Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Medium here.
If you’re in SaaS, you can’t help but hear about HubSpot’s massive growth.
They have a traffic rank of #5 in the world… in the online marketing tech space. This doesn’t include websites they’ve built to build their community and fill the top of their sales funnel. They are a major player in the SMB SaaS market.
#5 in Internet and Telecom > Online Marketing
It is my hope in this article to show you what’s truly working online in SaaS by giving you a glimpse into the strategies and tactics of one of the SaaS industries biggest players.
What you see below is not conjecture or theory. This is the real facts behind a major SaaS company, the marketing strategies they use, and the tactics used.
HubSpot was founded in 2006 by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. In 8 years they grew from zero to $100M+ revenue, with an IPO in 2014.
Perhaps best known for their inbound marketing prowess, HubSpot’s rocketship growth trajectory makes them the second fastest SMB SaaS company to ever IPO.
Both Brian and Dharmesh had successful backgrounds in tech before launching HubSpot. Brian was VP of Sales at Groove Networks, which was acquired by Microsoft, and Dharmesh was founder and CEO of Pyramid Digital Solutions, which was acquired by SunGuard Data Systems.
In 2009, Brian and Dharmesh co-authored a book called “Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs”.
Lastly, Brian and Dharmesh were named in the Inc. Founders 40 in 2016.
Summary Of Their Strategy
While they have about a dozen sites over the years, it appears that there are 4 critical websites key to HubSpot’s online marketing strategy.
The bulk of their traffic is from inbound marketing, primarily through organic search. However, they are are also spending money on paid search ads. Their blog post CTAs and ads are driven to landing pages with a very basic level visual design, short form copy and a full lead form.
On their landing pages they offer hundreds of different lead gen incentives (to match their blog article content and the searcher’s intent) in exchange for a full lead. Beyond the lead they sell inbound marketing software for a subscription fee based on their customers number of CRM contacts.
Traffic Profile For HubSpot.com
This is their public facing main site. It gets an enormous amount of organic (earned) traffic from the search engines. HubSpot put A LOT of focus on content marketing and SEO.
The reason I say that is when I look at the keywords they are ranking for and which ones are sending them the most traffic, they have thousands of generic key phrases like “Website Leads” and “Grow Email List” ranking on the first page of Google.
From analyzing HubSpot’s 69,087 organic keywords I could count 5,905 that rank on the first page of of Google and 10,440 that rank on the first page of Bing/Yahoo!.
HubSpot First Page Keyword Rankings
They are also spending a moderate amount of money each month on paid search ads. When I investigated their paid search ad strategy it was primarily advertising their Free CRM, which has a core feature set of the main product, and leads SMBs to upgrading to their paid version once they experience HubSpot’s value and want to use the full feature set.
There is a lot of valuable content accessible from the HubSpot website which I believe is contributing to their low bounce rate and high time on site.
Traffic Profile For Inbound.org
Inbound.org is an online hub for marketers to connect, learn and find jobs. It is funded by HubSpot Labs, an R&D department within HubSpot.
This site is primarily driven by high direct traffic from their main site, the 200,000+ community members who go straight to the site to login, organic search and 90%+ of social traffic from Facebook.
One of HubSpot’s largest revenue generators is channel sales. Just like Xero leverage accounting partners to grow their business, Hubspot’s marketing agency partners account for 40% of their revenue (as of their last earnings call).
Inbound.org is the perfect community for HubSpot to stay engaged with current marketing agency partners, educate them on the latest marketing trends, help them find new employees, get real-time feedback on their products and attract new potential partners into their ecosystem.
They have 3,400+ partners servicing thousands of HubSpot customers, helping them get better results, month in and month out. HubSpot’s partner program for marketing agencies recently scaled up past $100M in annual revenue.
Traffic Profile For WebsiteGrader.com
HubSpot Website Grader
HubSpot’s free Website Grader tool was the first ever project to come out of HubSpot Labs in 2007. A person enters their website URL and email address to see how strong their website is out of 100.
They then get recommendations on what they need to improve when it comes to:
- Performance (30 points)
- Mobile Readiness (30 points)
- SEO (30 points)
- Security (10 points)
Aside from being a super helpful tool for small business owners, it is also a great example of how to build a free tool to drive millions of market specific TOFU (top-of-funnel) leads to your SaaS company.
