My Blog Made Over 2 Million Dollars in Sales: How’s that for ROI?

by Marcus Sheridan

Any of you that have been reading this blog for a while know that I love to show REAL stats, numbers, and examples of how one blog article or piece of content can affect your company’s sales and bottom line. The reason I talk about this subject so much is because there is still this nutty perception out there that blogs and content marketing don’t make money, can’t be measured, and aren’t worth the time.

Frankly, every time I hear someone tell me how they don’t work for certain industries I’m tempted to start my own blog in that field just to prove them all wrong… But alas, I digress ;-)

Measuring the ROI (Return on Investment) of Your Blog

Because I do talk so much about how business blogging does lead to money and profits(if done properly), I want to focus for a minute today on the utter importance of tools and measurement—something dozens of readers have asked me about over the last few months—many of which are marketers/business owners who understand the power of social media and content, but need a way to prove to management that their labors are more than just words on a screen and can be a direct source of visitors, leads, and sales.

The problem with many companies when they’re looking at the fruits of their blog (and other social channels) is the fact that the tools they’re using are worthless for measuring ROI. For example, most business just use Google Analytics, which although makes for a great understanding of traffic, clearly does NOT measure leads—two very different animals.

To make a long story short, the ONLY way to get a true ROI of your social media and content marketing efforts is to have someone fill out a form on your website—one that attaches a “cookie” to the user’s IP address (read more about what all that means here) and from that point on allows you to know/track the lead’s behavior on your site.

To give you a clear example of how this works, we’ll use my swimming pool website as a model. Let’s assume that you’re looking to buy a fiberglass swimming pool and have landed on my blog because one of its articles showed up in search engine rankings. Once on my site, you now find that I offer a free, educational eBook that will teach you all about fiberglass swimming pools, at which point you click on the link (call-to-action) to find out more.

By clicking on the eBook, the process of tracking ROI begins...

Once on the landing page for the free fiberglass pool buying guide, you now fill out the form.

As soon as someone fills out this form, a "cookie" is attached to their IP address and the process of true ROI measurement is now possible.

As soon as you’ve done this, assuming you haven’t disabled cookies on your computer (which most people don’t), I can now track your behavior. Keep in mind, only certain platforms allow for this, but the one I’m showing you here is HubSpot, one of the better Content Marketing ROI tools available to business owners and marketers who are serious about measurement.

Now that you’ve filled out the form on my website, I can learn quite a bit about you, as shown in the following images:

Shown are two major stats of a lead taken from my swimming pool site. Notice how we can see the exact phrase the person searched to find the site, as well as the number of page views-- two very powerful pieces of information.

Not only can I see the keyword phrase (“Lead Source”)  you typed in Google to find my site (and the initial blog article that lead to this), but I can also take a look at the exact pages you’ve viewed, as well as how long you stayed on each:

Now that you have the lead's history, you can even see the pages of your site they've read, as well as the article that brought them to your website in the first place, which is the essential key to measuring the ROI of any blog.

After you’ve gone through the process of becoming a lead in my site, let’s assume you now meet with my company and end up becoming a “customer.” The final step in measuring the ROI is “closing the loop,” or closing out the lead into an actual “customer” within my analytics:

Once the lead is closed, a proper analytics platform can now show an actual real ROI of your website and its corresponding content.

As a business owner, I’ve seen this very process in its many forms take place on my swimming pool website hundreds of times. It all starts with a simple Google search about fiberglass pools, which sends the person to a blog article on our site that ranked for that particular phrase, which then sends them to a landing page where they fill out a form, which then leads to an appointment with the prospect, which then leads to a sale.

The Most Important Number of All

By having this technology, and knowing what I know about my leads, I can clearly show the profitability of my blog, as well as its most profitable articles. For example, here is the actual customer count coming from my swimming pool site. The number shown is  lower than it should be (as I need to update my leads-turned-customers list), but you can easily see how I’m able to measure the ROI of my labors. In fact, from this tool alone I’m able to track well over 2 million in sales that my company has gotten straight from leads that found the website first through a blog article, and then ended up eventually becoming a customer.

