Running a business can be challenging enough.
But with so many online business tools out there, each claiming to save you time, enable growth and improve the efficiency of your day-to-day workload, it can be hard to know which ones are worth the investment.
In fact, it can be difficult to know what your options are to start with.
Throughout this article, we’ve covered some of the top online business tools that you should consider using in 2020, covering everything from research, marketing & SEO, right through to productivity, planning and time management.
Research, marketing and SEO tools
Whether it’s finding a hot topic to write about, identifying low performing product pages or tracking emerging trends, there are lots of business intelligence, research and analyst tools out there that can help.
Without data, you simply cannot make informed decisions about your website.
Google Analytics (GA) is an online tool for learning about the behaviour of your visitors and providing the data you need to drive your updates.
Your website needs to be performing to the best of its ability and in order to achieve this you always need to know what can be improved.
For example, using the Benchmarks report under the Audience drop-down, you can find out how you’re doing compared to other sites in the same industry as you.
This data will give you a good indication of how you stack up against your competition, and then you can compare stats such as average time on site etc. to help you decide where changes need to be made on your own site.
Bounce rate is another useful site statistic, referring to the average percentage of people leaving your site after visiting just one page.
The higher the bounce rate, the quicker people are jumping straight off after landing on your site.
This could suggest that the content on your page didn’t meet their needs or upon first impressions, your product wasn’t what they were looking for.
Average time on page can help you dig into this issue further, as if people aren’t staying on your site for long, this is a strong indication that something isn’t working on the page.
Does your page meet customer expectations? What information were they hoping to find when they clicked your website in the search results? And is this information easy to find on your page?
Having a low bounce rate will in turn help you rank higher as it suggests to Google that what you’re selling on your website is a good match for the searchers’ intent.
As well as this, the Acquisition report can help you to keep a close eye on where your traffic is coming from. To access this report, head to All Traffic > Channels.
This report can help you to understand which channels are driving the most traffic to your site, and which still need some work.
Social is a really important source of traffic, particularly for eCommerce, as lots of customers will click through after engaging with a social post, so if this is low you may want to focus on a social media strategy in order to make the most of this traffic stream.
Summary: GA can be used to find out what your customers care about, where they’re browsing from and how they’re viewing your website, so you can make valuable improvements to the user experience and search engine optimisation (SEO) of your site based on this information.
Ahrefs is an all-round SEO analysis tool that gives you an insight into your competitors’ performance, while helping you with your own organic and advertising strategies.
Say for example you sell wireless headphones.
You could use Ahrefs to analyse this keyword, see related search terms and the sites currently ranking in the top spots.
This information can help you to better optimise your site around relevant and high performing keywords, in turn improving your search visibility and search result ranking.
Ahrefs can also be helpful for building quality backlinks and finding link building opportunities.
The more links coming in from relevant and reputable websites, the higher Google will rank you, so backlinks are very important for growing your website’s reach.
Take the Site Explorer tool for example, you can find out useful information about any domain or URL whether it’s from your own website, or a competitor’s.
You can drill down further to see where the backlinks are coming from and which organic keywords they’re ranking for.
This can then help you identify gaps and opportunities for your own eCommerce website.
By clicking on ‘Organic Keywords’ you’ll be able to see all the keywords that domain or URL rank for and in which countries too.
You could use this information to better optimise your website around well-performing keywords in your niche or create content around a keyword you think you could rank higher for.
In the Tech industry?
Maybe there’s a technical term that keeps popping up and the content out there at the moment doesn’t serve the searcher’s intent as best it could.
This could be a great opportunity for you to create a detailed blog post around this technical term and do it better than what’s already out there.
Plans range from $99 a month up to $399 and $999 a month for an Agency plan, and a 7-day trial costs $7.
Summary: Ahrefs is a paid tool which can be used for marketing research and search engine optimisation (SEO). It can be very useful for identifying keyword and backlink opportunities, as well as conducting an overall health-check of your eCommerce website.
Similar tools to explore include SEMrush, which contains a number of tools to help you cross reference, combine and visualise data, and Moz Pro which might be a good platform to start with if you’re new to using SEO tools or have a limited budget.
