Category Archives: Search Engine Optimization

Hubspot Review

UPDATED REVIEW: My earlier review of HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing software was more than 1 year old and the software has evolved a lot: time for an update!

I see two clearly distinct target groups for HubSpot:

  1. Small business owners
  2. Marketing departments at mid-size companies

Both groups will use HubSpot to generate more inbound leads, but they have vastly different requirements. Small businesses usually have no dedicated marketing resources, are less tech-savvy, and often don’t have a CRM system. Mid-size companies have dedicated marketing people, an IT department, a CRM system, and generally more sophisticated requirements. HubSpot can serve both audiences, but in a different way. But – just like any other SEO & Social Media tool – HubSpot will only deliver results if you put a fair amount of time into creating and promoting content: compelling content is what makes the HubSpot engine hum.

Small Businesses

Until recently, it was hard for small businesses to be effective with online marketing because the tools were fragmented: you had to hire someone to do your website, get email marketing somewhere else, hire a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant, and figure out this social media thing. HubSpot provides an attractive package that includes all of this: not just software, but also advice.

Their website management system (CMS) is fairly basic, but it includes everything you need: the pages are search engine optimized from the start, it includes a blog and registration forms, and there are social media integrations. If you’re really picky about the design or have advanced technical requirements, the HubSpot CMS may be too basic for you. In that case you can consider HubSpot Medium, which allows you to add tracking keys to your own website.

In addition to the website, HubSpot offers a range of SEO tools for keyword discovery, keyword selection, rank tracking and more. Social Media is also covered: you are notified of relevant online discussions on Twitter, LinkedIn and other locations, so you can join the discussion; there are ‘follow-me’ buttons in email and on your website; and you can find prospect’s social media profiles. With the improved Lead Manager, you could even use HubSpot as your CRM system. You can use basic email marketing to stay in touch with your prospects or create some drip campaigns. And finally, reporting and analytics show the business results of your activities.

Overall, if your business lends itself to online marketing but technology has been a challenge for you, HubSpot will be a good fit. You’ll have a big chance of success if you reserve 20-25 hours to get started, and enough time each week to write at least 2 blog posts (again, this is true for all SEO & social media tools).

Mid-size Businesses

The story for mid-size businesses is less clear-cut. First of all, many mid-size businesses will choose to host their own website, either because migration is too big of a task, or because they have specific requirements. HubSpot’s Medium and Large products give you the option to keep using your own site. These editions also make it possible to integrate with and – through partners – with other CRM systems. The result of this integration is that you get great end-to-end analytics, for example: you’ll see how much a particular search keyword contributes to revenue.

If you’re a mid-size company, search Engine Optimization and Social Media are really the key features that you’ll use HubSpot for. If you compare it with stand-alone SEO & Social Media tools, you may say it’s expensive. However, it’s a fully integrated solution with unique end-to-end reporting features: you won’t get this level of integration when using a combination of stand-alone tools. And when you compare HubSpot’s monthly cost to hiring a SEO and a Social Media agency, it’s not so expensive at all.

Where small businesses will be okay with HubSpot’s email marketing, email nurturing, lead scoring and landing page functionality, most mid-size businesses will have more advanced requirements. Some of these requirements are lead nurturing based on rules with an unlimited number of steps, support for multiple lead scoring models, and progressive profiling for web forms. For those requirements I would recommend using a Marketing Automation system, as even the most affordable Marketing Automation solutions have way more functionality in this area than HubSpot. However, few if none of those solutions have the SEO and Social Media tools.

HubSpot is a good option for mid-size companies that need best practices and an integrated tool to improving their SEO & Social Media strategies. Combined with a CMS and a Marketing Automation system it is a complete online marketing suite.


SEO and Social Media take a lot of time to do right, and HubSpot makes this process a lot smoother. Small companies can use HubSpot as a one-stop-shop, while mid-size companies can integrate it with their existing CMS and/or Marketing Automation system. You still have to create lots of compelling content, but HubSpot takes care of the rest.

