Top 10 Countdown: Vital Online Marketing Tools

Whether you're a seasoned online marketing veteran or new to the industry, it's very important to know all of the different tools at your disposal. Some tools help you measure on-site engagement, some help you create a marketing plan and budget, and others allow you to do certain tasks more efficiently. There are plenty of tools available to make the labor-intensive job of online marketing more manageable.

So, if you're just getting your feet wet in the space and looking for a list of all the vital tools you'll need to get started, then this list is for you. For those out there who are already acquainted with these tools and are self-proclaimed online marketing "gurus," please let us know your feedback by leaving a comment below if you agree or disagree with our rankings.

How the rankings were calculated:

  • We asked our employees to rate the top tools vital for search engine marketing with one being the most vital. In total we got rankings from over 15 search engine marketing professionals.
  • All employee votes were added together, then divided by the number of total voters to get an average rank.
  • We had our resident search marketing expert rank the top tools on a scale of one to 10 with one being the most vital.
  • Although our search marketing expert wishes not to be named, this person has over seven years of SEM experience, accreditation on Google and Yahoo/Bing search engines, and teaches a search engine marketing class at NYU.
  • The popular agency ranking and the expert ranking were averaged for the final rank on our list.
  • In the event of a tie, the expert ranking was the deciding factor.

Top Tools

10. Google Ad Planner - Media Planning Tools

Description: A free media planning tool that helps advertisers identify publishers and specific ad placements where their target audience is when browsing online. Media planning tools allow marketers to input specific demographics or interest-based targets and create lists of placements and publishers (a media plan) where you can focus your display advertising dollars.

Agency Rank: 9

Expert Rank: 9

Comments:Starting at the 10th spot on our list is the Google Ad Planner and other media planning/buying tools. A lot of marketers don't even know this free tool exists! You can find it by going to www.google.com/adplanner.

9. Web Developer Tools - Firebug

Description: Web development tools allow search marketers to monitor and "debug" different codes on websites. Tools like Firebug are free and allow marketers to test their clients' conversion or remarketing codes. Oftentimes if a new code has to be placed on an advertiser's site or there are codes that aren't working, web development tools help marketers troubleshoot these issues.

Agency Rank: 10

Expert Rank: 8

Comments: Web developer tools rank number nine on our list. The value of this tool is very situational depending on if you're having code issues or not. In terms of troubleshooting tags, this is the best solution.

8. Traffic Estimator Tools

Description: Designed to give users keyword search traffic and cost estimates on the various search engines and search engine partner sites. Traffic estimator tools allow you to input specific keywords, match types, budgets, CPCs, and geographic targeting to generate estimates on potential keywords and search-based campaigns.

Agency Rank: 6

Expert Rank: 10

Comments: Our expert has been telling people to take data from traffic estimator tools with a "grain of salt" for over seven years now (oftentimes the data generated is inaccurate). Looking at the disparity of ranks between the company and our expert's vote, there might be accusations of bias against this tool. Differences in opinions aside, these tools provide useful data that a lot of people are looking for before they launch new campaigns, and are number eight on the list.

7. The Google Contextual Targeting Tool

Description: While similar to the keyword creation tool, the Google Contextual Tool helps you build keyword lists for display campaigns utilizing contextual targeting. This tool helps you create tightly themed ad groups for your display campaigns in minutes.

Agency Rank: 8

Expert Rank: 7

Comments: Personally one of my favorite tools on the list; a very underutilized and underpublicized tool indeed. I think the folks on the Google product team can be happy this tool made our list at number seven.

6. Google Ad Preview Tool

Description: The Google Ad Preview and Diagnosis Tool lets users search for ads on the Google.com search results page without actually accruing any impressions. This tool allows users to check what ads are showing in different locations (whether it's specific cities in the U.S. or even international locations) or on specific device types (mobile, tablet, desktop, etc.).

I know from personal experience that the Ad Preview Tool is a huge asset when you're worried your ads aren't showing or you do a search and do not see the exact ad you were expecting to see on Google.com. Sometimes something you've recently searched for in your browsing history or a specific circumstance results in seeing a different ad serving than the one you expected; or no ad serving at all when actually your correct ad is set to show. If there is a problem such as a negative keyword blocking your ads or bidding too low for a keyword, this tool will help you find those issues to make those changes quickly.

Agency Rank: 7

Expert Rank: 6

Comments: I wonder if the Google Ad Preview Tool could have previewed that it would be this close to making the top five of our list. It is undoubtedly a very useful tool and deserving of the sixth spot!