Hotjar is a conversion tracking and behaviour monitoring tool.
It uses heatmaps, screen recordings and conversion funnel visualisations to help you better understand how visitors are interacting with your website.
Are they following the path you wanted them to?
Is your CTA button in the right place?
Are they finding the information they need?
These are the kind of questions Hotjar could help you answer, so you can test and improve the conversion rate of your eCommerce site.
Heatmaps can help you to visualise behaviour such as clicks, taps and scrolls, which are strong indicators of visitor motivation and desire.
For example, the scroll heatmap could help you understand how much of the information on the page is actually being absorbed by the visitor.
Maybe you get a lot of technical questions coming through about your product and you want to take the pressure off your support team by including a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section.
The scroll heatmap could tell you how many people are scrolling down in order to reach the FAQs.
If not enough people are reaching them, you may want to reconsider where you place your FAQs on the page and how you link through to them across your website.
Screen recordings enable you to see exactly what your visitors see with replay sessions of real site visitors.
This could be useful for identifying any usability issues they come across when on your site.
Hotjar will also enable you to monitor your conversion funnels and help you see where your visitors are mostly dropping off.
You can define your steps to purchase you expect the visitor to follow e.g. homepage > search results page > product page > checkout page etc. and then watch recordings to see exactly where and when they dropped off at each step.
This could help you pinpoint exactly what needs improving in order to reduce drop-off.
Hotjar has three pricing models: Personal, Business and Agency.
For sites with low traffic, the Personal plan gives you the option of a free forever package or their Startup package for €29 a month.
Their Business plan depends on how many page views a day you intend to collect data from and ranges from €89 a month for 20,000 views, up to €989 a month for 800,000 views. You will need to contact them for prices for page views over this.
15-day free trial for the business plan.
Summary: Hotjar is a paid tool that can help you to understand the visitor behaviour on your website through the use of heatmaps and screen recordings, so you can identify what's working and what's causing confusion and friction for your visitors.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner (GKP) is a free keyword research tool that only requires you to have a Google account in order to use it.
This tool will enable you to 1) find new keywords 2) get search volume and forecasts for your list of keywords.
The second option, ‘get search volume and forecasts’ lets you see performance forecasts and historical data for your keyword list.
This could be useful for when you’ve carried out your keyword research and you want to check how your list of keywords would perform in ads.
For example, if you wanted to run paid Google Ads for your range of floral midi dresses, you’d be able to get an idea of average search volume and cost-per-click to decide if these keywords are going to give you the best return on investment (ROI).
GKP can be an important step in your keyword research when considering what search terms to optimise your web content around too.
Maybe you sell gluten free foods and you want to determine the keywords your audience are most likely searching for within this space.
You could use GKP to give you further keyword ideas around your seed keywords, phrases or URL related to your eCommerce business.
From searching ‘gluten free foods’, GKP will display the average monthly search volume of this keyword, level of competition and stats related to paid ads, as well as a wide range of ideas related to this search term.
This could be useful when deciding on product names and product descriptions as well as the primary keywords you want your website to rank for.
Once you have a good understanding of the kind of keywords you want to go after, you can optimise your existing content and create new content around them.
Summary: GKP is a free tool that offers some helpful keyword research and analysis options. This tool would be particularly helpful if you’re considering paid ads with Google as it provides insights such as average monthly search volume and cost-per-click of keywords.
This is another of Google’s free business tools, allowing you to search for a keyword or topic and measure its relative popularity over time.
You can compare this popularity with additional search terms and breakdown by sub-region, giving you a good idea of hot topics and current trends in a given area.
Say you’re visiting an eCommerce conference abroad, you could use Google Trends to stay in the know about relevant trends in that country ahead of your trip, helping you to make better connections in your space.
You can also subscribe for updates on terms of interest to you, helping you to track relative popularity of a topic over time.
Maybe you’re in the Fashion industry – a notoriously fast moving industry – you could stay in the know about emerging trends and the latest fashion must-have to help you make informed buying decisions and optimisations to your website.
