My Favorite Tools For Running an Online Business

Over the past three years I've read countless blog posts and marketing guides on sites like The Content Strategist, KlientBoost, ConversionXL and QuickSprout (to name just a few).

From those posts and guides I've absorbed a massive amount of advice, some of which I mention in this guide.

I've also been fortunate enough to experiment with these ten tools, and many others, for my clients and employers. I am grateful for the opportunities those companies, and my bosses at those companies, have given me to develop the skills necessary to write this guide.

If you happen to find this guide instructive, please share it with your business associates friends and family members who are interested in learning more about internet marketing.

If you want to touch base with me, whether to complain about how unhelpful my advice was or to ask for more of it, give me a shout.

Without further ado:

My Favorite Tools for Running an Online Business

Live Chat

Live chat is a game changer. I installed Zopim, ZenDesk's live chat software, on my client's wine events website 6 months ago. Zopim's entry level live chat widget is free, and there are plenty of other live chat plug-ins out there that offer premium features for little to no cost.

Since installing Zopim on my client's site, I've generated thousands of dollars in ticket sales that otherwise may have never occurred.

For example, a few days after adding the widget a site visitor messaged me in the chat box asking about details of one of our ticketed events. After a few minutes of light banter the gentleman told me he was so happy with the conversation he was buying 4 tickets on the spot. I've had countless conversations with similar payoffs.

I've sold event sponsorships, built partnerships with other companies, and learned about serious website issues from my live chat sessions. Live chat is nearly as indispensable to e-commerce websites as sales people are to brick and mortar retail stores. At this point there's no excuse to not offer your visitors this service.

Make sure to experiment with the "trigger" feature, which sends your site visitors an automated live chat greeting ("Welcome, how can I help you today?"). It's a great way to build trust, although it is time consuming to respond to all the customer inquiries.

User Feedback Platforms

It's not enough to get feedback on your company's website design and functionality from employees, or from friends and family. You need the internet equivalent of focus groups: random visitors paid to provide their unbiased opinions.

For $45 UserTesting will assign someone to browse your website, record their browsing session and provide audio narration of their experience. You pick tasks they need to try to complete (i.e. try to buy tickets to the November jazz concert) and questions they need to answer (i.e. what bothered you about the site design?).

If paying $45 for one person's feedback is out of your budget, don't worry. UserTesting has a free version called Peek. Fill out a form with your website URL, and within a few hours you can get up to three 5-minute clips of random users providing feedback about their experience browsing your site.

Another option is Feedback Army. For $40 you can submit your site to be reviewed by 10 people. They won't record their sessions; instead they answer written questions. Ask as many questions as you like, and you'll get responses within minutes.

For my money, Amazon Mechanical Turk is your best resource for generating random and unbiased user feedback. For as low as 1 cent per review you can tap into Amazon's massive database of reviewers. I recently spent $14.50 for 10 high quality reviews of the Re/charge Marketing website. All 10 reviews were sent to me within 6 hours of the placing the order.

Referral Tracking

I have built some of my most profitable relationships through Google Analytics' Referrals section. In the Referrals section, Google Analytics gives a thorough breakdown of where your website gets its traffic from: whether its through searches, social media sites, or other websites.

Knowing where your site visitors come from allows you to tap into those referral sources so they continue sending you traffic. If you see that a style blog is sending your clothing e-commerce site a lot of traffic, call or email the blogger, thank them and find out how you can keep the traffic coming.

Most likely they will ask for some type of compensation, but in some cases they'll just ask for a heads-up when you release your newest clothing items. Find other affordable ways to make them happy (comped purchases, etc.) and you'll keep the traffic coming for years to come.

Affiliate Marketing

I realize I'm not breaking new ground with this strategy. Affiliate marketing pre-dates the internet, but it remains an invaluable resource if you can't afford to pay upfront for advertising. And even if you can afford upfront advertising, affiliate marketing is still a worthwhile investment (see Amazon's affiliate marketing program for an example).

After you've checked your referral sources in Google Analytics or another platform, contact those referrers and offer them an affiliate deal in which they only get paid if they refer a sale. You can track the affiliates' sales either by giving them a unique discount code to give to their site visitors, or by using an affiliate platform like LeadDyno (fees attached) or AffiliateWP (free). You can also setup affiliate tracking in Google Analytics with UTM codes, but you may need an experienced developer to help set that up for you.

Affiliates tend to own small or mid-sized blogs, rather than established websites. While it's very difficult to find an affiliate with a large enough audiences to drive significant referral sales, when you do land upon one it's like striking gold. I've worked with affiliates who have generated tens of thousands of dollars in sales for my clients in just a few months.

Push Notifications

Once thought (at least by me) to only be available to mobile app developers, push notifications are now accessible to even the most modest of websites. With platforms like PushCrew, you can easily add push notifications to your desktop website at no cost (upgrading to paid plans allows you to increase your subscriber limit and target Android users with Chrome).