You can see from the following image the number of leads and sales that have come from organic search to my swimming pool website. Considering the average customer spends about 45k per pool, you can see how quickly the ROI adds up.

The image above is EVERYTHING when it comes to ROI, and frankly, it’s the missing link that most businesses aren’t utilizing to justify the ROI of their blogging and content marketing efforts. Because I spend a few hundred dollars a month on beefier analytics, I can measure the lead and customer generation my company gets from Google Adwords, Facebook, Twitter, and organic search results (which mainly stems from the blog). This also allows me to justify any time and effort me or my employees spend on the content production/marketing process.

I hope you’re catching the point here, but this is a big, big deal, and it’s high-time every company in the world that was serious about marketing through the internet embraced better tools and practices. It’s also time that we started talking about social media ROI as a real, measurable number, and not some mystical stat that no one knows, but everyone would like to think somehow exists.

Your Turn:

Questions about measuring the ROI of your blogging and social media efforts? What tools are you using to get these types of stats? Finally, if you’re willing to share, tell us a little about the difference your company’s blog has made on ROI.

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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Adarsh Thampy April 23, 2012 at 9:43 am

Marcus,

A well thought out post. I couldn’t agree more on the blogging working for businesses (small, medium, enterprise whatever).

The fact that Hubspot allows you to track these leads is great (Although services like KISSmetrics will help you do the same with ANY website you have).

The point that you bring our wonderfully is that blogging ROI can be tracked. However I am still not clear about how social media ROI can be measure by any tool that’s FREE or at least within the reach of small business owners (I hear good things about Radian 6, but it’s way too expensive).

Looking forward to your post on actionable social media ROI.

Cheers :)

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Marcus Sheridan April 23, 2012 at 9:55 am

Adarsh, I’m glad you brought up KISSmetrics, as they are an excellent example of another very “metric” based piece of software that companies can use.

I haven’t seen a free tool that allows for easy measuring, but HubSpot and Spectate both start around $250 per month and do track well, and both tell me if I’ve gotten a lead off of twitter, FB, etc.

But when you say you’re looking for more on actionable SM ROI Adarsh, what exactly are you referring to?

Thanks,

Marcus

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Adarsh Thampy April 23, 2012 at 10:13 am

Marcus,

When I meant by social media ROI, what I meant is not just the sales numbers. Many companies use social media as customer support, as well as customer engagement platforms and not necessarily as lead sources to close leads.

In such cases, how do we effectively measure the ROI. Does it make sense for companies to invest time into servicing customers through social media? How’s the brand sentiments like? And all that sort of metrics.

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Megan Heaney April 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Adarsh, the Google Analytics URL Builder tool is a great resource for tracking any links in Google Analytics.

You can easily track your social media efforts by tagging any links you use with the URL builder. You can also use it for email campaigns or even personal follow up emails – tag the link and you’ll know if the person you sent it to clicked and what they did on your site.

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Adarsh Thampy April 23, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Megan,

Thank you for your reply. Yes, I am aware of the URL builder tool. But that is useful only if people come to our site. My question is how to measure ROI for social media success if brands are using social media for customer support and user engagement instead of driving traffic to the site.

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Kevin Thomson April 23, 2012 at 9:44 am

Interesting stats and thanks for the post. I’m curious, though – you mention just your blog and an ebook. How much advertising did you do outside your blog (PPC, display, print, etc) to complement your blog marketing, and how does that affect the ROI you mention here?

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Marcus Sheridan April 23, 2012 at 9:51 am

Hey Kevin, thanks for the question. I spend less than 10k a year on Adwords, but it does produce a solid ROI for my pool company. Beyond that, we almost do nothing else with advertising– no displays, no print, no yellow pages, etc. Make sense?

