No matter whether you’re building a wooden cabinet or trying to market the next big social media site, you need to find the right tools for the job. If you try to build a cabinet with MailChimp and Hootsuite, you’re gonna have a bad time. It’s also probably best you don’t try to market your business with a hammer and a handful of nails 🙂
When it comes to marketing, your toolset is called your marketing stack. If you want your efforts to be successful, you need to lay them all out before you hit the ground running. Here, we’re going to let you in on 10 tools that can help kick start your marketing efforts.
The best part? They’re all free.
What is a “marketing stack”?
A marketing stack is simply the tools you use to get your marketing work done. As a marketer, you’ll generally want at least one tool for each of the following categories:
- Project management
- Social media marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Email marketing
You can divide each of these further, but for now, these will do. So, now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s talk about tools.
Free project management tools
Project management should be your first consideration when setting up your marketing stack. Unlike social media schedulers or email marketing platforms, which remain fairly compartmentalized, your project management tools are what you’ll use to schedule your work, draft campaign ideas, and make sure you’re staying on track across all of your channels.
Without the right project management tools, even small projects can get out of hand quickly.
If you have a Google account, chances are you’ve used Google Sheets at least once. If not, here’s the short and sweet of it: it’s a cloud-based spreadsheet application that lets you collaborate with others in real-time.
Google Sheets is an extremely powerful piece of software, and the possibilities are really quite limitless. In fact, you can even code new programs with Sheets once you really learn your way around it. Plus, Sheets is completely free, so you don’t have to choose between work quality and your wallet.
While Sheets is very powerful, it can also be a bit intimidating. Unlike dedicated PM tools like Trello or Asana, Sheets doesn’t give you much direction: it starts you off with a blank sheet, and you need to go from there.
While project management templates are available (some come with Sheets), Sheets doesn’t hold your hand as much as other tools designed specifically for project management.
Unlike Google Sheets that are just flexible enough to be used for this purpose, Trello is specifically designed for project management. As such, it’s easier to navigate, has more useful features, and it offers tutorials to guide you when you get started.
Trello is referred to as a Kanban-style project management platform: you set up different columns for phases of the project and move cards that represent specific tasks into the lanes.
For example: let’s imagine you’re a coffee company looking to collaborate with other complementary brands in the industry and need a way for your team to track their outreach.
You may have columns that say:
- Not started
- Creating pitch
- Follow up
After you set these up, you’ll start adding cards with all the brands or influencers you want to talk to into the “Not started” column.
Each card can be assigned to a specific team member, so when your writer starts working on a pitch, assign it to them and move that card into the ‘Creating pitch’ column. When that’s finished, they’ll move it over to outreach, assign it to the outreach manager, and so on.
In this way, you get a clear idea of your project’s progress through the production pipeline.
On top of that, you get access to other useful features like commenting, time-tracking, dude date notifications, and similar.
Free social media marketing tools
Ah, social media. What phrase gets marketers more excited than “going viral”? Here are a few tools to help you start your climb to social media stardom.
Hootsuite is one of the best-known social media management platforms around. Hootsuite offers a wealth of tools, such as content scheduler, analytics, content curation tools, social media monitoring, team management tools, and more.
Unfortunately, only the scheduler is available in the free version of Hootsuite, and even then you’re limited to 30 scheduled messages per month. That said, we think that the scheduler is the most important of Hootsuite’s offerings, so it’s definitely worth adding to your free marketing stack.
With the scheduler, you can plan all your content in advance and automatically post them to your social media accounts at a time you set. So, if you’re planning a big release next Wednesday, you don’t have to scramble to post to your Facebook and Twitter as soon as the clock strikes midnight. Just create your post in Hootsuite, set the time you want to post at, which social networks you want to send it to, and you’re golden.
All in all, Hootsuite helps you plan ahead and can help you post more consistently. You can spend just one day a week making social media content and then have Hootsuite automatically post it through the week for you.
Linktree is a very helpful tool with limited use-cases. Namely, it tries to solve a particularly annoying issue with Instagram — we’ll call it the Link In Bio Problem.
Ever browse Instagram, find a post you were interested in, and follow the link in the bio only to find that it’s been updated to newer content, and you can’t find what you were originally looking for? That’s the Link In Bio Problem.
