Must-Have SaaS Tools For Web Designers

Software as a Service makes most digital work a whole lot easier. You can find web-based systems for editorial calendars, design projects, wireframing tools, and so much more.

Web design is also a huge field so it can include a lot of great tools. Most of these tools you’ll want for your desktop(eg. Photoshop, Sketch) but some tools work better as SaaS products.

Check out these tools below and see if any of them can fit into your web design workflow. I think all of these are valuable to web designers but depending on the types of projects you create and what sort of work you do, some of these tools will be more useful than others.

SEMrush

semrush data

I’ve always found SEMrush to be invaluable for client work. If you’re designing a website for any client you’ll want to scope out their competition and the content they’re ranking for in Google.

But this program can also help you find untapped keywords for your own site or blog. It’s a very powerful tool with a lot of great features that are sure to help with any web projects. If you’re a freelancer and you do lots of web work this is a must-have.

You can offer clients optional features like SEO optimization and keyword opportunities you find in SEMrush. It’s a great way to earn some extra money while designing and launching new websites online.

There are other tools like this one but many aren’t up to par with the quality of search queries and keyword volumes. Plus SEMrush can find related websites based on domain searches so you can study dozens of competitors with just a few clicks.

If you do build websites and you’re not big on SEO then I absolutely recommend studying that first. A well-designed website is useless if it’s not optimized to rank in Google.

SEMrush gives you everything you need to help clients get their work online and bring consistent traffic through the web. Probably my #1 tool for both personal and clients projects.

InVision

invision wireframing

Online prototyping has never been easier thanks to InVision. This wildly popular prototyping tool has been making rounds for years in design circles.

It’s currently one of the largest brands for team-based prototyping and file sharing with a SaaS product. Collaboration is the key to InVision so if you work alone this may not be as useful.

However if you’re looking for a full prototyping tool without hacking your way through Photoshop then InVision might be right up your alley. It comes with powerful features that let you design wireframes and connect them into a larger prototype for any sized project(web or mobile).

Then you can share these results with clients to confirm any number of things:

  • Website architecture
  • Individual page design
  • Content flow
  • UI/UX design strategy

You can always browse UX inspiration to see what else is out there. But ultimately you’ll learn a lot more by working with a tool like InVision to help guide the final design process.

FreshBooks

freshbooks dashboard

The vast majority of freelance web designers loathe bookkeeping. It’s a task that needs to be done but really doesn’t feel very fun to do.

Thankfully with a tool like FreshBooks you can make your job a lot easier. This has been around for well over a decade and their SaaS product is phenomenal. It’ll cut down on missing invoices and help you organize your expenses come tax time.

Everything you need to track your revenue is included with Freshbooks. You can send invoices, save dates for payments, cover expenses and project revenues. You can even setup a calendar of important payment dates and invoicing dates to make sure you never get a late invoice ever again.

Yes you could always go straight to a CPA and have them deal with your finances. But this can get costly real fast and it’s often better to save those visits for larger tasks.

Instead just use FreshBooks and do your own bookkeeping. It’s a lot easier than you’d think and this is one of the most trusted sites on the web for online accounting.

Hootsuite

hootsuite dashboard

Social media is huge and it’s definitely not slowing down. Every brand should have its own social account on all the major networks.

With a tool like Hootsuite you can manage all of your social accounts from one dashboard. This may not be necessary if you only use social for personal reasons.

But if you brand your design work under an agency then you should absolutely be using social accounts for promotion.

By adding all your accounts into Hootsuite you can automate so many daily tasks. Tweets, Facebook updates, Pinterest posts, all of these things can be automated or scheduled in advance. You can even track user interactions to gauge which content works best for your audience.

Now the analytics and the auto-posting features are great. But Hootsuite also offers engagement tools for tracking your brand’s mentions online.

This way you can log into one dashboard and see what everyone is saying about your website. Pretty cool right?

You can answer common questions and respond to inquiries over social media without logging into half a dozen websites. Hootsuite is a huge time saver if you recognize the importance of social media and use it regularly for your company.

Cloudflare

cloudflare

Behind every great website is a CDN. In our modern fast-paced era it’s an absolute must to host your static assets on a CDN because they drastically increase load times.

Cloudflare is one of the best on the market and it comes with a bunch of great tools for webmasters. Their CDN service can actually be used for free if you’re willing to try.

Their global network is massive and they run a competitive CDN business regardless of how much content you need to cache. But their other products can include SSL security, load balancing, and even protection against DDoS attacks.

From your dashboard you get full access to analytics from all your CDN nodes showing how much traffic is going through and if there are any bottlenecks.

If you’re willing to upgrade and try more features there are plenty of plans for anyone to test. But thankfully Cloudflare is willing to run some of their services for free which makes it easy for anyone to sign up and test.

