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Hubspot from the Trenches: 10 Lessons Learned

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Hubspot from the Trenches: 10 Lessons Learned

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In an effort to increase traffic to my web site, I switched my web site hosting from WordPress to Hubspot in April 2014. For many reasons, I’ve decided to switch back to WordPress. This is what I learned.

First, a little background… I used WordPress for years and switched over to Hubspot in April 2014. I was apprehensive about switching because of Hubspot’s $2,400 price tag for a year of their “Marketing Basic” subscription. This is quite pricey relative to WordPress, which, aside from hosting and a few premium plugins, is free. But the kind folks at Hubspot convinced me of the value so I pulled the trigger. The rep made a very compelling case, “Inbound Marketing is all the rage, doesn’t have the constant spend like advertising does, super powerful tools and killer reporting.” I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.

The basic difference between Hubspot and WordPress is that with Hubspot everything is consolidated into a single, unified solution while with WordPress the tools all come from various companies and you have to assemble them into the solution that fits your needs. I now consider that assembly to provide powerful flexibility. It just requires a bit of extra work to get it all to function properly.

Even though I do not plan to renew my Hubspot subscription, the experience was not a complete waste of time. I did pick up a tremendous amount of knowledge, which I can certainly use back with WordPress. I now know a lot more about content marketing and am better able to build my next WordPress site the right way.

Here’s what I learned while marketing my business with Hubspot:

1. Static pages require tons of templates

Even though the system provides these super-easy drag-and-drop modules that make updating a page super easy, I found that–for my own designs to work–each static page required it’s own template. 11 pages = 11 templates. That doesn’t make my job as a site designer any easier. It doesn’t necessarily make it harder because it is very easy to open the associated template for any page. But the fact that I have so many templates irritates me. I had to customize each template and that took some time.

Take-away: Plan on creating a template for each static page in Hubspot.

2. Forms are really confusing to set up and manage

In Hubspot, to create a form to go onto a landing page, you have to create the form first. This way, buttons on other pages have a place to link to. Once you have a form, you then you create a button (called a call-to-action) that links to the form, which you can then put on a page. From Hubspot’s perspective, this order makes a lot of sense; you can’t link to something that doesn’t exist so you have to make destination items first. But I wanted to work the other way around: I wanted to first create the landing page with my strategy on mind, fill it with text and images, add a button to take people to a form, and then create the form. So I constantly had to go back and forth between creating a page in one section of the tool and then switching over to the button tool in a completely different section of the system to create it and then switching back to the page to add the button. It went like this for all parts of a landing page development process. You’d think I could just follow their methodology and create the form first but that’s not how my brain works.

And it could be that an upgraded subscription might make such things easier using something called Workflows, but since I have the basic subscription, I don’t know how well it might fix this situation.

Take-away: Using a word processor, write all the pages you want–initial landing page, conversion page, etc.–and mock up the form. Then, in Hubspot, build it all out. Basically, prototype it before building it in Hubspot.

3. Super-cool visual page effects are really hard

A little background… I am completely self-taught in the use of Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, all Office apps, pretty much every kind of graphics software I’ve ever touched, including WordPress and Hubspot. I’m no developer but I can make my way around html, css, and more. So, I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to create a parallax scrolling effect on my home page. I’m sure this is due to Hubspot striving to make page construction as easy as possible for the masses. I eventually figured it out, but got conflicting results from various browsers and mobile and decided to scrap it altogether. I did manage to create a cool rollover effect for tiles of my portfolio examples, but that too was really hard.

Take-away: Unless you’re a serious developer, don’t bother using Hubspot for super-cool visual effects.

4. Social media integration is not as streamlined as it might seem

After posting with Hubspot’s social sharing tools, I found that other, independent options were much more predictable and efficient. For instance, once you create a blog post in Hubspot, you have the opportunity to share it over your social networks. Great! Unfortunately, those networks are not very clearly represented in the tool. For instance, once you click on a social media tab, it’s difficult to tell if it is for a personal Facebook account or a business’ Facebook page. And, worse still, once you click the tab, you can’t undo the share to that social network. You still have an opportunity to not share it, but you would then lose all the other sharing setups that you created; you can’t just skip one of them. Lots of work needs to be done here to make it seamless.

I also couldn’t see everything in a calendar view so I had no idea if my Hootsuite posts conflicted with my Hubspot blog shares. If you don’t use Hootsuite, get it. It rocks.

And including videos and images deliver less than desirable results in some news feeds. For instance, Facebook doesn’t share a video without the viewer clicking on it to open the page, and then play the video (as opposed to auto-play, which is a way better user experience). For reasons that I still cannot determine, sometimes a thumbnail of my logo showed on Facebook up even though my post featured an image.

Take-away: Use Hootsuite or some other Tweet automation tool for Twitter but then plan on manually coordinating with Hubspot for your other social networks.

