I recently met with a group of Entrepreneurs to talk about digital marketing. Their companies are small, but damn they are impressive – the majority had driven the largest percentage of their sales through word of mouth alone. Like most business owners, these Entrepreneurs wanted to continue to improve by teaching more people about their brands, drive more visits to their sites, and ultimately, make more money.
These guys and gals are smart and have hustle that’s off the charts, but they don’t have the time or access to premium tools to get crazy sophisticated in trying to understand who the heck they are selling their products to online.
They need a scrappy solution. So, I compiled a list of 16 easy to use FREE tools for those Entrepreneurs to help them identify their audiences and then connect with them online.
I had originally designed this post for the feisty in-the-trenches-hustlers who might not have the time or budget to analyze their audience through premium tools. However, the real beauty of the tools outlined in this post is that they can add value to any company at any level or size or experience. At Seer, we use them every day. Check out how you can begin using these tools:
Why Focus on Audience First?
At Seer, we’re big proponents of understanding our client’s audiences before defining our marketing strategies. Marketing isn’t always linear, but we like to think about our clients’ audience’s as a general first step, which eventually helps inform how we talk to them, what we should talk about, and how we should reach them. It’s not rocket science. Behind every computer or smartphone is a real person… the idea is to figure out who the heck they are before you start talking to them.
Why is this important?
If you haven’t heard of Seer (welcome to our site!), a big part of what we do is SEO – we think about Google’s algorithm and how it decides who’s at the top of search results…a lot. We know that Google will always strive to deliver the most relevant and quality result to users for any given search query. Google has competition, and in order to keep users on their engine they must aim to deliver the best results on the web. But who ultimately decides if a result is relevant and quality? Sure, it’s the algorithm, but more so than ever…
The user does.
Let me explain. The days of stuffing a bunch of target keywords into a page and hoping that it ranks well are long, long gone. Google has gotten way more sophisticated at understanding the types of content that are quality and that are relevant to what someone is actually searching for. A significant part of that understanding comes from user signals. We’ve seen strong evidence for a direct correlation between rankings and user signals, and we’re paying close attention.
As the algorithm continues to evolve, we’re firm believers that content that resonates the most with users will win more times than it does not. Given time, the best stuff on the internet for any given query will eventually rank on page one. Users will see it, engage with it, and search engines will take notice and want to rank it well. So, if we can build stuff and talk about stuff that resonates with our audience, we’ll earn those user signals that boost rankings, and ultimately traffic and revenue. As one of my favorite marketers of all time Seth Godin says,
“…marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”
Sure, SEO isn’t the be-all of marketing, but if you understand your audience, you can deliver personal and relevant messages no matter what channel you’re investing in.
A note about these tools:
Some of them do way more than what I’m outlining for the purposes of this post. If that’s the case, I gave it an asterisk. Asterisk = really important and/or powerful tool.
Tools to Identify Your Audience
Being able to find your customers, what they’re interested in, and how they search online is the first (and probably most crucial!) step to the whole digital marketing thing. Each of these tools can help you more effectively understand who your online customers actually are, what their path to purchase tends to look like, and how you should be talking to them throughout their journey.
What it is: Also known as “GA”, it’s the most widely used website analytics platform on the internet, which allows you to monitor and track your website’s traffic. There’s a ton that you can do in GA, but we’ll focus on one section in particular for the purpose of identifying target customers.
Features: Google Analytics provides you with data on the actual visitors trafficking your site, and within the Audience section, you can play around with the below data sets over whatever time period you’re interested in:
- Demographics (Age, Gender)
- Geo (Language, Location)
- Behavior (New vs. Returning, Frequency & Recency, Engagement)
- Technology (Browser & OS, Network)
- Mobile (Devices)
- Interests (Affinity Categories, In-Market Segments)
- …and more!
Seer Pro Tip: Interest information gives you context for expanding your marketing into related markets (Affinity Categories), and for focusing your advertising on exactly the users who demonstrate a likelihood to consume your content or purchase your products (In-Market Segments). Use this data to build out blog and social content that may resonate with users within your target audience.
Real World Application: For one of my clients in the lifestyle industry that buys and sells used luxury watches, we discovered that potential customers lower in the conversion funnel are tangentially interested in sports. So, we created a “what watch does ___ wear” blog series, which highlights famous athletes and their watch collections. These posts have driven thousands of monthly site visitors since their creation, and over $ 25,000 worth of assisted conversions.