If you’re still not sure how this works just take a peek at their intro page explaining the Cloudflare promise and how it all fits into a modern web workflow.

Google Analytics

google analytics

This should be a no brainer because web analytics are crucial to understanding your audience. Almost every website uses the Google Analytics tracking code because it’s free, easy to setup, and ultimately very reliable.

All you need is a Google account and some time to sign up to the analytics suite. Each account supports 100 different web properties so you can even share analytics for clients if they want to work with you doing SEO work.

But no question Google is the best free option and their SaaS dashboard is brilliant. You can drill down into incredibly detailed reports that offer truly important metrics:

  • Time on page
  • Number of total unique visitors
  • Which pages are the most visited
  • Which websites refer the most traffic
  • Your biggest geographies and even device/OS types

Another higher-level option is Kissmetrics. They do cost money but they offer much better analytics tracking along with tools like heatmap setup.

I’ve always found Google’s suite more than enough for any website. This goes double for freelance clients who won’t want to pay for a Kissmetrics solution.

But make sure you build some familiarity with an analytics solution and stick to it. This is definitely a must-have SaaS product no matter what type of site you’re building.

UserTesting

usertesting homepage

In the past I’ve covered the importance of usability testing and why this is crucial to improving your website.

Most designers just guess at the best interface techniques and web copy. But just because something works on one site doesn’t mean it’ll work on yours. This can lead to visitors being confused in certain areas of the page, and the only way you’ll know is through extensive testing.

With so many online testing tools it can be tough making the call. But I’ve found UserTesting to be the most detailed offering the most value for what you pay.

Their site is not the leader in any specific testing like heatmap tracking or video recording. But they do offer the largest number of tests which all store data in one handy dashboard.

Best of all you can use this tool for any website or mobile application so it’s a full cross-platform solution. Whether you run your own site or want to gather feedback for a client I’d say that UserTesting is your best choice.

Still if you’re looking for others then take a peek in Google and see what you can find.

Either way I think some type of testing tool is valuable to all web designers regardless of the tests being performed.

Trello

trello boards

It seems like there’s a million different task management tools with a half dozen launched every day. I can’t tell you how many of them seem horribly confusing and extremely difficult to work with.

One SaaS-based tool is Trello and it works exceedingly well in an ocean of different options to pick from.

Trello uses boards that let you arrange tasks based on their settings. So you can have different boards for tasks in progress, others that are high urgency, and others that are “I’ll get to it”.

Plus you can share certain boards with anyone making it easier for clients to drop their input. Or if you’re outsourcing some work you can even get used to managing a small team with the Trello setup.

I typically use desktop software for personal task management but I do use Trello for team work because it’s just easier. Not to mention they offer a free plan that anyone can use indefinitely, so it’s a great place to start if you’ve never used a web-based task manager before.

Litmus

litmus email

If you design websites but haven’t ventured into email marketing it’s something I highly recommend. This is still the best place to reach people and it garners the highest ROI.

Whether you build a list for your blog or if you build a list of past clients, email marketing is a huge area that does take some time to learn. Along with actually crafting emails you’ll also need to test them with a tool like Litmus.

This SaaS product is a complete testing solution with built-in rendering engines for all the most popular email clients. This includes all versions of Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and some smaller clients as well.

Litmus has been around for years and they’ve grown large enough to even have their own email builder where you can code emails from scratch right in the browser. This is great because you can also demo the emails right away without launching a mail client.

If you’ve never touched email design then don’t worry about Litmus. But once you get the hang of creating emails I highly recommend subscribing to this service.

ManageWP

managewp dashboard

If you run a lot of WordPress websites then it can be a chore memorizing all those logins. ManageWP is a fairly new tool for this newer problem faced by web designers and webmasters.

With ManageWP you get one login to access the dashboards of all your websites.

These sites can even include client sites if they hire you on a monthly basis to maintain their content. This is a great way to earn some extra money as a freelancer and if you charge enough you can easily cover the costs of a ManageWP subscription.

Their default plan is actually 100% free so you can sign up and give it a shot with nothing to lose. Their paid plan offers security features like website backups and advanced security checks every month.

ManageWP can become your one-stop dashboard for everything related to all your WordPress sites.

If you’re not a big WP user then it probably won’t mean much. But if you’ve ever tried to run 3 or more WordPress sites you’ll see why this tool is such an asset to the design community.

Finding The Right Tools

Not all SaaS products help you get stuff done. Granted most of these are incredibly useful but freelance designers won’t always have spare change for subscriptions.

Look around the web and peruse this list with some of your pain points in mind. If you have trouble managing WordPress sites then ManageWP really might be useful. If you’re trying to learn cloud hosting then maybe an account with Cloudflare would be more useful.

There are no right or wrong answers here, just different options for different people. But if you have suggestions for any other SaaS tools be sure to let us know!

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