5. Blogging with integrated SEO is awesome, but Hubspot is clunky

I absolutely loved being able to see how my blog posts might perform before publishing them. For instance, Hubspot’s “SEO View” shows attributes in a blog post such as number of keywords, length of headline, keywords in the headline, links, whether or not it includes a call-to-action, and more before posting it. I considered this Hubspot’s killer app.

Unfortunately though, you have to choose the keywords you want included from a picker before it can tell you whether or not those words are included in the post. Makes sense. But that seems kind of silly since it merely shows you the words that you just chose. I had tons of phrases to consider and so I had to scroll through all of them to see things that might apply. Pre-populating the list with a collection that I could choose from a specific area of my business (for instance all keywords associated with micro videos vs. product demos) would make it much easier. As stated earlier, this might work better under a higher-priced subscription level. An even better tool would scan the post and recognize the overall topic, then recommend keywords to include and show their market weight.

Take-away: Don’t make a massive SEO list in Hubspot. Include just those that you’re certain will apply to your topics. It’s just a nice reminder so don’t let the list to get in the way like mine did.

6. Email is easy, but unattractive

Once people register with your site as subscribers, they automatically get a monthly email of all of my blog posts. That’s cool. And, if they sign up for it, they can even get an email immediately after publishing a blog post. I could email people directly from the app, but just writing to people (to touch base) in a format that looks like a marketing message is spammy so I just use my regular mail client.

That being said, the monthly newsletter format in Hubspot looks terrible. It often does not include featured images, there are big breaks of white space where I didn’t intend it, and altering it is a hassle. In fact, I don’t even know how to edit the template for it because I can’t find it.

Take-away: Good luck trying to send attractive email newsletters with Hubspot.

7. I still have to actually write stuff

When I signed up, I thought Hubspot would provide topical insight and elevate my thinking toward high-value keywords, headlines, and topics. It didn’t. It simply made the publishing of those words easier and the resulting traffic more insightful. Yes, Hubspot helped me to write better stuff as I progressed (because I better understood my audience), but I still have to do all the research, compose pithy prose, and churn out as much quality content as possible.

Take-away: Be a prolific, crafty writer or hire one.

8. I still have to advertise

Despite all of content marketing’s promise, and perhaps because everyone is now riding the content marketing bandwagon, I still have to advertise to build the coveted “Awareness” stage of my pipeline. Since it’s so crowded out there, it is really tough to get noticed. This bummed me out because I hate paying for advertising. Unfortunately for vendors like Hubspot, WordPress, Marketo, and everyone else trying to use inbound marketing to get noticed, awareness comes through paying for it. That’s good news for media companies who rely on ad dollars for survival, not so good for those who make money from pure content marketing efforts.

Take-away: Increasing sales is unique for each company so you’ll need to assess the right strategy for your own situation and sales challenges. It is possible that you can attract attention in your market without advertising, but that is up to you to decide.

9. I’m really good at learning new tools and building web sites

The biggest personal take-away that I got from my whole Hubspot experience is in my own ability to learn new tools and techniques, to build stuff with lasting value, and to write quality content. I know that holds little benefit for you, but the lesson that you can take away is that this stuff requires perseverance and skill. Since I’m so good at it, I can easily switch back to WordPress. If coding, evaluating various plug-ins and widgets, trial and error, and other elbow grease are not in your wheelhouse then stick with Hubspot or Marketo. But if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and dig right in (perhaps with YouTube tutorials by your side), then you can save money and run your site with WordPress.

Take-away: Evaluate your skills and resources before starting with either Hubspot or WordPress. If you’re not comfortable with coding, evaluating plug-ins and widgets, building databases and forms–and you don’t want to hire it out–then you probably want to go with Hubspot over WordPress because all that stuff is already built in.

10. WordPress requires more work, but free is better

Even though my experience in the trenches moves me away from Hubspot and back to WordPress, I did learn a heck of a lot about content marketing, best practices, tricks of the trade, and much more. That was well worth the $2,400 investment. But, now that I know these things, I’m going back to WordPress’ free software. Yes, I will likely have to pay for some of the better plug-ins and widgets, but I now know which ones are right for me. And I know better what it takes to thrive: good writing and a lot of it.

Take-away: If you don’t mind paying for it, Hubspot’s preconfigured integration of everything is really nice. If you want to save money and don’t mind rolling up your sleeves to build a custom solution, WordPress is the answer.

Breaking news: Don’t let this happen to you!

It’s late April, 2015 and I just moved my site from Hubspot to WordPress. I called to try to reverse Hubspot’s 13th month of hosting service but was told that I was supposed to inform them of my decision 45 days ago. Yes, that critical little nugget of information was in the contract that I agreed to (over a year ago) but never did they remind me of the upcoming charge. Not only that, since today is the day they consider my account closed, I still have to pay for the next 45 days of service. So, by incorrectly relying on Hubspot to be an upstanding citizen and remind me of an upcoming charge, it is going to cost me $700 for two months worth of unused service.

Take-away: when you cancel Hubspot, make sure you do it 45 days in advance.

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