Google Trends could be relevant to you in a number of ways.
You can not only identify the relative popularity of a search term or topic, but also make helpful comparisons, so you know what keywords to prioritise.
For example, you could use Google Trends to determine which area to focus your content production, social media activity and paid ads around.
Particularly if you’re limited on time, resource and budget, Google Trends can help you know what keywords or hot topics to focus on right now.
Planning on exploring new markets abroad?
Google Trends could be a good place to start your research, as it could give you an overview of the popularity of your products or niche in other countries.
You can also change the search type to get a better understanding of the popularity of your keyword across web search, image search, news search, Google Shopping and Youtube, which could be useful depending on which media you plan to use e.g. video tutorials on Youtube or Google Shopping ads.
Summary: Google Trends is a free tool that can help you identify the relative popularity of a given search term or topic within a certain area, timeframe, category or search type. It can be useful for determining what keywords to prioritise and getting a better picture of the current trends in your industry abroad.
Content marketing has proven to be one of the best ways to reach new audiences online.
BuzzSumo allows you to find out what content is popular on a particular topic or website.
In fact, this information gives you an insight into what your readers want to see and what they’re searching for online, helping you to identify gaps in your content and opportunities to create content around a hot topic.
BuzzSumo also analyses where these topics are being discussed (which social platforms), how much attention they’re getting (number of shares) and who your prospective customers are most receptive to (influencer information).
Understanding who has their attention and trust could give you invaluable insight into your customers.
You can use this information to create content that your audience will really care about and gain interest from the people your audience are influenced by.
In turn, you could reach wider audiences and take steps towards becoming a thought-leader within your eCommerce space, building trust with potential new customers along the way.
Consider how you could get these influencers involved with your eCommerce business.
Maybe you could reach out with a great piece of content and see if they’d like to share it out on social, or maybe you could offer your expertise in this area in the form of a guest post – just make sure you get a link back to your website.
On top of this…
Let’s say you’re in the Health and Beauty industry selling cruelty free makeup only, you could use BuzzSumo to see what your audience are reading the most.
The top blog post, “4 Cruelty Free Makeup Options to Create a Gorgeous Look” has 17,700 shares on Facebook alone.
What keywords are they targeting?
Why was this post so popular and how can you match this?
Also take note of posts below this as they could give you some great ideas or you might see an opportunity to create a piece of content around the same topic…but do it better!
The Content Analyser and Search Influencers features are free, but the number of results is limited.
Which influencers are sharing these posts?
BuzzSumo will allow you to identify these people so you can follow them and start building a relationship that could prove useful down the line.
Paid versions delve deeper with a Facebook Analyser, Question Analyser, Backlink Analyser and more.
Plans start at $79 a month and go up to $499+ for bigger businesses. They offer a 7-day free trial which doesn’t require any credit card details.
Summary: BuzzSumo is a marketing research tool that allows you to analyse top performing content around a certain topic and identify the key influencers within your niche. You can use the content analyser for free (with limited results) or upgrade to a paid plan for full functionality.
Answer the Public
Answer the Public is a marketing tool that can also help you with your content research and content production.
It uses Google and Bing auto-suggest to generate a one-page visual of all the relevant questions, prepositions and comparisons your audience are searching for around a given topic.
This could be a useful resource when considering what content to produce next and for building a strategy around the questions your readers want to know the answers to.
Matching searchers’ intent with great quality content that meets their needs, is something search engines look out for and could really help your eCommerce website to appear higher up in the search results.
As well as helping you to build a content strategy around the searchers’ intent, get ideas for new content and keywords, and see this information in a visual representation, Answer the Public could help you build out content pillars.
Content pillars are the key themes that you focus on and come in the form of blog posts, videos, e-books, infographics etc.
Let’s say you want to be a trusted resource for questions surrounding Black Friday.
You could use Answer the Public to get a strong sense of the kind of questions your audience are asking and build out a content pillar around this, such as “black friday versus boxing day” and “black Friday with amazon”.
This would be a good place to start, but you’d then need to take it further with thorough keyword research of course.
