The tools of the trade
I’ve made a list below of the tools I use and swear by and some other tools that I’ve heard many good things about and may start using very soon! To make things easier, I’ve put each tool in order of the time you are going to need it, so research comes first, then product sourcing, shopping carts, and so on. In the interest of being transparent, some of the links below are affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission if you click on one of them and sign up/buy that service. If you do click through those links, thank you so much for supporting my blog! I promise to only recommend things I’ve either used or heard so many good things about that it would be a shame not to talk about them!
Sections: Niche Research | Market Research | Shopping Carts | Domains & Hosting | Payment Processing | Marketing | Staying Organized | Cheap Outsourcing | Website Optimization
Niche research(product sourcing)
Worldwide Brands: These guys have one of the most comprehensive directories of wholesalers, exporters, and drop-shippers on the internet which they are constantly updating and vetting. I’ve been using them since forever, and signing up was one of my best investments – I’ve found loads of niches and viable suppliers through them. They let you search by product, brand, and supplier name, and also have a built-in keyword tool(which they aren’t too clear about where they get the data from, but it’s a useful supplement), as well as an algorithm that judges the viability of a niche that you pick. Again, the algorithm shouldn’t make or break your decision, but it can help in narrowing your choices. Bottom line: best $300 I have ever spent.
Google Keyword Planner: This is Google’s new upgraded tool from the old Keyword Tool. If you ask me, I prefer the old Keyword Tool, because it was a little bit easier to use, but the Keyword Planner is still the best database of keywords and search volumes out there. For more details on how the Keyword Planner is different from the Keyword Tool, check out this article.
Long Tail Pro: Ever since the Keyword Tool was discontinued, Long Tail Pro has been my tool of choice. It pulls the data from Google, but the interface is what we are used to from the older Keyword Tool. Plus, Long Tail Pro has loads of neat filtering options built-in, as well as the ability to create many different profiles for different niches that you can switch between really easily. There’s also a neat competition analysis tool too, which I haven’t used much, but it will streamline a lot of separate processes into one thing. Plus, it’s compatible with both Mac and PC.
Open Site Explorer: Open Site Explorer is a search engine for links, and is my tool of choice for seeing how many links a potential competitor has. While they don’t have every link in the world, they do have one of the largest link databases. Each result in their database can be sorted by their proprietary algorithm which determines the authority of each page and each domain. OSE is an awesome way to size up your competition, as well as get ideas for building links to your own website.
Google Trends: Google Trends is a tool that is great for judging the demand for a product. It shows you the interest in a particular search term over a period of time, so you can see on a graph whether demand is increasing or on the decline.
PageRank Status Toolbar for Chrome: This is a really handy toolbar that integrates nearly unnoticeably next to the address bar in Chrome. For every page you visit, it will show the Google PageRank(which is a great ballpark estimate of its authority), and clicking on the icon will pull data from Alexa, Compete, Quantcast, Archive.org, as well as do a complete SEO profile of the whole page. Don’t analyze your competition without it!
MozBar for Chrome: Another incredibly useful toolbar that I use for competition analysis as well as my own marketing. While I don’t use the “bar” feature too much, my main use for it comes in the SERP overlay feature. What this basically does is once you have a search engine results page open, it will add an overlay beneath each result, showing the page authority, domain authority(according to Moz’s own algorithm, which is pretty solid), and will also let you change your search settings to search from ANY country on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Another MUST have tool. The best part? It’s free!
SpyFu: After the PageRank analysis, I pop over to SpyFu. Their free service is excellent, and they show a damn good approximation of a website’s ad budget, as well as how many paid/organic clicks they receive per day. I’ve seen that their organic clicks figure is about 1/3-1/4(maybe even less) of the actual clicks, so keep that in mind. They also don’t take direct traffic and referral traffic into account, so their traffic numbers are at best a very vague approximation. Still, it’s better than nothing. They also show top ad copy, as well as keywords the particular site is ranking for organically and bidding on in Adwords. The free version shows limited data, of course, but it’s still good for an approximation. The paid version gives you all that data and their own keyword tool, too.
Compete: All I use compete for is to get an idea of how many unique visitors a site is getting per month. They used to show low numbers too, but now they only show results for sites getting a large amount of unique traffic per month. For the detailed analytics, you need to buy the PRO package(I’ve never used PRO and don’t plan on it, either).
BigCommerce: BigCommerce is my platform of choice. I’ve used it for all of my eCommerce stores, and plan on using it for any future stores, too. They have competitive pricing and decent support. Their out of the box templates aren’t GORGEOUS, but they are functional, and the back-end is really robust in terms of integration with other services(like Google shopping, eBay, comparison sites), and their SEO features are all easy to use and accessible. If you know HTML and CSS, all of their themes can be completely modified in any way you like. In a toss-up between Shopify and BigCommerce, I would choose BigCommerce because they are just that much more flexible. They have a no-obligation 14-day trial, so check them out!