I installed push notifications on one of my client's sites, and over the first two weeks it's been an absolute success. We've already had 150 people sign up for the notifications. When we send out a push notification, 10-15 people on average click the link to get re-directed to our site (about a 15% click-through rate, since not all 150 people are online to see the push notifications). As our subscriber base grows, click-through's will obviously go up.

Further, through conversion tracking we saw that one of our subscribers made a $600 purchase after clicking the link in a push notification.

Blog Post/Social Media Automation

Let's say you've written 20 blog posts: Since social media is such a valuable source of new traffic, you're going to want to repost those articles as many times as possible (without appearing too desperate), not just once.

That awesome post you wrote about the 7 best cupcake shops in Denver that was shared 50 times on your Facebook page? Why not post it once every month (or every week) so your new Facebook fans get a chance to take a peek?

Free tools like Revive Old Post and SocialOomph will take individual blog posts and re-post them to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or LinkedIn as often as you'd like. You don't even need to set the time and date, just an interval - like every 8 hours - or every week. Set it, and forget it.


This one is really simple, and extremely affordable. Implementing forms on your site (which are built into all website design platforms), and making them easily accessible, can transform your company's bottom line.

It's important to include your company's phone number and email address on your website too, but forms allow your visitors to make contact more efficiently than by phone or email.

Think about it: Would you rather spend 5 minutes on the phone, take a few minutes to type out an email or invest 30 seconds to fill out a few form fields and click submit? Uber, OpenTable, GrubHub and countless other tech companies used forms to disrupt their respective industries.

Adding a form to our restaurant client's website increased private party requests 100%. Adding a form to our event client's website increased sponsorship inquiries a similar amount.

For great advice on building forms that maximize conversion, check out Unbounce, ConversionXL and KlientBoost.

Lightboxes (aka Pop-Ups)

Lightboxes, commonly referred to as pop-ups, have been pestering website visitors since the dawn of the internet. But there's a reason even the most established companies use them: they work.

You can easily add engaging, non-intrusive lightboxes to your website with free plug-ins built by SumoMe, HelloBar, or countless other platforms.

While it's important to offer your site visitors the best possible user experience, if you capture their contact information with a lightbox pop-up you can continue to interact with them after they leave your site. There are countless stories of websites increasing their email subscriber sign-ups 100x or more through lighbox sign-ups. I've seen it firsthand with my clients.

One cool tactic is to advertise a discount in the lightbox only accessible if the visitor submits their email address. That tactic increased one of my client's sign-up rates over 100%.

Furthermore, you can use lightbox pop-ups to re-direct your visitors to a sales page they may have otherwise ignored or missed. You can also sell your lightbox space to advertisers' - a tactic many large media companies rely on for ad revenue.


Note: This is different from Boost #2: User Feedback Platforms because you are using your own audience for surveys - which greatly reduces cost.

Your website visitors, email subscribers and social media followers offer value beyond their purchasing power

Through surveys, you can gain valuable insights into your audience's browsing and buying habits, allowing you to make vital improvements to increase customer satisfaction and retention.

There are two other valuable uses for survey data:

1. You can use it to create compelling content like infographics and insightful blog posts (check out this Contently article for awesome examples).

2. You can use the data to impress potential advertisers. For example, you can poll your audience about their demographics, buying habits, interests and anything else you'd like to ask. Advertisers crave this type of intel.

You can use Wufoo to create simple surveys to email to your newsletter subscribers or post on your website; they offer a free version, and the next step up is only $15/month.

You can also install a survey pop-up on the homepage of your website, allowing you to tap into an audience beyond your subscribers and followers. While there are plenty of expensive survey widgets are there, Feedbackify and FeedbackLite are two relatively affordable tools.

In addition, you can create a community forum on your website so that your visitors can engage in extended discussions about your site, services, and products. UserEcho will build a forum for you and starts at just $15 a month.

Cart Abandonment Recovery

This one is fairly self-explanatory. Cart abandonment recovery happens anytime someone adds your e-commerce product to their shopping cart, enters their email, and then leaves your site without paying.

Rather than leaving those dastardly "abandoners" alone, cart recovery software will send at least one email reminding them about their non-purchased items. This study from MarketingExperiments showed that cart abandonment emails are overwhelmingly effective in recovering sales.

Tools like CartStack and Carthook offer reasonably priced entry level plans to test out cart abandonment recovery. Shopify also offers affordably priced cart recovery plug-ins like Jilt.

For other low cost cart abandonment fixes, check out KlientBoost's "26 Cart Abandonment Fixes That Don't Require Discounts".

In Conclusion

These are just a small selection of the low cost strategies available to grow your web audience. Every day a new boost is being thought up, and there's probably a blogger out there writing about it.

If you want more boosts like these, keep visiting our site or contact us directly.