7 Free Tools Guaranteed to Make Your Website Better!

 

Managing a large website can be a difficult, requiring a wide variety of skills.  As the sole developer of AALBC.com it is important for me to find tools that will make my job easier.

Here are a list of free tools I regularly use to manage AALBC.com.   I consider them invaluable and part of the reason I’ve been able to keep the website not just viable, but growing and improving for over 15 years.

Of course I utilize countless other applications, tools, widgets, and more to make AALBC.com go.  However, these are 7 tools, which are absolutely free, that I’m sure will help improve your website, and make it a cool place to visit.

1 – Disqus

Addthis CommentsWith a a few lines of code you can introduce commenting functionality on virtually any website.  But that is just the beginning.

Disqus is so much better than other systems that perform the same function that I would gladly pay for this free service.  In fact, if you scroll down to the end of this blog post, you’ll see that I’ve even replaced the commenting feature than came with WordPress.  All of my old comments, even those from my Blogger days, from almost 10 years ago, were easily imported pulled into the Disqus system.

Disqus gives you the ability to allow visitors to leave comments and communicate with each other on any webpage.  The system is fast, comments are published in real time and you can manage comments from anywhere you have internet access.  The comments are virtually spam free.  I have not encountered any span all year; and I’m not wasting a lot of time manually approving comments.

Disqus also offers a couple of neat optional features.  First, Disqus can pull articles from other pages on your site, and feature them underneath the comments.  This helps visitors discover content on your site they may not have discovered otherwise.  Second Disqus can optionally place articles from other websites on you site as well.  If a visitor clicks on the articles from other websites you generate some income.  Using this feature also allows articles from your site to be featured on other websites.  I utilize both of these features.

Disqus Articles

The system can be set up to provide a wide variety of alerts; including emailing me when someone makes a comment, or replies to one of my comments.  The emailed alerts include the text of the message.  I can have the alert sent to my phone, which allows me to reply to comments directly from my phone.  I never reply to comments from my phone, but it is nice to be able to review comments because people can say the darnedest things.

If you’ve ever made a comment in response to an article on a website or Blog you may have already used Discus.  Discus is clever enough to remember you, are making the process of leaving a comment extremely easy.

The software provides a clean interface, free of distracting advertisements or unnecessary features.  Disqus is perhaps the best new feature I’ve incorporated into my website since I added the Google search box several years ago.

Ultimately I believe software like Disqus will lead the way to the future of the World Wide Web.  Instead of massively bloated websites with closed systems attempting to exert control over all its visitors and ownership of their content, we will begin to see smaller websites specialized for specific niches.  Discus can allow us experience the best of these niche websites while retaining the benefit of being social — if we choose to be social.

Google’s (Analytics, Search & Youtube)

I freely admit I have a love/hate relationship with Google.  Over the years they seem to increasingly engage in activities which undermine the very thing that made them so valuable since they came on the scene in 1998.  I’ve written a great deal about what I don’t like about Google, this article will focus on what I love about Google.

There is no denying the fact Google still provides some of the best utilities and tools which help improve the quality, functionality and analytical tools available to a website.  I’m focusing on three here that I use daily, but there are others equally valuable like Google Adsense which has been the most consistence source of income for AALBC.com for the better part of a decade.  There is also Google Maps which I use anytime I need to provide mapping capability on a webpage.  Visit Google’s Webmaster Tools to learn about a wealth of other tools you can utilize.

2 – Google Analytics

If you are really serious about maintaining and growing a website in 2013 you’ll need analytical tools to understand the nature of your website’s traffic.  Without traffic information it is like trying to drive a car with a blind fold on (forget for a moment that Google has already made this possible).

Google Analytics

The volume and complexity of the data provided can be overwhelming and a little intimidating.  However, if you are willing to take the time to learn how to use the tools, you’ll uncover s gold mine of information.  I can give you a ton of examples of how I use Google on a regular basis for myself and my clients.  Here is just one example.

Google allows you to create a variety of canned reports which you may choose to have sent to you via email.  A custom report I have emailed to me on a daily basis is “Landing Pages with Keywords Report”.   This report is tells me the top 10 pages visited on my site through search and the search terms (Keywords) used to find the page.

Recently I noticed an sharp increase in the number of visitors to my site who arrived searching for “Donald Goines“.  The trend lasted for several days.  After the 2nd day I improved the page by adding an interview by NPR and information about Eddie B. Allen, Jr.’s biography Low Road: The Life and Legacy of Donald Goines.

The 3rd day’s report shows some marked improvements when compared to reports from the prior two days.  People who visited the site searching for Donald Goines, (1) stayed on the site longer (2) viewed more pages and, (3) more frequently visited another page on AALBC.com before leaving.  This is an example of how I was able to immediately identify and take advantage of a web-surfer’s interest and increase their engagement with my website.

Again this is just one tactic of many that Google makes possible through the use of it’s analytical tools.  If have a websites whose revenue model includes advertising sales, you absolutely need to understand the nature of your traffic.

While Google Analytics is free you are giving up complete information about the nature of your traffic.  For me the trade off is worth it for now.  Your case may be different.

