15 Essential Tools for New SOHO Ecommerce Businesses

These SEO, shopping cart and email marketing tools are completely free SOHO ecommerce tools -- as in "really free" and not "free trial" free.

Small office/home office (SOHO) ecommerce business software can quickly eat away at your (non-existent) budget when you're first starting out. Sure, a great ecommerce tool might cost just $19.99 per month, but you probably have a list of a dozen or more tools you're interested in, and those monthly subscription fees can add up quickly.

If you want to slowly expand into the world of ecommerce, we have a list of 15 SEO, shopping cart and email marketing tools to help you build, manage and grow your ecommerce business -- and it won't cost you a dime.

SEO Tools for the Small Office/Home Office

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process of tactics and methodologies that can help you increase the number of visitors to your ecommerce website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine, like Google. If you're new to search engine optimization, the following SEO tools will offer guidance.

1. Keyword Density Analyzer: Keyword density is a percentage-based measurement of the number of times a keyword or phrase appears on your page, compared to the total number of words. For SEO, keyword density is important since search engines use this information to determine the theme of your website. The Keyword Density Analyzer is a free online service. Simply enter a URL to analyze total words, and two and three word phrases.

2. Google SERP Checker: Once you start your SEO action plan, it's important to know if any site changes you make actually improve your placement on a search engine results page (SERP). The free online Google SERP Checker allows you to enter your keywords and a site URL to view your current position and how it's changed over time.

3. Google Adwords Keyword Tool: if you have an idea for keywords you want to use, but wonder if there might be better words to target, the free Google Adwords Keyword Tool is an online service that provides you with specific and similar keywords. You can choose filters -- such as by county or language -- and view ideas that are closely related to your search terms.

4. Keyword Niche Finder: Hitting niche searches can be profitable and easier than competing with larger, well-established ecommerce sites for more common keyword phrases. The Keyword Niche Finder lets you search for a general topic to find profitable keyword niches.

5. SEO Book Tools: SEO Book offers a free set of three tools: Rank Checker, SEO Toolbar and SEO for Firefox. You need to install the Firefox Web browser and register on the SEO Book site by providing your email address and a username.

SOHO Ecommerce Shopping Carts

There are a number of open source shopping cart options for SOHO ecommerce sites that are completely free, but some individuals might find open source carts difficult to set-up and customize. If this describes you, another option is to use a Web-based cart that is free to use unless you make a sale.  In this case, you don't pay a monthly subscription fee, but if you make money you have to pay a transaction fee. The benefit to using a hosted shopping cart is that you don't need to worry about maintaining a server, and little to no IT knowledge is required to get started.   

6. PayPal Buy Now Buttons: If you're looking for something really simple and easy, PayPal Merchant Services provides free shopping cart buttons (check out the options here) so you can sell items on your website with a PayPal checkout. You'll only pay standard PayPal fees when you make a sale.

7. Cashie is an easy way to sell on your own site if you have a PayPal account. They host all the code and you customize a shopping cart and then copy and paste code to your own pages. Standard PayPal fees will apply and Cashie charges a 1 percent monthly transaction fee (e.g. $1,000 in monthly sales will result in a $10 fee paid to Cashie), but no fee is charged if you don't make a sale.

8. Vendio offer a free plan that includes the basic elements needed to create an online Web store with no transaction fees. But free is free -- so while you shouldn't expect a whole lot of extra customization options, you will end up with an online store that works.

9. Muncom: This free PHP shopping cart lets you create a free store and also display a cart tab on your Facebook profile. To create the cart you need to first design a free store on Muncom.com. Muncom's shopping cart service is currently in beta. Your new Muncom store won't have any ads, but it will have several links to Muncom's website.

10. Open source shopping carts are a good choice if you expect to grow your online store beyond just a few products. Today, open source shopping carts are as intuitive as commercial solutions, and there are many options available and lots of support should you need it. To help you decide what works best for you, click on this link to read the features we've highlighted from six of the best open source shopping carts that we recommend.

Free Email Marketing for SOHO Ecommerce

Email marketing is a great way to keep in touch with your customers, to let them know that's going on with your business, and to market your SOHO ecommerce promotions.  Many email service providers (ESPs) offer fully functional and completely free plans for low-volume senders. The totally free services restrict the number of emails you can send in a 30-day period and might offer fewer features, but you'll get the basics: list management, opt-in subscriptions, compliance, templates and reporting.

11. MailChimp: This "Free Forever" plan lets SOHO ecommerce businesses store up to 2,000 subscriber contacts and send up to a total of 12,000 emails per month. The free account includes designer and email templates, paid newsletter subscriptions, RSS-to-email, campaign archives, Facebook integration, A/B Split testing and reports.

12. Benchmark Free Edition: This product is the same as the paid subscription service -- the catch for using the free version is that double opt-in is required, and you can't upload your own list. Benchmark Free offers email tracking, drag-and-drop editing, online surveys, video, templates and unlimited email campaigns.

13. Campaigner Free: The free Campaigner product lets you send as many emails as you want to a maximum list size of 500 people. The free service includes email templates, 1MB of storage, email address management, multiple email groups and tracking.

14. JangoMail: You can setup a free JangoMail "free trial" account that offers all the features found in paid plans, but it restricts you to sending 200 emails per month. Some of the email marketing options include personalization, templates, reporting and analytics, email triggers, RSS-to-email and reply management. 

15. iContact: iContact offers a free version of its Web-based email marketing tool that would be useful to individuals, local organizations and very small businesses. The free offer is a bit skimpy as you can only maintain a list of up to 100 subscribers, but it does have all the standard features including 24 email templates, reporting and email or chat support.

More SOHO Ecommerce Tips and Tools

Are you looking to get a better handle on managing your SOHO ecommerce business? Try these tips and guides for small business ecommerce sites:

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has spent the last decade contributing featured articles and reviews to more than 20 technology-focused publications, including Webopedia and Ecommerce-Guide. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.

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