Marcus

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Rebecca Livermore April 23, 2012 at 9:52 am

Marcus,

I really appreciate the way you lay all of this out so clearly. I think a lot of people don’t really understand how HubSpot works and the benefits of it compared to something like Google Analytics. After reading this, people should understand it more clearly.

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Laura Click April 23, 2012 at 10:29 am

Great stuff, Marcus. You’re right – measurement is so important. I’ve actually not used Hubspot, but know a lot of folks that do. And, I’m hoping to use it on a client soon. I enjoyed getting a peek behind the curtain to see their analytics. Good stuff for sure.

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:55 am

If you plan on using it at some point Laura, we should talk about it….but it would make a lot of sense if you became a HS VAR (value added reseller).

Can’t wait to chat later this week!

Marcus

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Matthew Stock April 23, 2012 at 11:56 am

Solid post Marcus. ROI trumps everything. I will tell you, however, I’ve found there is some misattribution when it comes to classifying a lead (that goes with all advertising).

Two main reasons for that:

1. Just because someone found your blog in the Google SERP’s doesn’t mean they didn’t already know about you. For instance, a prospect could have Googled your company name (after seeing your billboard or TV commercial), and chose to click on your blog link rather than the homepage. That’s not to say that your blog didn’t “assist” in converting the prospect into a lead (which is another great tool HubSpot offers). Just something to keep in mind

2. HubSpot (and all other blogging software I know of) doesn’t track phone calls. Thankfully, we have the ability on our website to schedule an appointment online, otherwise it would be even more difficult to track leads. I guess you can get a unique phone number for your blog page

Does this mean you shouldn’t track your ROI? Absolutely not! Just take your numbers with a grain of salt. As the saying goes, “lies, damned lies and statistics”.

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Mark Kilens April 24, 2012 at 11:56 am

Hey Matt,

Was reading your comment and wanted to let you know that HubSpot now has an app that can track phone calls from your website and it integrates with the HubSpot lead database. It’s called Ring Revenue. Here’s a link to the app: https://app.hubspot.com/market/front/inbound_call_tracking

I hope this helps you!

All the best,

Mark

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:38 am

Thanks for jumping in and helping Mark!

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:54 am

I don’t count company name related phrases into the ROI of my blog Matt. I only count obvious long tail questions/phrases where the person was researching without knowing their company. And by really looking at a lead’s behavior, you can almost always tell if they already knew about you or not.

As for the phone call thing, yes, that only adds to the number. I can account for over 2 million in sales from the blog, but I know the number is actually much higher due to phone calls.

Thanks for dropping in bud,

Marcus

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Ryan Hanley April 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I use Google Analytics for all Tracking. I does leave a lot of be desired (there is also a lot I’m not doing with it to be fair).

But from what I’ve read about Hubspot it seems Like a truly amazing tool.

The only way I measure ROI for my insurance business is STRAIGHT CASH HOMEY… How much money is the Blog and Social Media bringing in to the Agency because at the end of the day that is all my Boss cares about.

Being able to capture all that Revenue is a huge issue.

This is something I absolutely Have to put more thought and time into.

Be good buddy.

Ryan H.

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:51 am

Yep, you’re right Ryan. You need a number to point to when you’re telling everyone, “See, I told you so!!!!” ;-)

Good luck getting that my friend,

Marcus

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Bill Faeth April 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Marcus,

Great Article!

You hit the “Sweet Spot” with this post as most business owners are not able to close the sales loop which results in “churning” away from blogging, content marketing, or a social strategy. I am a prime example of this with a limousine service I used to own. The game changer for my business was HubSpot as I assume was for you by the screen shots in this post. Now, 3 years later much like yourself I am a VAR and am following your lead on educating small and medium sized businesses on the advantages of inbound and a closed loop marketing and sales process.

Thank you for the inspiration and the great content.

