WordPress: A FREE Alternative to Hubspot

An Introduction to WordPress Lead Generation for Businesses

I love Hubspot. It's a great marketing platform for certain businesses, and I'm more than happy to recommend it to anyone. As well as help businesses use it to it's full potential. But, sometimes Hubspot's premium price tag isn't something small businesses and startups are able to afford in this economy. So what do you do? As it turns out, WordPress is not only a good blogging platform but also very good content management system, lead generation machine, and a great customer relationship management system - with the help of some plugins, of course. One major consideration that I want you to know about before getting into this guide is that using WordPress for lead management and generation is not out-of-box functionality, and it does require some additional work to set it up. Unlike Hubspot, where everything is already nicely packaged for you to use. You will either spend a lot of time reading tutorials to get it going, or you can hire someone to do initial setup. It's really an upfront investment, time or money, to get going. Keep in mind, this short guide is not a tutorial on how to set it up, but rather an exploration of the possible ways WordPress can rival Hubspot, and other marketing automation platforms. The actual guide (most likely video) is forthcoming in the next few weeks, so sign up to be notified if you're considering using WordPress. For easy digesting, I'll break it down by Hubspot's features, and here's a nice TOC for quick navigation.

Blogging

OK, this one is easy, but it is actually one of my pet peeves when it comes to Hubspot. Maybe I was spoiled by WordPress, but Hubspot's blogging platform is far too simplistic and annoying. It's great for beginners because it doesn't overwhelm them with many features, but if you blogged before coming to Hubspot, you might get a feeling of being constrained. Like the lack of a built-in search in Hubspot blogs. You have to go out of your way to implement Custom Google Search on the blog, if you really do want a search bar. It might not be that important when you get started, but when you have more than 100 posts on your blog... Then it becomes critical. To keep it short, I really wish Hubspot just implemented WordPress instead of their current system. It's better, period.

Content Management System

There are 2 things you would use CMS for in marketing: content and landing/sales pages. To quickly sum up, CMS allows you to easily create and manage content pages. It saves you time, money, and increases your website's effectiveness at attracting and engaging visitors.

Content Pages

These pages are designed to help you rank well in search results on specific keywords that are relevant to your website, while providing an educational value to your visitors. CMS offers an easy way to create and manage these pages. Yes, Hubspot does offer page creation and even creation of microsites, but the user interface and an ease of use is far from where it needs to be. It adds unnecessary drain on your time or money setting up dozens or even hundreds of content pages, but very possible and doable. With WordPress, it has a lot more intuitive user interface. Plus, hiring data entry assistant to create and populate these pages is a lot easier with WordPress, as most will know how to use it. So there's that added benefit too. Either choice will offer you a way to manage content pages.

Landing Pages

Hubspot has a great easy to follow wizard to create landing pages, they kept it simple stupid. That's one thing WordPress does not have, an easy way to create landing pages right out of the box. You have to get some additional plugins or know how to code to be able to create landing pages. But, once you get a hang for it it's pretty simple. The plugins use built-in feature called Custom Post Types to generate landing pages separate from the native posts and pages, and allow for easy styling to make it into the real landing-page-looking page. You can have a completely custom design, Hubspot-like landing pages, or the sales page style designs that you see others use online.

As a side note, this page was created with Premise - a WordPress plugin that allows you to create landing/sales and content pages. It's very affordable, and highly customizable. What you see right now, is my own custom page design. If you decide to go with WordPress, I highly recommend you check it out. Premise is no longer for sale. Copyblogger has something else in store.

The plugins use built-in feature called Custom Post Types to generate landing pages separate from the native posts and pages, and allow for easy styling to make it into the real landing-page-looking page. You can have a completely custom design, Hubspot-like landing pages, or the sales page style designs that you see others use online. As a side note, for great sales pages I would highly recommend Premise, which is an inexpensive plugin for WordPress.

Update: Check out ORBTR plugin* for landing pages and more, and also Landing Pages plugin. I will write about these more soon.

The forms are a bit tricky. It comes down to what your really need and use. I'll break it down into 3 categories:

1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

If you plan on using either SalesForce or another CRM, WordPress offers plugins for most (if not all) services out there. The key here is to capture lead data automatically and input it into your CRM database, without the wasted time of manual entry. Unfortunately with Hubspot and Salesforce, you have to pay high premiums for both services to enable automatic integration. One of my biggest pet peeves.

2. Simple Lead Capture

There are a ton of plugins to create custom forms that will email you the information once lead submits the form. If this is all you need for your landing pages and do not need any sort of CRM services, it's very simple to do.