By positioning yourself as a thought-leader around this topic and creating content that interlinks, search engines will recognise your website as a trusted source of useful information on Black Friday, and in turn rank you higher.
Consider what content pillars you could build for your eCommerce business and what your audience would benefit from the most.
You can use this tool for free and download all of this data, or you can sign up to the Pro plan for $99 a month and receive additional data including language and location based results and high-res images.
Summary: Answer the Public is a marketing research tool that can be used for free and help you identify the phrases people are searching for around a given topic, across Google and Bing. You can then use this information to build a strong content strategy using content pillars to become a trusted resource on a key theme within your industry.
Productivity, planning and time management tools
There are a whole range of business planning, management and strategy tools on the market designed to help you and your workforce improve business productivity, as well as stay on top of your project progress and time management.
Asana is a task management and project management tool.
At its core, Asana consists of four key elements:
- Tasks – essentially a to-do list.
- Organisations, Teams and Workspaces – each organisation is broken down into separate teams.
- Sections – used to group single Tasks into a Project.
- Templates – you can create templates, such as checklists or questionnaires, to help you work more efficiently.
With a long list of features to make use of, Asana would suit larger teams with lots of different projects going on at once or with multiple people working on them.
Asana could help you plan and structure your work in a format that works for you.
You can view your tasks in a ‘list’ format and arrange in order of priority or deadline, giving you a good overview of your workload.
This format could work well if you were planning a marketing campaign for example, as you’d be able to see a checklist-style of actions that need doing and easily see who is responsible for them.
Maybe you briefed an agency on some design work for your upcoming eCommerce event.
You could stay on top of what stage the designs are at with the ‘board’ style and drag and drop as designs get amended or signed off for example.
There’s also a ‘timeline’ and ‘calendar’ view to help you stay on track with long projects and hit deadlines with visual plans to see how every step maps out over time.
Asana could help keep everyone on track with their work and aligned with your business goals.
Pricing starts at £7.00 per user, per month (Premium), rising to £16.25 per user, per month (Business), and there’s an Enterprise package for organisations that require additional security, control and support (contact Sales for pricing).
Summary: Asana is a task management tool that would suit larger teams and multiple people collaborating on the same project. It can be used to stay on top of your workload by seeing progress, deadlines, level of priority and who’s working on what.
Alternatively, you may want to explore Trello, which works in the same way only with ‘boards’ and ‘cards’, or ClickUp which gives you the option to choose between a wide range of features and hide everything else you don’t need.
Zapier is an automation tool which allows you to connect the apps your business uses on a daily basis to improve efficiency.
It aims to create a smooth, automated process so you can easily share data between all the apps you use with workflows (Zaps) and improve the way you work with no need for additional coding.
By putting these workflows in place, you could speed up your tasks and remove the need for manual actions like data input or file downloads.
Zapier’s editor is designed to be simple and easy for anyone to use, without any help from developers.
This tool integrates with thousands of apps including Google Sheets, Gmail, Slack, Google Calendar, Hubspot, Facebook, Twitter, Asana, Trello and many more.
Zapier could help you and your team work smarter by automating time consuming tasks so you can focus on more important things.
Let’s say you get reports sent to your Gmail account every week, you could build a Zap that identifies these emails and saves them to a Google Spreadsheet automatically.
It also integrates with task management tools like Asana and Trello, which could be useful for staying on top of new projects or tasks coming in from email, as you could create a Zap that generates Trello cards for newly starred emails in Gmail for example.
Say you send out a monthly e-newsletter with all your new products using MailChimp, Zapier could save you from having to manually import new subscribers by setting up a Zap that adds subscribers to MailChimp from a Google Spreadsheet automatically.
And as processes grow, you can just add extra steps onto your Zaps to automate a long series of tasks in minutes.
Zapier’s pricing model is flexible, allowing you to automate 1,000 – 50,000 ‘things’ depending on your plan, which ranges from $20 a month to $250 a month in order to suit the needs of various businesses.
You can use Zapier’s core features for free for as long as you want, before starting a 14-day free trial of any of their paid plans.