5. Keyword Creation Tools - Google Keyword Tool and Others

Description: Keyword creation tools help advertisers enter one keyword or keyword phrase, which then generates a larger list of additional word searches or queries that you can use in an online marketing campaign. Keyword creation tools allow marketers to generate keyword lists for their campaigns fast and efficiently.

Agency Rank: 5

Expert Rank: 5

Comments: Both our expert and the company rated keyword creation tools at number five, keeping this trusty tool in the top half of our top tool list. This is an old trusted friend in the search community.

4. Google Analytics - Analytics Tools

Description: Google Analytics and other analytics tools offer ways to not only track and measure conversion/sales data on your site, but additionally give you key insights into how users are interacting with your website. On top of enabling you to optimize your site to make it more user friendly and increase conversion rates, you can also see what terms drove users to your site across all channels, as well as where users were before they got to your site; and where they go when they leave your site. Using an analytics tool helps advertisers understand how different channels impact each other and their overall advertising program, and also gives those advertisers the data to build an attribution model that makes sense for their specific business.

Agency Rank: 4

Expert Rank: 3

Comments: Surprising news for a lot of folks as Google Analytics just misses out on the top three ranking. However, the outlook for the future of Analytics remains strong and being rated as the fourth best tool is something to be proud of! It will be interesting to see if new features like analytics remarketing lists and having Google Analytics data in AdWords raise the ranking for this tool in the year to come!

3. Bid Management Tools - Marin, SearchRev, Kenshoo, DoubleClick for Search, etc.

Description: Used to automatically optimize bids for search engine marketing campaigns. With bid management tools, you can manage an unlimited number of search campaigns and keywords across all major search engines with rules put in place to manage bids and multiple accounts/campaigns at scale (using an API). Search agencies like using bid management tools to manage client campaigns because of all of the advanced segmentation we like to promote in our accounts/campaigns. We not only separate/duplicate campaigns by keyword match types (broad, exact, phrase, and broad match modified groups) but also by device type (mobile, desktop, and tablet) and geography. The more segmentation you have, the more campaigns and keywords you need to manage bids for.

Additionally, bid management tools allow search marketers to easily report across multiple accounts and search engines. While these types of reports are not impossible to put together without a bid management tool, using one certainly makes it a lot easier to do.

Agency Rank: 1

Expert Rank: 4

Comments: Controversy strikes as the bid management tools get the number three spot on our list! Bid management tools were the unanimous number one popular pick as the top tool at our offices. While our expert admittedly uses bid management tools for all of his clients, he didn't feel like they were as crucial of a tool in daily management as Microsoft Excel, the AdWords Editor, or Analytics.

2. AdWords Editor - Bing Ads Editor

Description: A free software application that allows you to quickly and efficiently create search, display, and/or remarketing campaigns. These tools also make editing and tweaking existing campaigns extremely easy. With the Google AdWords Editor/Bing Ads Editor you can do pretty much everything in terms of campaign and bid management that is possible within the AdWords or Bing Ads interfaces. These tools are particularly helpful for making bulk changes to settings, ad extensions, or creating ads in bulk. A final note about the editor tools is that they allow you to do productive work in times when you don't have Wi-Fi. In these cases, you can make all of the changes you want and then push them live when you're back on the grid!

Agency Rank: 3

Expert Rank: 2

Comments: No doubt the AdWords Editor/Bing Ads Editor had a real chance to celebrate being voted the top tool for online marketers. A number two finish on our list is nothing to be ashamed of but I'm sure the editor tools are going to be left wondering what more functionality they could have offered to win our top spot.

1. Microsoft Excel - Other Spreadsheet Programs

Description: A spreadsheet application/software that allows users to make calculations, graphs/charts, pivot tables, and many other data functions/manipulations. Microsoft Excel enables search marketers to create reports for analysis, as well as the creation of keywords, ads, and campaigns in bulk. Microsoft Excel is without a doubt one of the most essential tools for any marketer. You could make the argument that this is "the tool" marketers can't live without. If you walk around any of our offices in the U.S., odds are you'll see Microsoft Excel open on most computer screens. As an online marketer there is no downside whatsoever to learning as many of the functions and processes available using Excel.

Agency Rank: 2

Expert Rank: 1

Comments: Voted the number one by our expert and number two at our agency, Microsoft Excel receives the prestigious number one rank on our list. While a few other tools on the list made a good run for the top spot, and are very useful for online marketers, Microsoft Excel offers the most functionality of any of the tools available. Excel is the most vital tool for online marketers.

Others tools receiving votes:

  • Competitor analysis tools - SEMRush, KeywordSpy, Compete.com, The Search Monitor
  • Presentation tools - Microsoft PowerPoint
  • The phone
  • Email programs - Microsoft Outlook, Gmail
  • Google Tag Manager