3. Lead Capture and Lead Nurturing

This, unfortunately, is a tough one. I will get into this in more details in the next section, where I will discuss lead nurturing and email marketing. In a nutshell, lead nurturing is an autoresponder campaign in a really fancy disguise. This is my second biggest pet peeve with Hubspot, they only offer 1 campaign with the most basic plan and you have to pay more to get more.

On the other hand, most email marketing services offer unlimited autoresponders included in the price, plus they offer much, much better email analytics than Hubspot. All email marketing services offer free integration with WordPress, and there's even a plugin that you can use to do email marketing for free from your WordPress. In an ideal world you would combine all 3, and use CRM to track your customer life cycle, lead nurture the leads to sales, and use easy to create forms to keep generating new leads. In Hubspot, it's already built-in. With WordPress, it takes a bit of work and setup to achieve this perfect harmony of automation. But very possible.

Search Engine Optimization

Both platforms are great at search engine optimization. They offer various features to help you ensure your website and individual pages are optimized for maximum crawling. With Hubspot everything is built-in, plus you get that nifty page grader to see how you can improve. With WordPress I recommend WordPress SEO plugin by Joost de Valk, that is the best SEO plugin for WordPress any marketer can ever ask for. It even integrates a free, SEO analysis service that helps you improve your page content for a specific keyword.

Brilliant. Both Hubspot and WordPress offer customized page URLs to ensure you can include keywords, but Hubspot's blogging platform does NOT allow any changes to the URL. Very unfortunate, since I always make sure to remove stop words from the URLs and make them as easy to understand as possible. With WordPress, any page or post URL can be changed to anything your heart desires. With off page SEO, it's the same for both platforms. You can do whatever you like.

Email Marketing and Lead Nurturing

Let's make a clear distinction between the two, for the sake of this guide. Email marketing is an ability to send out emails to a list of contacts all at once. Lead nurturing is an ability to setup an automated email campaign to help move a lead down the sales pipeline. Both use emails, but one is automated and the other one is sent out manually to large lists or segments.

Lead Nurturing

Since I finished the previous section on lead nurturing, let's get back to it. As I said, lead nurturing is a glorified autoresponder. I can't believe that Hubspot would limit the most basic plan to one lead nurturing campaign, yet any other email marketing services offers unlimited autoresponders even with their free plans. It's sad to see such a great company nickel-and-diming their way to success, but I guess they do need that money for all the content they put out, right? One way to avoid increased overhead with Hubspot, is to use a hybrid approach to lead nurturing.

The price increases as your lead contact list grows, so instead of keeping your leads on Hubspot and being tied to one lead nurturing campaign, you can manage your lead nurturing with a dedicated email marketing service provider. But, with that, comes the manual data entry responsibility of entering contacts into your Mailchimp list.

As a side note, I use and recommend Mailchimp. It is the best email marketing service provider hands down. Plus, they offer a VERY generous free plan to get you started. On top of that, they offer excellent email statistics to see how successful your email campaign was.

Having an unlimited access to lead nurturing campaigns gives you a better, more cost effective, upper hand to help your business grow without huge overhead. Hubspot's price increases are a bit out there. BUT, if you're doing everything right and converting your leads to sales, the overhead shouldn't scare you. To close up, I wanted to mention a disadvantage of using a third party service for lead nurturing if you stick with Hubspot. You will lose the built-in lead tracking functionality, and won't see in Hubspot if leads are viewing your emails and acting on it. It will be disconnected, but that's the price you have to pay if you want to lower your overhead. A sacrifice of either profits or automation.

Email Marketing

To the blasts we go. The other side of using emails to generate leads and help nurture your lists are frequent and valuable email blasts or email newsletters - whichever term you prefer. These are not automated in most cases, and you have to generate them on an ongoing basis with various information to attract and convert your leads.

The main difference between email marketing and lead nurturing is proactive and reactive approach. Email marketing is proactive, you send out blasts with information whenever you want. Lead nurturing is reactive, these emails are pre-written and setup to be delivered at a specific time intervals once the lead triggers it by either submitting a form or any other action. Hubspot has a very basic email manager, which allows you to send out email blasts to lists and list segments, and it offers very basic reporting.

It's a very basic service, it does the job without the bells and whistles that other email marketing services offer. If you want more than what Hubspot's email manager offers, yet you don't want to pay for a third party service (or you flat out broke and need free tools) you can setup WordPress to send out email blasts and even setup autoresponders for free with WP Autoresponder plugin. But you need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages very, very carefully. The main advantage is that it's free and offers all the sending and scheduling functionality that you need.

The two big disadvantages are deliverability and analytics. Paid email marketing services have partnered with email providers to offer very high deliverability rate, meaning it won't get spammed and you do not have to worry about your hosting/server email limits (various hosts put various limits on it). WP Autoresponder offers basic analytics, nothing too fancy. These are just a few things to consider, but if money is an issue, go with it. You got nothing to lose. So that's the story on email marketing and lead nurturing.

