This is a guest blog post written by Matthew Barker. He is a managing partner at Hit Riddle, an internet marketing consultancy specialising in the travel industry.
Look up "online marketing tools" or "seo software" and you'll uncover more than 30 million results all competing for your attention. Try doing some research on any one of them and you'll find unconvincing review sites, useless coupon codes and a network of affiliate websites, all part of the great SEO pyramid scheme that clouds up the web and makes the job of finding a set of good, reliable tools all the more difficult.
Fortunately enough most online travel marketers don't need to loose much sleep over which suite of tools they're going to blow their budget on. You can easily do all the basics and more with the following free or highly affordable pieces of kit.
Understanding your site's search engine performance is easy with Yahoo Site Explorer and Google Webmaster Tools (both free). Yahoo's tool is the fastest way of exploring all the inbound links that are pointing to your site from elsewhere on the web and as every web marketer knows, quality links means quality rankings. This is all the more pertinent with Google's Panda update which has placed renewed emphasis on the diversity and quality of your link profile. The Panda has been unleashed and is in the UK very soon - make sure you're not about to get bitten by checking your link profile now.
Google's excellent Webmaster Tools give you a wealth of information on how the Google index "sees" your website. It tells you what pages have been indexed and when and will flag up any problems with your site that might be preventing complete indexing of all your pages. Your web team should be checking this at least once a week.
Webmaster Tools' sister product, Google Analytics is also free and is an excellent, enterprise-level application that gives you great insights into where your traffic is coming from and what it is doing once it arrives to your site. A word of warning: digging through all those insights can get addictive. It's best to have a clear idea of what you want to learn before you go in, to avoid loosing half a day gawping at all the colourful tables and graphs.
Getting a hold on how well your site is doing in the search engines can be tricky and all the more so because personalised search, local search and social media signals are increasingly influencing individual results pages which makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of your search rankings. Webmaster tools has a handy "average" ranking display, but what you can do with this data is limited.
A more comprehensive tool is Advanced Web Ranking ($99 for a 12month subscription) which is great if you need to track multiple domains, schedule reports, specify individual search engines and share data with your colleagues. Because this is a paid tool, you also get the added benefit of good customer support and regular updates.
Finally, any marketer running corporate profiles on social media platforms can't but help dread something going wrong; an awkward customer comment posted at 6:15pm on Friday evening when everyone's just left the office or a potential lead gone unanswered because you're bogged down managing accounts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube while trying to get everything else done at the same time.
These are the pitfalls of using social marketing and one slip can undo weeks of brand development. Fortunately there are a number of new tools that plug into each platforms' API and let you oversee them all from one handy interface. Recently I have been playing with Crowdcontrol HQ (£50 per month) and it's a handy way of moderating all your profiles from one place, and making profile maintenance much more time efficient.
My advice is always to make the most of these proven, affordable tools before diving into anything more comprehensive and time consuming. These are just five out of the 30 million tools out there - do you use any others?
Matthew Barker is managing partner of Hit Riddle (www.hitriddle.com), a specialist in online marketing for the travel industry.