For five years I've always kept a keen eye on how this blog is performing. This is partly to inform future content, probably partly to feed my ego and most importantly to see if it's still a good use of my time! However, over the past 6 months or so, I've noticed a decline in visits which is now an all time low readership of less than 800 people.

Initially this surprised me. Especially as we're supposed to be experiencing a digital skills gap so more people should be thirsty for knowledge than ever. I came to the conclusion that it's probably because we've reached peak saturation for marketing blogs (and internet published content in general!)

When I started out I was one of the few around blogging consistently on this topic. Now, there's a massive upturn in people posting longer posts on social media. In fact, when I started in my current role I was the most prolific employee on LinkedIn by just by posting a link to my latest post every fortnight! Now  the percentage of people posting regularly has increased massively.

I even read a lot less marketing blogs myself now. The sheer amount in existence means that the majority are either regurgitated, boring or uninspiring (all things I could sometimes be accused of too!) Either that or they're click bait focused with snappy headlines with not much substance. It takes so much effort to find good stuff I rarely bother now aside from reading more general business/creative thinking content. After all, good marketing is about keeping it simple and being creative.

This situation means the much publicised digital skills gap is likely to suffer as a result. Where do people who are just starting out go to get quality insight and advice nowadays?

It was with this in mind that I recently decided to check out the 'Google Digital Garage' in Manchester. This was put on my radar by a colleague and I felt compelled to check it out. Essentially, Google offer free local coaching on a massive amount of subjects in high street training centres in Edinburgh, Manchester (and sometimes) London.

So, last week we went along to a session on 'How to write a Social Media strategy'. On arrival we were very impressed with the facilities. For anyone starting up a business I'd almost say it's essential to go along yourself. Especially as they offer courses on writing a digital marketing plan, answering questions with data and getting your business seen on Google (among many others).

Our course lasted an hour and half and was excellently structured. I wouldn't say I learnt a lot, having written strategies in the past, but it was reassuring to know what I did was still up to date and relevant. I did get some great tips on presentation layout and a list of new tools to try though. I would have liked to sign up for a whole day of their courses (they also offer one to one coaching) to test against my own skills and see how other people teach digital marketing!

Farewell Google+ - we'd forgotten you were still alive!
Given this is all totally free to attend it got me thinking about the business model. The facilities were great and the staff very knowledgeable so how does this pay for itself? My guess is that it helps Google increase their own brand loyalty and corporate responsibility score. They also need businesses who value the internet so by upskilling them it helps them grow their platform (and collect more data on us!) Finally, it helps plug the gap in digital skills for their potential future recruits to create more quality apps like Google Maps and less like Google+...

I was inspired to almost go away and start to set up my own digital skills training academy in my local area. Only a fool or a hero would dare take on the might of Google though. Especially when they're offering quality courses for free!
Lately I've been feeling a bit out of touch with the latest tools that digital marketing has to offer. A combination of massive home and work projects has left little time for reading and researching.

I've also been a bit shaken by the recent news regarding Blippar going into administration. This tool in particular was a great addition to our 'Shaping Your World' campaign in that it allowed cheap and fast self service augmented reality. I even enjoyed the live demos we gave to clients and seeing their amazed faces when our host avatars popped out of the plaques.

This latest casualty shows the transitory nature of some of the latest tools and why solid processes and strategies are more important than the latest shiny trend. Maybe it's time that I shed my prejudices and re-embraced the ugly world of QR codes given the native camera on the iPhone supports them.

To help me get back up to speed it's around this time of year that everyone publishes their 'top digital marketing tools of 2019' lists. So I spent the last week of the holidays going through as many of these as I could. I then have combined some of my favourites with other tools I've been recommended/seen on Twitter for a top ten list of tools to try. Some of these are particularly pertinent given the projects I'll be tackling in 2019, some I've used already, but all of them deserve further investigation:

1. Squoosh

This nice little free web app from Google easily lets Non-Photoshop drag and drop an image to 'squoosh' and choose the compression standards. A small slider lets you quickly adjust the level of compression and you'll see a running total of how large the resulting file is expected to be.


Removing backgrounds from photos can be pretty time consuming - even if you know what you're doing! Simply select a photo from your computer (or enter its URL on the Web). then processes the photo and lets you download it as a PNG image with a transparent background in seconds. 

3. Uptime Robot

Another free tool for monitoring when your website goes offline. You also get handy response times so that you can see if those complaints that your website is slow is either a legitimate or local issue.

4. Brand24

A social media monitoring where you can set up your projects, get alerts, and monitor results. With social listening, you can both react to potential crisis situations and positive messages that are spread about your brand in real time.

5. Google Primer

Finding time to keep up with the latest developments in digital marketing is really tough. This app has hundreds of 5min lessons on every digital marketing topic you can think of. On completion you get personalized next steps after each lesson, so you can put your new skills to work right away.

6. Kontentino

This is marketed as 'The most intuitive social media planning and approval tool'. With a calendar and plenty of handy features like live post preview, topic tags, boost budget planning, post version history or easy content translation for international pages.

7. Crello

Many of us have used Canva which still remains the market leader but this looks like a powered up alternative. Crello is an amazing tool for creating graphics for social media. One of its features can help you go places: animated posts and super-duper templates that will help you stand out of the crowd.

8. Exactitudes

When undertaking work on marketing personas it can really help having images that aren't obvious stock photos. This project from a Dutch photographer profiles real people in a series of photos to make much more believable portraits.

9. Paste

WeTransfer is a tool many of us use on a weekly basis and this is their solution which allows you to make presentations, pitches, offers, or anything you simply want to call slides. If you are tired of Prezi or Google Slides templates, this tool is for you.

10. Lead Forensics

To my mind this is the most powerful B2B website monitoring tool there is. The potential to monitor who visits our websites and quantify leads in many different ways is massive (e.g. by sector and region). After getting up and running late last year 2019 will see us properly using it to it's full potential.
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