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17 Free Online Tools to Help You Grow Your Blog to 1 Million Visitors

And what’s their price, you ask? How about . . . free?

Entrepreneur

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“Free” is the most awesome price of all. “Free” gets you started when you have nothing. “Free” took me from 0 to the first 1 million visitors to my blog.

“Free” is also the price that most people gravitate to when they are first starting out. But, the trouble is, most of those people also think that you have sign up for some big, expensive service once your audience numbers get serious.

Nope.

You don’t have any excuses, because free web services and products available today are so good that you can easily use them to build up your own blog to 1 million visitors. You can start today, from scratch, and use every single one of these every day along your journey.

Related: 6 Growth-Hacking Tips to Boost Your Website’s Traffic

From idea creation, to producing, publishing and designing your content, to sharing, marketing and promoting your brand, you’ll find these tools free and accessible.

Here are the 17 best ones I myself used to grow my blog at iDoneThis:

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Quora

Quora-logoAt its most basic Quora is a Q&A site – you go there, ask a question and get an answer. It offers a seemingly infinite array of knowledge. But, when you start using the site properly, and you’re interacting with others, Quora blossoms into so much more.

Quora is a great place for content ideas. You can search for a topic, see what others are asking, and answering and then write it up, adding to the conversation. But there’s more: Kevan Lee at Buffer recently set out all the ways you can use Quora to market yourself for your business.

Quora helps you establish yourself as a leader in your area, if you use it right. If you have a product, you can use the site to get feedback from users and to generate new feature ideas.

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Feedly

feedly-logoFeedly is the best blog reader around. You have to be reading a lot of other blogs if you want yours to stand out. Once you start reading the top blogs from key influencers, you will learn the right style that drives traffic, and what sets top blogs apart from the rest.

When Google Reader shut its door a couple of years ago, almost everyone flocked to the then-new Feedly app. You can sign up for blog feeds from the app, share your favourite posts, bookmark the ones you still have to read and read them, in Feedly’s intuitive, magazine style.

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Buzzosumo

Buzzsumo-logoBuzzSumo is an awesome tool,with one simple aim: It helps you find what articles people are sharing, and who is sharing them. From this simple start, you can gain a wealth of information: The best length, type and content for a POS. With the free account, you can only get limited information, but definitely enough to find out what works and what doesn’t.

The site can also help you target the key influencers in your area of expertise. One of the reasons I love BuzzSumo is that data is at the heart of it. The folks behind the site recently analysed all their data to find out what goes viral. They found that having just one key influencer share your post can increase your number of shares by over 30 percent. Just having three will double the number of times your post is shared.

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Quip

quip-logoThere are a trillion word processing apps available, but Quip has my vote as the easiest and most intuitive app to use. It is by your words that you are going to live or die. So, write them in style.

What’s unique about Quip is that it was designed, from the ground-up, to be a mobile-first word-processing app. Bret Taylor, the co-founder, says that, “Offline and online are no longer separate binary states.”

Quip works as quickly as a local app, but everything is in the cloud. This particularly works well for companies like iDoneThis, where team members might be thousands of miles apart but working on the same post. With Quip, we can all edit documents as if they were on our local machines.

Related: How to Make Money Blogging

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Hemingway

hemingway-app-logoThe Hemingway app is all about making your writing clearer and more accessible. For some people, writing flows naturally through their fingers; for the rest of us there is Hemingway.

The app helps you avoid complicated, hard-to-read sentences, passive voice and adverbs. Hemingway is ideal for people who have to explain complicated ideas to a lay audience.

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Trello

Trello app logoTrello is an organisational tool, letting you organise work via “boards” where different ideas, pitches, outlines, drafts and articles are in your publishing pipeline. Richard White, CEO of UserVoice, described Trello as “a very open-ended product.” Yep.

When you first open Trello, it seems both simple and daunting. But what wins me over to Trello is that so much of the organisation is left up to you – there is no right way to use Trello, just your way.

Related: 7 Obscure Facts You Should Know About Facebook Advertising

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WordPress

WordPress-logoThere are countless content management system (CMS) options, but WordPress is still the best. Once you have got your site up and running, you need a way to publish your stories. Somewhere like Tumblr is great for your own personal blog, but if you are looking to get north of a million visitors, then you need the type of platform WordPress provides.

On WordPress you can customise your site and add plugins for a ton of different needs, from SEO optimisation to image presentation, from email forms to capture.

Plus, other apps on this list, like SumoMe and Google Analytics, have one-click setup plugins to get you up and running immediately.

