Our Essential Online Tools – Part I

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There are lots of (often free) essential, online tools that we regularly use to drive traffic to our shop or blog, keep in touch with customers, keep an eye on competitors or just shoot the breeze with like-minded folks either just down the road or half way round the world!

Adelle’s responsible for 99.99% of all H is for Home‘s online/social media/internet output, so this post will be very “I” & “me”!

Right then, here’s part 1 of our A to Z list!

Amazon Associates – We love poring over interior design & decorating books & magazines and also collect vintage children’s books, so it was only natural for us to include a book store within the H is for Home shop. It contains all our favourite books divided up into sections like Scandinavian Design, Illustration & Graphic Design and Shopping Vintage. It’s really easy to set up an Amazon Associates account, assemble a selection of your favourite books and then embed it into your website or blog.

Bit.ly – I’ve been using bit.ly, the url shortening service,  since 2009. I use it in conjunction with our very own “vanity url” 4ho.me that we bought at Go Daddy. It allows you to track the popularity of your links and using bit.ly is a near necessity when sharing space-limited tweets!

Buffer– Occasionally, if I know I’m going to be away from the computer or iPhone or I’m somewhere with no internet access, I front-load or schedule a tweet. If for some reason I want to schedule a number of tweets, Twuffer (see part 2 of Our Essential Online Tools) is a much better, free option.

Delicious – There are just so many good blogs, websites & online shops on the internet now ,that adding them all to my browser favourites just doesn’t work for me any more! With Delicious, I save them online, organise them into groups using tags and can share them with anyone that’s interested in our online discoveries! (**now deprecated**)

Dropbox – The best method I’ve found – by far – for sharing & saving large or numerous files of any kind. You just download the application which puts a folder on your desktop (or wherever else you’d like it to be situated), drag & drop files to it, then invite people to ‘join’ the folder. They don’t even need to download Dropbox themselves any longer – you can just send them a link to the folder. There’s also a mobile phone and tablet app so you have access to your files on the move too. I also use Dropbox to backup this blog (but more about that in another post coming soon!).

eBay – We’ve been buying & selling vintage on eBay for quite a few years now. Bagging yourself a bargain has become nigh on impossible due to the huge volume of buyers trawling the site. Although it also means that anything you list for sale will almost certainly find its true worth. This makes it the best tool for finding out the value of something you’ve picked up at a charity shop or boot sale. Just type in a description of the item (even better if there’s a maker’s mark) in the search box and click on completed items – there’s bound to be an exact or very similar one sold on eBay in the previous 90 days!

Evernote – Such a great little tool – like an online pinboard to stick your post-it notes! I use it as a safe, online place to save things like to do lists, and it syncs between your desktop, mobile phone, tablet and the Evernote website. You can even drag & drop images into notes and take snippets of websites that catch your eye. Like Delicious, you can organise them into groups using tags.

Firefox plugins – Firefox is my preferred internet browser because of its usability and the huge range of plugins & add ons that have been designed to work with it.

LastPass – I don’t know about you, but I’m rubbish at remembering passwords – and over the years I’ve been collecting them like pebbles off a beach! Instead of going with the easy option, i.e. having the same weak password for absolutely everything, I use Strong Password Generator (see part 2 of Our Essential Online Tools) and have LastPass do the remembering for me! Another useful thing that LastPass does is it auto-fills online forms for you – quite a time saver!

Morning Coffee – Each day, I crank up the computer, Firefox loads and I click on the Morning Coffee button. No, it doesn’t bring me my morning latte in bed (if only there was an app that did that!). It automatically loads all my most frequently visited websites in separate tabs, all in one go. It allows you to choose which web pages load on which day of the week. It’s one of those you didn’t know you needed until you used it!

PDF Download – You don’t always want to download PDFs from the internet, sometimes you just want to see what’s in them – this lets you view them online as a web page, no downloading needed!

PDFit – I use this to take a screen shot of a web page that I’m viewing online and want to save. It saves the page as either a pdf or as a jpeg. Useful for keeping an archive view of your website prior to a redesign.

Xmarks – From the same stable as LastPass, Xmarks is great tool for syncing bookmarks/favourites across multiple computers and different web browsers too.

JPEGmini – We’d been using Smush.it (see part 2 of Our Essential Online Tools) for years, then a few weeks ago I discovered this tool that does the same thing – only better in my opinion. Our blog posts tend to be very image heavy so compressing & stripping away any unnecessary data from image files (without affecting quality) helps your web pages load much quicker!

FatCow – No, we’re not being mean! 😉 It’s the name of the company that supplies our web hosting. Whenever we get in a pickle and somehow break our blog (usually caused by Adelle’s over-tinkering!) their live chat service is always a life saver. You just open an instant message window and someone comes to your aid… usually within a minute. Beats hanging on the telephone in a queue for 20 minutes listening to elevator music waiting your turn to wail at a frazzled tech guy!

