Top digital marketing tools of 2016

Year in Review: The Top Digital Marketing Tools of 2016

In today’s digital landscape, the term “digital marketing” covers such a wide variety of skills and information that it may seem impossible for a marketing manager in a startup or small business to succeed in this field. There are fantastic resources for marketing professionals to help grow a business and it is always important to read up on the latest trends.

However, when it comes to picking the right marketing tools, it can be difficult to know where to start. Before choosing a marketing tool, it is important to conduct the right market research. Take a look at your company and learn where your audience “hangs out” in the digital world. Do they enjoy email newsletters? What are their preferred social media platforms? Do they search with Google or Bing?

Once you have a thorough understanding of the different mediums your target audience uses, your next step is to find the right tools to successfully reach out and connect with them.

There are literally hundreds of tools out there and it can be difficult to decide on which to use. When deciding on a digital marketing tool, our advice is to follow a three step process:

  1. Research
  2. Test (trial runs)
  3. Implement

We’ve reached out to several experts in the digital marketing field to bring you the very best tools their companies have found success with in 2016, including:

Email marketing

Recommended tool: MailChimp

Why we love it: MailChimp has a wide variety of fantastic templates for new and small businesses and is extremely intuitive. The service offers A/B testing, list segmentation, custom layouts and strong email automation. Danny Garcia, a marketing manager with Stacklist, uses MailChimp for newsletters.

“There is so much available in the tool, and the support is excellent if you ever get lost,” Garcia said of MailChimp.

MailChimp is perfect for small businesses, as it offers varying services for all budgets.

It’s important to remember that in the age of spam, a personalized, handwritten email often does the most good in an email marketing campaign. However, this type of tactic depends on the scope of your email marketing project, as it isn’t always feasible for large-scale campaigns.

Related: The Marketing Tool Your Startup Needs

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Recommended tool: SEMrush

Why we love it: While search engine optimization is its own monster to tackle, SEMrush is a fantastic tool that every small business should use in combination with Google’s Search Console, Keyword Planner and Analytics.

So, what is it? SEMrush lets users view keyword rankings for both organic search and paid keywords (something that Google does not). It also has a backlink crawler and several other data-centered tools.

SEMrush makes this list of best digital marketing tools in 2016 because of its organic research capability. It provides users with both current keyword positions and aggregated data of how positions have changed over time, allowing users to compare how their SEO tactics have impacted their rankings. Both digital marketing companies and consumer-facing companies leverage SEMrush.

“We love the way SEMrush provides us with user-friendly keyword graphics and data. It is perfect information to put into a high-level report,” Sacha Ferrandi, owner and director of marketing for Source Capital Funding, Inc., said.

While this isn’t the only SEO tool that small businesses should leverage, it is one that companies should could live without in 2016.

Honorable mention: Many of the experts we spoke with also highly recommended AHrefs as an invaluable SEO tool.

Social media

Recommended tools: Buffer and Hootsuite

Why we love them: Buffer and Hootsuite offer similar, but not identical services.

Let’s start with Buffer. Buffer does an excellent job of scheduling your social media posts across several different platforms at optimal times. The use of Buffer is perfect for companies that are looking to manage the scheduling of social media posts with a simple tool that works well with other analytical platforms.

Many new companies are using Buffer, too. Eric Quanstrom, CMO of KiteDesk, said that most of his team is using the platform.

“Curating content and scheduling social shares across multiple networks for multiple people is easier in this tool than most we’ve tried. We regularly see 10 percent of the traffic to our site and blog via social media. Buffer is critical in this effort,” Quanstrom said.

Hootsuite, on the other hand, is a more robust tool that is used for social media management, rather than scheduling of posts. This tool is perfect to integrate all of your social media streams in one place. It allows users to post from any of the supported platforms and has a fantastic user interface and publishing system.

If you are a startup looking to consolidate all of your social media accounts into one easy to use management system, Hootsuite is your winner.

Looking for more information on the differences between Hootsuite and Buffer? Check out this guide from Linkhumans.

Pay Per Click (PPC)

Recommended tools: Facebook Ads and Google AdWords

Why we love them: According to Facebook, the social media giant has over more than 1 billion active users. Facebook’s advertising makes the list here because of the sheer reach that your ad can obtain and the ability to target highly customizable and segmented markets.

For businesses looking to build their brand image, the versatility of Facebook Ads offers a great way to increase recognition, engage with users and sell products. Creating a successful Facebook campaign, however, is far easier said than done.

Looking for more information on Facebook Ads? Check out this guide from Neil Patel.

Google’s AdWords network, on the other hand, makes the list over the other search engines because Google dominates the search industry. Most reports show that Google has roughly 65 percent of the U.S. desktop search market and nearly 90 percent of the mobile search market.

With those numbers, every company should be trying to get a piece of this traffic – and they are!

“We love using Google PPC for our marketing efforts,” Evan Harris, CMO of SD Equity Partners, said. “Not only does it help us target individual search phrases, but we can put specific information in each advertisement to test click-through rates and conversions.”

Make no mistake, it’s important to leverage paid advertising on other channels, like Bing and Twitter, but if your startup only has budget for two platforms, Facebook and Google should be the first places you look.

Looking for a beginner’s guide to Google AdWords? Check out this guide from WP Curve. 

Related: Sign up to receive the StartupNation newsletter!

Inbound marketing

Recommended tool: Optimizely

Why we love it: It can be extremely difficult to code new landing pages or run proper A/B split tests, especially for new and smaller businesses. Regardless of the size of your company, it’s important to remember that A/B testing your website is one of the best ways to improve your conversion rates. From call-to-action buttons to the colors and layout of your content, a good website is continually testing to improve user experience (UX).

Cue Optimizely.

Optimizely is one of the leading tools that companies can use to strategically test the pages they serve to visitors. In addition to being one of the world’s top A/B testing platforms, it also has a great learning tool that marketing teams can leverage to improve their skills.

“There are other tools out there that help with A/B testing,” Chase Ohlson, director of web development at Spire Drones, said. “However, Optimizely has the best interface and customer support that helps small to medium businesses like us.”

Companies with limited web design budgets can benefit from the user friendly interface and large support community that Optimizely offers.

Final notes

For many startups, it’s important to remember that there is no secret formula for finding the right digital marketing tools. This list should serve as a jumping-off point for small companies to streamline and grow their business. While not the be-all end-all list of digital marketing tools, a company that masters these tools first will leap ahead of their competition and position themselves in a ripe spot for fast-paced growth.

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