Dharmesh posted on Inbound.org about how significant the tool has been to HubSpot’s success…
A simple little tool that helped millions of people improve their websites — and in the process, helped HubSpot become a publicly-traded company [NYSE:HUBS] with over 15,000 customers and a market value of over $1.6 billion.
— Dharmesh Shah
The majority of website traffic for the tool comes from the HubSpot blog, suggesting that blog content combined with a strong market specific lead magnet can be a great combination to acquire TOFU leads at scale.
WebsiteGrader.com Top Referring Sites
Since their success with Website Grader, HubSpot have got ultra-granular with their TOFU lead generation. They now create blog posts with blog post specific lead magnets on their main website to fill the top of their sales funnel with thousands of leads every month.
Traffic Profile For ThinkGrowth.org
HubSpot Medium Publication
ThinkGrowth.org is a HubSpot Medium Publication that was launched on April 17, 2015. It was first branded as ReadThink.com, then re-branded to ThinkGrowth.org on Dec 14, 2016.
Here is what Janessa Lantz, Principal Content Marketing Strategist at HubSpot said about what their Medium publication represents:
ThinkGrowth.org reflects a commitment to thinking deeper — asking questions, poking holes in the easy answer, and exploring past the first page of Google’s search results. It’s also a commitment to finding the right questions, the kind that will move your career and business forward.
— Janessa Lantz
HubSpot’s launch on Medium was based on this premise: more and more people are consuming articles directly from platforms like Medium, Facebook, and podcasts so they want to be where their readers are.
Early posts were mostly cross-published content from the HubSpot blog, but HubSpot quickly realised that their “optimized for search” blog content wasn’t generating many views on Medium.
They had the best success by finding writers on the rise on Medium like Seth Godin, Nir Eyal, Larry Kim, steve blank and Danielle Morrill and syndicating content they had created — exposing both them and HubSpot to a new audience.
By “optimizing for people” with opinion pieces, personal accounts and reaction posts from top writers and influencers, HubSpot found content that would often have a stronger performance than their home blog.
HubSpot’s 1st Year on Medium — Image Source
Not only did HubSpot breakthrough the “Plateau of Despair” and grow well beyond 160,000 views per month, but their Medium publication is now the 18th largest publication on Medium:
Medium Top Publications — Image Source
Since their success on Medium, HubSpot have decided to invest in a brand new team focused entirely on “offsite” content strategy which is being headed up by Meghan Keaney Anderson, Sam Mallikarjunan and Janessa Lantz.
They have over 150 guest writers and take guest submissions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top Performing Blog Posts
Notice that some of their blog posts aren’t the type you’d typically see on a website that sells inbound marketing software.
5 Whys Of Feature Bloat Blog Post > Product Management Jobs Landing Page
The second most shared is an opt-in page for a free guide on “How To Use Excel”:
How To Use Excel Guide
You may be thinking… why in the heck are HubSpot teaching people how to use excel?
Trust me… this isn’t a mistake.
The smart team over at HubSpot did their research and found that their are 27,000+ people every month searching for “how to use excel”.
Google Search Volume for “how to use excel”
When you search for “how to use excel” on Google, the first organic search result to pop up is a HubSpot blog post titled “How to Use Excel: 14 Simple Excel Shortcuts, Tips & Tricks”.
And guess how they are using that blog post to generate leads?
How To Use Excel Blog Post > How To Use Excel Guide
In the blog post they have 3 CTA’s that link to their “How To Use Excel” guide:
- Native link at the start of the blog post
- CTA box on the bottom right after you scroll 20% down the page
- CTA image at the bottom of the blog post
3 Blog Post CTA’s: Native link, CTA box, CTA image
If you take a look through HubSpot’s blog, you will see that these 3 blog post CTA’s are consistent across most of HubSpot’s blog posts.
Sometimes they all go to the same lead magnet (like in the example above). Other times, all 3 CTA’s will go to 3 different landing pages with 3 different lead assets relevant to that blog post.
HubSpot has thousands of these “owned media” lead assets, with their own dedicated landing pages.