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Canva

Canva-logoCanva is a design service for people who can’t design. An image in a post will increase shares, and increased shares means more visitors. Ergo, you need images. So what happens if you are artistically-challenged? Welcome, Canva. Anyone can use it for anything: A sheriff even used the site to design a wanted poster.

The site uses simple drag-and-drop principles to help you create art and design for your site, allowing you to choose from thousands of images, fonts and colours to get exactly what you need to illustrate your story.

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Stencil

Get Stencil-logoImages are also the best way to share ideas on social media, and Stencil lets you create amazing text-based images, helping you get more engagement and shares on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

You can create quotes and daily inspiration messages, or just have a line from your latest blog post as a teaser. You can also take in information from images ten times faster than from text alone; and because visual processing is what our brains are designed for, sharing ideas as images immediately invokes a reaction in your audience.

Related: Why Your Business Website Needs To Rank Organically

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Death to Stock Photo

Death-to-Stock-Photo-logoDeath To Stock Photo is what stock photo services should be like. A few years ago Wired published an article about stock photography, or laughing-stock photography as it should be called.

When the Wired article came, out Death To Stock quickly contacted the editors to say that not all stock services are bad. And they were right.

Death To Stock Photo shows that you can have awesome image content for your site for free. As I said earlier, images increase shares, and having great images will definitely get your blog noticed more.

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Typeform

Typeform-logoTypeform helps you build contact forms and surveys, meaning you can interact with your audience and become a meaningful place for dialog. Tasked with surveying some of the top business leaders in the world, Mia Mabanta at Quartz turned to Typeform.

She got a survey completion rate of 55 percent (which is awesome) and surveyed 940 top executives. She spent zero dollars doing this.

Her team chose Typeform because responders could easily navigate it whether they were on a desktop or mobile, and users could stay on the page throughout, rather than wait for the next page to load – one of the main reasons people bug-out on a survey.

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TinyLetter

TinyLetter-LogoTinyLetter is a super-simple app that lets you create and distribute email newsletters, which are a great way to get your ideas into everyone’s inboxes each week.

Alexis Madrigal, deputy editor at The Atlantic, has grown his own newsletter to thousands and thousands of readers using this tool. TinyLetter let him get set up the moment he had the idea and distribute the newsletter to all his readers; it even lets people sign up straight from Twitter. The simplicity and ease of use of TinyLetter is why it is a great place to start building a following.

Related: 7 Ways That Facebook Ads Can Rock Your Business

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SumoMe

sumome-logoSumoMe is a suite of apps that lets people interact with your site better using share and social buttons. It also helps you build up an email list with popups, and can even tell you where people are clicking on your site.

Noah Kagan, founder of SumoMe and AppSumo, and employee #30 at Facebook, built a massive email list of over a million emails for AppSumo, so he obviously knows what he is talking about.

SumoMe gives you an in-depth analysis of what works on your blog and what doesn’t. It also integrates with other services’ email lists so you can seamlessly build your email list to grab all your visitors.

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Wisestamp

wisestamp-logoWisestamp lets you link to your online presence automagically in your email signature, adding links to your social media, blog and latest posts.

A story illustrates its use: British Cycling used to be terrible. When Dave Brailsford took over as performance director in 2003, Britain’s best Olympics haul in cycling was still the one it had achieved in 1908.

But since 2003, British cyclists have won 18 Olympic gold medals, 59 World Championships and – though it hadn’t ever won the Tour de France in the race’s 112-year history – British cyclists have won it three out of the last four years.

Brailsford puts this down to marginal gains: If you break every problem down to its components and improve each by just 1 percent, you will have a significant improvement when you put it all back together.

When I saw Wisestamp, it reminded me of this story. Most people won’t see their email signature as a way to gain traffic, but that is exactly how Wisestamp sees it.

If you want to hit a million users, you have to look for every single marginal gain. Find all of Brailsford’s 1 percent improvements and add them up and they will eventually lead you to your million visitors.

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Print Friendly and a PDF

Print-FriendlyPrint Friendly is a Chrome extension that will transform your blog into a PDF, getting rid of all the extra crap and just leaving your audience with a well-formatted booklet of your posts.

A great way to gain a following is to create an ebook that’s a “content upgrade,” in the form of a PDF that visitors can download and read offline – in exchange for their email address.

