One of the toughest things about being a web designer is keeping on top of all the marketing tools we have now, for publishing, tracking, emailing etc. etc.
That’s a problem that’s only getting worse over time, because there are great new platforms and libraries popping up daily.
So, to help, I thought I’d add a post to let you know ONLY the latest tools I’m using to design and publish amazing websites amazingly fast!
I won’t go into long discussions on the various pros and cons, and I’m not saying that these will be the right choices for you. I’m just going to tell you what I’m using right now, and why you may be interested.
It’s important to know that there’s never one best option in any category. The right choice for you depends on your precise needs. You need something that does everything you need it to do, as efficiently as possible, and ideally with as little additional functionality or flexibility as possible, because functionality and flexibility add complexity.
(Note: I will use my own affiliate links if I have them, because there’s no reason not to, and I would not invite you to use any product that I didn’t already use myself and love.)
- CRM: Infusionsoft / Mautic
- Email delivery: MailChimp
- Membership sites / Digital products: Zaxaa
- Payment: PayPal
- Rapid Graphics: Visme & Pixlr
- Stock Photos: 99c Images
- WordPress themes: Thrive, StudioPress
- Landing pages: Thrive, LeadPages
- Online docs, storage, and file sharing: Google Drive
- Conversion optimization: Convert.com
- Project management / productivity: Trello
- Stock Graphics: InkyDeals
I’ve been on Infusionsoft (AFFILIATE LINK) for around a year now (having ditched AWeber). It’s a fully-featured customer management platform, which uses quite advanced tagging (important!) for segmenting your lists, and can also include e-commerce for selling files or services, and a lot more stuff I haven’t used.
Segmenting has always been a critical aspect of marketing, and it is going to become more and more important over time. Fundamentally, it means collecting all the knowledge you have about a prospect or customer, so that you can offer them what they really want.
I believe the days of having one single massive bucket for your “list” will soon be gone. Smart marketers don’t just broadcast every message to every subscriber. I think we’ll soon all be managing multiple lists, based on criteria such as interests or awareness levels, so smart systems like Infusionsoft will go from strength to strength over time.
For example, I can tag customer records in multiple ways using Infusionsoft (AFFILIATE LINK), for example…
- They have received this email follow-up sequence;
- They have bought this product;
- They registered for that webinar;
- Or even got halfway through watching a particular video (requires a 3rd-party add-on).
So it’s very powerful and not too difficult to learn either.
I do have a few gripes, though.
First, it isn’t cheap. They’ve actually priced it pretty well, which means it’s probably a cost you’ll feel. But I’m currently asking myself whether I need (or will really get to use) the full scope of Infusionsoft’s functionality. Or whether other tools can deliver what I want for a few $100 per month less.
Second, you need to subscribe to various third-party add-on tools to do some quite common marketing tasks. In my case, I needed to sell subscription access to courses. To do this, my assigned Infusionsoft integration consultant (an additional compulsory ~$2000 package, if I remember correctly) recommended CustomerHub, at an additional monthly fee of about $79.
However, CustomerHub is pretty awful, in terms of usability, speed, and even integration with Infusionsoft. I later learned there are some much better alternatives out there that integrate with Infusionsoft (such as Memberium and iMember360), but I didn’t hear about them in time and went with the deeply unsatisfying CustomerHub.
[Update 22 October 2014:] I’ve now decided to drop Infusionsoft entirely. Read why.
I also find the email design and writing process really slow and clunky, even though they’ve just launched a (supposedly) improved composition environment. Which brings me on to…
Email delivery: MailChimp
Not satisfied with Infusionsoft’s slow and ugly email production process, I thought I’d better check out MailChimp, which has been going from strength to strength over the past few years.
It is a world apart! MailChimp is simply one of the finest examples of web application design around today. It integrates with practically everything, too.
What I love about MailChimp, and why I think it’s such a great example, is…
- It makes the things you need to do frequently (like writing and sending emails) really easy.
