This weekend, I bought a new laptop. I went for a sleek Lenovo IdeaPad 710s Plus with a 256 GB SSD harddrive, lots of memory and a dedicated graphics card. But getting a new computer made me realize just how much software I’m actually using. As an ecommerce consultant, the entire software stack of the digital marketer is actually quite comprehensive. I even had a hard time remembering what to install. Not because of a lack of frequency of using different software, but simply because there’s so much! So I want to share my software stack - also as a checklist for myself for next time I’m getting a new laptop.
Obviously, I’m an ecommerce consultant with focus on web analytics. So much of my software leans towards web analytics. Which, in my view, is fundamental for any digital marketing role. Also, while the title of this post uses the term “technical digital marketer”, that’s actually a bit of a truism. There’s no such thing as a non-technical digital marketer. Suffice to say, that working with digital marketing makes you technical by default.
Desktop software for the digital marketer
First off, let’s begin with the basics. There’s a bare minimum of desktop software that you need. Probably not just as a digital marketer, but also in many other roles. By the way, I’m running Windows 10. I have not checked if any of the software exists for Mac. (But what kind of digital marketer would ever use a Mac?).
Well, obviously. Without keeping a count, Excel is probably the software I spend most time with. I do most of my reporting and initial analysis of Google Analytics data in Excel. It’s much more flexible than the Google Analytics interface and let’s me transform and process data fast. And visualize it in formatted tables, charts or pivots. I can filter data easily, which is specially useful when working with data from multiple properties or just for multiple countries.
Analytics Edge is an add-in for Excel. Basically, it uses wizards and a nice desktop interface to let you import data directly from Google Analytics and into Excel. I just the use Core version, which lets you transform and process data before writing it to Excel. It’s an insane time saver.
One of the many great things about Analytics Edge is how you automate reporting. Setup your queries and reports once, and then just hit the refresh button. It can even apply custom segments and filters without having to create them inside Google Analytics. I wrote an introduction posts to Analytics Edge sometime ago.
Yes, I’m a Microsoft fan. Powerpoint is by best friend when it comes to many things. Excellent reporting requires a lot of skill - storytelling, visualization, recommendations and more (check out this article on killer reports). But you need software to support it. And Powerpoint is easy and it integrates so well with Excel. And it’s easy to share for others to make edits.
PPspliT is just a ‘convenience’ add on for PowerPoint. My presentations often contain simple animations. Not Santa Clauses or weird ClipArt. But animations of tables, charts and more that makes it easier for viewers to see the ‘story of the data’. I often share my presentations with clients, but I always send them in PDF format. PDF presentations from PowerPoint are - surprise - not animated. Which can lead to very strange looking presentations.
Now, PPspliT splits all animated slides into multiple slides in order to keep the order and appearance of an animated presentation. Once done (it takes seconds), you can save the presentation as PDF and share it in good conscience.
I’m not saying you definitely should have Photoshop. There is plenty of other great photo editing software out there. Photoshop is just my preferred software since I’ve been using it for years and know all the keyboard shortcuts. On my laptop, it has multiple purposes. First of all, photo editing of course. I mostly edit promotional photos and product images for websites - for instance, for use in A/B tests. But I also use it as a wireframing tool. Each time I need clients, developers or designers to implement changes on a website, I like to visualize the required changes as a very detailed screenshot. It makes it easier for everybody.
Sublime Text 3
In addition, I use it to code PHP scripts for the Google Analytics API. I usually do this when I need to manage multiple or large properties, create very customized data exports or when I need to automate repetitive tasks (such as auditing Google Analytics properties).
Recently, I’ve actually started using Visual Studio Code instead. It’s kind of similar to Sublime Text, but I like how extensions generally work better and are easier to install. The built-in terminal is awesome and is a real life changer if you use a lot of CLI based tools.
If you don’t know, “Wamp” is short for “Windows Apache MySQL and PHP”. WampServer is a packaged bundle with all of those for easy install and it lets you run your own local webserver on your laptop. So when I do PHP scripts for the Google Analytics API (which I do a lot), they need to run on a webserver in order to work. That webserver is run by Apache, which is also what most (PHP) webhosts runs. You could upload and publish your scripts to a webhost, but I find its easier to just run it locally.
By the way, it’s possible to just install PHP without Apache and MySQL. PHP has its own built-in server to execute scripts. But running MySQL alongside also lets you save larger data sets in a local database. This allows you to query much more specific data using SQL that would otherwise be very difficult through the API.
I find that Chrome is the fastest browser out there. It has great developer tools for debugging websites, and it has a huge library of great extensions (or plugins) that will do almost anything. Try to hit CTRL+SHIFT+J. This opens up the console where you can observe website errors, logs and information - either provided by websites themselves or by extensions (I’ll get back to that). If you sign in to Chrome with your Google Account, it will actually synchronize your settings, bookmarks and extensions across devices. Yay!
Google Chrome Extensions
I recently posted a list of three great Google Chrome extensions for Analytics and Tag Manager which I still use. But I use plenty more. I won’t go into details about each, but these are the Analytics and marketing related extensions I use:
- Google Analytics Debugger Outputs all data for each Google Analytics hit in a readable format into the Chrome Developer Console.
- Tag Assistant Alerts you of basic implementation errors of Google tags (Tag Manager, Analytics, AdWords and DoubleClick). Also lets you record Google Analytics sessions with details on each hit. Great debugger!
- Analytics Pros dataLayer Inspector+ Similar to the Google Analytics Debugger, but lists all information from the GTM dataLayer. Using the Chrome console, you can preserve history - that is, you can see the dataLayer contents on previous pages, which the native GTM debugger won’t let you.
- Tealium Tools This lets you inspect and switch between test and production environments of the Tealium tag manager. Really helpful when working with Google Analytics implementations done with Tealium.
- Facebook Pixel Helper Let’s you inspect the implementation of Facebook marketing pixels - much like Tag Assistant, but just for Facebook tags.
- Ghostery It’s basically an ad blocker. It can block anything. Which speeds up a lot of websites. But it’s also good for debugging, since you can enable/disable specific tags one at a time. It also quickly lets you see what tags are implemented on any given site.
- Tag Manager Injector Doing a new GTM implementation from scratch? This one is your friend. It allows you to use a GTM container on any website (e.g. a local website or a test website) before, the site itself has the GTM snippet.
- JSONView This extension converts JSON files/URLs into something readable. It’s great when you need to inspect the contents of a feed - e.g. an XML sitemap or a product feed for Google Shopping.
Also, I use the LastPass extension for my LastPass password manager. This is pretty useful since I never use the same password for anything. And I use a lot of online tools in addition to my digital marketer software stack. But that’s for another post.
If you have any good suggestions to expand the list, please let me know in the comments!