Thousands of free online marketing tools clamor for attention, with new ones popping up every week it seems. You know you should be doing more to reach out to your customers, but just researching which tools to use can be a vast time investment, even if they don’t require a big financial outlay.
Below is a compiled a list of the most popular (or most useful) low-cost or free small business marketing tools. You might be using some of them already, but you’re sure to find a couple that will round out your small business marketing toolkit nicely. And, if you’re just starting out marketing a new business online, this list may help point you in the right direction.
The Open Directory – A staple of the SEO crowd, this directory can be tricky to get into but well worth it for the link juice it passes along to your site.
Yahoo! Directory – It’s not free – this directory will set you back a couple hundred bucks a year – but it’s well worth it for inclusion.
Best of the Web Directory – This directory has been around a while and can pass along some good PageRank to your site.
Find the directories in your industry that pass along good link building opportunities. Some examples to get you started: SBDGraphics.com for ad agencies, web developers, printers and other graphics professionals; sbdpro.com for small businesses and businesses that serve them; Cpapro.com for the accounting industry; SEOAlpaca.org for alpaca breeders, and so on.
Press Release Distribution Services
Marketwire – The most bang for your buck from an actual wire service, Marketwire’s prices are lower than PR Newswire and Businesswire. This newer service is built for powerful online exposure, and you’ll enjoy the full online distribution with any geographical AP wire distribution. (Sometimes you can get statewide wire distribution for nearly the same cost as only your local metropolitan area.) It’s great for building inbound links – just choose the SEO Enhanced option.
PRLog – A good-performing free press release distribution outlet, PRLog press releases rank really well and for a really long time if they are written with SEO copywriting best practices. Press releases include three links, though they are URL based (starting with http) rather than text anchor. PRLog also lets you create your own newsroom where all your press releases reside, as well as an “about us” page and product showcase area.
PitchEngine – A relatively new PR-for-social-media site that promises to let you create and share press releases easily and for free and syndicate content to Google News. Lets you include HTML in your press release, so you can use keyword text anchor links. The site is marketing itself quite aggressively and will likely build a big presence quickly. The only catch is your release will disappear off the site after 30 days if you aren’t a paid member ($50/month for your own press room).
AWeber – AWeber makes it easy to start building your email marketing list, if you haven’t already. For less than $20/month, you can build unlimited newsletter lists, send unlimited email blasts, and email unlimited autorespond messages to up to 500 subscribers/list. (Then it’s $29/month up to 2500 subscribers.) Also offers a recurring 30% commission – a pretty good affiliate program for a service you’ll appreciate enough to recommend to others. (Disclosure note: the link above is our affiliate link. We’ve been using the service for 3 years now, after trying out Constant Contact and researching about 20 other providers! Most either do autoresponders or email blasts/newsletters – not both.)
Content Sharing Websites
Scribd – Share your expert content like white papers and articles. You can make them available for free or sell them. You can submit documents in PowerPoint, Word, PDF and many other file formats.
SlideShare – Post your presentations and documents online for others to view and share. This is a great way to get exponential exposure for your sales or marketing materials – or share documents privately. See some tips for getting more visibility with SlideShare: http://bit.ly/aNXmS2
Flikr – Does your product or service translate well visually? Use this popular photo sharing site to get more eyeballs.
Blip.tv – A video-sharing alternative to YouTube, blip.tv lets you embed links in your descriptions and create a TV station showing all your videos in one spot.
Facebook – Create a page for your business. Feed your blog in. Start a group. Get fans. Advertise to targeted users if your products appeal to the Facebook crowd (which is basically everyone nowadays). See using the new Facebook business page layout to learn more. Stop by our page and become a fan, too!
LinkedIn – Like a virtual Rolodex. Build your professional profile, link up with other professionals, join groups or even start a group. Participating in Q&A’s related to your profession is a great way to build credibility and visibility.
