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8 Under-Utilized Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Favorite Web Apps

Danny Schreiber
Danny Schreiber / December 5, 2013

In middle school keyboarding class I can clearly remember the day our instructor showed us the keyboard shortcuts to bold or italicize text. "This is so cool," I can remember thinking. And then, "Wait a minute…why didn't I learn about this earlier?"

I've had that same experience over and over again with dozens of web apps I've used in my personal and professional life. I recall, for example, when I learned about Gmail Labs, a seemingly endless list of ways you could improve your email experience. Eureka! Now an alert pops up every time I write “attachment” in my email but I forget to add an attachment. It's saved me from email embarrassment countless times.

Whether it's a simple keyboard shortcut or an add-on to an app, there are app extras that aren't always apparent to users. When you find them, use them and discover a better experience, it's a high-five your co-worker moment. You feel like you rule the internet.

Here to help you feel that triumph are 8 web app extras that will lead you to get the most of your tools. You won’t find these available with all apps, but they’re worth looking for when you’re settling in or digging deep into a product.

1. Get to Know the Support Page

Zendesk
Customer support pages today offer much more than traditional “support.” Beyond finding an answer to your question, you’ll now find tips from the app maker and maybe a recommendation from another user. Support pages should be your first stop on your route to extend an app’s functionality. In fact, each of the following tips should be found on an app’s support page.

Contacting support, moreover, shouldn’t come with hesitancy. It does takes patience—Buffer, for example, lets you know up front it usually takes no more than 6 hours to receive an answer—but it’s worth it.

ZenDesk has a super helpful support page, which on top of addressing common product issues, it offers a library of release notes to make sure heavy users can stay on top of any small tweak in the product.

Tip: For faster customer service, be as detailed as possible in your correspondence, including sending screenshots or even a screencast. These details will let the support rep get right to the problem and cut out an email asking to clarify the issue.

2. Install the Web Browser Extension

By itself, Evernote is an incredibly handy app. With a mission to “help the world remember everything,” it needs to be, but it also needs to be where it’s users are when they’re not inside the app. That’s where its web browser extension—an add-on to Chrome, Firefox and Safari—comes into play.

After installing what Evernote calls its Web Clipper, you can quickly send a screenshot of anything you find online to Evernote. From there, the power of the app return.

Two other online tools with helpful browser extensions include Buffer—auto-schedule a tweet with two clicks—and Pocket—save an article to read later with just one click.

3. Download the Mobile Apps

Box Mobile AppBox’s main value add is to give users “simple, secure sharing from anywhere,” including your mobile device. It’s handy to save items to the cloud while you’re using your laptop, but it’s even handier to get access to those items when you’re on the go.

To get the same from your other web apps, it’s worth the 5 minutes it’ll take to individually look up each app in your phone’s app store to see if a mobile version exists. You’ll also want to check for a tablet version, too, such as an iPhone versus iPad app.

Tip: Some web apps, such as 37signals Campfire, have such high usage that third-party companies offer mobile app. These can sometimes be better than the company’s app, but it’s worth downloading both to find out.

4. Discover the App Store

Xero Add-ons
Here’s the real hidden treasure, the gem of your web app that’s usually a link buried at the bottom of the page. Most business web apps today, such as accounting software Xero, offer a bevy of extra, third-party features in what they often call an “app store.” In Xero’s case, they call them “Add-ons.” Elsewhere, you’ll need to keep an eye out for a variety of labels: WooCommerce calls them “Extensions, MailChimp labels them as an “Integrations Directory, Salesforce brands them as an “AppExchange" and Wufoo refers to them as “Partners."

No matter the name, this will be the place where you can find integrations with other apps you use, including syncing data or adding part of their functionality into the web app. There’s niche apps, too, ones that have sprung up just to service a particular web app.

Tip: Sort the extras by popularity or category to avoid being overwhelmed by wide selections.

5. Enable Automation

Often the magic doesn’t happen in the app where you’re working, but after you take the data outside of it. Prompting website visitors to fill out a web form if they’re interested in learning about your product, for example, isn’t meaningful until you export their email address to somewhere you can take action. What if you could automate that process to save time and increase your chance at successfully following up with that interested individual?

That’s the utility of app automation platforms such as Zapier, a service that offers connections between 250-plus web apps. Using Zapier you could set up an automation that after you receive a web form submission in Typeform, it’s automatically posted in your Hipchat sales team room. They’ll then be able to act right away.

6. Master Keyboard Shortcuts

Helpscout Keyboard
The outsized power of keyboard shortcuts will never cease to make me smile. Just a couple keystrokes, and voilà, what took three clicks before is now done. Though they can be tricky to teach yourself, when you do, knowing them will noticeably increase your speed working in a product.

Email and support inboxes are the best places to use keyboard shortcuts and where I’d recommend putting in the time learning them. Support desk software Help Scout was smart when it added this feature, it implemented the same keystrokes as Gmail, which means one less item to get users up and running quickly.

7. Use the Email Widget

Nimble Email
Like it or not, some of us live out of email inboxes. So though it’s a goal to break out of them, it’s often easiest to improve them. This can be done by bringing some of your web app’s favorite functionality right inside it. You’ll find this feature is most often available for CRMs, such as Nimble, which just last month released a Contacts Widget for Gmail.

8. Learn Actions via Email

On the premise, once again, that you spend quite a bit of time in your email inbox, it’s helpful to learn the actions in a web app that can be triggered by sending an email. 37signals’ Basecamp, for example, allows users to post messages, to-do lists, files and text documents to projects just by sending an email.

Like Basecamp, this functionality should be found in other project management software, such as Asana.

Share Your Favorite

Typing Hands

Hopefully this post helped you discover a few hidden features behind the web apps you use. But now we want to know: What are the favorite features of the apps you use that you’ve discovered well after you signed up. The ones that make you ask yourself, “Why didn’t I know that before?”

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