- And does not offer too much edge-case functionality to get in the way of the most common tasks.
The end result is a service that’s a joy to use.
[Update June 2015] Our other preferred platform, Mautic, does not do email delivery itself, but plugs in neatly to SendGrid.
Membership sites / Digital products: Zaxaa (AFFILIATE LINK)[New June 2015] I’ve tried a LOT of membership and e-commerce platforms. I was recently advised to check out Zaxaa (AFFILIATE LINK), and it has proven to deliver exactly what I need.
- Easy setup of products, including digital downloads, front-end offers, upsells, and subscriptions.
- Has its own WordPress membership plugin, which works as well as (or better than) any of the others I’ve tried (Rainmaker, WishList Member, etc.)
- Neat dashboard and reporting.
- PLUS (big bonus) a native affiliate platform.
All stuff I need, nothing I don’t. Fast and easy to use. Plus it’s affordable (only $77/month at the time of writing, which is less than some shopping carts alone).
There’s not much to say about PayPal. It’s the global standard, and it does what I need. And integrates with everything. It isn’t the cheapest around, but if you put a lot of money through PayPal, you can negotiate preferable rates (although you have to approach them, they’ll never offer).
There are options around today, such as Stripe, which may be nicer to use, and may also let you keep a little bit more of the money you earn, but I’ve been on PayPal for years, and I just know how to do what I want to do, so the incentive isn’t there for me to migrate at this time.
Rapid Graphics: Visme & Pixlr
We really are spoiled these days with online tools for creating high-quality graphics fast. I’ve used a few of them, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a quick summary:
- Use Visme for presentations (they’re really gorgeous and slick), infographics, and banner ads.
- Use Pixlr Editor for anything that Visme can’t do. (It’s like a free online version of Photoshop v3.)
Check out Visme’s short demo video, and you’ll get an idea of how easy it is to make very sexy-looking presentations.
Stock Photos: 99c Images
There are a LOT of stock imagery sites out there, and they span a huge range of costs, but I think 99cimages is hard to beat.
The proposition is simple: Every image is high-res and costs just 99 cents. No bullshit, it’s cheap, has a very good range of photos, it’s easy to use, so what more do you need? Check them out.
WordPress themes: Thrive Themes
If you haven’t yet experienced Thrive Themes (AFFILIATE LINK), for my money these are some of the finest themes money can buy, for WordPress or any other platform!
For a case study, you don’t need to look further than this site. I “redesigned” it totally in less than a day, it works incredibly well, and now loads so much faster that it immediately got a boost in search engine rankings!
Should YOU use a theme?
Yes, absolutely! Unless you have a $50,000-plus budget and VERY specific requirements. There’s no economic justification to invest in custom design and production these days, when there is so much quality available for the price of a couple of hours of a web designer’s time.
I’ve used a few StudioPress themes (AFFILIATE LINK) over the past couple of years, and they’re very high quality. Not as focused and powerful as the latest Thrive themes, but very very good nonetheless.
They’re designed to work with the Genesis WordPress platform, which essentially is a custom hack of WordPress that makes various common tasks much easier, meaning you don’t have to get your hands so dirty with code (yuk!)
It’s as simple as this. If I were to deploy a marketing site for a client today, I would look at Thrive and StudioPress first and expect to find the right theme for the job. (There is no way I’d go for a cheap theme from somewhere like TemplateMonster. Based on my own experience, they’re far more trouble than they’re worth.)
Landing pages: Thrive Content Builder, LeadPages
I originally purchased Thrive Content Builder (AFFILIATE LINK) a few weeks ago, and was immediately offered an up-sell to get the themes as well (which is smart marketing).
They have both blown me away!
Content Builder is not dissimilar to Premise, and essentially makes creating extremely cool landing pages a point-and-click exercise.
You’ll be amazed at the functionality you get out of the box…
- Every common element you might need to build an effective sales page.
