alerts – Free | Web
While we are on monitoring, would it help if every time someone mentioned your name or your business name somewhere around the net you got a notification? Why do that? So you can pop in and thank, correct, respond or highlight it. Enter Google Alerts. This is a free service from Google and you can set up alerts for a whole raft of possibilities from brand mentions through to tracking hot topics. It is very easy to set up and I have alerts set up for my core details on the net. Every business needs to set up core Google Alerts to keep across their business presence online. How does it work? Recently some cherub set up a fake Twitter account using my name and brand. I was alerted to the account within hours of it being set up. I got onto Twitter and had it closed down ASAP. Without the alert I wouldn’t have been any the wiser and it could have gone on to cause some damage to my brand.
25. Dropbox – Free/Paid | Web/App
Backup your life to the cloud with Dropbox. Every one of my photos I have taken in my life; every client file I have created; all my graphic design images; all my website backups … pretty much everything digital about me lives in Dropbox. (The only things I don’t put in Dropbox are my financial files and passwords – but they are in other cloud programs.) The benefit is that I never have to stress about files going missing or worrying about what would happen if every computer in our business was stolen. There is always a backup in Dropbox. And yes, I also still do external hard drive backups just in case. Every business needs backups of their backups and Dropbox is the best in class. Our Beginner’s Guide to Dropbox will get you started.
26. Brokenlinkcheck.com – Free | Web
If you have had your website for more than a few months, chances are that there will be the odd broken link on your site.
A broken link happens when you have linked to a page (yours or someone else’s), and the page is moved or deleted without putting in a redirect so the computer knows where to find the new page.It can also happen if your web designer uses relative instead of absolute links to connect pages of your site together.
Broken links are like moving house with no forwarding address for your mail. Your letters pile up and go nowhere.
Dead hyperlinks on your website may seem harmless but they annoy the heck out of your potential clients. Once they start to build up, then Google starts to take notice, and assumes that you are no longer maintaining your website so drops you down in the rankings.
Many people recommend using a plugin to find broken links on your site. We don’t use or recommend them as they are incredibly resource intensive which slows your website down and can impact on your hosting. Instead, we recommended using Brokenlinkcheck via the web every few months. The free online checker not only tells you which of your hyperlinks are dead, but it also shows you what page those stale references can be found so you can correct them.
Bonus: The Wayback Machine – Free
One of the least known but most useful sites on the internet for seeing how websites looked at a specific point in time.