Summary: Zapier is a tool that enables you to build your own workflows (Zaps) in order to automate processes and speed up tasks by reducing the need for manual actions. It integrates will thousands of apps and there’s also a range of ready-to-go Zaps that you can use to improve efficiency and save time from day one.
Toggl is a time tracking tool designed to help you get things done with tracking reminders and idle detection.
You can also break down your hours by Projects, Clients and Tasks to see what’s making you the money and what’s holding you back.
Press the start / stop button when you’re working on a task and assign to a project.
The Toggl Chrome extension allows you to start tracking in your browser or stop the timer on your phone and sync all your time entries across multiple devices.
The idea behind the software is to boost the productivity of your workforce and keep track of how long projects are taking.
Toggl can help you see what your employees are working on and how long tasks or projects are taking.
You can create different teams which could be useful for getting a snapshot at a team level as well as individual.
Do you find yourself repeating the same tasks every week or every month?
Toggl could help you identify how much time you’re spending on these so you can manage your time better.
You can set up projects in advance and then when you’re working on something and start the timer, you can assign to the set projects.
When it comes to reporting, you’ll have a clear view of what projects you’ve worked on over the week or month and how much time each took.
Could you work more efficiently?
Maybe you notice you’re spending a huge amount of time replying to customer reviews, and other areas of the business aren’t getting the attention they need because of it.
Could you share this task between your teammates or block out half an hour a day to make this more manageable?
Their Basic plan is always free. Paid plans have an unlimited team size and are billed per user in workspace, starting at $9 per user per month to $18 per user per month, and custom pricing for their Enterprise package.
Toggl also offer a 30 day free trial.
Summary: Toggl is a free time management tool that helps you to see how long you’re spending on a project as well as how long your teammates are spending. It could help you identify areas of the business that need more attention or that are taking up too much time.
Team communication and collaboration tools
If you want to reach a colleague or have a meeting, you want to be able to do it from anywhere in the world. With today’s technology that’s most definitely possible, thanks to a whole host of business communication and task collaboration tools.
Slack is a communication app.
It allows you to create Channels that can be divided up by team, project or whatever is relevant to your eCommerce business, and send direct messages to anyone in the company.
You can send instant messages to the rest of your team, wherever they are in the world, and stay on top of conversations with threads opposed to lengthy email chains.
Slack enables you to collaborate beyond colleagues, with the ability to share channels with companies you regularly work with like agencies or freelance designers.
It integrates with many applications, meaning it can be used in a wide range of situations from productivity to marketing to finance and more, helping you to work smarter and more efficiently.
With Slack, you can also audio or video call, share screens, and drag and drop files to send.
Slack can improve the speed and ease of communication within your business, as well as integrate with a large number of applications that could help to automate certain processes.
For example, Slack integrates with Hubspot and could help minimise time spent updating contact information, writing emails and entering data.
Want to save time?
Let’s say one of your hot leads was in the local news this morning and your colleague has just Slacked you about it.
You could add a task to look into this further in Hubspot directly from inside the Slack conversation, helping you stay organised and on top of things.
You can also receive Hubspot notifications within Slack, helping you to keep your finger on the pulse and access everything you need all in one place.
Slack can also be a fun tool for boosting team morale, with emoji reactions and Giphys, and for encouraging teamwork.
This tool has a free option as well as two tiers of paid plans – Standard and Plus.
The free version allows you to have as many members as you want, but limitations include only being able to make calls between two people, not groups, and restricted file storage.
The Standard plan costs £5.25 per active user, per month and the Plus plan costs £9.75 per active user, per month.
Summary: Slack is a communication tool widely used for internal business communication. It could help you stay on top of things and reach teammates quicker and more efficiently – using threads instead of lengthy email chains for example.
Zoom is a communication and video conferencing software.
It’s designed to host online meetings and video webinars and could be used for things like technical support, training videos, marketing events and town hall meetings.
‘Zoom rooms’ are software defined conference rooms – essentially a solution to a physical meeting room.
You can also host online events with up to 100 interactive video participants and 10,000+ attendees.