About Jep Castelein

Jep Castelein is the founder of LeadSloth, a firm that helps technology companies find untapped revenue in their marketing databases. He is always looking for marketers who want to get a better ROI on their investment in Marketing Automation technology. For more information on LeadSloth’s methodology, see the webinar “7 Steps to Finding Untapped Revenue in Your Marketing Database“.

SEO Optimization – 3 Steps to Success

In the last years I’ve done a lot of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) projects. What keeps surprising me is that most people think it’s some kind of black art. Basic SEO is actually quite straightforward: hence my 3 steps to SEO Success. Agreed: I had to simplify some things, so please don’t bash me on that. My goal is to expose the basic principles of SEO, not to provide a comprehensive cookbook.

Side note: I mainly write about Marketing Automation, but I’ve come to believe that Inbound Marketing (which includes SEO) should go hand-in-hand with Marketing Automation. Inbound Marketing adds more leads to your database, and Marketing Automation manages those leads.

How Search Engines Work

All search engines have approximately the same approach: they rank based on relevant content and page popularity. Relevant content means that the keywords from the search query appear frequently on the page, and in the right places (Title, URL, Headings). Popularity means that many other sites link to this page, ideally using the same keywords in the link text. So let’s look at the 3 steps.

3 Steps to Improve your Search Engine Ranking:

(1) Choose your keywords wisely
(2) Create exactly 1 page for each keyword or keyword group
(3) Get links to these pages

(1) Choose the Right Keywords

First, pick approximately 10-20 keywords that you want to optimize for:

  • Choose keywords with enough search volume, but not too much. Too little volume means only few people will see your site, too much volume means that it’s going to be hard to get on page 1. You can find keyword search volume with the Google Keyword Tool. This tool also provides keyword suggestions
  • Choose keywords that are relevant. For example, for a company selling Portal software the term “web portal software” is more relevant than “news portal” (= people looking for a news website)
  • To start, choose keywords that are relatively specific. “Web Portal Software” rather than “Business Software” and “Web application usability” rather than “usability”. This ensures that you have a reasonable chance of getting on page 1 of the search results, and that you attract the right audience. Later on you can optimize for more generic terms.

(2) Optimize Your Website

Once you’ve created your keyword list, you can start optimizing your site:

  • Just to be sure, check if the search spiders can find your site. Type the following into the Gooogle search box: “cache:” without any spaces (click here for an example). You can use SEO Browser to see how Google sees your site: check that all content and links are visible in this text-only view. Do this for each page.
  • If pages are not indexed yet, make sure that other pages are linking to this page, and avoid JavaScript-generated links (search spiders don’t read JavaScript)
  • For each keyword term, create exactly 1 optimized page (or choose an existing page)
  • For each of those pages, put the keywords in the TITLE, URL, H1/H2 and in the content itself (example: a page optimized for “SaaS Analytics“); in the URL, use dashes (“-“) to separate words; if your website doesn’t use <h1> and <h2> tags (do a ‘view source’ to find out), ask you web developer to add them.
  • Use unique content on each page: if you use the same or similar content, you run the risk that the Search Engines think they are duplicates (and only show one of them)
  • Add an ‘elevator pitch’ in the META description tag, so Google will display this as a summary on the results page. Example: search for ‘Good Data’ and Google shows a summary written by Good Data’s marketing team: “Good Data brings easy, flexible, affordable analytics within reach of every company”.

(3) Get links

The search engines think your page is more relevant if other trusted sites link to it (“trusted” as opposed to “spammy” sites). The key is to write interesting content, and to network with bloggers and site owners so they want to link to your pages. You can still ask them, but an excellent ranking is only attained when other people link to your site without you having to ask for it. That means: create great content that is educational rather than necessarily promoting your products. So in short:

  • Write appealing content, so other people want to link to it. Consider creating “link bait”: popular topic formats are “top 10 rules for…” or a list of blogs or Twitter accounts that cover your space. Always keep in mind: write about the interests of your target audience, rather than pushing your wares.
  • Links (internal and external) should have descriptive link text. Use “business intelligence software” instead of “click here“. Google uses the link text to figure out what your page is about.
  • Ask other people to link, and already give them the HTML code for the link, so you can optimize the link text
  • Add your pages to directories that accept link submissions (e.g or industry-specific lists)
  • If you have a blog, put it on the company domain ( and ask other bloggers to add your blog to their blogroll (and do the same for them).
  • On your home page, include links to the keyword-optimized pages, so Google easily finds these pages (example: the links on bottom of The link text should be the same as the selected keywords.