Here is an example of 5 blog posts and lead assets from HubSpot’s Marketing Blog that they are using to fill the top of their funnel:
- Blog Post: How to Plan a Content Marketing Strategy: A Start-to-Finish Guide; Lead Asset: Marketing Plan Generator
- Blog Post: 6 of the Best Messaging Apps for Different Scenarios; Lead Asset: The Marketer’s Guide To Mobile
- Blog Post: 5 Overlooked Metrics Your Agency Needs to Measure for a Profitable 2017; Lead Asset: New Client Intake Form
- Blog Post: How to Build a Process for Growth Experiments; Lead Asset: 2017 Marketing Experiment Templates
As you can see… HubSpot are an inbound content AND lead generating machine!
One thing HubSpot do really well, is update old blog posts to make them relevant again today with an Editor’s
Note at the top of post to let people know what has been updated.
Here is an example:
2006 Updated Blog Post
This is a great strategy to generate more leads from old, evergreen content pieces.
Top Performing Paid Search Ads
They have 587 PPC keywords that they are bidding on, but almost all of their ads were a version of the above.
Here is what their entire paid search funnel looks like for their Free CRM offer:
There were a couple of other ads like one with the headline “Free Lead Generation Tool – Start Capturing Leads Today” which were spot targeted ads for a free version of their HubSpot Marketing product.
However, their 3 main active paid search funnels are below and drive traffic to these 3 landing pages:
- Unbranded CRM Keywords > CRM Ad > Free CRM Offer
- Branded Inbound Marketing Keywords > Inbound Marketing Ad > Inbound Marketing Assessment Offer
- Branded Keywords > Demo Ad > Demo Offer
This is a very mature account and the most recent data in the tool doesn’t represent where they started.
When I look back over the years I can see that HubSpot have tested many different offers including:
- Free Price Quote
- Free 30 Day Trial
- Free Marketing Guides
They have now pruned all but the most profitable keywords and segments over the years and found the best offers that convert for the highest buy-intent keywords in their market. Either that or they are grossly under-utilizing one of the best ad platforms on the Internet (not likely).
Landing Page Breakdown
This is the above-the-fold section of their Free CRM landing page. It’s important to note that if anyone comes to this page, they can make a quick decision from the info provided in this first section.
Their “Get Started” CTA button leads the visitor to a half lead (email, company name, website URL) form after clicking through.
Everything they need to convert their user is in this section…
- An image of their “Google Partner Certification” helps instantly add credibility by associating themselves with a big brand name aka Google
- Emphasis of their headline is about the #1 pain point their market faces (ie: bad sales process)
- Sub-headline gives people a high-level overview of what the HubSpot CRM does and uses buzzwords that trigger an emotional response with their audience (ie: brand new, tricks and capabilities)
- A strong call to action in contrasting colours to the background image let people know exactly what the next step is if they’re interested
- Some people like to read, and some people like to watch. A short 2 min video testimonial from 1 of HubSpot’s customers boosts social proof here
If people want more information before making a decision, they can scroll down and read these 4 points:
- The market for CRM software is fiercely competitive. HubSpot know this, so they talk about their key USPs here (like powerful data enrichment functionality, adding leads from your inbox and one customer view) to help people understand if this CRM will be the right fit for them
- Introducing benefits like ‘10-second installation’ and ‘100% Free’ help to overcome objections people usually have with a product like this
Now people know how HubSpot’s CRM is different from others and the benefits it provides in the 4 points above, they let people know it is just 3 simple steps to get started in the next section:
- Adding a screenshot from inside the software helps people understand what they are going to see when they use the product
Then to round out the page, they have one final CTA:
- It’s been proven over and over again that headshot’s with short text testimonials right above or below CTA buttons and lead forms increase conversions — use them
If you are in the same market as HubSpot, you certainly have your work cut out for you. However, I hope this brief has helped you to see what areas they are strong in and where they might be weak.
If you are not in the market you should be thinking about how you can apply what they are doing to YOUR SaaS, in YOUR market.
You should not be thinking my SaaS is different so none of this applies. Trust me after having worked with numerous SaaS companies — no SaaS is that different. These strategies work in all SaaS markets.
Also, take notice as to what is not here. The strategies they are and aren’t using is important to identify.
What strategies and tactics are not showing up here that some experts say you MUST be doing. I find it much more effective to learn from what’s actually in play and working with the biggest players, than trying to guess.
Double-down on what works. Ignore everything else. It is just a distraction.
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