Ning – Build your own social network around your business. You may even get your network into the search engine results pages. Learn more about using Ning for business. (http://bit.ly/amLKcE)
Read “Utlize Social Media to Gain Additional Exposure for Your Site” (http://bit.ly/bcoWEQ) for more information about social networks and how they can drive targeted traffic to your site.
Digg – Getting your content on the home page of Digg is one way to bump up your web site’s traffic by thousands within minutes. This can result in valuable links to your site. Start with this beginner’s guide to Digg.
StumbleUpon – Build friends and send them your articles to rate. More thumbs up will get your article shown to more people outside your network and can result in thousands of visitors every day. Tips for using StumbleUpon.
Reddit – Even if your content gets buried on Digg, it can flourish on Reddit – which can be a catalyst for jumping to the home page of other social bookmarking sites. Learn more about the types of topics that do well on Reddit.
Your own blog –
Write great content relevant to your business area that people will find useful. Use it to link to deep pages on your site to help them get indexed in the search engines. Build your thought leadership and let your customers get to know your business better. Try WordPress for an easy-to-use platform that’s also search engine friendly.
Others’ blogs –
Micro-blogging. Update your status daily or a couple times a week. Use keywords in your posts and profile to help gain followers on Twitter quickly. Link to your unique content in your updates and take advantage of the multitude of new applications created to help you manage your Twitter experience.
Traditionally links generated through affiliate marketing have not been helpful for search engine optimization – until Post Affiliate Pro, that is. This easy-to-use affiliate program lets you set up a referral program in minutes and keeps your links simple and search engine friendly.
Your Own Web Properties
Create A Knowledge Center
Build a content area on your site where you can add articles regularly. This can be as formal as white papers or case studies, but it can also work with less formal articles, as long as they further your company’s thought leadership position and credibility. They will also boost your search engine rankings if you contribute regularly and ensure your site architecture is optimized. See how we’re doing this with SEO Advantage’s new knowledge center.
People are going to look up user reviews whether on your site or elsewhere – might as well take advantage of the user-generated content for additional search engine visibility. You’ll also rank higher in trust with your efforts at transparency.
Voting/polling/surveys. A tool of engagement that lets you gauge interest, measure customer satisfaction or just provide some fun. (People love to give their opinions.)
Awards and Contests
Enter them and host them. Winning an industry award can add to your credibility, and giving them out can get you lots of press coverage and links. Get creative.
Search Engine Optimization
Make sure your site architecture is optimized for maximum exposure in the search engines. Create link-building campaigns. Add to your content regularly. Enlist the services of a search engine optimization company to guide your efforts or handle implementation completely.
Designate the keywords you’d like to keep track of, and Google will send you alerts of news and pages indexed on those topics “as it happens” with Google News Alerts. You can also enter multiple terms at Google Trends to compare the general level of buzz around those terms.
An “online magazine rack”, this site aggregates content and organizes it. Select your topics and have the latest content delivered to you, or just browse the site when you’re in research mode. Also, be sure to submit your site so it shows among the related content.
Find keywords with a more comprehensive tool than free pay-per-click research tools, which may skew results. A free trial will give you an idea of how it works.
See who’s talking about your company or brand by pulling together RSS feeds from different sources around the Web using the beta Yahoo! Pipes. This handy video shows you how.
You need to measure all your online marketing efforts. If you’re looking for a free analytics package, try Google Analytics or Yahoo! IndexTools. (Which is better?) However, you’ll probably want some help implementing and interpreting your analytics package to get the most from it – ask your SEO company if they offer this.
Stone Reuning is president of SEO Advantage, a search engine optimization company that helps businesses harness the revenue generation potential of their websites. Referenced in books such as “Writing Web-Based Advertising Copy to Get the Sale” and the BusinessWeek bestseller “The New Rules of Marketing and PR”, http://www.seo-advantage.com/ offers information to help small businesses compete online.