Keep Optimizing

As you go through these steps you will find out what works for you. You should monitor the ranking for your selected keywords weekly or biweekly: just type it into the search engine and see if your site pops up. Then check your web analytics tool to see which keywords bring most traffic. If you monitor conversions (e.g. a whitepaper registration) you’ll see that some keywords convert better than others. Focus on link building for the keywords that work best for you, and keep adding new keywords. Also, as your ranking improves, you may take on more challenging keywords: the ones that are really popular.

I hope this article was useful for you: let me know if you have question, or if you want to suggest changes to the approach I described. And keep up the optimization effort: it will take at least a couple of months before you start seeing results.

PS. You may have noticed that I’ve optimized this post for “SEO Optimization”

Inbound Marketing Automation

Should Marketing Automation systems add Inbound Marketing tools as standard features? Or is it better to keep those tools separate? I brought up this question in my previous blog post, and Maria Pergolino had some very good comments on which tools to use and how to integrate them for ROI reporting. That gave me enough ideas for a new post, so here it is.

What is Inbound Marketing? Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot defines inbound marketing to include search, social media and blogs. In short: any marketing activity that draws people to your website.

What is Marketing Automation? Maria Pergolino defines this as “Post-click, and Post-Conversion”. In short: any marketing activity that happens after people come to your website.

In my opinion any B2B company needs both Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation: the first to get in touch with new prospects, the second to move those leads through the funnel from suspects to sales-ready leads. I wrote more about this and about Lead Management on the blog. Because both are different steps of the same process, it seemed logical to recommend a single tool for both Marketing Automation and Inbound Marketing. But let’s take a closer look.

Why Automate Marketing?

The ultimate goal of automation is to make marketing teams more productive, by automating repetitive tasks and creating better reports. Let’s give two examples. In case of SEO, checking the search rank of your website for specific keywords is time-consuming, especially if you also want to check the rank of competitors. In case of marketing automation, manual execution of email drip campaigns is a drag. Automation systems can do this work for you, and – in additional to saving time – also improve quality.

What does a Marketing Automation system do?

In an earlier post about Lead Management I listed the following Marketing Automation features:

  • building landing pages and registration forms
  • nurturing via email and other channels
  • calculating a lead score until the prospect is sales-ready
  • collecting as much information as possible (web & data analytics)
  • tracking the source of leads and providing ROI reports

Often these features work together to automate a specific campaign, such as organizing a webinar or promoting a whitepaper. The alternative to a Marketing Automation system is a hodgepodge of specialized systems, such as email marketing and form building tools (see also Maria Pergolino’s post on the Marketo blog). There are certain features – like activity-based lead scoring – that only exist as part of comprehensive Marketing Automation systems.

So the key reasons to use a Marketing Automation system are:

  • Save time because it’s one integrated system (no copy-and-pasting between various systems, no integration effort needed)
  • Get specific features that are unique to Marketing Automation systems, like advanced lead scoring
  • Get better reports on the marketing ROI

So we should find out whether pre-built integration with Inbound Marketing systems decreases integration effort, adds unique features or provides better reports.

What does an Inbound Marketing system do?

For simplicity sake, I’ll limit myself to the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features of the Inbound Marketing systems. For a full list of Inbound Marketing features, see the previous article. These are the most important ones:

  • Keyword research: which keywords do you want to optimize your website for?
  • Link building: which sites have you asked to link back to your site?
  • Rank tracking: how does your site rank for the selected keywords?

To start with Link building tools: those are usually project management tools, so there’s little benefit in integration with a marketing automation system, other than having a single login.