Best regards,

Bill Faeth
@inboundagent

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:50 am

I absolutely dig stories like yous Bill. Well done my friend, well done. :)

Marcus

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Harriet April 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I think thats a pretty good return Marcus! Well done! Keep it up.

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:49 am

Thanks Harriet, I’m pretty happy with them too! :)

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Gregory Ciotti April 23, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Marcus, maybe you can answer me something, I’m not a long time reader of your site so maybe you’ve addressed this.

I do local SEO work for small businesses, and I love your pool company as a case study for inbound marketing, but you’ve noted that you rank for a lot of “fiber glass pool” related keywords.

The thing is (and here’s where I might be wrong), didn’t your company do the actual installation?

If that’s the case, isn’t it a hard sell to all of these search visitors who may not be anywhere NEAR where your business operates?

Again, I’m not a long time reader, so it’s possible I’m getting your business confused.

–Greg

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:48 am

Greg, that’s actually a GREAT question, and here is my answer:

Let’s say 100 people in the country type in the phrase “How much does a fiberglass pool cost?” Out of those 100, let’s say only 5 are in my area. But those 5 that do come it the site, 2 turn into leads and 1 turns into a sale— a sale I would not have had otherwise.

Also, great content is an amazing middle and bottom of the funnel sales tool, so it’s wayyyy more than simple SEO here.

But to answer your question, yes, many visitors to my site will never be a possible customer….but there will be many I get that I would not have had I not been willing to embrace the content marketing approach.

Thanks for the question Greg,

Marcus

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Kate Smith April 23, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Wow! That was a lot of return for you. Great Job. Thanks for sharing. Good advertising and marketing strategy really affects your business. No need to spend too much. Just focus on those you think will pay off. :)

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Jens P. Berget April 24, 2012 at 12:43 am

Hi Marcus,

That’s a really detailed and awesome explanation of how roi works. I haven’t been focused on this at all, but I certainly will. To me, the combination between AWeber and Clicky has been awesome, but I haven’t finished the sales funnel yet. But now that I have a business, it’s time to focus on roi :)

Thanks.

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:45 am

That’s exactly it Jens. I think that now you’re starting to get clients, you’re going to want to show the concrete numbers that indicate success. And when that success comes, and the numbers are real, that is a magical thing my man.

Keep rockin bud,

Marcus

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Brent Carnduff April 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

Wow Marcus -huge article! This is a must read article for any business owners and would be marketers out there! Thanks again for sharing the numbers and insight!

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:43 am

Very, very kind of you Brent, as always.

Appreciate all the support bud,

Marcus

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Mr.Ven April 24, 2012 at 6:06 am

Looks hubspot is a great tool, i think we can also track using Google Analytics but have n’t tried that still today.

Google+’ed this post, thanks.

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Geoff Livingston April 24, 2012 at 6:09 am

Very good post, Marcus. I appreciate your transparency.

So I think the next challenge (as in what’s next; again, this post is notable), is translating that success to others. I have experienced similar successes as well with my own companies. When I was able to deliver hard ROI or measurable outcomes to my clients, that’s when I moved from being an Internet “personality” to a bonafide marketer that delivers real outcomes. A lot of marketing folks on the Internet build great businesses for themselves, but not necessarily those they serve.

You probably are already doing this. Just musing aloud.

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:43 am

And a good muse it is Geoff, so thanks for bringing it up.

Since I wrote this article earlier this week, I’ve already used it in two sales calls to help people (companies) understand there is really one objective to all of this: That their business turns a profit through their soc med/marketing efforts.

This is also why I only work with clients who are willing to spend a little more on the measuring/analytics tools, as it holds all of us accountable, for better or for worse, so as to see that yes, the marketing was a success because of X returns, or no, it was a failure.

Thanks for dropping by and making a great point Geoff.

Marcus

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Asma Khan April 24, 2012 at 8:28 am

Hi Marcus ,
Another detailed and helpful explanation. clients expect instant returns on their content great tips on how one can measure it.

