Faster Growth by Building a Free Tool (Lazy People Need Not Apply)
- Dale Cudmore
Do you find it hard to promote your content?
You send out emails to let people know about your latest blog post or guide, but do you really feel that they’re going to get excited about it?
The fact is, any well-known blogger gets absolutely bombarded with emails everyday from people wanting their attention.
Deep down, you know that your post isn’t that much better, even if it’s good.
Here’s the thing: Even if you have AMAZING content, with targeted outreach and optimized emails, you’re going to be lucky to get 5-10 backlinks per 100 emails you send out.
And that figure is going down all the time.
However, there’s one tactic you can use to open doors with bloggers and communities, so that you don’t even have to ask for a link to get one.
What I’m talking about here—building a tool for your community.
You can get more backlinks, connections, and traffic with a tool than most ordinary pieces of content.
Additionally, you’ll also be left with a valuable asset that you can sell off.
Here’s what I’m going to show you:
- examples of tools (and their results)
- the step-by-step procedure to creating your own tool (even if you’re non-technical)
- how to promote the tool to get those links and connections
3 Examples of Tools (Plus Their ROI)
In order to understand what I’m referring to as tools, and quantify the return on investment (ROI) you can achieve, let’s look at some real tools.
Case Study #1:
Made in: May 2014
Linking root domains: 3,880
Cost: 1 month of 2 people working part-time (My estimate: $4800—based on 80 hours)
Cost per linking root domain: $1.28
The founder of this tool, Artem (the co-founder) was unhappy with the current keyword research tools available, so he created KeywordTool.io.
It’s a simple tool to use, but it’s pretty obvious that it took quite a bit of work to make.
The end result was a search bar that you enter a keyword into:
You can also choose which tool to search for keyword suggestions. After you click search, the tool does some voodoo to search for hundreds of combinations that include your entered keyword and spits out a table of the best ones:
This is also a perfect example to illustrate that an originally free tool can be turned into a business if the interest is there, and people will still link to it.
Imagine that happening if you put a paywall on your blog posts (not gonna happen).
I reached out to Artem, and he told me that he also had the opportunity to connect with top influencers in digital marketing industry thanks to the tool.
To top it off, it’s also gotten him and his partner a lot of keyword research work for businesses.
We can’t really put a ROI on those things, but we can on the links.
The average SEO agency charges $50-100 per high quality link.
The ROI: Artem was able to get great links for a cost of $1.28 each, and that goes down as the tool continually generates more links over time.
That’s 1-3% of the cost of normal “SEO links,” which is incredible. As you’ll see in the other examples, it’s not an exception either.
Case Study #2:
Made in: July 2014
Linking root domains: 156 + 212 = 368
Cost per linking root domain: $2.17
FaqFox was the first tool I thought of when writing this article because it’s simple but very useful.
The tool was made by Julian Flynn, who created it initially as an experiment. He wanted to see if a tool would open doors to new relationships.
Here’s how the tool works: You type in a keyword into the search bar. You also select sites to search. You can type in your own or click the pre-populated ones below:
The tool uses the Bing Search API to bring up relevant threads and posts about your keyword.
It’s pretty obvious how this is useful for some quick keyword or niche research. You can easily come up with dozens of content ideas from the extensive list in just a few minutes.
The tool has received tons of the best links you could ask for. For example, it has links from Search Engine Journal, Unbounce, and Digital Philippines.
Why did I write the linking root domains like that above?
Because it looks like the tool has been SOLD.
That’s one thing I mentioned upfront that you might be able to do later on.
After getting all those benefits, Julian was able to profit again off the tool, and I guarantee it was for several times what the tool cost to make.
Case Study #3:
The Content Ideator
Made in: Late 2013
Linking root domains: 389
Cost: It took a couple of weeks ($2400 based on 40 hours)
Cost per linking root domain: $6.17
The Content Ideator might be the simplest tool to use in this list. But it’s the only one that I have no clue where it draws its data from.
You enter in a keyword into the search bar, but after you submit it, you magically get a ton of headline ideas.
I know there are other tools that do this, but usually the titles are completely random and irrelevant. The results that I got from playing around with it a bit seem like they are based off titles in the same niche with different keywords – pretty cool.
This tool was made by the team at Content Forest, who have a few other free tools for SEOs as well.
It has a fairly impressive collection of backlinks at the moment, including links from Hubspot and Entrepreneur.com (not shown below):
In addition, they get 1,000s of visitors to the tool every month, and several qualified leads to their main product (ContentForest PRO).