To solve this, Linktree has a simple but ingenious solution: link to a separate webpage with a directory of links to all the content you post. Linktree simply makes that webpage for you.
So, if you’re posting recipes every day, for example, you can post a Linktree link in your bio. When your audience follows the link, they’ll be presented with a list of links to all the recipes you posted recently, and they can choose from there.
The free version of Linktree has most of the full version core functionality, but you’re limited as far as design options are concerned. It can be particularly hard to stay consistent with your branding with the free version, but that’s not the end of the world if you’re on a budget.
Canva is an online cloud design tool, sort of like a cloud-based version of Microsoft Publisher. While it’s not designed specifically for social media marketing, we’ve found that’s where it comes most in handy.
In short, Canva makes creating designs for your social media profiles a breeze. Whether it’s a banner for Facebook or a post on Instagram, Canva has tools that make it easy to quickly throw together an eye-catching graphic.
Free search engine optimization (SEO) tools
Ok, we lied. If there’s one phrase that really sends marketers buzzing, it’s organic traffic. Here are a few ways to get started with SEO for free.
Ubersuggest is marketing guru Neil Patel’s very own keyword research tool. For a fee of exactly zero dollars, you can get insight into how many searches volume-specific keywords are getting, how many views per month competitor web pages receive, and so on. The tool will even suggest other keywords you should consider targeting.
Overall, it’s a must-have tool for any free marketing stack build if you’re getting involved in SEO. Using it is pretty much a no-brainer if you’re looking to grow your organic traffic.
Although the name might suggest otherwise, Screaming Frog is a website crawler, not an actual screaming frog — no adorable amphibious amigos here, unfortunately.
Screaming Frog helps you optimize your webpage by crawling your pages in a way similar to Google’s web crawler. Then, it detects issues that could hurt your site’s SEO ranking. For example, if you have broken links, duplicate pages, or your meta descriptions aren’t the right length, it will let you know so you can fix it.
It’s a useful tool for sure, and the free version offers more than enough capabilities for most people getting started with SEO.
Google search console
Google Search Console should be a must-have for anyone that has a website – it is not only the best source of truth you have regarding your organic traffic but also gives valuable insights into how Google views your website.
All Search Console features are free but if you’re just starting out we’d recommend spending most of your time in the Performance Report – it lets you see which search terms and pages are responsible for most of your traffic and even lets you plot trends and positioning over time.
Free email marketing tools
Although social media marketing tends to get the spotlight these days, email marketing is still an important part of any marketing stack. In fact, some studies show that the median ROI from email marketing is 122%. If those numbers sound good to you, here are a few ways to get into email marketing on a budget.
We’re not going to beat around the bush here: the free version of Mailchimp is very limited. You can only have up to 2,000 contacts, you can’t segment your list, you don’t get most of the more advanced features, and you get very few templates.
That said, if you’re just starting out or have a very small list, Mailchimp is a good way to start sending out promotional emails without spending a dime. You won’t get immaculately designed and branded emails, but you will get basic design tools and the ability to send emails out to up to 2,000 people. And hey, that’s definitely something.
In a nutshell, Hunter.io hunts for emails. If you want to find the emails of employees of a company, Hunter.io will crawl the domain and return addresses. If you want to find a specific person’s email, Hunter.io will look through its data to find a match. Plus, you can also use it to verify emails.
So, how does this come in handy for marketers? We consider email finders to be invaluable when it comes to content initiatives and guest posts as it lets us easily find and verify emails before doing our outreach to ensure we’re targeting the right person.
Where to start
We’re fully aware this list can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re just starting your marketing journey. In order to avoid choice paralysis, our advice is to pick one area where you want to improve and then choose a tool to help you.
It might seem tempting to tackle SEO, social, and email all at once, but you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin and becoming a master of none. You can also opt to outsource some of the work – there is an abundance of partners for things like link building and content marketing.
If you’re focused and deliberate with your marketing and pursue small wins then progress and results will come – good luck!
Quincy is the VP of SEO & Analytics at Ampjar, a marketing partnership platform. He’s passionate about IPAs, strong coffee, and solo travel.