Right now, somewhere in this world, there is a business owner or marketing team trying to choose between HubSpot and WordPress for their company’s blog and possibly the rest of their online marketing platform. It is because of this and the fact that I’m constantly being asked by clients to compare the pros and cons of each, that I decided to put my thoughts to pen on this debate. So buckle up my friends, this might be a long ride…
Why this Review is VERY Different
I’ve seen a few articles written on this subject before, but in my mind, they’ve all been incredibly flawed for three main reasons:
1. The author of the article wasn’t a hard-core user of both platforms.
2. The author was very biased one way or the other.
3. The author didn’t represent the true mass of small/medium sized business owners out there because they were too “techie” or “guru” to truly “get it.”
It is for these 3 reasons that this subject has been literally eating at me for so long.
As many of you know, my swimming pool company went from near failure to major success when we decided to embrace the concepts of Inbound Marketing and started using the HubSpot (HS) platform. For just over 3 years, I’ve watched the Boston-based startup grow from a little-known software company to one of the fastest growing tech companies in the world—so much so that Google herself invested 33 million into the all-in-on marketing platform this past year—a platform that has now been embraced by over 6000 users worldwide.
During this time period, I’ve literally answered thousands of questions, emails, and phone calls regarding my thoughts on HS and how to properly use the tool. I’ve also become a HS “partner” and therefore signed up and trained many small and medium-sized businesses to use the product and achieve online marketing success.
A Unique Relationship
These facts may make it appear as if I was a HubSpot homer, but the truth is my relationship with WordPress (WP) is in many ways just as strong. Since November of 2009, I’ve been using WordPress here on The Sales Lion (Thesis Theme). During this time I’ve not only done quite a bit of “tinkering” with the platform, but I’ve also consulted and coached dozens of business to achieve success using WordPress as their blog and marketing foundation.
In other words, I do have a special relationship with both subjects of this article. Some days I love HubSpot. Other days I hate it. Some days I love WordPress. Other days I hate it. Such are the emotions that accompany familiarity, and I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade when I see it.
This is exactly why this article needed to be written. I’m a non-techie business owner just trying to make the best marketing decision for both of my companies (River Pools and The Sales Lion), plus all the companies I now consult with.
In order to do this the right way, I’m going to break down this article into three sections. The first will discuss how HS and WP compare as blogging platforms. The second will compare the two as a CMS (content management system). And the third will compare the two from an overall marketing perspective.
HubSpot Vs. WordPress as a Blogging Platform
Let’s face it, when it comes to blogging platforms, there are none better in this world than WordPress. Because of its open source approach, as well as the fact that it comes available in so many themes, the possibilities are endless. Combine that with the fact there seem to be amazing, new plugins that keep popping up day in and day out, the blogging behemoth that is WordPress will not be going away anytime soon.
That being said, HS is a solid blogging platform. It’s easy to use. It’s intuitive. And its ability to tie in with the platform’s robust analytics is wonderful—a subject I will delve into more later in this article.
If I had one major knock on the HS blogging platform as it currently stands would be the fact that you cannot (at least that I’m aware of) customize an article’s URL. In other words, let’s assume that you write a blog post and the title is: “What is the Best Blog Platform for Businesses?”
Because of the way HS is currently set up, the URL would look like this, “/what-is-the-best-blog-platform-for-businesses”. Anyone that knows anything about SEO can see this URL is flawed because of the unnecessary words that cause it to run long and lose its effectiveness. In other words, if I was writing this article on WordPress, I could customize the URL to its most proper SEO form: “best-blog-platform-business”
Although this flaw may sound like a small thing to some, in this battle for search engine rankings every little bit matters, and the fact that HS hasn’t made URL customization a standard feature for their blog after all these years is unbelievably perplexing to me and frankly drives me crazy. (Note: You can customize a regular page URL in HS, which further makes me slap my forehead.)
There are also two other features the HS blogging platform is currently missing that I feel need to be added as soon as possible:
1. The ability for blog comments to show gravatars. (Can you imagine TSL without the Lion??!) (Note: Other commenting platforms like Disqus can be integrated into a HS blog to make up for this.)
2. The ability to reply directly to a comment and have that person (without them having clicked “subscribe to all comments”) receive an email showing the reply. (Note: With WordPress, this plugin is called “ReplyMe”, and it’s awesome.)