Flickr – Perhaps somewhat usurped by Pinterest in some arenas these days, we’re still regular users of this photo (and short video) storage & sharing website. There’s a lovely, supportive community of photographers & photography fans that comment on and favourite your photos. There are also lots of niche groups to join or start… on every which subject you could imagine. Great for visual inspiration too!

Google – Google needs its own sub-section, I use so many of their tools!

Alerts -Want to know what people are saying about you? Google keeps tabs on mentions so you don’t have to… Google yourself (get it?!)

Analytics – Arguably, the best & most well known website stats tool. It’s easy to use and tell you lots of detailed info including numbers & locations of visitors, number of page hits, most popular pages – everything you could want to know, Google Analytics can tell you!

Image search – We always like to credit the original authors of images we find & reuse on the internet – sometimes that’s easier said than done. I’ve discovered an almost foolproof way of finding out!

◊ Go to the Google homepage, click on the ‘Images’ link found on the top toolbar

◊ Enter/paste the url of the image file you found on the internet into the search bar. To find an image’s url, right click/control click on the image and select “copy image location”

◊ Finally, click on the camera icon. All the instances of the image that are online will be magically listed!

Mail – You’d think that I don’t really need to go into this one, everyone knows how to send & receive an email – but wait… I use it as an email back up tool! I’ve set up a rule in our email client (Entourage, if you’re asking) that auto-forwards a copy of every single email, that every single H is for Home email address is ever sent. It goes to a Gmail account that’s rarely used. It’s only accessed if an important email has been deleted my mistake (hands up who’s not done that!). Or if, for some reason, Entourage or the computer is playing up and won’t send an email, I can simply log into the Gmail account to send it – and I’ve set it up to look like it actually came from our @hisforhome.com email address, and not from Gmail. And we use it with another nifty tool, WiseStamp that inserts our signature!

Reader – As I mentioned above – when we’re not writing blog posts of our own – we’re reading other people’s – at least a hundred of them! Google Reader allows us to keep up with all our favourites without actually having to go to each and every site individually – they’re all right there in a single web page. It also lets you know when sa new post has gone live.

Translate – The trend for vintage is a global phenomenon! There are lots of bloggers & website owners, especially in Japan, Brazil, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe, who buy, sell and blog about vintage homewares. You can visit their websites (and they, yours) in your mother tongue at the click of a button!

Webmaster tools – If you’ve built or maintain your own site it’s a good idea to use some of the tools here. Some of the tools require a lot of technical knowledge, but others are suitable for the more intermediate user! Once you’ve verified that you’re the owner/admin of your site(s) you can monitor & fix its “health”. I recommend the PageSpeed Insights tool and the Structured Data Testing tool (previously called the Rich Snippets Testing tool).

iPhone apps – When I’m not on the MacBook, I’m on my iPhone (sad, aren’t I?). This is a list of my most used apps:

Osfoora – My preferred mobile Twitter client. I think it’s cleaner and more user friendly than the classic Twitter app. And it’s easier to swap between my Twitter personae. My personal Twitter username is @adellerobinson – it’s sadly neglected and I only really use it when I’m hacked off with the rail service! Fudge has his own Twitter life too at @fisforfudge (**now deprecated**)

Shazam – This in no way can be considered a ‘work’ app, but it’s so AMAZING that I had to mention it! Often if we’re out at a bar or pb and a great song comes on that we don’t recognise; or if we do but are racking our brains to remember who it’s by… open Shazam, click listen, it gives you all the info. It can even tell whose version of a song it is… wizardry!

Viber & What’s App – Who doesn’t love free? I don’t get a huge call & text allowance with my phone contract so I use these two apps for free phone calls* and text/picture/video** messages to other people with the apps.

*What’s App doesn’t currently have the facility to make free phone calls
**Viber doesn’t currently have the facility to send video messages

Mad Mimi – We’ve been signed up to Mad Mimi for ages but have never used this email newsletter service because we were already using Vertical Response (see part 2 of Our Essential Online Tools). As of 15 November 2012 however, Mad Mimi is extending its free service from a mailing list limited to 100 sends to one of a whopping 2,500 contacts with 12,500 sends – more than ample for us! It’s dashboard is really user friendly and it seems to be geared towards creative, indie businesses.

PayPal – Paypal is so ubiquitous – and for good reason – it’s quick, easy and is a brand that both customers & small business owners trust. We don’t have a bricks & mortar shop of our own so don’t see the need to have one of those chip & pin machines. Even shoppers without a PayPal account can pay using their Visa, Mastercard or American Express card – in (almost) any currency.

PerBang.dk RGB Chart & Multi Tool – This tool is only used once a week for our Tuesday Huesday post. It magically comes up with the web colours that are closest to the ones in a given image. Prior to using this tool, I’d never heard of tangelo and gamboge!

Do you use any of these? What “can’t-live-without” tools do you use that you think should be added to this list?

The list of tools that we use is pretty long, so we’ve split it up into two sections – part two will follow shortly!

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