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How to Replicate Hubspot, for Free

Rory Macrae

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A step-by-step guide to re-creating all of the marketing tools that Hubspot provides, using Wordpress and a bunch of plugins.

 

‘Inbound’ is undoubtedly one of the most powerful trends in digital marketing. The concept is a simple one — it’s all about great content — but a wide range of skills and some pretty specific technologies are needed to pull it off successfully.


At Digital Results, we recommend Hubspot to many of our clients. Hubspot is a one-stop shop; it pretty much houses everything that is required to implement inbound marketing campaigns effectively. This unique level of integration comes at fair financial investment however.


For many businesses, the cost is a no-brainer. Hubspot can provide a great return on investment. But what about smaller companies that cannot justify the expense just yet? Can they ‘do’ inbound, without Hubspot? I set about trying to find a way to replicate the tools that Hubspot provides, for free. And without needing any development knowledge.

The challenge:

Build an ‘inbound marketing machine’ without spending any money. The solution must not require any code to be written and should be possible for anybody with average computer skills.

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What features do we need?

The first step in this mission is to find out what tools we actually need. This means dissecting Hubspot to discover which features we must er... steal. At a very basic level, I think Hubspot consists of 6 key components:


  1. Blogging engine: publish articles and other content.
  2. Landing pages: create powerful landing pages that capture sales leads through forms.
  3. Search engine optimisation: maximise Google exposure by optimising content. Monitor search rankings of different keywords.
  4. User tracking and web analytics: find out who’s viewing what, and when.
  5. Social media integration: carefully manage all social media output and automate sharing.
  6. Email marketing & automation: send emails to segmented sets of data. Nurture leads by automatically sending timely email campaigns to users, dependent upon their actions.

HubSpot does of course offer a bunch of other features. But I think that the above is pretty much the nuts and bolts of the software, for those starting out.

If we can replicate all of these elements for free then we’re onto a winner.

 

Step 1: Make a website

This is a straight-forward item to tick-off. I’m a huge fan of Wordpress; the open source software that is estimated to power 26% of the web. Signing up to a free hosted Wordpress.com website won’t cut it however; for this task we need a fresh installation on our own server. This is easily done, as many web hosts provide a ‘one-click’ install of Wordpress if you sign-up to a hosting package.

* Unfortunately we have to break my first rule here; web hosting costs money. But it needn’t cost a lot if your website doesn’t yet receive a great deal of traffic.

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Image Source: wordpress.org

Now that you’ve got a website up-and-running, you probably want to change the way it looks. One of the great features of Wordpress is the fact that you can easily install new themes, for free. Whilst you won’t be able to create a custom and unique design, you will be able to install a theme that is fairly professional looking.

 

Step 2: Create engaging landing pages for data capture

Wordpress will not only give you a means to publish blog content, it will allow you to create other web pages too. With the addition of a few free Wordpress plugins, you’ll be able to start building landing pages and data capture forms.

Page Builder

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Image Source: siteorigin.com

Page Builder allows you to create custom landing page layouts. With the addition of the Widgets Bundle you can also add calls-to-action (which are an essential ingredient of inbound marketing). Your Wordpress theme may already come bundled with it, but if not, it’s free to install and use.

Contact Form 7

Contact Form 7 is an incredibly popular Wordpress plugin that allows you to quickly and easily create data capture forms to place on landing pages. In order to allow redirection to a thankyou page after form submission, you’ll also need to do a little bit of trickery.

I would prefer to use Ninja Forms as it is also free and is a little more user-friendly. But it doesn’t integrate with the user tracking software we will be installing later. The best option for creating forms in my opinion would be the excellent Gravity Forms but this isn’t free, so it would break our rule!

 

Step 3: Optimise content for search engines and analyse traffic

Search engine optimisation is a deep and mysterious topic. There are LOTS of tools available that are designed to help with SEO but none of these will get you to the top of SERPs (search engine results pages) alone.


SEO is hard work. Nobody knows exactly how Google ranks content (there are many factors at work). But what is known is that some basic formatting can improve the search performance of your content considerably. Hubspot does just that – it ensures that necessary tags and data are present and that your pages are structured to give it the best possible chance of ranking. It also gives you access to tools for monitoring keyword performance and helps you evaluate possible search opportunities.

Yoast SEO

A good alternative to Hubspot here is Yoast SEO; another free Wordpress plugin. Yoast reminds you to properly format your content for search engines and automatically adds important page data such as canonical urls, meta descriptions and Open Graph support. It also provides a handy traffic-light system for analysing an article’s keyword focus.

Rankscanner

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Image Source: rankscanner.com

To track keyword rankings we could use software such as RankScanner. This is a really simple tool for monitoring SERP rankings for certain keywords. You can monitor up to 30 keywords for free and there’s even a Wordpress plugin which will allow you to view the data from your dashboard.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console (formally known as Webmaster Tools) is essential for analysing search visibility and allows you to find out which terms are providing traffic.

Google Keyword Planner

GKP is intended to be used to plan Adwords campaigns. It can however be really useful for planning content. It allows you to get a (very) rough idea of search quantities for specific keywords and helps you to discover other phrases that you might try to rank for.