This is an awesome trick that Noah Kagan used to gain thousands of more subscribers from his guest posts. This might seem like an major extra hassle, but thanks to Print Friendly, it doesn’t have to be. The strategy is particularly great if you have a long, detailed post that would work well as an ebook. You just need a couple of clicks with Print Friendly.

Related: 4 Digital Marketing Trends to Pay Attention to Right Now

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Buffer

buffer-logoBuffer seems like a simple tool to manage your online social media presence. But, in the right hands it can be turned into a demon of analysis, allowing you to reach more people with your posts and tweets and optimise your content for social sharing.

Madhav Bhandari handles growth at Hubstaff, and is using Buffer to analyse the site’s posts. Hubstaff has used Buffer to boost its social traffic by 350 percent, simply by analysing what makes posts shareable and what doesn’t. Once you start to analyse your posts at this level of depth, you will quickly realise what is worth the effort, and what is a waste.

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Google Analytics

Google-AnalyticsSo, how do you know when you have hit that cool million? You need Google Analytics. In fact, you need it way before then. You should be checking out your visitor numbers from your very first post, analysing what posts get the highest views and where those views are coming from. Then, you can start to tailor your operation around those ideas. Keep what works, and throw out the rest.

Google Analytics is the most extensive suite out there, and even the biggest sites are still using it. Google obviously knows its numbers, and if this is a major place your visitors are coming from, who better to tell you the good news?

Resource: The Complete Guide To Writing A Marketing Plan

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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Online Marketing

5 Steps In Adwords Competitor Analysis: A Practical Case Study

In the second part of this article, we’ll be getting practical. What steps to take and what to do in each step.

Steven Slotow

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adwords

In PART ONE of this article on the importance of competitor analysis in an Adwords campaign, we demonstrated to you the value that can be uncovered by performing a proper analysis of what your foe is up to on Adwords and how they can actually help you do better.

In the second part of this article, we’ll be getting practical. What steps to take and what to do in each step.

Pens sharpened? Batteries charged? Lets go!

As a case study of a local Adwords campaign, we’ll be taking a look at one of the main spenders on PPC in South Africa, booking.com, and see what information can be gathered about their competition in paid search results.

Step 1. Find out who your client’s true competitors in paid search are

First of all, let’s get on the same page, by stating that your organic and paid search competition is not the same thing. If you know who you share the SERPs with, it doesn’t mean that you’ll share the paid ads section with the same set of companies.

Booking.com knows what we’re talking about.

Here’s the organic part of the SERP for ‘book a hotel’. Booking.com shares it with Trivago, hotels.com and Agoda.

serp

They could have thought: Okay, so these are my competitors, I know what they’re up to, I’ll look into their strategies and I’ll be fine in both organic and paid search. But wait, what is happening there at the top of the SERPs? Who is this dark horse?

hotel-booking-serp

It’s Expedia! In organic search it stands further down from booking.com than the rest of the domains from the first page, yet in paid results Booking and Expedia are the closest rivals.

Related: 16-Step Blueprint to Master Your Digital Marketing

But that is just one keyword. There are many other keywords for which the companies want to advertise in Google, so to know whether you’re actually competing with them, you need to evaluate your competition level.

It’s a simple process of comparing the number of keywords you have in common versus the number that are unique with that competitor.

paid-keywords

By estimating this value, you can distinguish your true competitors from big generic brands, niche competition and temporary distractions in the paid search.

Jokes aside, Booking and Expedia share a relatively similar online presence and are, of course, familiar with each other’s PPC strategy. That said, if you’re not a huge domain and know your usual competitors, it is even more frustrating to miss an audacious market newcomer or an organic outsider trying to cut the line and get to the top of the SERPs with an aggressive PPC campaign. So, the analysis of your true competition should be performed regularly. For the agencies that we support, we usually revise the competitors list once every quarter.

Step 2. Estimate your competition PPC budgets

Now that you know who you are rubbing elbows with in paid search, try figuring out how much they spend on PPC. There’s no way to know exactly what their budgets are (except for corporate espionage, but we don’t recommend that), but you can still make use of an estimation.

For that, you need to know how many keywords they target in paid search, what their cost-per-click values are, as well as their estimated search volumes. That is practically impossible to reveal manually, but the competitor analysis tool in SEMrush for example provides you with an estimation of the company’s PPC budget based on the data from their keyword database. Similar tools should be found in whatever quality software you’ve opted for.

Here’s the info we could gather about Booking.com by solely analysing the keywords for which it was showing up in paid search and the CPC values of those keywords.

booking-com

Though it is a rough estimation, this info is helpful in planning your PPC campaigns in a way that meets with market trends.

