Bryan Eisenberg, likes to say, Get good at free. Then pay.
The beauty of free tools or site support systems is that by signing up for a free basic or a 30-day trial allows you to decide how usable the tool is and if it meets your requirements. Some free tools never move into fee-based or they are donation based. Basic free membership for some may offer just enough for you now and if your site grows, you can move into the next phase for purchase. Remember, most fee-based applications are automatically updated. That alone is worth paying for in this day of hacking.
If you have long wished to find a tool that helps you keep track of your social networking campaigns, check out StatDash, your personal online marketing metrics mashup maker.
Its widget based and lives in the cloud, offering loads of space and ease of use. Imagine, a way to see and use all of your favorite campaigns, from Facebook to Youtube, to analytics to blogs, all in one place.
They offer a free service and a 30 day trial so you can learn more advanced parts of the system.
Content management systems are all the rage, especially if you manage lots of web sites or blogs with many authors.
Software applications are tied to CMS back ends too. Requirements vary, and so is the creativity out there for designing that next cool web site. Typically we think of Joomla or Drupal to handle robust duties but there is another option called Pixelsilk.
The first notable selling point for Pixelsilk is that its SEO-friendly from the start. The drawback of many propriety CMSs are that they are not SEO-friendly or were designed with severe limitations. Pixelsilk can be used to host and manage your own web site or a pile of them, such as for clients. Enterprise-level needs often require specific access by different people and this system handles that. The video demos are clever and easy to follow. While not free, the reviews have been extremely positive.
If you cant afford to outsource for marketing, usability or data analysis help, there are tools available to help that offer insights into any problem areas of your web site. If ROI is your lead objective, testing shows where the issues are that are preventing better returns on your investments. This includes understanding how your videos are performing.
Pixability Online Video Grader
If you make videos, how do you know if they are effective or popular? Try the free Pixability Online Video Grader. From their site:
The Pixability Online Video Grader measures how you use video on your website, how you rank on Google and other video search engines, and how effective your YouTube channel is.
While not free, serious video marketers may wish to invest in a service like TreePodia for SEO-enhanced video, hosting and A/B testing. Ever want to turn a catalog into a series of product videos that will be optimized for search and can be tested for conversion rates? Now you can.
For communicating designs and redesigns, wireframes are popular.
In fact, testing can be done at the wireframe stage, as well as some eye tracking of wire frame screenshots (try Feng-Gui).
What if you want something fast and want to brainstorm via your mobile device from wherever you are? Mockflow does some amazing things. You can export your design in HTML format. Wireframe projects can be viewed in mobile devices like Tablets and Smartphones such as iPhone/iPad/Android. It can be interactive. It comes with built-in components (a huge time-saver), plus collaboration features. It even has Google Apps integration and special options for businesses. There is a free plan and very affordable annual plan for $69US.
Finally, since engagement is the big word of the year, youll find it to be the basis of BTBuckets, a free personalization and on-site behavioral targeting tool. They offer something unique.
Personalization (or on-site behavioral targeting) is the capability to identify valuable visitor segments and serve customized content based on their characteristics. Web personalization is a "strategy, a marketing tool, and an art," according Christian Ricci and we hope that BTBuckets will help get you there.
BTBuckets is a free* tag-based solution that allows you to automatically segment and target users based on behavioral, demographic, and technographic information. We give you the power to bucket your users in any way you wish - and then serve personalized content to these clusters.
Search engine marketing and usability testing tools are always popular, with new ideas rolled out often by different companies. There is less emphasis, at the moment, on social marketing tracking tools and user engagement. Look out for more self-help in these areas in the coming months.