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Pia April 24, 2012 at 10:16 am

Congratulations! That’s pretty good returns for you… :)

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joe April 24, 2012 at 10:58 am

Marcus, related question on roi etc. Do you have a system after the prospect has become a client.? Do you have a referral program to reward.? or any other way to track? Have an open house for your clients etc.?

Thanks for the info.

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:39 am

I would say we’re not strong in that area Joe. We service our clients after the fact, but we really don’t have any reward systems.

Good seeing you bud,

Marcu

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Debra April 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Hi Marcus,

Thanks for sharing this article. I’ve just recently become a reader of your blog, thanks to Stefanie Frank. I understand a bit about how HubSpot helps you measure leads. I don’t yet understand how HubSpot tracks which leads turn into customers. Are you using a separate system for tracking sales (like 1 Shopping Cart) that HubSpot integrates with? Can you tell me a little more to help me understand? Thank you in advance!

Debra

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Marcus Sheridan April 25, 2012 at 12:37 am

You know Stephanie Debra? Yeah, she is one of my best supporters and I’m very, very grateful to her.

As far as turning a lead into a customer, it’s just a matter of when someone buys from you (your product or service), you manually go in and “click” the “close customer” button, at which point you’re able to start to measure ROI. But without manually closing out the lead, no ROI exists.

Does that make any sense?

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Debra April 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Yes, that definitely does make sense. Thanks for answering.

Stef is one of my closest friends. You are fortunate to have her as a fan – she generously shares all her best finds with her community, and you are one of them!

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Kate Smith April 24, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Great! All your strategies really paid off. that was a lot of return in just a whole year. Thanks for sharing us what you got. Keep it up!

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Andrea Hypno April 25, 2012 at 12:43 am

Well, I’m not that much into stats, mainly because I try to reduce my time online to the bare minimum. The same reason while I’m not that into the social thing. I already need a lot of time for keyword research, writing and commenting that I look at my Analytics account probably once per month. The same frequency I log into my FaceBook account.

But given that I’m just into content writing is not such a big problem, when I look at my WP stats I know which articles are going well.

Anyway I would be very interested about the measured and not theoretical ROI of FaceBook and Twitter, or other social networks for products and content. Not based on legends or fables but on numbers. ;)

Just to know if the time spent on them is really relevant or business-related useless.

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Jerry Hayden April 25, 2012 at 9:41 am

A lot of bloggers are actually aspiring for their blogs to be monetized. Thanks for the tips you placed here in your blog. They’re really useful. Now, how many months/years will it take for a big ROI like that? So I guess, we’re still talking about hard work and patience! :)

Jerry

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Marcus Sheridan April 30, 2012 at 8:46 am

That’s a great question with a ton of answers Jerry, but I have discussed the subject before here on the blog.

They key though is to disconnect with “time” and to solely focus on good behaviors/habits.

Best,

Marcus

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Jon Buscall April 27, 2012 at 9:15 am

I’m late to the party here but what a great post, Marcus.

I’ve trialled Hubspot but not seen this side of it. Now I should definitely go back and tack another look. What a fascinating insight into how things work with you.

Thank you for sharing.

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Marcus Sheridan April 30, 2012 at 8:42 am

Hey Jon, glad you liked the post bud and if you have any further questions about HS, just let me know.

Thanks for all,

Marcus

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Ashleen Moreen April 29, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I am done measuring my business site everyday so that I know what are the things should I need to improve and enhance. Glad that you got a good stats in your blog and I am happy for you.

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Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) May 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

Kind of confused here as far as ROI is concerned.

You seem to be saying that you achieved an ROI because you generated 2 million in sales? Yet the ‘Return’ should be calculated on gross profit not sales, and the ‘Investment’ isn’t really discussed at all as far as I can see? I’ll assume that you still saw an overall ROI, but you don’t really lay out a case for ROI here as much as a great way to help track the funnel which you can then go away separately and try and figure out ROI *from*.