3 – Google Site Search

About 10 years ago I discovered a Google search of my website, on the Internet was much faster than running the same search, locally on my desktop computer!  I’ve been a fan of Google search ever since.

Google gives you the ability to allow visitors to search your website directly.  You may utilize the free service or the fee based service.  If you use the free service Google will insert advertisements into you search results.  I used the fee service and generated revenue when people clicked the advertisements.  However, clicked advertisements also sent people away from my website.

Today I use the fee based Site Search to provide my visitors with the ability to search for content on the AALBC.com website.  It is worth paying the fee, which is based upon the number of queries allowed, to completely eliminate advertising.  The following a a screen shot of a query on my name, Troy Johnson.  Advertisement free (well just the ads of my clients) and fast!  The fee based version also offers support, but Google’s support, is not very good and I rarely use it.

Google Search

I also use the paid version of Google to drive my Huria Search engine.  Visit Huria.org to learn more about how you can use Huria Search to “Discover the Global Black Community”.

4 – YouTube

YouTube, is best thought of as a sophisticated and rapidly growing social media platform, rather than just a place to upload and watch videos.   While there is plenty of opportunity to engage with people on YouTube, I generally use it to; (1) enhance the content on my site with my own original videos and videos created by others, and (2) gather information and data about my visitors viewing habits.

The screen shot below shows what visitors first see when they visit the AALBC.com “Channel” on YouTube.  Which presents visitors with a variety of useful information about the quality and quantity of AALBC.com’s video contributions to YouTube

Youtube Stats

The real benefit is under the hood.  You can get so much useful information on how people interact with your videos; what point do they stop watching, how are the videos discovered, where are the visitors viewing from.  The comments sections is gold mine of information about how people enjoy or dislike your videos.  YouTube has also greatly enhanced their online video editing software.

On a personal note, I actually watch far more video on YouTube (delivered to my regular Television via Apple TV), than any other source including cable or broadcast TV.

5 – AddThis

Addthis allows you to give visitors the ability to easy share content on your website with almost any social media website.  I use AddThis throughout AALBC.com and this helps bolster traffic.

You can review the information provided, by Addthis, to see where which content was shared most often.  By seeing what people share most often helps you understand which content find most valuable.  You can also see which social media platforms your content was shared with most often.

Addthis

6 – Bitly

Bitly is a URL shortener, which takes long unwieldy URLS and shortens them.  This makes those URLs easier to remember and more suitable for use on Twitter and in emails.  Bitly also allows you to track how links are clicked — the real benefit.

If I create some content whose link I plan to share a link in an emailed newsletter, on social media or in an advertisement, I will use Bitly to convert the URL into a shorter link which I can track.  This allows me to track how many times a link was clicked,  where the click took place .   Bitly is especially useful for tracking the effectiveness of print ads because I create a shortened URL that is only in specific print advertisement — if someone uses the link, I’ll know exactly where they got it from.

Tyora Moody QR Code

Tyora Moody QR Code

For example, here is a link to a profile of a new novelist, Tyora Moody: http://aalbc.com/authors/tyora-moody.html it is shortened to http://bit.ly/tmoody  which is easily to remember, type, and I’ll know each time the link is clicked.

I also registered a domain (aalbc.it) just for my shortened URLs.  So the link the link http://aalbc.it/tmoody also works and help support my brand.  Bitly also allows you to create QR Codes too .

In the pie chart below I can tell that a link placed in my eNewsletter, for example, is clicked twice as often as the same link is clicked on Facebook and Twitter combined.  This service is invaluable for helping me understand which links generate the most interest and which platforms do the best attracting attention.  I wrote an article that goes into more detail about bitly here.

Bitly

7 – Madmimi

Contact management, for my newsletter mailing list is one of my largest expenses.  Despite all the excitement over social media as a way to reach your audience.  An eNewsletter with a targeted audience of subscribers remains one of the best ways to quickly reach people interested in what you have to say with the least amount of effort.

Anyone who is interested in engaging an audience really needs to develop a mailing list.  Over the years I’ve used several different applications from Listbot to Constant Contact. I find Madmimi’s service has the best offers based upon price, support and software ease of use of a mailing list my size (almost 17,000 names).

Madmimi

Final Notes:

The goal of this article was not to provide a competitive analysis of the available tools to  perform the tasks I’ve described above.  My goal to describe the tools that have helped me maintain AALBC.com over that past year (2012).

I hope one or more of the tools described will help you as much as they have helped me.  If you have any questions or would like to make some other recommendation please use the Disqus powered comments section below.

Happy New Year,
Troy Johnson
President AALBC.com, LLC

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About Troy

Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of AALBC.com, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, AALBC.com has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/tyora.moody Tyora Moody

    Great information, Troy. I enjoy using most of these tools. I haven’t checked out Madmimi yet. I’m playing around with Mailchimp. Have a Blessed Christmas!

  • mmdccbslm

    thank you Troy

  • Kaye Arori

    Thanks

  • Roland S. Jefferson

    Excellent. Thank you and may you have a Happy New Year.

  • Verna Politics

    Thank you for the tips. And hoping 2012 will be a better year for all of us.