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I like Shopify for getting a shop up and running in no time. They have pretty themes(and other custom themes available for purchase for relatively cheap), and their back-end is simple and easy to use. If you aren’t too tech savvy, Shopify is the shopping cart you want to be using. Another huge advantage of Shopify is that you don’t need an extra SSL certificate because it’s already built-in, and Shopify also has started offering an in-house payment gateway. If I wasn’t familiar with HTML or CSS and wanted a pretty shop up and running, I’d use Shopify. They also have a very informative resources section and their blog is awesome, too. Their pricing is comparable to BigCommerce, and they offer a free 14-day trial, too.
Domains & Hosting
GoDaddy: The first name that comes up when you think “domain registrar,” but they have plenty of other services as well. I use their SSL certificates, and have started using their hosting, too, for this blog. They have fantastic customer service and usually have insane discounts(see RetailMeNot or FatWallet, or just Google “GoDaddy promo code,” so they are a great way to save a boatload of cash when you are starting out.
PayPal: A quick and easy way to start accepting payments on your online store right away. You need a business account, which they have three plans for. In the free plan they charge a higher(3%) commission, but hey, it’s free, so there are no monthly overheads. They also integrate into nearly every shopping cart painlessly, and this is the best way to get your business off the ground. People can pay with their PayPal ID(if they have one, and a lot of people prefer this), or they can pay by entering credit card details up front, too. The only disadvantage is that people have to leave your site to pay, and this sometimes messes up conversion tracking.
Stripe: The new kid on the block, I’ve recently switched over to Stripe from my previous payment processor. Stripe integrates into BigCommerce with a click of a button, and there is no need for a separate merchant account or payment gateway – Stripe takes care of everything. They have no monthly fees, but do charge a higher commission at 3%. Still, for the convenience and ease of use, they are completely worth it. I wouldn’t use anything else!
Check My Links Extension for Chrome: Excellent for getting on the good side of webmasters you are looking to get links from. Just click the button and the extension will show you how many broken links there are on the page.
Google Analytics: No website is complete without Google Analytics. An extremely robust and powerful analytics software, with it, you can see who your visitors are, where they are coming from, what pages they are visiting, as well as set goals, track the efficiency of your funnel, see your visitors flow, and hundreds of other features that I’m still learning how to use! I’ll share my latest discoveries as I learn them!
Moz Pro: For$99 per month(with the first month free), you can create SEO campaigns for your websites. Moz Pro will crawl your site every week, check for errors, and display them all in your dashboard so you can correct them. You can also enter keywords that you are targeting, and every week, Moz Pro will show you how you are ranking for those in Google, Yahoo and Bing(you can set which country to target). You can also enter your competitors, and Moz will show you a comparison of your domain/page authority vs. theirs. It will also give you full access to Open Site Explorer(see above). If you can shell out the cash, a membership here is absolutely worth it to actively measure your SEO campaign.
Google Drive: A must have for maintaining spreadsheets – something you are going to need a LOT of! You will need spreadsheets for keyword research, link building, outreach, accounts, and for almost anything which involves data analysis. Keeping them all on Google Drive keeps it light and easy to use from any browser, and Google Drive now has a neat iPad app as well. Also great for drafting articles and spreadsheets. The more things you keep in the cloud, the better – firing up Excel or Word every time you need to make a small modification is just too much of a hassle. Oh, and it’s free!
Dropbox: I can’t survive without Dropbox. Keeping all your file synced across multiple devices, accessible from anywhere in the world – these guys are GENIUSES, and deserve to have giant statues of themselves everywhere in Silicon Valley. They offer 2 GB free, and up to 16 GB more when you tweet, like, and invite your friends. If 16 GB isn’t enough for you(once you start backing up everything to it, it may not be), their plans are pretty cheap – $120 for one year of 100GB storage.
Freelancer: Good for finding people to do larger projects like programming a module for your website, extensive writing, or large graphics projects. For smaller things, I’d recommend Fiverr. Their platform is much more streamlined. Still, I’ve found a few gems on freelancer.
Fiverr: A treasure trove of services from graphic design, writing, to the completely bizarre, all services on Fiverr are for $5. Some sellers charge extra for extra services, but all the basics are available for just $5. Some of the graphics, writing, and website review gigs are pure gold. I’d recommend staying away from SEO gigs, gigs promising you Twitter/Facebook followers, and video testimonials. The testimonials aren’t bad, but it’s not worth risking your credibility with a manufactured testimonial.
Here are some useful services from Fiverr:
MouseFlow: I didn’t know about MouseFlow until very recently, but I’m really glad I discovered them. They offer a service that records every customer’s interaction with your website. Basically, you can view each customer browsing through your website: where they scrolled, where they clicked, where they lingered, and where they exited. It’s a gold mine for usability testing, because it literally puts you in your customer’s shoes and you are seeing your website through their eyes. They have a free option where they give you 100 recordings, and for more, they have very competitively priced plans, much cheaper than any other services I’ve seen. An incredibly worthwhile investment once your site is live for a while and you want to improve conversions.
Anything I missed that you want to add to this list? Drop me a line and let me know!