Am I missing something?

Cheers,

-Matt

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Marcus Sheridan May 2, 2012 at 12:00 am

Honestly Matt, I don’t understand why you’re so confused here. I’ve explained this:

1. I write blog posts.(Investment)
2. I see what phrases they rank for.
3. People fill out forms.
4. I then see what phrases they typed in to find the site. Or in other words, I see what blog article brought them in.
5. I close the customer out when they become a sale.
6. The sales is credited to the blog article, because without it, the customer never finds the site in the first place.

Again, the 2 million in sales doesn’t happen without the SEO and leads from the blog articles.

As for calculating return on gross profit, I know my gross profit percentages on everything I sell, so what you’re saying there doesn’t really register with me.

Profits are profits, and I made them from my blog.

Sorry man, but I really don’t know how to explain and show it any more than I have.

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Jeremy Ruggles May 1, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Hey Marcus,

Great job on your high ROI. I am only using Google analytics right now for my small blog. I am still learning what tools to use to measure ROI and to track user data. This post really taught me a lot.

Thank for the great info!

Take care,

~Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan May 1, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Hey Jeremy, so glad it helped. Keep running with it bud, and learn a little more each and every day.

Best,

Marcus

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Darlene Hull May 8, 2012 at 7:54 am

An excellent post. Those analytics are worth gold, and I didn’t realized that HubSpot offered them. Genius…

I hate numbers and analytics, myself, but I’m smart enough to realize that they are a key element for my business, and the most important thing I can show my clients regarding their value for money. Thank you for this excellent foray into numbers that’s, in fact, both fun and exciting! Going to take another look at HubSpot…

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Marcus Sheridan May 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Yep, they sure do Darlene. And remember too, I’m a HubSpot partner, and would be happy to look at it with you and give you my honest take on whether or not it would be a good fit for your business.

Cheers,

Marcus

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William May 18, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Thanks for being so generous with your data and advise. Its much appreciated.

My question is this: have you thought about (or tried) selling the pool leads in other areas? I mean….if your generating $2M in gross revenue in one city, there are probably a hole lot of other guys who would love to have those “dead” leads.

I know guys in other verticals who’s Biz-models are built around selling leads.

I’m particularly interested in hearing your thoughts because I’m in a somewhat similar position (generating leads in alt markets)…and have been playing around with the idea.

Thanks,

William

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Jody June 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Perhaps I have missed something. I certainly see where Hubspot can be useful in attracting and cultivating leads for big ticket sales such as $40,000 to $60,000 swimming pools. Perhaps you sold 40 customers and grossed $2,000,000. Hubspot appears to charge based upon the number of “contacts”. One contact with you can be worth $50K. But what about businesses that either deal in one shot sales of $200 items or $50 items? Do they get charged “per contact” the same as you. They seem to. Why should what they provide be charged on the basis of how many people come to your site? Why is it not charged for as a service and if you happen to be lucky and attract more people, so be it. How can anyone equate the lifetime value of a $50 K sales with that of a $200 sale in terms of the cost of acquisition. My question relates to the economics of relatively low ticket sales to high ticket sales using Hubspot. It seems only cost effective for high ticket sales. Any comments?

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Hybrid number December 13, 2013 at 2:43 am

Nice post for more information log on to http://dintex.in/about.htm

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Todd February 20, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Hey Marcus,

I was reading a post on someone else’s site where they mentioned your sales process at River Pools. I thought I’d check out what you were all about and you are indeed legit!

It’s amazing what educating people can truly do. Thanks to a blog, we can educate website visitors and turn them into paying clients like you’ve done with your blog here.

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www.iamsport.org September 1, 2014 at 8:31 am

This design is wicked! You obviously know how to keep a reader amused.

Between your wit annd you videos, I wass almost moved to start
my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really enjyed what you had to say, and
more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

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