Step 3. Find out your competitor’s unique keywords

What’s even better about competitor analysis is that it will help you save time by not needing to do the tough jobs yourself by letting you (legally) steal the best ideas from your competition and dwell on them. Remember, if you’re doing it to them, they’re probably doing it to you as well! All’s fair in love, war and paid advertising!

What’s the practical value of this? Well, your competitor’s unique keywords can be your missed opportunity.

keywords-match

By comparing the keywords that Booking and Expedia are bidding on, we see that there are a lot of keywords related to means of travelling and travelling companies in Expedia’s portfolio, but they are missing in the Booking.com set. It is obviously just another tactic for such a big brand, but for a smaller company, this comparison list could be a golden goose of new ideas.

Related: Beginners Guide To Digital Marketing In South Africa

Step 4. Research your competitor’s ads and banners

If you have ever been online, you know that the SERPs are crowded. The served results in both organic and paid search have to constantly overcome the viewer’s lack of attention, so the message in your ads should be short, clear, and actionable.

Your competitor’s copy can be a  great source of information.

competitor-adverts-and-banner

Comparing your ads to your competitor’s allows you to see the context and the standards of messaging in your niche and adjust your voice to or diversify from the usual tone.

Also, sometimes you need to develop multiple ad copies with similar content. Whenever creativity abandons you, you can look into your competitor’s copy and borrow a few ideas from them.

Step 5. Check your competitor’s target URLs

Imagine running an online retail business. Summer sales are coming, and you want to promote your goods with an AdWords campaign. Apart from the keywords that you want to bid on and creating appealing ad copy, you also need to think about the page which your ads are going to take your leads to.

Is it common in your client’s niche to have a specific landing page for a promo like this? Or is it enough to have banners on the home page? Take a look at your client’s competitor’s target pages and find out.

seasonal-sale

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The Value Of Competitor Analysis On A South African Adwords Campaign

If you have doubts about the efficiency of an AdWords campaign being run in South Africa, here are some stats about the South African market to convince you.

Steven Slotow

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south-african-adwords-campaign

Running a successful AdWords campaign can sometimes be like trying to understand the maths that Elon Musk is using to put a human being on Mars: you’re pretty sure it will work, but trying to figure how and why burns too many brain cells.

Well, help is at hand! In this TWO PART article, we’re going to demonstrate to you the value of performing a competitor analysis on an Adwords campaign, and show you just how and what you should be looking for.

As a digital marketer of any kind, you’ve probably had a crack at running and managing an AdWords campaign. Let me guess:

  • Predicting the results and outcomes was impossible;
  • You outsourced to an agency this one time. It cost you a fortune and they kept asking questions you couldn’t possibly have answers to;
  • Setting the budget was more complicated than understanding the nature and purpose of Snapchat;
  • And speaking of budget…it’s NEVER enough and always runs out too quickly.

Nobody is arguing with the fact that AdWords is one of the most complicated digital marketing efforts that you can undertake on behalf of a client or yourself. However, if done right, it could also be one of the most rewarding, effective and business-altering activities you could do.

Related: How to Use Pay Per Click Using Google Adwords

If you have doubts about the efficiency of an AdWords campaign being run in South Africa, here are some stats about the South African market to convince you:

South African PPC market in numbers

In 2017 the total spending on Google ads in South Africa across all industries reached $30 million. The market’s thriving!

google-ads-spend

And these websites were the most generous spenders on Google ads. If only your budgets could compete, right?

top-advertisers-in-google

However, these were the industry’s spendaholics.

Generally, businesses are way more careful with their PPC budgets: only 3.8% of all the companies spend more than R50 000 monthly, and the majority of 34.1% is just indulging their curiosity with somewhere around 1000 bucks a month.

percent-of-advertisers

And if you worry about your ad copy, take a look at the most popular phrases and CTAs used in South African ads:

top-phrases-in-adverts

Related: Implementing 2 Advanced Google AdWords Strategies

So, how do you enter that market AND, at the same time, save your money?

Well, that’s like eating an elephant — get help and do it in pieces.

If you thought that running and managing an AdWords campaign was complicated, try getting advice from the pros on best practices to net best results. Just like deciphering that Musk math again.

  • Split test your copy
  • Use different ad extensions… or all of them
  • Try out different calls to action
  • Manage and track your budget daily
  • Get your targeting on point

But also don’t forget about the foundation of any marketing campaign, digital or not: research your competition.