What it is: By plugging in your industry, business size, and region, this tool will help you uncover the various marketing channels that your customers are likely to use (and in what order) throughout their path to purchase
Features: Uncover how your various marketing campaigns may have a different impact on your customers, depending on where throughout their path to purchase they interact with your campaign. For example, at the beginning of the purchase path, Generic Paid Search helps customers gain awareness of your product or service. In the middle, it creates desire and boosts interest. And at the end, it helps to seal the deal. This tool will allow you to understand what percentage of users view Generic Paid Search (and other channels such as Brand Paid Search, Email, Referral, Social, Organic, etc.) at the beginning, middle, and end of their search journey.
Seer Pro Tip: In Google Analytics under Acquisition -> Overview, you’ll see the percentage of total site visits over any given date via the various channels outlined in this tool. Layer that data over the path to purchase timeline of this tool (first screenshot) to understand if users are trafficking your website more towards the beginning, middle, or end of their path to purchase. For example, if the majority of your users are coming to the site via email, and email is a channel that’s more often one of the last interactions before purchase, reaching a user through that channel may be more critical to driving short term conversions. You may want to craft marketing strategies aimed at capturing email addresses. Alternatively, investing in channels closer to the beginning of the user journey may help build brand awareness and longer term customers.
What it is: Dig into Twitter analytics in order to uncover audience insights with this tool. Search bios, compare users, analyze Twitter accounts, track & sort followers, and much more.
Features: The free version allows you to view social authority rankings, see followers and their locations, and know when followers are active.
Seer Pro Tip: Under the search bios option, insert your Twitter handle and the handles of your closest competitors, and download the top 50 most relevant bio profiles for each. Throw those bios into a word cloud in order to understand the most frequently used words in your follower’s Twitter bios, in order of appearance. That will tell you what sorts of things your followers are interested in – outside of your site, of course.
Real World Application: By running through the above Seer Pro Tip process for one of my ecommerce clients, we discovered that their Twitter followers were super interested in numerous tangentially related industries that we had never considered. We worked with numerous influencers in these “new” segments to build out promotional campaigns that ended up being some of our most successful campaigns to date.
Tools to Find Out What Your Audience Is Searching For
What’s better than knowing who your customers are and what they’re interested in? Knowing what they’re actually searching for online! By understanding what they’re searching for, you can create content and streamline your messaging so that you’re providing real value by answering your customers’ pain points and questions about your product or service.
What it is: One of my favorite tools for keyword research. Plug in any keyword and understand what real life questions are being asked around it. This tool breaks up questions into who, what, when, where, why, which, are and how modifiers.
Features: This tool allows you to visualize each question in a handy image that can easily be exported for presentations. You can also view a master list of questions in alphabetical order, and export them for your own use. Looking to understand your international customers? Another helpful feature is the ability to toggle between countries, like the UK, France, and Australia.
Seer Pro Tip: Download the Keywords Everywhere chrome extension, a free keyword research tool that shows you google keyword search volume and cost per click data on multiple websites, including this one. With that extension, you can view keyword search volume without having to leave the tool!
Super Seer Pro Tip: No really, download Keywords Everywhere. It also integrates seamlessly with Google Search Console, GA, Google Trends, Ubersuggest, Soolve, and many more helpful tools!
What it is: Keyword Tool is free online keyword research instrument that uses Google Autocomplete to generate hundreds of relevant long-tail keywords for any topic.
Features: You can also toggle between Google, YouTube, Bing, Amazon, and the App store, which is really nifty. The tool also allows you to change geographic location and language settings easily, which makes international keyword research a breeze.
Seer Pro Tip: Don’t get too “long tail” with your keywords here. Long tail keywords are those three and four keyword phrases which are very, very specific. We’ve found that this tool works best when you type in more popular (and shorter) keywords that tend to have higher search volume.
What it is: At a high level, keyword Planner allows you to search for keyword ideas, get historical keyword statistics, see how a list of keywords might perform if you’re thinking about running a paid advertising campaign, and even create a new keyword list by multiplying several lists of keywords together.
Features: Use this tool to understand how many time a month, on average, users in various geographic regions (counties, states, provinces, countries, etc.) are searching for any term. You can also search for keywords using a phrase, website, or category, and can multiply keyword lists to get new keyword ideas.
Seer Pro Tip: Keyword Planner has started combining search volume for similar keywords, which means that you could be grossly overestimating aggregate search volume if you were to add up multiple keywords in a list. For example in the image below, the terms seo and search engine optimization and possible even additional, related phrases have a combined 673,000 average monthly searches. They don’t each have 673,000 average monthly searches.
There are workarounds to get individual keyword data back – but be careful if you’re using Keyword Planner data to make big marketing decisions. Lastly, keep in mind that average monthly search volume isn’t everything. You may want to create content that targets keywords with lower search volume, but that may resonate better with audiences and have a higher chances of converting. Check out this post for more information on doing keyword research.