Interactivity features include Q&A and polling, attendee raise hand and an attention indicator to engage your audience and track their attention span.
The Paypal integration via Zapier allows you to monetise your webinars.
Do you sell something that requires quite a complex setup?
Hosting a training webinar could be really useful to your customers and give them a chance to get answers to their questions there and then.
Zoom could help you provide a good quality webinar experience for your customers with HD video and audio, on-demand viewing and live broadcasting.
You can also customise and brand your emails and registration forms to ensure consistency and maximise visibility across attendee touch points.
Maybe you want to offer your prospects and customers additional helpful content through a monthly webinar that hears from industry experts on the best ways for getting the most out of your product.
You could even monetise this content if you wanted to.
Zoom can of course also be used to host virtual meetings with clients, partners or anyone involved in your eCommerce business anywhere in the world.
Zoom offers a Basic free plan aimed towards personal meetings. Paid plans start at £11.99 per host per month (great for small teams) and go up to Enterprise at £15.99 per host per month for larger businesses.
You also have the option to purchase a range of add-ons, such as an Audio Plan (starting at £100 a month) and Additional Cloud Recording Storage (starting at 32p per GB per month).
Summary: Zoom is a video conferencing and webinar hosting software designed to cater for a range of use cases and be easy to scale. If you want to use video webinar in conjunction with your marketing initiatives, training or technical support, Zoom could be a solution.
Much like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Skype are worth looking into for video conferencing and webinar software options too.
Google Drive is essentially a file storage and file sharing tool, where you can invite others to view, download and collaborate on all the files you want.
You can store photos, stories, designs, drawings, recordings, videos and more with the first 15 GB free with a Google Account.
Useful features include…
- Save Gmail attachments straight from email
- Scan paper documents and store as a PDF
- Make files available offline so you can view them on your device even with no service
- Encrypt files using SSL
- Back up your files automatically with built-in Chromebooks
Google Drive uses ‘powerful search’ meaning you can search for a word and Drive will be able to recognise text as well as any images related to that search term.
Google Drive for Work includes flexible storage options for different size businesses.
It can be used to store all your product photos, marketing materials or internal business documents.
As well as this, it enables you to share files with your team and invite them to make suggestions or edits.
For example, let’s say you’re in the process of writing product descriptions. You could store this sheet on Google Drive and get input from your team with the ability to share and collaborate.
Google Drive with Google Docs allows you to work together inside the same document in real-time, so any comments added appear in real time, providing context and avoiding long email changes and lost time.
Therefore, Google Drive could help you to work more efficiently on joint projects.
As well as this…
It could be useful for keeping all your files and photos in one place with flexible storage options depending on the size of your eCommerce business.
You can sync all these files, including Microsoft Office files, across your computer, phone and tablet to access whenever you need it.
Safety and security is a huge concern for businesses when it comes to storing important documents, business plans, marketing strategies etc. and in particular any details on their customers.
Google Drive and their data centres are SSAE 16 / ISAE 3402 Type II SOC 2-audited and have achieved ISO 27001 certification, meaning the way they handle and store data is safe and compliant with the law.
You can choose between two plans: Drive Enterprise or G Suite.
Drive Enterprise is described as a ‘cloud-based content collaboration offered separately from G Suite’ and priced at $8 per active user.
G Suite is described as a ‘productivity suite that includes Drive plus Gmail, Calendar, Hangouts and more’ and priced at $10-$25 per user per month.
Google Hangouts allows you to start a chat conversation or video call, make phone calls with Wi-Fi or data and send text messages with Google Voice or Project Fi phone number.
You can try out either of the plans for free for 14 days.
Summary: Google Drive is an online storage tool for securely keeping files, photos, designs, videos and more in one central location. It’s designed with teams in mind, allowing you to share files and invite people to collaborate in real-time, helping you work more efficiently.
We hope you found this article helpful.
You should now have a greater understanding of the different types of online business tools available to you and which ones may have the most impact on the way you work – from business analytics and planning tools to business development, productivity and communication tools.
Have you tried out any of these yet? We’d love to hear about your experiences – please leave a comment below.