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Digital Marketing and Design

The 2017 Agency Tools Winners and Losers List

December 20, 2017

With technology and industry best practices changing every day, it is crucial for tools and resources to keep improving, updating, and debugging if they want to remain relevant and profitable. In our industry, there are countless tools that do the same thing, so we’ve done a lot of trial and error to find the best options for our business.
This past year, we have found a few tools that have been incredibly helpful for SEO, social media, and graphic design. However, along the way, we’ve also found many tools that were a waste of time, effort, and money. But we don’t want you to make the same mistakes we did, so we’ve compiled a winners and losers lists for inbound marketing and website design tools.
And the winners (and losers) are…

WINNERS

SEMrush

Arguably the biggest winner of the year, SEMrush seems to work all day and all night to keep improving upon existing features and adding new ones. Started in 2008 with the goal of making online competition fair and transparent, this tool has grown to be the world’s leading competitive research service for online marketing – but it doesn’t stop there. They have expanded their features to include social media posting and monitoring, content analysis, and brand monitoring. There services include (although I’m sure it’s going to change in the coming weeks):

  • Organic Research – check out competitor keywords, discover new competitors, track position changes of domains

  • Advertising Research – view competitor ad strategies and budget, review competitor ad copy and keywords, discover new competitors, localize ad campaigns

  • Display Advertising – see new and top advertisers, analyze display ads, view displays from different devices

  • Backlinks – analyze backlinks, understand domain authority, check backlink types, track geolocation

  • Keyword Research – find new keywords, discover phrase matches, long-tail keywords, and related keywords, explore multilingual and multinational keywords

  • Product Listing Ads – identify competitors and discover their bests performing product listing ads

  • Keyword Difficulty – find keywords with less competition

  • Domain vs. Domain – compare two websites side-by-side, identify common and unique keywords

  • Charts – conduct competitive analysis, compare domains

  • My Reports – combine all data into one report, design reports with your branding, schedule recurring reports

  • Keyword Magic Tool (beta) – get new keyword ideas, segment your keywords by topic, save usable keywords in the keyword analyzer, export keywords to other SEMrush tools, create target keyword lists

  • Position Tracking – track keyword position, discover local competitors, group keywords, target different devices

  • Site Audit – analyze a website’s SEO, prioritize issues and track progress, find hreflang mistakes, ensure your website’s security, detect AMP implementation issues

  • Social Media Tracker – develop strategy, track results, build reports

  • Social Media Poster – post to Facebook and Twitter, schedule posts, manage posting schedule, analyze performance

  • Brand Monitoring – monitor brand reputation, discover new opportunities, track backlinks, analyze competitors

  • On-page SEO Tracker – analyze Google ranking factors affecting your website’s performance, get recommendations, comparison analysis of Google’s top 10 performers

  • Backlink Audit – find all your backlinks, remove dangerous backlinks, send toxic backlinks to Google Disavow, schedule recrawls

  • Organic Traffic Insights – unlock not provided keywords, merge analytics and search console data, analyze keyword potential

  • Content Analyzer – assess website content, measure and compare content performance

  • PPC Keyword Tool – collect keywords, manage and optimize keyword lists, remove cross-group negative keywords, receive recommendations

Seem like a lot? That’s because it is. Luckily, you can set up a training session with their support team. They will either go through the tool from top to bottom, or you can tell them what you need it for, and they will show you the specific tools you need and how to use them. Once you get the hang of it, it’s honestly a must-have for digital marketing because it allows you to do thorough, in-depth research that could skyrocket you and your clients into success.

Depending on the pricing plan you select, you can add anywhere from five to 200 projects, making it great for entrepreneurs and agencies alike. Monthly plans are $100, $200, or $400 a month. If the price is a little higher than you’re looking for, consider how many of your existing tools it can eliminate. For us, it eliminated the need for Raven, Moz, and social media posting tools, so SEMrush ended up saving us money.

We are looking forward to all the new features that come out on SEMrush in 2018, and it sounds like they are already gearing up for an excellent year.

Canva

Whether you have an in-house graphic design team or not, Canva makes designing Instagram-worthy digital graphics a breeze. Once you pick the dimensions you need, Canva holds your hand through the entire design process, only requiring you to drag and drop the elements you want. Even for people who don’t have a creative bone in their body, there are layout options that already pair together graphics, fonts, and colors that look good together. If you select one of these, you can move elements around, change the text, and customize it however you want while still knowing it’ll look great.

If you want to start from scratch, you have access to a variety of elements, including free photos, shapes, illustrations, icons, charts, and background patterns, which have customizable colors. You can use a combination of these and your own uploads and add them to your blank canvas to make a customized design in minutes. One of the best parts is you aren’t only limited to creating social media graphics. There are pre-set dimensions for infographics, program covers, invitations, ads, resumes, and marketing materials, or you can create a custom-sized canvas. They also launched a mobile app, allowing you to quickly create graphics on-to-go, which is incredibly handy since you can’t preschedule Instagram posts.

Canva has different pricing plans available, including a free option, so anyone can become a designer! If you try the free version and think you may want to upgrade, there’s a 30-day trial of the middle package, which we would definitely recommend.

Trello

This is the best project management tool we’ve ever used (and let me tell you, we’ve used a bunch). For businesses who use Scrum or Agile methodologies, Trello allows you to create digital scrum boards that can be shared with your entire team for free. We set up boards with each person’s name and then backlog, QA, done, and client review boards, and add all our assignments onto individual cards.

