I’ve been developing websites for a relatively long time. There are several misconceptions about the use of the term web developer, and even those hobbyist website designers don’t understand the multitude of skills it takes to be a full service web developer in today’s market. The tools of the trade, the need to know programming languages, the resource websites and the premiere communities change yearly, so even if you were a grade A developer last year, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be among the best next year. A good developer constantly learns and improves.
Even though I’ve been pretty good about staying up with mainstream evolutions, there are always tools you miss. Here are a few of the best resources available, bar none. No matter what your level of involvement with web development, marketing or design, you need to know about these tools if you wish to be considered in the know.
Domain Name Search
I use a wide variety of applications to hunt for open domain names. I use the domain name checker on both the Go Daddy and Yahoo! small business websites for their unique advantages, and a few other proprietary tools that help me get the best domains on the market. One of the most valuable tools is the Lean Domain Search, which finds available domains with the keywords you’re targeting. It’s almost impossible to find relevant domains that aren’t a mile long or are made up of alternate spellings (a terrible waste of money unless you’re branding that alternate spelling), but the Lean Domain Search engine finds an available domain that will fit your needs in almost every instance.
I know you guys are hip to social media, but the truth is that it’s very much a fad. Technology experts agree that the current social media scene will change drastically in the next couple of years, and the stationary you printed with a link to your Twitter feed may become obsolete. The safest bet for a medium that will allow you to contact your followers 10 years from now is e-mail. It has the type of staying power that other communication just don’t have (think ICQ, MySpace or AOL). If you think that your favorite social networks, even Facebook, are impervious to the same fate that ICQ or MySpace suffered, you’re what the pundits call naïve. Safeguard your hard work in online marketing by developing a mailing list.
Aweber is a popular option and is widely held as one of the best list management services, but it costs nearly 20$ per month (over 10 years you’re looking at $2,500). Mail chimp offers a free alternative that meets the needs of most online marketers, and is by far the best free list management service. Your free account can accumulate up to 2,000 subscribers and send 12,000 e-mails per month before you’re forced to upgrade. You can always export your entire list and take it with you if you decide to use another service, but I think you’ll be plenty satisfied with the chimp if you can get your widget’s appearance edited to suit you. Use this link and you’ll get $30 in Monkey Rewards which can be used for purchases above and beyond the free account if you ever decide you need more.
Gimp is a Freeware image editing program whose development is crowd sourced like Wikipedia or the Linux platform. The Gimp application is capable of meeting most basic image editing needs, and has been adopted by a number of graphic designers already. I recently had a discussion with a computer science professor and he was under the impression that the only reason Gimp hasn’t become the industry standard is because teenagers can easily get pirated copies of Adobe Photoshop. I haven’t used Gimp much, but I don’t use Photoshop much either. I have been managing to make due with an obsolete version of Macromedia Fireworks for years, just to show you that you don’t need Photoshop to make visually stunning graphics or re-touch photos. Gimp is available for free download here. Since you have nothing to lose, I highly suggest checking it out.
WP Greet Box
As I write this blog post, I realize the primary use of it is to educate the readers, and provide content that potential readers may find valuable. The quality of the content will dictate whether or not you take any further action, so I try to offer sharing buttons and subscribe features to meet every need you would have as a reader. I don’t know where my next readers will come from, but WP Greet Box does. At the top of this post it welcomes you from the social network you came from (Stumbleupon, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), offers you the opportunity to share back to that network or reminds you to subscribe via RSS.
If you found my post on Twitter, then you will be asked by the plugin to tweet it to your friends. If you came from Stumbleupon, it will ask you to give this post a thumbs up. This is effective because if you found my blog post on a certain network, you are more likely to share it on that specific network. As for those who visit directly or through a link not associated with a social network, my RSS subscribers have increased 30 percent since I got the plugin installed. It isn’t as intrusive as a pop-up, so I consider WP Greet Box the best of both worlds! The plugin has 32 default greetings for referrers programmed, but you can easily program your own greetings if you’d like.
BONUS: Comment Luv
If you run a self hosted wordpress Blog, I would recommend a supplemental commenting plugin. In my experience, Comment Luv Premium has increased the comments on my blog by several hundred percent, and it draws me in to commenting on blogs where I see it. For commenting on this blog you get to link back to a recent post on your WordPress blog, and if you share this post on a Social Network through the Comment Luv plugin, you can unlock extra features. So not only does the plugin drive engagement, it promotes sharing by allowing users to choose from a wider variety of posts. You can set it up so it only allows commenters that tweet your post to have the Do Follow link if you’d like, or any other combination of incentives for engagement.
Full Disclosure: I am a paid affiliate of Comment Luv and Aweber, both being tools that I highly recommend and would endorse regardless of affiliation. I am a partner with Mail Chimp, and while I do not get paid for referrals directly, I get a credit for any future purchases. Since I use the free version, I am unlikely to ever use the credit. I am in no way affiliated with Lean Domain Search, WP Greet Box, Firebug or Gimp, I just find their applications to be very valuable and hope you do too! I support Freeware.