free online tools

Quick – name the one indispensable tool that you use all the time for your SEO efforts. Maybe you named Google search. Or the Adwords keyword tool. Or maybe it’s Open Site Explorer or any of a large number of other free and paid tools that we all make use of every day in order to build our SEO profiles. We all use these things every day but few of us actually consider using them in a vastly different way.

Marketing By Giving it Away

I’ll assume that most of our readers here do have a business blog (and if you don’t, what are you waiting for? Pretty much every business on the planet can benefit from having a blog online). The odds are very good that you give away the content on your blog free of charge. By this I mean that you don’t have a pay gateway in order to access the material that you post there.
Ever think about why you do this? Of course, blogs are great for building your SEO profile since they are updated regularly and they also get you extra links which can increase the love you get from the Google gods. However, beyond that, blogs, at least if they’re well written and interesting can be great traffic drivers.
People come back to your site regularly to see what your latest blog post has to say and they may well stay to buy whatever it is that you have for sale. At least, that’s what most blog owners hope will happen. Some of us have blogs whose sole purpose is to sell the advertising that appears next to the blog posts in fact.
Now consider this: Almost every guy and his brother runs a blog these days. They’re ubiquitous and they can be difficult to attract traffic to since there is such a glut of blogs online. However, what you don’t see on every single website is a useful, even indispensable tool. Such items are typically the province only of the bigger websites, the ones that actually pull in a larger amount of traffic.

You Could Be One of Those Big Guys

I know what everyone is thinking – yeah, if I only had the money to build a server farm and to hire a team of engineers on the caliber of Matt Cutts, I too could have a powerhouse company offering all kinds of great tools to my customers. And you know what? Five years ago, you might even have been correct. It cost an awful lot of money to develop tools and to host them since you needed dedicated servers to do it.
However, today it’s possible to have a decent tool coded for you for just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on how complicated of a tool you want to create. Plus, you no longer need to spend thousands of dollars a month for dedicated server farms to host your tool. Amazon, Microsoft, Google and IBM are all offering cloud computing services which can be purchased on the fly.
This means effectively that you can work with your coder (I’ll discuss this in more detail shortly) to arrange for the new tool that you create to be hosted with one of the cloud computing services and then simply pay to scale it up as the need arises. Of course, it will still cost something but that’s where the advertising and freemium models come into play.

Making Money from the Tools

As I said, this isn’t going to be free. It’s simply affordable for the average business owner to do whereas before you might have needed venture capital to build a tool and get it hosted. However, you do still need to make money from your tools in order to make them worth your while. There are several options for doing this.
Option number one is simply to provide it for free and hope that people will stick around and purchase whatever else it is that you have for sale on your website. You might even include some advertising on your site for whatever those products may be. This is a risky option however since more and more people are becoming immune to advertising alone.
Option number two is what I like to call the freemium model. In essence, you give away basic services but then charge your customers who want more advanced services. A great example of this is the Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz. They allow you to do three searches per day for free but if you need more or more detailed information, you pay for it.
open site explorer
In addition to offering the freemium model of course, SEOMoz also offers their other services to people using the Open Site Explorer. This I believe is the best model.
Option number three is to offer an unlimited experience but have it heavily populated with annoyware. Pandora used to do something like this. They offered a free monthly unlimited listening plan but they included ads every few minutes and annoying pop ups to remind you how wonderful their premium service, Pandora One is (I quickly tired of it and am now a loyal Pandora One subscriber BTW. I can’t live without my Pandora radio).
Pandora today decided to make the system even more limited for the freebie seekers by offering a maximum number of hours per month.

Getting Ideas

I’ve discussed in the past how to get ideas for offline tools that you use to build your links up through shareware sites. This works pretty much the same way. The single best way to get ideas for tools that people would need in your niche is to visit forums dedicated to your niche and see what kind of questions people are asking. Find a way to create a tool to address their concerns and you’ll have your idea for a tool.

Getting It Coded

Finally, there is the question of how to get a tool coded. This again I’ve covered in greater detail elsewhere when discussing how to get offline tools coded. The best way to go about this is to visit a website like Elance or Guru and to find yourself a good coder from the third world.
Finding programmers
Just make sure their English language skills are adequate to understand what you need and make sure that they have some decent feedback already.  You can usually get your project built for a fairly small sum of money and have them set it up with an easy to use backend hosted on one of the cloud computing services which are now proliferating online.