HubSpot Review: 2 Years Of Real-World Use
It’s incredible to think that I started this experiment two years ago. I had no idea what kind of results I could expect using HubSpot for our inbound marketing efforts.
Little did I know how much that one decision would change how we ran our business.
It’s funny, but now I can’t remember not using HubSpot (double negative alert).
It’s just become a part of how we operate business, both for ourselves and our clients. In fact, I had to be reminded that I should write a “two years into the experiment” follow-up post. (Thanks, Henry.)
When I started the experiment, I knew that I wanted to see for myself if inbound marketing with the HubSpot platform would really work. Because, as a company, we are committed to only doing things for our clients that we have firsthand experience in and work for us in digital marketing.
There’ve been quite a few lessons that we’ve learned over the last two years around inbound marketing. Some of them were unexpected, and some of them are exactly what we thought would happen.
It’s been fascinating to watch HubSpot develop and grow over the last two years, improving the platform and enriching their technology. On one of my tours to the HubSpot mothership (I live about 50 minutes from Cambridge), I even got to see the developers’ bullpen and stood in awe as I watched one hundred-ish programmers busily hacking away on new features and updates. Wow. I think that means more good things are coming.
But, let’s get down to business here. In every review post I’ve done, I try to be as specific and objective as possible and, of course, show you our actual numbers.
The cool part about showing you our numbers is that, to this point in our business, inbound marketing has been so effective for us that it’s our only form of marketing. No Google AdWords… no digital buys… no outbound sales prospecting. Now I’m not saying we’ll never go there (again with the double negative), but we haven’t needed it.
We’ve talked to hundreds of folks considering HubSpot, and we’ve gathered a little insight into people’s perceptions. Some people have asked if they have to use HubSpot to do inbound marketing. The answer is clearly “no.” You can do inbound marketing with a Wix site, a free MailChimp account, and the Twitter app open in one browser tab and the LinkedIn app opened in another. But doing that would probably make you crazy. And you’d never be able to follow a prospect’s path to becoming a customer. It’s the same reason you don’t mow your lawn with nail clippers. It’s just not the right tool for the job.
What we’ve discovered about HubSpot is that because the platform was built around the specific tactics of inbound marketing and not patched together afterward, HubSpot gives us an efficient way to run our marketing without unnecessary complication and with clear insight into what’s going on.
If you’ve read any of my other HubSpot review posts, you know that I try to shoot straight when I talk about HubSpot. This is no exception, but I will say that having one year of things to say seems a little extreme, so I’ve just isolated it to a few observations.
The Improvements We’ve Seen
The old workflows felt limiting and a little hard to visualize, so this has been a welcome update. They now provide a really easy-to-understand visualization, and it’s simple to click and edit. You can use multiple criteria to enroll someone in a workflow, and you can use Yes/No branches to create even more flexibility. Bravo!
Email Detail Page
While I’m not a fan of the overview page for emails (it’s kind of clunky), once you click through to an email, I really like the new detail page. It’s much easier to see and analyze opens, clicks, and performance metrics.
Campaign management has really developed over the last year, so now you can tag landing pages, emails, workflows, and content, so all of the effects of one campaign are trackable.
As we have built on the HubSpot platform, one of the glaring weaknesses we discovered was the lack of a staging area for new development. Recently, they’ve addressed that weakness, and it looks like they’re taking steps in the right direction. There are a few little confusing things to work out, but overall, this is a really well-done piece.
One of the big things HubSpot has added since we started this experiment is the HubSpot CRM.
It has been interesting to watch that tool mature over the last year. Integrating HubSpot CRM with HubSpot’s stand-alone product called “Sidekick” has created a nice lead follow-up process for our company. It makes it easy to use both the CRM and my Google Apps email to communicate with prospects.
One big advantage of using HubSpot’s CRM rather than a third-party CRM is that it’s very simple to move someone out of your automated workflows into your sales process without having to rely on syncing or third-party integration tools like Zapier. (Although, I’m not going to lie, I really, really miss Pipedrive. In fact, more than once a week, I halfway convince myself it’s time to go back.)
The Few Things That Make Us A Little Grumpy
Like many SaaS companies, HubSpot faces the constant tension between simplicity and meeting specific needs of its user base. HubSpot has focused on simple reporting and has done that well. Their Sources reports are easy to read and give you nice overview insight into what’s going on. But, when you’re ready to really understand what’s driving the success of your marketing, things become a little cloudier.
Let me just say before I continue that our experience is primarily with the Pro version of HubSpot. Although some of our clients are on the Enterprise platform, my comments will be limited to the experience our company has had on the Pro plan.
One major oversight in HubSpot’s default reporting that has left me puzzled is the lack of attention paid to the marketing qualified lead (MQL) stage of leads.
If you’re familiar with the inbound marketing funnel, you know the categories that we most care about are visitors, leads, leads who become marketing qualified leads, and the percentage of marketing qualified leads that become customers. There are four categories there.
