According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound report, 26 percent of teams say their biggest marketing challenge is identifying the right tools for their needs.
I’m surprised that number isn’t higher.
As a serial freelancer, I’ve worked with a lot of different teams (and experienced a lot of different marketing stacks) and I must say, the majority are either using tools for the wrong use cases, just hacking things together and/or simply have zero knowledge about the marketing tools landscape.
I understand why this happens.
There’s a million tools for every use case, so how the hell do you know which one is actually the best. It’s not like you can just stop, drop and test every single one of these tools.
That’s time consuming AF.
Another problem is you don’t know whose reviews to trust since a lot of influencers (and especially “review” sites, like Capterra and G2Crowd) will recommend a tool without even having used it, just to get the affiliate fee or ad revenue.
The good news is: I don’t feature ads on my site, and I’ve used A LOT of different marketing tools, so I’m here to help you make your marketing tools decision easier — hopefully.
In this post, I’ll list all the marketing tools I like, need and love, as a full-stack marketer and detail my reasoning behind each one.
Content Management System (CMS)
If you can edit your website in a dashboard without writing code, then you’re using a CMS to manage your site.
CMSs vary dramatically in features, functionality, ease of use, price and so on and so forth.
I made my first website in Wix. I’ve tested SquareSpace. And I’ve experienced Weebly, Joomla and Drupal.
There’s, without a doubt, a definitive winner in the CMS category, and I’m not the only one who thinks so…
Anyone who knows me knows I am extremely pro-WordPress.
I love WordPress because it puts the website — your biggest outward-facing marketing asset — in the hands of your marketers, who should be managing your website in the first place.
(If you need convincing, read this phenomenal, compelling piece on TechCrunch)
Not only is WordPress extremely user-friendly, but it’s also infinitely customizable and there’s a massive support community.
Need WordPress help? Jump in one of thousands of Slack groups, like Online Geniuses; visit the millions of WordPress blogs or the official codex; and/or hire one of the millions of experts on various freelance marketplaces.
WordPress is also an open-source project, which means it’s not going to get acquired by a conglomerate and disappear.
And these aren’t just self-hosted mommy blogs. There’s a long list of reputable, well-known, high-traffic websites using WordPress, such as TechCrunch, NY Times, Beyonce, Quartz, Bloomberg, Disney and Target — to just name a few.
Last but certainly not least, WordPress websites also look phenomenal, when you hire the right designer.
If you own a website, then you’ll need to get website hosting, which costs a monthly or annual fee. Fees can vary greatly depending on the provider you choose.
In the last seven years, I’ve used/tested:
- WP Engine
GoDaddy Managed WordPress Hosting
If you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of traffic or a big budget, I highly recommend GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress Hosting.
- 24/7 support (Chat and phone)
- Extremely affordable
- Very easy to install and setup WordPress
- Simple, user-friendly dashboard
I used GoDaddy when I was just getting started, and I had a phenomenal experience.
I remember crashing my site a few times, in the beginning, and every time, a native English speaking, super nice support rep quickly fixed whatever issue I was having at the time.
While I still use them for all of my domain purchases today, I no longer use them for hosting, because I wanted a larger hosting plan.
I’ve been using MediaTemple for around two years now, and I’m very happy. Here’s why:
- Phenomenal, easy, headache-free support (Chat, call)
- Value/Price (I get 10 site installs for $60/month)
- User-friendly backend
I don’t like WP Engine because the backend is a clusterfuck and its customer support doesn’t meet my expectations, both of which lead to me getting a migraine and therefore, cranky.
I do think you get a free SSL certificate with WP Engine though, which saves you an $80-$100 annual fee, but I’d rather pay for an SSL than have to deal with its dashboard on the reg. It’s also kind-of pricey.
Flywheel seems to be a very small team, and the support was just awful when I used it. (As you can see, support is very important to me because you’ll need support — trust me).
As for HostGator — don’t even get me started. There’s just so many reasons I hate it — two of which are: Support doesn’t respond for weeks, if ever, and the UI is TERRIBLE and confusing.
Lastly, Bluehost was just unmemorable to me.
One more resource
I experienced Kinsta for the first time last month, and I was very impressed with page speed, but it is on the higher end of the pricing spectrum and I have no idea what its backend looks like. Support seems good, but I have no direct experience using it myself.
I highly recommend buying a premium WordPress theme for your website.
A good theme will make your site look polished and professional as well as allow marketers to make updates to it, without hiring a developer every time they want to change something.
Selecting a good WordPress theme is overwhelming and difficult though because there are so many options and you don’t know what the backend is going to be like until you buy it.
I use the same four themes every time I build a website.
Artbees’ Jupiter theme is my go-to for quickly designing beautiful websites.