For some more examples of free tools, check out MTD Training, management training specialists who create a lot of free tools including several lead generation assessments like their free EQ test which creates a personalised 15 page report on how emotionally intelligent you are.
How Do You Make Your Own Tool? (With No Technical Background)
Be prepared for some real work.
It’s going to take more time to create than a blog post, and it’s going to cost more as well.
For those of you like me, who love to code, you can create your own. But I’ll show you how to create them even if you don’t.
Step One: Start with the idea
You might know the communities well enough to come up with 10 ideas off the top of your head.
If so, great.
If not, I have a simple solution: go ask them.
A great place to start is Reddit.
Reddit is basically just a huge forum with tons of different categories.
You can literally post a thread asking a specific community if they’d like any free tools. I’ve seen it done many times:
Users can vote on the replies that they like, so you’ll only create tools that people are most interested in.
Unlike a blog post, where most audiences don’t feel that it’s going to have a practical impact on their lives, they know a tool can—so get their input.
Step Two: Getting it built
Here’s the hard part.
Want to learn how to code and make tools yourself? Start with Harvard’s online introduction to computer science.
Then, spend a few months practicing and you’ll be able to create a tool (at least a simple one).
That’s what I did, but it’s not the path for everyone.
Instead, you can hire a developer to create it for you.
As long as you know what you’d like it to do, a developer can help you figure out exactly how to make that happen. So don’t worry if you don’t have the minor details worked out
There are tons of sites to find developers on, here are some I’ve heard the best things about:
What should you expect to pay?
The cost of the tool could be anywhere from a couple hundred dollars, to tens of thousands of dollars.
It all depends on how complex your idea is.
For a simple tool, you don’t really need the top of the line developers ($200+/hour).
Unless you have the budget for it, I’d recommend going for a lower tier of developer ($60-80/hour).
You can specify the rate that you can afford (or total budget) on any of those sites. You’ll still get plenty of applications.
Pick a developer that has created small tools like yours before and that you feel like you can trust.
Just be aware, the lower you go with your budget, the more likely you are to get an unprofessional, and low quality developer. To make sure, what is the average price for the developer you are looking for, use the tool YouRate. You can filter developers by location, tech stack and years of experience and even find the talent you need.
Step Three: Get initial feedback
Bonus marks if you can answer this:
Where should you get initial feedback on your tool?
If you said in the community you asked for an idea from, you’re spot on.
There’s nothing more effective than going back to a community and saying:
“Hey, you guys asked for a free tool that could do (x)…Here it is…”
Ask them if it does everything that they’d like it to, or if they think it could be improved.
Before you promote your tool, you want to make sure it’s ready.
Step Four: Promote the heck out of it
This is simple, but involves a lot of manual work yourself.
It’s time to get links and build relationships.
There are many ways to promote a tool, but there are 2 that I would focus on:
- outreach to bloggers in your niche
With forums and communities (think groups like LinkedIn/Facebook groups), it’s pretty easy to promote your tool.
Join the community, make some normal, helpful posts, and then a few days or weeks later, make a post titled something like:
“I created a free tool for entrepreneurs that takes out your trash”
With your description, describe your motivations for the tools and how to use it.
Since it’s a free tool, it’s rare for people to have a problem with it, and most will be enthusiastic.
With bloggers, there are tons of different approaches, but here’s one:
Subject: A free tool for your audience?
I’ve read your blog for quite some time and I’ve gotten a lot out of it. In particular… (give an example of how you applied something specific).
A while back I decided that I wanted to contribute something to the (niche) community myself, and built a free tool: (tool name and link).
It… (describe what it does in 1-2 sentences).
The initial feedback from other (type of people in audience) has been great so far on Reddit and (other forum/group).
I’d love to get your thoughts on it!
Thanks for your time,
There’s no hard sell, because you have something that’s actually valuable for his/her readers.
And if the tool is useful, as it hopefully is, you don’t even have to ask them to share it, just to look at it. They will likely share it on social media, and keep it in mind if it fits any of their future posts (and link to it).
Is There a Tool in Your Future?
What is great content?
Ultimately, it just means going above and beyond to provide value to your community, in any form.
I don’t think I’ve seen a form of content that gets the same ROI as tools do, and that’s why I had to share this with you.
Yes, it’s hard, maybe even a bit scary if you haven’t created one before, but that’s a big part of why tools get so much attention.
I’m happy to answer any questions about creating tools, whether they’re technical or not. Just leave a comment below.