Keyword Research tools provide keyword suggestions, and help you select keywords based on volume, relevance and difficulty. It is useful if you can automatically add the selected keywords to the rank tracker, rather than having to put them in a spreadsheet first.

Rank tracking is most relevant if it shows the website traffic and conversions generated by the keywords, in addition to the position in the search results. Ideally it should even show the revenue per keyword. This is only possible by integrating with Web Analytics (traffic and conversions) or Marketing Automation (traffic, conversions and revenue). So this is an important ingredient for measuring Marketing ROI.

Who is in Charge of Marketing ROI?

It would be ideal if marketing ROI can be measured in a single location. In my opinion this should be the Marketing Automation system. This is an ROI chart that Marketo’s Jon Miller presented in the ‘Secret Sauce for demand generation‘ webinar.

ROI report from marketo's secret sauce webinar

This is a high-level overview that is already very powerful. However, it would be great if you could drill-down to see which keywords are responsible for most opportunities, and which of those keywords are actively managed in an SEO campaign. Based on this information, you can fine-tune the SEO campaign. To accomplish this type of report, the Marketing Automation system needs to pull in the keywords and rank information.


I’m not sure if there is a strong case for integration of Inbound Marketing features into Marketing Automation systems. It would reduce some integration effort, it does not add any unique features, but it can definitely provide more insightful reports.

Especially if your company gets a lot of leads via organic search, it would be useful to have an ROI report for your keywords. So either this feature needs to be added to the Marketing Automation system, or the Marketing Automation system should import the required data from an existing SEO rank tracking system.

My take: over the past months many Marketing Automation vendors have developed Sales & Marketing collaboration tools. Those tools are often sold as an add-on. So maybe the next add-on module should be for Inbound Marketing: its features will paint a more complete picture of your Marketing ROI, which is worth spending some extra money on.

Lead Management Automation Systems Compared

Stagnant email service providers becoming irrelevant? (see conclusion)

In a previous post there was a lively discussion about the terms Demand Generation and Lead Management Automation (LMA) systems. The consensus was that Lead Management System is part of the demand generation process, and focuses on managing leads you already have in your database (and capturing/importing new leads). Some example features:

  • building landing pages and registration forms
  • tracking the source of leads
  • collecting as much information as possible (web & data analytics)
  • nurturing via email and other channels
  • calculating a lead score until the prospect is sales-ready

But how does that compare to email marketing, web analytics and landing page optimization tools? In talking to several marketing managers, they often asked: “How do LMA systems compare to {fill in any other marketing software}”. In the next paragraphs I compare LMA systems with other popular marketing systems, and I hope to go more in-depth in future posts.

Email Marketing

Lead Management Systems can send out batch emails to a list, similar to Email Services Providers (ESPs) like VerticalResponse, ExactTarget and Constant Contact. Interesting enough, I’ve heard of several companies that still use ESPs in addition to their Lead Management System, not sure why. Let me know if you have ideas.

Lead Management Systems also provide lots of advanced email features, such as drip-marketing, event-based emails, heavily segmented and personalized emails (e.g. sent from the account of the responsible sales person), and event reminder emails. However, ESPs are also moving forward, and for example ExactTarget now also offers drip-marketing support.

Data Management

Some demandgen vendors provide data management features for deduplication and normalization. My personal opinion is that these features are usually somewhat limited, and that they’re not mature enough to replace specialized data cleaning solutions (Ringlead, DemandTools). But that may change soon, as LMA vendors keep expanding their offerings.

Web Analytics

All Lead Management Systems offer some kind of web analytics, mostly focused on marketing metrics. Only LMA systems aimed at smaller companies tend to offer generic web analytics (page views, referrers, etc.). In all other cases, you would still need a general-purpose Web Analytics systems, such Google Analytics, Coremetrics, Omniture or WebTrends.

There are also some specialized Web Analytics vendors that identify the company name of anonymous leads (Leadlander) or website activity for known leads ( However, more and more LMA systems include this functionality. It ranges from fairly basic (Market2lead) to more comprehensive (Marketo, Genius Enterprise, ActiveConversion, LeadGenesys, Pardot).