It’s smart to find a theme you like, and stick to it, because every theme has a bit of a learning curve. So if you use the same theme every time, you’ll get faster every time.
I like Jupiter because:
- It has phenomenal support.
- It allows me to create all different types of visually appealing websites.
- It’s easy to use.
- It’s constantly updated.
- It’s reputable, meaning it’s not going to disappear.
You can buy Jupiter on Themeforest for $59.
For blogs, I like three different themes, one of them being JNews.
JNews is good for more enterprise-y blogs, although I’m sure you could customize it to look less enterprise-y.
I found the theme easy to learn, but I’m not sure what support is like, because I didn’t need it when I was using this theme for a client.
You can buy JNews on Themeforest for $49.
15Zine is a hipper blog theme. I just used it to build this site. And I used to use it for my blog as well.
The theme author is great — very responsive to questions and comments posted on his Themeforest page.
The thing I don’t love about this theme is I found myself needing to do a lot of custom CSS to make it look the way I wanted.
You can buy 15Zine on Themeforest for $59.
Garage is another cool, easy-to-use blog theme, and I’m pretty sure it’s by the same author of 15Zine.
I found Garage a lot easier to use and more customizable, without having to use a lot of custom CSS, which is nice. There were just more features in this theme.
You can buy Garage on Themeforest for $59.
Themeforest isn’t a theme, but it is the best marketplace to find themes. If you don’t like my suggestions above, or need a different type of theme, check out Themeforest.
WordPress plugins add functionality to your website. There are a few staple plugins I always use. Here they are.
Yoast SEO is a free plugin that adds a section on the backend of every page/post, where you can add a meta title, meta description, custom slug and focus keyword for SEO purposes.
This plugin is free.
Easy Table of Contents
Easy Table of Contents is a free, regularly updated WordPress plugin that adds a simple table of contents on long blog posts.
While not the most visually appealing, it’s definitely the most functional plugin I’ve used for this purpose. And you can customize it to look prettier than it is out-of-the-box.
I use AddThis to add floating social share buttons to my blogs.
The plugin is smart too, in that it shows the social media sites that are most relevant to each visitor, as opposed to showing the same buttons to every visitor.
The plugin is free… for this feature anyway.
Convert Plus is the best pop-up plugin. It allows you to add beautiful, custom CTAs to your header, footer, in-line and as slide-ups at the bottom of your page/post.
And instead of a recurring monthly fee, it’s only $24 — one-time. You can’t beat that!
WP External Links
This free plugin forces all external links to open in new tab, without you having to manually do this for every link. Really nice feature for blogs!
Title Experiments Free
This free plugin allows you to test multiple headlines on blog posts.
Codecanyon is the sister site to Themeforest. It’s the premium plugin marketplace.
I highly recommend Shopify for those looking to build an ecommerce site because it is the leader in the space, and it integrates with everything.
For example, if you wanted to start a dropshipping store, you could integrate with Oberlo in one-click.
Oberlo offers you a massive range of products you can dropship from Alibaba, and because it’s connected your store, you never have to update inventory.
The small downside of Shopify is its monthly fee, but you’d have to pay that in hosting anyway.
If you’re just making an affiliate site, I’d use WooCommerce, which is what I did for this affiliate store I’m toying with.
I don’t feel like Stripe needs an introduction.
Online Course/Membership Sites
Podia is by far the best software for creating an online course or membership website.
It has the best interface, the best support and the best price.
If you’re using WordPress and Jupiter, like I recommend above, then you may not need landing page software.
This is because you can create a landing page template in Jupiter, and use it every time you want to create a new landing page.
If you aren’t using Jupiter, or it’s difficult to make landing pages with your current site, I highly recommend LeadPages.
LeadPages, by far, is the easiest tool to use to create good-looking landing pages.
It also has a robust library of templates and an academy, where you can learn everything you need to know about building high-converting landing pages.
Google Analytics is free website tracking software, which I think just about everyone is familiar with at this point.
Hotjar allows you to record website visitors’ experience on your website; add surveys and polls to specific posts and pages; and view heatmaps.
I haven’t personally used RightMessage, but the software, created by Brennan Dunn, has definitely piqued my interest.
It allows you to easily personalize your website to different audiences, depending on their locations, referral source, behavior and more.
Social Media Tools
Social Media Management
I’ve tried so many different social media management tools — from CoSchedule, Sprout Social to Hootsuite — and I’ve always found myself going back to Buffer.
You just can’t beat Buffer’s price and how easy it is to use. My only complaint is that I can’t usually schedule Facebook posts from Buffer, because Buffer usually messes up the way it looks.
I feel like the other tools in the space are trying to do too much, and it makes their interfaces clunky.
