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How To Pick Best ToolsThere are several steps to any decision making. When picking a tool, you are faced with many choices. How can you do your research effectively and efficiently?

There are many articles, reviews, and general advice on what tools to use for your website, SEM, social campaigns, ROI tracking, etc. Some tools are more popular, some less. Opinions vary on usability, capability and usefulness of those tools. It is hard to keep up with emerging new applications and web apps, enhancements to the old tools, and tools that are no longer supported. To make it even more difficult, there are Firefox and Chrome add-ons, Excel plugins, Adobe Air desktop apps, and website based services. How do you pick the right tool for you?

In this post I will share with you my scientific process of picking tools. What makes it scientific is that I use Excel to make my decision. Tricky? Not at all. Here is how it works.

Tool Requirements

  1. Why do you need the tool? Start with the problem you are trying to fix. List the necessary requirements for your solution to work. Are you working alone or in a group of people? If you are working with a group, is it important to you to have group access to the selected tool? If it is, list it as a requirement. You can also define in general, how well a specific tool solves your problem. I call it "application".
  2. Excel. Next, create an Excel spreadsheet. Leave the first column empty - you will be adding the possible solutions later. Now we will be adding requirements (or must have features) in columns. You will be assigning a number to each tool in order of how well it meets the requirements. I usually have a scale of 3: 1 - ok, 2 - very good, 3 - excellent.
  3. Importance value. Assign value to each of the requirements based on how important it is to you. You can use any scale you want. Make sure that the relevancy between values is preserved - you will be using them to evaluate your solutions later.
  4. Must Have Features. List your "must have" features in columns. What does the selected tool has to have in order for you to even consider it as a contestant? A lot of tools have many features that few people use. If you work alone on projects, collaboration features in your tools might not be first priority. If you have one computer, syncing ability does not make you jump up and down. But there are features that you consider an absolute must. List those features in columns. When looking at tools, you will grade them by how well they implemement the must have features.
  5. Limitations. There are always limitations to what you can pick. Most common limitation is budget. Is the software free or you have to pay for it? Is it a one time payment or a monthly fee? Does it cover one computer/user or many? How well does it integrate with mobile? The main point here is to determine, how close the tool comes to your ideal solution. For example, if your budget is $10 and the software is free, it gets a "3" as a value. If it is $9.99, then it is a 1. Is there cost of ownersip? Does the tool require additional cost or adjustment or installation or anything? Take all these aspects into consideration when grading.
  6. Resources. Some tools are easy to use, they are self explanatory and user friendly. Some require training. With some new solutions you do not need to implement any changes in your existing processes and with some you have to re-do everything. You need to rank the tool candidates in order of how easy it is to implement.
  7. Longevity. Are you buying the tool with the intent to use it for a long time or to hold you over until you get a better tool or fix the one that broke? This might not be important, but might be worth considering too.

Rate the candidate tools

Look for solutions that exist. Read reviews and watch demos to have a good understanding of the features of the tool and how it works. Weed out the apps that do not meet your minimum requirements. Grade the ones that look promissing. Settle on a few.

Final Calculations

Let's bring it all together. Add up all the values in the feature priority column. For the sum of values of each tool, use the following formula:

(Feature1Value * Feature1Importance + Feature2Value * Feature2Importance +...)/SumFeatureImportance.

Based on the final number you can easily see, which solution meets most of the requirements based on your priorities.

How To Pick Best Tools Excel Example

Takeaways

It is helpful to go through the elimination process first. Only then you can try the tool you selected for free. There is a price for trying anything for free. The problem with those is that once you start using something, it is difficult to uninstall it or change to a different tool. The reason is, that after you integrate it into your process, it becomes a link in the chain that holds everything together. You want your new tool to be a strong link.

Do not pick a tool that is popular. Always keep in mind your work habits and make sure the tool you pick fits your habits. If it is easy to use and integrates with your existing process, you will end up using it. If not, you will waste your money.

Do you use a system to evaluate and pick tools? Do you have anything to add?