What it is: A Google tool that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to its total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages.
Features: There are two main features – a graph showing search-term trends, and popularity statistics broken down by countries, regions, cities and language. You can easily compare keywords and their relative search interest in order to understand how your site, product, or service offerings stack up against competitors.
Seer Pro Tip: This is a great tool to help identify stories and topics that are currently trending. If a story relates to your product, service line, or industry as a whole, it can easily help inform social media or blog post content.
What it is: Heard of Google Alerts? Talkwalker Alerts is our preferred substitute (we think it’s more accurate), which allows you to monitor the Web for interesting new content about your brand, competitors, events or any favorite topic
Features: Create alerts based off specific search queries, and filter by result types, language, and how often you’d like to receive them. Alerts will be sent directly to the email address of your choosing.
Seer Pro Tip: Set up these alerts up on specific, popular industry forums, in order to monitor what some of your most passionate and loyal customers are saying about your brand, your competitors, specific products or services, and the industry
Real World Application: By running through the above Seer Pro Tip process for one of my ecommerce clients, we were able to uncover conversations between customers that were happening in real time on industry forums, that otherwise would have been buried. By then joining the conversation and answering questions on these forum threads, we were able to drive site traffic and direct conversions.
Tools To Measure Your Site’s Visitors
If you’re a marketer, understanding what your customers are searching for online is smart. Adopting a data driven approach to your marketing efforts based off your website’s data (and data of your competitors sites) can be the difference between your future campaign being a success, or it being a flop. For each campaign that you run, these tools will help you determine their ROI, and whether or not what you’re doing is actually helping you achieve your goals.
What it is: Quite possibly the most valuable tool at the fingertips of digital marketers today, SEMrush is a data goldmine, with tools for competitor analysis, keyword research, site auditing, advertising research and so much more. The downside? The free version doesn’t offer a tremendous amount – a $ 69.95 upgrade is required access to much of what makes this tool so valuable and unique.
Features: Even with the free version, you’ll be able to understand a substantial amount of valuable information, including an organic search domain overview of your site and of your competitors’ sites, which includes the number of keywords and backlinks for each site, as well as:
- Top organic and paid keywords
- Organic position distribution
- Main organic competitors
- Competitive positioning map
- Branded vs. non-branded search metrics
- Sample paid ads
- Top backlink anchors
- Top referring domains
You can also view the keyword rankings for any domain on a keyword by keyword basis, which is extremely helpful. And, if that wasn’t enough, this tool allows you to discover trends, ranking data, and much more for any individual keyword.
Seer Pro Tip: There are so many valuable analyses that you can run from the SEMrush dashboard, but one of my favorite is the domain vs. domain analysis. Enter up to 3 domains to compare keyword rankings in order to find keyword gaps. Creating content to fill these gaps can help drive qualified traffic to your site, and eventually increase conversions.
Real World Application: By looking for gaps in keywords ranking for images between one of my clients in the retail industry and their competitors, we uncovered a huge opportunity to optimize our client’s images. Three months after doing so, our images were ranking for 6,556 new keywords. For the images that we were already ranking for, our average position had also increased.
What it is: A tool to help you understand how Google understands your website; this free platform will provide you with the diagnostics needed to create and maintain Google-friendly websites and mobile apps. That’s all fine and dandy, but you can also leverage this data to understand how users from organic search are interacting with your website within the search engine results pages (SERPs), and how
Features: Discover how Google is indexing and crawling your website, and leverage technical data to better optimize your website for organic search. Under search traffic -> search analytics, you can see how many clicks and impressions each URL on your website is getting from Google. You can also view the click-through-rate and position of each one of those URLs. Within that report, filter by top performing pages, compare country and device data, and see how you’re performing when it comes to web, image, and video results.
Seer Pro Tip: You can now enable Google Search Console directly within Google Analytics, so that you don’t have to switch between tools. Who doesn’t like saving time? Enabling Search Console directly within Google Analytics will help marry landing page, country, device, and keyword data from both platforms, for added insights about your customers who are trafficking your website from organic search.
Real World Application: One of the fascinating aspects of the search analytics feature is being able to view the numerous keywords that each page is ranking for on Google. By understanding which keywords are driving the highest click-throughs to certain pages that are ranking in a similar position on Google (and thus probably resonating better with users for the term that they’re entering into Google), we were able to better optimize title tags and meta descriptions for keywords with higher click-through-rates, improving the overall average click-through-rate and website clicks for those pages. If you want to replicate those results, check out this awesome post from Moz that outlines the process.