AdEspresso streamlines the Facebook ad creation process by allowing you to upload all of your images and copy variations once, and then it A/B tests all the different variations.
As the campaign goes on, it auto-optimizes it based on which headlines, copy descriptions and images are most popular with your target audiences.
TubeBuddy is a browser extension that adds additional features to YouTube. You can conduct keyword research, see other videos’ and channels’ stats and so much more.
Marketing Automation / Email Marketing
Drip is my No. 1 choice for email marketing/marketing automation, if you can afford it.
I believe that email marketing should be personal, 1-1 messaging, and Drip does just that.
Instead of creating lists, you tag your subscribers, and then create a new “list,” based on those tags, every time you send a message.
I also like its focus on plain-text emails, which I think get higher conversion rates because they look like normal emails as opposed to HTML emails.
Mailchimp is the email marketing software I used since sending my very first campaign, back in 2011.
It’s come a long way since 2011.
Now, I can create autoresponder sequences and A/B Test subject lines along.
To me, it’s the easiest email marketing software to use and the cheapest.
Revue is perfect for sending “editorial newsletters” or curated newsletters.
Install the Chrome extension. Save articles throughout the week. And then drag those links into your email to send your list each week.
You can even charge users for membership or sponsorships now too.
Content Marketing Research
Moz is great for keyword research.
Input a keyword and out will pop:
- Keyword suggestions
- SERP analysis
- Search volume for given keyword
- Difficulty to rank for given keyword
It ain’t cheap though!
Keywords Everywhere is a free Chrome extension that tells you the search volume of any keyword you Google, and it will also give you keyword suggestions along with their search volumes in the right-hand sidebar of your search page.
Ahrefs is more robust than Moz, which is nice, if you’re looking for more features than Moz has to offer.
Yesware is my favorite email tracking software. It’s only $15/month, and it includes templates (canned messages) and a CRM (premium feature).
Reply.io is perfect for large-scale outreach. I used it when I was doing a big link-building campaign for a scholarship page I was trying to build links to.
Crystal Knows is a web app/Chrome extension that tells you, in grave detail, about someone you don’t (or maybe do) know.
It collects all the available information on the person by scraping their blog posts and online presence and gives you information about the person’s personality; what your relationship would look like working together; and templates on how you should email them, based on what you’re emailing them for.
ContactOut is a free Chrome extension that tells you people’s emails, when you view their LinkedIn profile.
Clearbit is a Chrome extension that also helps you find people’s email addresses. You can use it in your Gmail account.
Streak is a free Gmail CRM. I like it because it’s right in your inbox.
Adobe Creative Cloud
I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop a lot to edit photos and customize vectors I buy from DepositPhotos and Creative Market.
I like to use Sketch for editing screenshots and other simple tasks. It’s super easy to use.
Canva is a free, super easy-to-use design tool.
Stock Photos / Vectors
DepositPhotos is like Shutterstock, but I think it’s cheaper — one of the reasons I use it. You can usually catch bulk deals too once in a while.
I like to purchase cool backgrounds and custom icons from Creative Market.
Unsplash is a resource for free, beautiful, royalty-free images.
UI8 is great for Sketch and PSD mockups and wireframes, etc.
Sketch App Sources
Sketch App Sources provides free mockups, wireframes, UIs, etc. for Sketch. It’s the sister site of UI8.
I’ve used 99designs every single time I need a logo — except once (because my friend Tony made me one instead).
It’s only $299 for a logo that you are guaranteed to love or you don’t pay. You’ll get about 30 options from different designers, who will edit it until your happy with it.
Slaask is my customer support tool of choice because it integrates with Slack.
Elev.io is knowledge base software. I like it because I think it has good UX and lives in useful places on your site.
Aircall is just like Google Voice, but more professional.
This free tool easily creates invoices for you.
Got a lot of freelance clients you need to manage? Check out Bonsai. It’s by far the best way to manage all of your proposals, quotes, contracts, invoices and more. Clients can even pay you on your invoices as well with Bonsai.
I use Trello for project management and editorial calendars, but you can use it for pretty much anything.
Google Apps for Business
Google Apps for Business is how you set your professional email up with gmail. It’s what I use for my professional email. You’ll also get your own Google Drive.
Here are a few referral codes I have for a free trial:
Pocket is my favorite read-it-later app.
Timing is another Mac app. It’s like RescueTime but better.
If you like the Pomodoro Technique, consider these two tools for Mac users.
When I’m not writing in Google Docs, I’m writing in Ulysses. It’s an awesome Markdown writing app for Mac users.
What tools do you use?
Tell me in the comments below. =)
PS: I’ll continue to update this list, as I use more cool tools.