In 2016, your business cannot be successful without a strong digital strategy. But as we all know, the hard part is the execution, not the strategy. When you boil it down, your digital strategy is only as strong as the tools you use to execute it.

Having spent a significant amount of time investigating and experimenting with a variety of industry tools, we have a number of resources we use frequently at Nine Labs for our focus areas. While we can’t cover all of them in one post, here are a few fan favorites from each build stage of our business.

Plan It: MindNode

Architecting is a great metaphor for what we do, and at the heart of website content is something known as Information Architecture. Don’t do a Google Image search for IA diagrams if you are afraid of heights because you will be staring at lot of 30,000 foot views of Visio diagrams. My head hurts just thinking about the indecipherable compilations of arrows and boxes. There must be a better way!

Put away the Tylenol and open up MindNode. This tool works well with small- and large-scale projects to make an organized, visually compelling (did someone say color coded?) final product. Brainstorming isn’t meant to be straightforward, and MindNode makes fiddling with approaches easy. Plus, collaboration and feedback are a breeze. Let’s say it all together now: “go-go-mind-node gadget.”

Design It: Sketch

We design. We are Mac users. So what do Mac users use to design? Sketch! While Creative Cloud tools will always have a place in our hearts (and in our Mac docks), when we are creating wireframes, Sketch has just the right amount of features to help us make interface designs quickly with beautifully consistent styles. It seamlessly handles UX design with multiple artboards to represent page flows, and exporting Sketch assets into presentable and sharable formats takes two clicks.

PS: Don’t get us started on the built-in grid system, smart guides, and pixel snap alignment, or we’ll be geeking out on designer jargon all day long.

Test It: UserTesting

Ever debated with your team about whether a feature is effective on your website? How much of that debate is based on each person’s own opinions and experiences as opposed to real data? We’re guessing a lot. It’s OK, we understand, and we rally and say, “let the people tell you what they want” with a good ole fashion remote user test.

UserTesting is a remarkably fast way to test elements on your website by seeing how actual people use it and hearing their reactions. You can narrow your testers by demographics, psychographics, education, industry, or whatever other qualities fit your target audience, and then watch actual recordings of users’ screens and voices as they walk their way through assigned tasks. When in doubt, user test it out (and make sure the person who loses the debate buys donuts for the office next week).


MOZ is our guide to the SEO galaxy, and while we use it for a lot more than just keywords, the MOZ team recently launched a Keyword Explorer tool that has made our marketing team’s lives a lot easier (and the rest of the office a lot happier… marketing people are LOUD). While we don’t have a million dollars, we do have access to a million data points of search history organized into one glorious, organized interface with keyword scores, metrics, and lists.

When we aren’t using Keyword Explorer, you can find us using MOZ’s on-page site grader for insights into content relevancy, analyzing the FollowerWonk insights for social audience strategy, or making jokes about what happens when nine different labs walk into a MOZBar.

Improve It: CrazyEgg

HeatmapsSoHotRightNow-300x247Presumably you’re using Google Analytics to analyze your site’s audience, usage, acquisition and behavior. While we love GA and use it on the daily, it doesn’t do a great job of showing you where on a page your visitors are spending the majority of their time.

Enter Crazy Egg: our favorite tool for heatmapping. Not only do you get a visualization of how visitors are viewing and interacting with your site, you get a clear indication of what might be bogging them down (ehem, non-buttons that look like buttons) and whether you have split your audience’s attention too dramatically (no, everything should NOT live on the home page). It’s simple to install, easy to understand and inexpensive. The triple awesome.

Manage It: Basecamp

Projects and files and messages – oh my! Trying to keep up with timelines, decisions and tasks can feel like the hokey-pokey sometimes. We’ve been doing a lot less shaking about and turning ourselves around thanks to Basecamp 3, where our project management (and execution) muscles are flexed. We check off to-do’s, communicate as a team, keep records of conversations, and even house documents like Wheaties-eating-titans.

With Basecamp, we spend a lot less time asking around or searching for project information, and a lot more time doing the work we love. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Let’s Do It

With plenty of time left in 2016, we’re looking forward to leveraging these tools in our execution and showing off the results. Who knows what our list of favorites will look like next year (or next quarter), but for now, we’re signing off to bury ourselves in digital strategy work.

Do you use any tools that have made your digital life easier? We’d love to hear about them!