Tools to Help Reach Your Audience on Social Media
While Seer isn’t a social media agency, we get asked about social media best practices and tools a lot. Being able to reach your customers and make an impression on social media is a crucial elements of digital marketing these days, and there are so many valuable tools out there that will allow you to measure social analytics and connect with your customers in ways that are really amazing. The majority of these tools can also be used to uncover insights that go way beyond social – that can also help inform content creation, paid ad creation, and many other digital marketing strategies and tactics.
What it is: Track hashtags, social accounts, and historical social data across Twitter and Instagram with this tool. While the meat of what’s offered requires a paid plan to access, you can still squeeze out insightful data from the free version.
Features: Uncover trends and valuable social account statistics across any topic or industry, as well as source top posts by engagement by toggling between the hashtag and @account options. There’s also a nifty sentiment score, which analyzes whether or not social posts are positive, negative, or neutral around any given topic.
Seer Pro Tip: By understanding what your audience is talking about on social with this tool, you can use insights from Followerwonk around the times of day that your audience is most active on social media in order to not only post about relevant topics, but do it at the right time.
Real World Application: By analyzing hashtags using this tool, we realized that a topic within my client’s industry was being posted about a lot, and we had written a few old blog posts about that same topic. We re-surfaced those posts and shared them on social media, using the hashtags that were trending. By doing so, we drove a significant spike in website traffic and social engagement over the next few days.
What it is: A quick and easy tool for tallying up how many times any URL on the internet has been shared across almost any social media platform or website that allows you to bookmark or share (reddit, pocket, etc.).
Features: The beauty of this tool is in its simplicity. Simply plug in a URL – and voila!
Seer Pro Tip: The “Tally It” bookmark is awesome! Featured on the homepage, you can drag the bookmarklet to your toolbar and easily tally up the shares of any page on the internet without having to leave that page and go back to the tool!
What it is: One of my colleagues, Lauren Grabowski, wrote about this tool in her awesome Giant List of Free Influencer Marketing & PR Tools post, which I highly recommend checking out if you haven’t already. Her roundup was grade A, so I’m going to replicate it here.
Features: The free version offers a dashboard to manage up to 3 of your social media profiles where you can send messages and interact with industry influencers. The free App adds functionality and compatibility with platforms like Reddit and Tumblr.
Seer Pro Tip: Track specific hashtags like #URGHARO and #JournoRequest or phrases like “for a story” to find journalists who are looking for quick sources.
What it is: Also stolen from Lauren’s post! This is a simple, two-step process of finding email addresses using Twitter.
Features: Just sign in with your Twitter account, enter the Twitter handle you’d like to see tweets for, and boom! Every tweet imaginable from that Twitter handle appears. You can easily “Control F” and search for emails from here.
Seer Pro Tip: This is a great tool to find emails for bloggers and freelancers if you want to get in touch. It’s also an innovative way to easily see if an industry influencer is chatting about a particular topic of interest. Check out Emma’s post for the full tutorial!
What it is: A unique tool that allows you to create beautiful designs with no design experience whatsoever. This is a must for smaller companies who want to take the DIY approach to designing their content. It’s even great for larger companies who want to beef up the aesthetics of their social media posts without forking over the big bucks. Think graphic design software for dummies.
Features: The tool includes millions of images, photo filters, free icons & shapes, and hundreds of fonts. There are templates for cards, invitations, flyers, posters, banners, social graphics, and much, much more. You can sign up for free, and start designing on their design grid.
Seer Pro Tip: Twitter cards have been proven to help drive engagement, but creating them can be costly if you don’t have access to an in-house designer. Use this tool to create well-designed Twitter cards and other engaging images that can be shared through social media.
What it is: Though Klear offers premium options, the free version is a gem. Find Influencers and analyze any social account across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in a heartbeat.
Features: Segment Twitter and Instagram influencers by what Klear calls “skill” (or general keyword) and location. You can sort influencers by celebrities, power users, casual, and novice.
Seer Pro Tip: You can easily “Control F” and search Twitter bios for additional information that may be relevant to a potential outreach or promotional campaign, like influencer interests and likes (craft beer, hiking, etc.), which may be worth including in an outreach message. Check out an innovative way to recruit top talent using this tool by Emma in this blog post.
There are so many tools out there for identifying and reaching your audience online. The free tools outlined in this post are:
Tools to Identify Your Audience
Tools to Find Out What Your Audience Is Searching For
Tools To Measure Your Site’s Visitors
Tools to Help Reach Your Audience on Social Media
What are your favorite tools for identifying and reaching your customers online? Got any that we should include on the list. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @ijordanfrank.