HubSpot skips the marketing qualified phase completely, which leaves a huge gap in your reporting ability. In my humble opinion, MQLs are the single most important group in a marketing effort. Once a lead becomes an MQL, you’re ready to hand them off to sales.
Without reporting specifically around marketing qualified leads, your only option is to use an alternate way (like Excel) to track the effectiveness of moving a lead to become a marketing qualified lead. That defeats the whole purpose of using a single platform. Ack.
Before I continue my brief rant about my frustration with some of HubSpot’s reporting, let me note that at Inbound 2015, HubSpot rolled out a reporting add-on that may solve this problem.
The reason I don’t know if this update solves this problem is that HubSpot charges an add-on fee of $50 for this very foundational reporting.
Call me a stodge, but when I’m paying $800-900 a month for use of an inbound marketing platform, asking me to pay another $50 a month simply to be able to report on one of the most critical pieces of information is unreasonable at best and scandalous at worst.
(Breathe, Lance. In. Out.)
OK, I’m better.
Before I leave this personally painful subject, let me relate a couple of additional reports that I have so far been unable to figure out (without the $50 add-on that may or may not solve these problems). Again, I could be completely missing something here, but:
- What search terms have people used to find a particular page on my site?
- How many visitors have come from those terms?
- Can I drill down through my Sources report to the page level and see what’s driving traffic? I know I can see this with landing pages, but I have yet to find it for site pages or blog pages.
I’m all for making things easier, but the latest edition of the click-and-edit editor has created more than a little confusion for me. It just seems to take a little more effort to “get under the hood,” which is where I’m used to working.
The WYSIWYG editor seems to be an interesting strategic decision made by HubSpot. It’s built to help people without any HTML or module experience. These people, in my opinion, would typically be small business owners rather than marketers at bigger enterprises. Most marketing people who have experience building landing pages are able to get into the code a bit to tweak things the way they want. If you want to do anything beyond some simple text changes, the WYSIWYG is harder to use than the previous version.
So what kind of results have we seen over the last two years with HubSpot?
When we started this experiment, we were seeing about 500 visits per month. Wow. For October 2015, which marked two years of this HubSpot experiment, we saw almost 14,000 visits. As you see in this screenshot, the rate of progress has slowed, but I suppose that’s to be expected. Even a rocket slows down at some point to a nice, healthy pace.
Here’s just the traffic generated via organic search:
And here’s the graph with all sources:
Two years ago, we did not rank for a single meaningful keyword, so we were pretty much starting from scratch.
In the past year, we’ve moved onto the first page for some important terms. Here’s what they are and their position on the page:
- inbound marketing consultant (2)
- inbound marketing plan (4)
- inbound marketing firms (6)
- inbound marketing agencies (8)
- inbound web design (8)
- inbound marketing service (9)
- inbound marketing boston (10)
When we started, we honestly didn’t have any leads to speak of really—just a handful of Contact Us submitters and some random other activity.
Now it’s pretty typical for us to get five leads each day, which is about 30 times our lead count at the beginning. Here’s the graph from the last two years.
Leads generated from organic traffic only:
And here’s the chart for all leads:
I’ll be candid—I want us to dial this in a little better moving forward. We’re actually working on several new offers and workflows that I believe will effectively ramp up our conversion rate and help us get more leads into the pipeline. Our goal is to get the conversion rate up to 2.5% this year. What’s really cool about HubSpot and inbound marketing is that two years ago, I wouldn’t have even thought that way. I would just shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, we get a few leads from our website.” Now we are numbers-driven, and we have total insight into what’s driving that traffic.
In our business, a customer can have a lifetime value to us of well over $100,000, so even connecting with a couple of new customers per month is a huge win for us. I think it’s important to mention here, too, that inbound marketing is the only marketing we do. We don’t pay for traffic, we don’t advertise, and we don’t cold call. We are fully invested in inbound marketing and believe that if we have a sales problem, it’s actually a marketing problem.
My conclusion hasn’t really changed over these last two years. HubSpot is a solid tool for running inbound marketing. That’s why it was built. It’s not a piece of retrofitted technology masquerading as an inbound marketing platform. I know there are a bunch of great platforms out there, but I’m completely sold on HubSpot.
By the way, I think I should take just a second here to clarify our company’s relationship with HubSpot. We are listed as a Certified Partner, but we have made the decision not to take any kind of commission or kickback from the sale of HubSpot to any of our clients. That makes us fairly unique in the HubSpot partner community. Our love for HubSpot is simply because it’s a great tool that makes lead generation and marketing automation simple as anything.
It takes enough effort in inbound marketing just to determine the right approach, create content, and distribute that content to the right people at the right time. Without HubSpot, it’s a bit of a beast. With HubSpot, it’s a beautiful thing.