 

Step 4: Start tracking users

We now have a fully functioning Wordpress website where we can publish content, create landing pages and monitor search engine optimisation. But we still don’t have a way to find out precisely who is visiting our website, and we can’t keep track of their activities.

This is where the power of Hubspot really shines. Hubspot’s entire premise is built upon its unique cookie tracking software. Whenever somebody new lands on your site, Hubspot sets a browser cookie. This allows the software to record that user’s activity on the site. If the user then fills out a form of some sort (entering their email address normally), they switch from being an anonymous user to one that is now identified.

Hubspot user tracking is the single feature that never fails to get a “wow!” reaction when we demonstrate it to clients. And luckily for us, it’s actually available for free!

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Image Source: hubspot.com

Hubspot Free

Hubspot offer a free version of their software, but they don’t advertise it very heavily (they’d rather you sign-up for a trial). Hubspot Free plugs directly into a Wordpress website and gives you most of the power of the regular tracking system. You can’t access detailed information about a new contact after seven days but this can be easily rectified with the $50 a month upgrade.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an essential addition to any website that I’m sure you will have used already. This free tool is incredibly powerful and will allow you to monitor your web traffic. It’s easily installed via a small code snippet or you can use a Wordpress plugin that will do this for you.

 

Step 5: Social media management

Hubspot allows you to manage all of your social media accounts from one place. It allows to you track interactions and monitor brand mentions.

Buffer

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Image Source: buffer.com

Buffer is first on our list to help us out here. It allows you to schedule social posts for all of your channels. With a little Zapier magic you can connect Buffer to Wordpress to automatically share new blog posts via your social accounts. Buffer’s lowest price tier is actually free and allows you to schedule up to 10 posts at a time.

For greater social media monitoring and control we need a paid service. A great option would be Mention. It integrates with Buffer and it allows you to track mentions across social media and other sources. Pricing starts at $29 per month.

 

Step 6: Nurture leads

The final major piece of the puzzle is ‘lead nurturing’. Once you’ve collected prospective client’s email addresses, you can begin to send them relevant content via highly targeted automated email campaigns.

The beauty of the Hubspot system is that its email marketing capabilities are tightly integrated with the contact tracking system. This means that you can, for example, automatically send an email to a known contact after they take a certain series of actions on your website.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp allows you to send free bulk emails to up 2000 subscribers. And Hubspot Free allows you to automatically push new contacts to a subscriber list in Mailchimp. These things combined should allow you to schedule email campaigns to all of your prospects. The great news is that Mailchimp recently unveiled that they’d be offering email automation as part of their free plan, yay!

 

Step 7: Optional extras

One of the benefits of Hubspot is that it also encompasses a bunch of other handy tools and features. Fortunately, some of these can be utilised or replicated for free. Hubspot has its own CRM (customer relationship manager), which is free to non-customers. Hubspot also has a ‘content planner’ which allows you to visually manage all of your marketing output, but Google Calendar and Sheets can take care of this.

Smart content

A feature that we’ve not mentioned yet but that is quite unique to Hubspot is ‘smart content’. This allows you to personalise web pages for identified contacts. You might change the text on a page to make it more relevant to the individual contact or just add a “Hi Rory!” at the top of the page. Unfortunately there’s not an easy and free way of doing this to my knowledge… but it’s kinda creepy anyway, right? It’s only available on higher tier Hubspot plans anyway, so I don’t feel too bad about excluding it from our inbound machine.

 

Introducing WordSpot… or HubPress

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So… we did it! Using the steps outlined above, we’ve been able to successfully build an ‘inbound marketing machine’ for free. It combines a bunch of different services to recreate an approximation of Hubspot, built on top of Wordpress. It’s perhaps not as pretty, or as seemless, but it’ll work. And it doesn’t tie you into any pricey contracts.

The complete shopping list

Who’s it good for?

Part of my brief for this challenge was make sure that setting up ‘WordSpot’ wouldn’t require any specific coding knowledge. It doesn’t, and anybody with basic web skills could follow the steps above.

However, it’s only really advised for somebody who’s not afraid to get their hands dirty. WordSpot is built from a bunch of different components, each of which have the potential to go wrong. It needs a hands-on person to maintain it and somebody who doesn’t mind pulling out their hair in frustration from time-to-time. It needs a hacker and a tinkerer who prefers the flexibility of a modular system over the reliability of a packaged product.

WordSpot is like a bike that’s been hand-built from a bunch of carefully chosen spare parts. Each component is more than capable of doing its job, but a little love and care is needed to keep everything working together in harmony.

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Customised Bike! Image Source: shutterstock.com

Hubspot on the other hand is like a high-end factory-fresh bicycle. Each component might not be exactly to your liking but you can be sure that it’ll work perfectly with the rest of the system. There’s no risk that the handle bars won’t quite fit onto the fork or that the pedals will fall off because the crank isn’t 100% compatible. It’s a well oiled machine and you’ll pay a premium for this level of dependability. But it might save money and aggravation in the long-run.

I hope that this article has been of use to you. As always, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more about going inbound.

  

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