Social Media

This will be very brief. Hubspot offers very basic tools, and I do not recommend using the built-in tools in Hubspot to do your social media. If you use Hubspot, you should definitely connect your social media accounts to be able to track some basic things, but for engagement and ongoing use you need a dedicated service. The two most popular free services to manage social media are TweetDeck and Hootsuite*. I've used both, and they both work very good.

For starters, TweetDeck will do wonders. Currently, I use Hootsuite Pro which offers everything TweetDeck offers but in addition Pro version offers me great analytics to see how I'm doing in social media. And it's only like $5 a month. So yes, if you can afford it go for Hootsuie Pro. Otherwise use either TweetDeck or the free Hootsuite version. Both a very good. Quick note, with WordPress there's a plugin that you can setup to auto-tweet your blog posts from the archive. So it pulls your old posts randomly and posts them to social media to help your old content still be seeing by readers.

Analytics

Since I just mentioned social media analytics, let's discuss overall analytics. The heart and beauty of Hubspot is its ability to track individual leads, without anonymizing information. This gives you the power to see what your leads are doing on your website, where they are coming from, who they are, and plethora of other information. Having such detail information on your leads, if used properly, helps you move leads down the sales pipeline a lot quicker and with a personalized approach. Plus, Hubspot offers very good competitor tracking that is very useful in keeping an eye on your competition. Without it, it's manual work researching it.

So, if you really need and want that lead information - than yes, Hubspot is your choice. Period. However, if you can forgo the individual lead tracking for a more general, anonymized data you can implement Google Analytics on your WordPress website. That's the biggest disadvantage, in my mind, if you decide to not use Hubspot. You lose that precious data. But if you're a good marketer, than even anonymous data is very helpful and can be put to a good use.

Lead Management

Lead management refers to an ability to update and track lead information through the sales pipeline. Usually with the help of a customer relationship management service (CRM), like the popular SalesForce. Each lead gets its own entry, where you can add additional information, record various activities happening with the lead, change status of the lead from lead to opportunity to customer, and various other things to help you keep convert leads into customers. Some people use it and some don't.

It's a good thing to have even the most basic CRM, which would be an Excel spreadsheet, to be able to track your progress and store the information for the future. Most CRM services offer free plans, which are usually very good for beginners and small businesses. So you can't say you can't afford it. With Hubspot, you get a very basic lead management tools. Nothing fancy, a few standard fields to update as you learn more about your lead and talk to them, but nothing really good to help you down the road. That's why most users use SalesForce with Hubspot, but keep in mind that you will have to shell out higher premium for Hubspot and SalesForce to have automatic integration between the two.

A lot of users enter lead information into SalesForce manually, once the lead is created in Hubspot. That way to don't have to pay higher premiums for both. On the other hand, with WordPress you can integrate SalesForce for free with a plugin. So your SalesForce fees are the only fees you have to pay, no additional expenses. For those on a tight budget, there is a very good free WordPress plugin called WP-CRM that gives you great tools to add free CRM to your WordPress. Plus, the plugin offers easy lead capture form creation that you can add to your landing pages. Through those forms, the lead data will appear in your CRM dashboard, which is inside your WordPress. No additional websites to login to. Simple.

Personally, I use Nimble Social CRM* to manage my leads and clients. It combines my emails, social streams, calendars, and contacts into one place. Now, I have social data about my leads available at my finger tips. I know who they are, what they talk about, and what I'm doing with them. All for $15/mo. There's a free account option too. Check it out and take a free trial on a test drive. You'll love it.
 
I would also suggest you check out new Salesformics CRM*, which adds marketing automation to help you close more sales while it's incredibly easy to use.

Whatever you want to do, I do recommend that you use some sort of CRM service to keep track of your lead information, and have an ability to refer back to it when going through the sales process.

Concluding Thoughts

Before you go to take a short quiz to help you decide, I wanted to wrap things up a bit. Either platform will do good. You just have to take in account your needs. If you can afford Hubspot but like some of the things that WordPress offers, you can always use a hybrid approach and integrate Hubspot into WordPress. That's possible. But then you'll have the added expenses of maintaining WordPress and Hubspot together. Help yourself think through this by creating a list of what your needs are and what your budget for this is. That will give you a better idea of what you should choose.

Note: This original guide was written in 2012 when there were very few tools or even information on marketing automation within WordPress. It's 2014 and I'm working on a second version of this guide bringing all the new tools that became available together in one place to help you understand what you can do and use. Sign up to be notified when it's published.