I want to stress here that these three “flaws” do not mean HS doesn’t have a solid blogging platform. In fact, I’d say it has two very nice advantages over its WP counterpart:
1. The ability to set up multiple blogs with a click: Let’s say that you want to set up multiple blogs on your company’s website due to the fact that you have unique audiences and needs. To set up a new blog in HS it takes about 5 seconds, start to finish….which ain’t bad.
2. Regarding set up, HubSpot’s blog is ready to go “out of the box”. It’s SPAM ready with its own plugins already built-in. So for a non-techie business owner, it’s really nice not to have to research 50 articles on, “20 Must-Have Plugins for a WordPress Blog.”
Overall, I’d give the two blogging platforms the following grade:
(Note to HubSpot: I’d love to edit this portion of the article the moment you make customized URLs and direct replies a reality.)
HubSpot Vs. WordPress as a CMS
I’m a strong believer that content management systems are the best things that happened to the Internet since, well, the Internet. For those of you unfamiliar with what the term means, a CMS is essentially a platform that allows someone to build a website without using a ton of code, but rather a drag/drop/click template approach. These types of systems often enable non-techies to actually do some web building themselves, without the constant help of a webmaster/designer.
Although WordPress started off as more of a straight blogging platform, it has now become an incredibly popular website building platform as well, which is why many business now have their entire website built on WP.
HS users are not required to use HS as their site’s CMS if they are using the middle and upper packages (otherwise known as “Professional” and “Enterprise”), but if someone is using the lower package (AKA “Basic”), they are required to build/migrate their site onto the HS CMS (To understand this further, read more here). Although this fits the needs of many, many businesses, it is my hope that HS will soon come out with a 4th package that allows for the use of their analytics and marketing tools, but does not make it required to use the CMS, as there are certain businesses where the platform simply isn’t the best fit.
When it comes to non-techies, it’s my opinion that HubSpot far and away is an easier platform to build a website on. Now granted, the ease of building on WordPress changes depending on the “theme” being used, but for the sake of time here, understand that I’m only able to give a “blanket” approach when speaking of the WP CMS.
To give you an example of how HS is easier than WP, let’s say I’m building a page and want it to be three columns instead of two columns. To do this in HS, it literally takes me about 30 seconds. To do this in WP, it takes a phone call and $$$ to my webmaster. (As mentioned before, I’m a non-techie, which means I’m just like 99% of the business owners in the world and don’t know how to do this stuff.)
There are a few other HS CMS features that I feel deserve positive mention here:
1. Drag and Drop: To rearrange any page of a HubSpot CMS website, all you have to do is take the “content box” and move it by dragging it to another area of the page. This is a great feature and one that is certainly appreciated by those with no coding experience.
2. Button Creator/Split Testing: The HS CMS has a built-in button creator that allows you to split-test the effectiveness of call-to-action buttons and images, something that has helped me personally a tremendous amount to increase conversions on my site.
3. Easy Landing Page Creator: If you’re looking to create a simple and effective “textbook” style landing page for your website, HS allows you to do this in minutes
Complaints and Drawbacks
You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned quite a few times here that HS is great for non-techies. But when it comes to those persons very familiar with code, WordPress design, and other technical skills—there frankly isn’t a lot of love for the HS CMS. In fact, the adjective I often hear techies use to describe the HS CMS is “clunky” or “antiquated,” and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t clearly see their point.
Where it can be relatively easy for a techie to create an elegant and aesthetically dynamic web design in WordPress, to do so in HS is much harder, and can be very frustrating for experienced designers. Add to this to the fact that the CMS code is hard to tinker with and you can see why it gets a bad rap with experienced website builders.
One final complaint of the HS CMS is the fact that you can’t edit live pages. In preparation for this article, I surveyed hundreds of HS users (I have a very large HS user reader base here at TSL) and asked what they liked and disliked about the CMS. One user, whose name I won’t mention here, stated:
“It sucks that you can’t save a draft in different versions – the only way to see how it looks is to save it then preview it and if it looks wrong you have go back and re-edit when it would be better to revert to a previous version.”
The One Thing
HubSpot’s CMS, in my opinion, is the one element holding the company back from completely dominating the market and becoming a household name. I’ve addressed this subject multiple times with the company’s management team and know for a fact that a completely new CMS is in the works with a possible launch date in 2012, but it still frustrates me that a company with so much potential, and money from investors, has yet to develop a CMS that truly integrates the best of both worlds—something that is easy enough for non-techies to at least do basic web design themselves, but also capable of satiating the needs of advanced web designers and builders looking to achieve the occasional visual masterpiece when called upon.