The cards are where the real magic comes in – you can assign them to people, give them due dates, and add attachments or comments so everything you need is in one place. There are also “power-ups,” which are integrations you can add to achieve maximum awesomeness. There’s an Agile integration, allowing you to assign points or degree of difficulty to each task; Google Drive and Dropbox, making attaching company files easy; Harvest, giving you the ability to time track; and so much more. There are so many ways to customize your boards that you can pick and choose what you need to stay organized.

We love Trello so much we have started using it for non-work organization, including grocery lists, practice lists, and meeting agendas. There is also an app that allows you to use all the functionality of the desktop version, which is a game-changer for people on-the-go. If you want to have the most productive and organized 2018, it all starts with Trello.

Design Pickle

I can honestly say that our designer Miguel warms my heart when I work with him. Every email is filled with exclamation points and smiley faces, which has creative a positive vibe and made it easy to build a solid, trusting relationship with him. Not to mention his work has been really impressive. Of the five to 10 assignments we’ve worked with him on, he has always delivered a high-quality, creative product in a very short time. Sometimes, he even provides more than one version without being asked. He has only had to revise one assignment, and that’s because I didn’t specify the sizes correctly, which is a huge refresher after having a ton of revisions working with Flocksy. Our most recent assignment was completed from request until completion in only 36 hours. Awesome!

It is helpful to know Design Pickle is Philippines-based, so they are operating on a 13-hour time difference. That means unless you assign a request later in the day, they won’t see it until the following morning. That shouldn’t be a huge deal but don’t expect any same day turnarounds.

The best part is there’s unlimited requests, brands, and revisions – all for $370 a month. That’s significantly cheaper than it would be to hire a designer in-house or work with most freelancers. We highly recommend using Design Pickle, and if you don’t believe us, there’s a 14-day free trial to get your toes wet. Obey the pickle!

LOSERS

HostGator

You would think a hosting provider responsible for over 60 million domains that has existed for more the 15 years would be a little more reliable. When issues arise, working with HostGator’s support team requires prior mental preparation, because you know it’s going to be frustrating. People we’ve talked to have seemed inexperienced or uneducated and aren’t exactly quick with answering support tickets. The week before Christmas, we had a HostGator staffer be flat-out rude to one of our employees when she called to solve a hosting issue – Happy Holidays!

Instead of HostGator, look into InMotionDreamHostWP Engine, or Hostwinds, depending on your hosting requirements. There are so many different providers available, so do your research. Just stay away from our vote for 2017’s biggest loser: HostGator.

Moz Pro

Synonymous with SEO and link building, Moz is definitely an industry leader. They provide wonderful educational materials and always seem to be challenging and tweaking industry standards, particularly in the areas of SEO and inbound and content marketing. Unfortunately, with all the big brains they have over at Moz, they haven’t spent enough time perfecting their Moz Pro tool, which allows you to target and find keywords, create reports, and track and analyze SEO. We were using this tool for a while, and while it isn’t necessarily bad, there are tools that are better.

A few times when I tried to log in to the keyword explorer, I’d get an error message saying it was currently unavailable. When that happens once, it’s no problem, but when it happens multiple times, it starts making keyword research feel like a drag. When we were able to successfully log in, there’s no doubt that Moz Pro looks beautiful – it’s very visual with pops of color. However, once you start to use it, trying to navigate through the tool seems convoluted. You enter keywords in one area and then you have to move them somewhere else, making it difficult to successfully use to its full potential. We aren’t sure if the rest of the features on Moz Pro have similar issues, because we didn’t like the reporting or site crawling features, so we never even used them.

Overall, Moz Pro isn’t a bad tool, but it isn’t keeping up with SEMrush who is dominating the industry. Moz Pro’s plans come in at a similar price point to SEMrush, so in terms of value for your money, it’s no contest. Maybe they will step up their game this year, but only time will tell. Then again, Founder Rand Fishkin seemed to be having an identity crisis at HubSpot’s Inbound conference this year, so it’s possible dark times are ahead.

HeyOrca

We thought it could be user-error, but we tested it a couple times and had the same result. Since we don’t use the tool for social media approval, it had no use for us, especially for $100 a month. Now, we schedule Facebook and Twitter posts via SEMrush, which means one tool is able to do what three tools can’t. There are dozens of social media posting tools available at every price range, so we’d suggest passing over HeyOrca.

Flocksy

For agencies who have a ton of graphic design work, Flocksy won’t be the platform for you because you can only have one, two, or three projects active at once depending on your pricing plan. They do promise a one-day turnaround on designs, but there’s also a one-day turnaround on revisions. You are also required to close the project via the website, rather than just emailing someone and saying, “Looks good. Thanks.” It’s nice they are trying to be thorough, but there are many steps they could cut out to make it a better platform.

I’m not saying the finished product was terrible, because it wasn’t. We received work that was passable, but there were errors in most of our assignments that we had to go back and fix ourselves because it was too much of a pain to wait another day for revisions. If we are going to pay $349 for only one active project at a time, the finished product better be amazing, and it wasn’t.

Now, you may already use some of these tools and disagree with our list, but that’s OK! Your business’s size, income, work flow, and staff will all have a lot of sway on what works best for you. However, if you’re looking for a good place to start, give some of our winners a try!

What tools do you think should have made the winners and losers list? Let us know in the comments!