Web Content Management

Lead Management Systems also do not replace Web Content Management systems, although it may be more common to have WCM features in Demand Generation in the future (earlier post). The only web pages they currently manage are landing pages or microsites. Those are usually hosted on a subdomain such as There are some exceptions: both Marketbright and Marqui include a full WCM system.

Landing page optimization & Website Personalization

An area where many Lead Management Systems can still improve is landing page optimization. In my opinion they should offer more features to optimize landing page conversion, which critical for Search Marketing efforts. There are dedicated vendors with a superior feature set, such as ion interactive, magnify360 and Sitebrand.

I’ve heard some vendors thinking about personalizing offers based on behavior of anonymous visitors to make it more likely that they register for an offer. Currently I’m not aware of any LMA vendors that offer this functionality: let me know if you know more about this…

Search Marketing

Search Engine Optimization and Pay-per-Click management are usually not included in Lead Management Systems. At most, LMA systems provide reporting on the lead source (which keywords, and organic search or PPC). It looks like SEO and PPC management will stay separate from Lead Management for the short to medium term. Personally I expect this will be integrated in the long term, as lead acquisition and lead management naturally complement each other, and cover the entire demand generation cycle.


Lead Management Automation vendors are rapidly expanding their functionality, but will not replace all specialized tools any time soon. I think we’ll see a consolidation of the industry of the next couple of years. Specialized vendors need to keep innovating, otherwise they will falter. Some categories are there to stay, such as Web Content Management and Web Analytics, but each will also expand their marketing automation features.

I’m not sure about Email Service Providers: In my opinion they either need to move towards lead management or become irrelevant. ExactTarget, Lyris and Silverpop are on the move, but VerticalResponse is at risk: even for small companies there are more effective lead management solutions (such as InfusionSoft).

What do you think: is there a future for pure-play ESPs?

Hubspot Review – SEO Optimization

IMPORTANT: Please read my new Hubspot Review, published in July 2010. The review below is outdated.

Hubspot is the market leader in the category they invented: inbound marketing systems. They should be pleased with this link, because they teach their customers to ask other websites for links to their website, using the term that potential customers type into Google. Hubspot offers a combination of a hosted software platform and best practices. The software shows how to optimize your site for certain keywords, and how you fare against your competitor’s websites. The best practices include tips, such as the one above: Google ranks your site higher for keywords that others use to link to your site.

hubspot inbound marketing system for seoWhat I like about their offering is the simple packaging: you have the small company package for $250 per month, and the larger company offering for $500 (called ‘Marketer’). As a small company you have to use their content management system, and as a larger company you will use your own website (you just include some tags in the source of your site). Also, this ‘Marketer’ version includes integration with for closed loop reporting: in other words, it will show which Google keywords result in how much revenue.

Their philosophy is that search engine optimization is a better investment than pay-per-click advertising: over time you will only get more traffic, and it doesn’t cost you anything. With PPC, whenever you want more traffic you have to pay more. And if a new competitor enters the market, they will drive up the price for the keywords that used to be cheap. However, PPC is great to get attention for time-sensitive events. Because SEO takes time: if you have a seminar in two weeks, PPC can start promotion right away, but by the time you have a good organic search engine ranking, the event has already taken place. But for less time-sensitive information, SEO will definitely pay off.

I’m fairly sure that Hubspot provides tremendous value to companies who’ve never optimized their site. For my company I’ve already applied several SEO best practices, and we have a decent page rank (6). So for us the benefits are less clear. However, hiring a company to outsource SEO optimization is even more expensive, so I may give Hubspot a try: their contract is month-to-month, so if it doesn’t work I can cancel at any time. I’ll also look at some other vendors such as Raven SEO and Spyfu, because I don’t know how those compare. If you know more about Raven or Spyfu, please leave a comment.

IMPORTANT: Please read my new Hubspot Review, published in July 2010. The review above is outdated.