As wholesalers of digital marketing services to South African digital agencies, by far one of the most important and most advised best practices we suggest to the agencies that we support when running an AdWords digital marketing campaign is to ensure that they practice comprehensive and thorough competitor analysis.

What is competitor analysis for your Adwords campaign and how do you streamline it?

adwords-competitor-analysisRunning a competitor analysis during an AdWords campaign is like having a video camera in your competitions training session. It’ll help you pull back the curtain, see what they’re up to and adjust your efforts accordingly to ensure optimum results from your AdWords campaigns.

In our experience, many companies do not perform PPC competitive research, or don’t do it as often as they should. However, not having the full picture about your PPC competition is risky and can result in running ineffective campaigns. That means wasting your or your client’s budget without netting tangible results or missing the opportunities available to your client by underinvesting.

But recognising the difference that competitor analysis can make in your AdWords campaigns is only the first step. The next step is to find the right tool to help you perform your competitor analysis on a regular basis. The stats and data provided in this article were pulled by our team using SEMrush. It’s a software that we have found invaluable in helping us to provide white label, wholesale digital marketing services to the South African and international digital agencies that we support.

That being said, there are a wealth of similarly effective and powerful digital marketing tracking tools on the market worth investigating. We encourage you to get out there and see what works best for you.

Related: 16-Step Blueprint to Master Your Digital Marketing in 2016

The data that you should drill out of your competitor analysis

On all the levels of digital marketing, there’s a constant rivalry between best practice and revolutionary ideas. The question of whether to follow a well-trodden path or to do things differently in an effort to distinguish the brand you’re working on is always on the table. Or desktop in the case of digital marketing.

However, to make an informed decision you need to know the niche you are playing in as well as its main players. These questions will help you gather that information:

  • Who is your true competitor in paid search?
  • How much do they spend on PPC?
  • What are their most profitable keywords?
  • What do their ads and banners look like?
  • What URLs should your ads target?

Now you know WHAT to ask. But what do you do with the answers and how do you use them to improve your own Adwords performance.

In PART TWO of this blog, we’ll be diving into just that. CLICK HERE TO READ ON!

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There Is No Silencing The ‘Chatter’ Bots

In a world governed by technological advances, it is no surprise that the business world has adopted technology of their own to better their processes.

Jandre de Beer

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chatbot

There has been a strong movement in the business environment towards automated processes through the use of Chatbots, introduced in order to support business teams in their relations with customers.

Chatbots are essentially personal assistants developed to assist you. They are artificial intelligence systems that we can interact via text or even voice interface. In the business world the idea is to automate repetitive tasks in order to lighten the workload for employees, allowing them more time to concentrate on more important tasks at hand.

As futuristic as this all sounds, the reality is that this is something that businesses are already using and the benefits are definitely worth mentioning.

Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Your Business With Google PPC Ads

Chatbots in Business

The main aim of any business is to keep the customer happy – that’s where the money comes from after all. In such a fast-paced, technologically advanced world, customers are expecting so much more from businesses in terms of service delivery, so this is where Chatbots come in.

Unlike humans, Chatbots can work 24/7 without a break and without the added expense, two factors that will definitely benefit any business, never mind the improved customer satisfaction that comes with that.

Customers no longer have to wait to be put through to the next available operator; Chatbots are replacing live chat with other forms of contact such as text and emails, ensuring that customers are dealt with faster than was previously possible.

Chatbots can have conversations with thousands of people simultaneously, something that humans just can’t do.

Dealing with difficult customers is also a thing of the past. Chatbots are bound by rules and specific instructions so they will always deal with customers in a polite and professional manner, another positive for customer satisfaction.

In the travel and hospitality industry, dealing with customers that speak other languages is also a possibility with a Chatbot trained in different languages.

The Long-Term Cost Saving

There is major movement in all businesses to keep costs down, especially as the business grows. A major monthly expense for businesses is the paying of salaries. Although it isn’t possible to completely cut out this expense, Chatbots can help businesses reduce the amount of staff needed.

Related: The Best Conversion Rate Optimisation Tips To Help You Grow Your Business

Chatbots can deal with simpler customer queries and only escalate more complex queries to agents. Chatbots can also lighten the workload of a sales team by engaging with customers and gathering information about what the customers want, supplying the sales team with valuable information to help in the sales process.

Chatbots are a one-time investment, and any company with a website can make use of them – simple and cost-effective in the long term.

There are so many benefits to using Chatbots, and as technology continues to advance, who knows what these bots will be capable of in the future.

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