HubSpot Vs. WordPress as an Analytics and Marketing Platform
It’s rather unfair to compare HS and WP in this arena, as WP really isn’t in the business of analytics, but the subject cannot be ignored when comparing two tools that are so very intertwined with a company’s web marketing campaign.
When it comes to analytics and general marketing, HubSpot excels big-time, and offers way more than if someone was just looking at their stats through Google Analytics. For example, HS offers:
1. Lead Tracking: This tool allows you to understand the behavior of those persons that have filled out a form on your website. By knowing such things as “time on site,” “date of previous visits,” “different pages viewed,”etc.—a marketing and sales team can better understand the quality and needs of their leads, which in-turn enables better sales customization and higher closing rates.
2. ROI (Return on Investment): By seeing that an individual typed in a certain phrase in search, which brought them to a blog article on your website, which then brought them to a landing page where they filled out a form, which then lead to a sales appointment and an eventual customer—you can literally track how much money and sales keywords and blog articles make on your website. Simply put, this feature is a must-have for any business serious about web marketing and measuring ROI in my opinion.
3. Lead Nurturing: With built-in list segmentation, email, and automated lead follow-ups—HubSpot has the ability, when used properly, to push leads down the sales funnel with a vast array of nurturing tools. Again, this is tremendously valuable.
4. Social Media Integration: If you’re looking to measure your social reach and the influence social is having on traffic, leads, and sales—HubSpot’s platform includes these features as well.
5. Clean and Easy Analytics: This one goes back to the techie vs. non-techie issue, but when compared to Google Analytics, I find that most business owners prefer the HubSpot platform. It’s tough to pin an exact reason for this statement, but I can tell you that I often wonder if the designers of Google Analytics bothered to work with a single non-techie to improve the intuitive nature (or incredible lack thereof) of the program.
6. Excellent Keyword and Link Analysis Tools: If you’re looking to track your keywords and links for SEO purposes, HS has a tool that not only allows for excellent keyword and link tracking, but you can also keep close tabs on your competitors as well—a feature any serious online marketer will use every day.
Understand that each of the “benefits” and “tools” I mention here are available as “add-ons” for those businesses using WordPress and not HubSpot. So if someone wants lead tracking, nurturing, email, etc.—there is always other software packages and tools that can make this reality, some of which are free, others of which are not. (Note: HubSpot has many customers that use WordPress as their CMS and blog, but use HS for their analytics/lead nurturing/etc.)
One other benefit of HS that deserves mention is their overall support features. If you’re having a problem with your site and have a general question that needs to be answered, they have a solid support staff available via email and live chat. In comparison, although WordPress is loaded with forums and chat rooms discussing their platform, 1-on-1 assistance can be harder to attain. Furthermore, HubSpot has many in-house “consultants” (not free) that work directly with clients to get them up and running with their inbound marketing campaigns—a benefit that was mentioned to me by multiple people when I sent out my survey in preparation for this post.
OK Marcus, but which is better?
The more I become experienced and involved in the world of sales and marketing, the more I realize there is never a “one-size fits all” solution for the masses. Every business is unique. Every business has different strengths and weaknesses. And it is because of this that I can’t sit here and say that one solution is definitively better than the other.
This being said, I do have some general rules of thumb I’ve come up with for those comparing the two platforms:
1. If you’re a non-techie business owner that wants to manage your website and marketing in-house (for the most part) and have everything under one roof, then HubSpot is likely your best solution on the market today.
2. If you’re a non-techie looking for a great blogging platform/CMS, and are willing to pay someone to make changes to your site when necessary, then WordPress is likely a great choice.
3. If you’re using WordPress and looking for GREAT analytics/lead tracking, you’re going to need to use at least some type of paid service—be it HS or another solution.
4. If you’re the type that would like everything you need for web marketing laid out in front of you in an organized and structured manner, with a support staff ready to help, and have the financial resources to do so—then HubSpot is likely a great fit.
I could go on and on about these two products, but my gut tells me 3,000 words is quite enough, at least for now.
But the good thing is this community if full of smart people that have used these platforms, and I’m frankly looking very forward to the discussion that will now ensue in the comments section.
OK folks, I’d be curious to know the following:
1. What other benefits/drawbacks to HS and WP would you add?
2. Is there anything I’ve stated here in the article you don’t agree with? Why?
3. What do you think the future holds for the movement that is HubSpot and will they become a dominant leader in the industry or do you think other inbound marketing platforms will grab more market share?
As always, your voice matters my friends, so jump on in.