- Inserting videos (fully responsive!)
- Countdown timers
- Pricing tables
- Call-to-action buttons
- Testimonials — and LOT more!
What’s more, it all looks great and works on every kind of device. There is NO EXCUSE to build a sales page from scratch today. That ship has sailed. Welcome to the future of web design.
LeadPages also have an interesting offering. Whereas Thrive Content Builder is limited to the WordPress environment, LeadPages will let you create a standalone opt-in or sales page.
I would say that LeadPages’ pages are less flexible than Thrive, but that’s okay for most situations. They offer a range of very well designed pages that are super-easy to edit and to publish. There’s also a new marketplace that lets you purchase a range of vetted third-party designs.
It integrates with practically any email/CRM platform with just a few clicks.
Something else that’s interesting is that LeadPages actually track the aggregate conversion rates of all their designs, so you can even choose to view the templates in order of average conversion power!
I’m also a big fan of LeadBoxes, their popup opt-in box functionality. It’s also very easy to use and to integrate. It’s my current weapon of choice for opt-ins. Highly recommended.
What it really means for me is now I can put more time into creating great content, instead of hand-crafting and testing my web pages. It’s pure heaven 🙂
Online docs, storage, and file sharing: Google Drive
If you aren’t using Google Drive and their online Docs, you’re missing out. It’s incredibly easy to use, incredibly powerful (I’ve written books on this), has great sharing tools, and it’s affordable.
This is some of the most advanced and best-designed cloud-based software in the world today, and it makes life so much easier!
I haven’t used an installed office suite or app for a couple of years now.
You could even use Google Drive as your access control for membership content, provided you don’t have too many subscribers. It’s that good.
Conversion optimization: Convert.com
As you might expect, I’ve used a lot of different conversion optimization platforms over the years. Some are unbelievably powerful and unbelievably complicated too! Others, like Visual Website Optimizer (AFFILIATE LINK), strike a good balance between power and ease-of-use.
However Convert.com (AFFILIATE LINK) is still my favourite, offering the best package all-round.
One of the most important factors I always look out for is accessible support, and that’s just one area where these guys stand out. Plus, it has a very affordable pay-as-you-go option, which makes it super-easy to try out.
Project management / productivity: Trello
I was recommended to try Trello (AFFILIATE LINK) recently, and absolutely love it!
It simply lets you arrange notes (like to-do items) into lists (categories), on boards (projects). And, of course, you can add pictures and other stuff.
What I really like about Trello is, it makes the things I do most really quick and easy… Like adding a task, rearranging tasks, or marking them as completed.
There’s a free version, which is the one I use, which still lets me enrol other people in teams to collaborate on projects.
If you’re still using Basecamp, I seriously recommend you save the price of a good meal every month and check out Trello (AFFILIATE LINK).
Stock Graphics: InkyDeals
I’m sure you’ve got the idea by now, but let’s spell it out one more time.
- If you’re incredibly good at something, specialize in it, and let other people pay you for what you do. If you can, don’t repeat yourself. Create high-quality assets that can be used (or sold) over and over again.
- If you are NOT incredibly good at something, or if you don’t want to spend your time doing that thing, BUY IT OFF SOMEONE WHO IS AND WHO DOES WANT TO!
My final example is a bunch of designers called InkyDeals, who really get this. They’re clearly very talented, and want to do nothing more than spend their time designing cool stuff (selection below) and then selling it at stupid low prices to you and me.
Have a browse at what you can get for the equivalent of what a client might pay you for less than an hour of your time.
Just check out their JumboZilla pack (AFFILIATE LINK), to take one example! It almost contains too many stunning layouts, logos, all kinds of stuff even to remember! It costs $129, but you would make that back manyfold every single time you used one of the thousands of elements they offer on a client project. It is INSANE!
I’ll let you do the math. There’s no way to justify making anything like this yourself, by hand, for your own projects.
(Content below includes AFFILIATE LINKS)