With the introduction of the Marketing Hub Free and Starter plans, HubSpot has come a long way from being exclusively a marketing automation tool for larger businesses. Formerly starting at $500/month for 1,000 contacts (with a mandatory $3,000 onboarding fee), HubSpot has pared down the features of its marketing subscription to fit within budgets of as low as $50/month. But, at what cost? What features do you give up?
HubSpot CMS and SEO Tools No Longer Included in Marketing Hub
First of all, the HubSpot CMS (formerly the Content Optimization System, also known as COS) is no longer included with Marketing Hub plans, unlike with HubSpot’s legacy plans. Compared to an open source CMS such as WordPress, Drupal, or Typo3, the HubSpot CMS is designed to bring all your inbound and content marketing activities under one roof, with blogging, SEO, lead generation, and social media features integrated into the HubSpot dashboard. For example, the HubSpot SEO tool analyzes your blog post against the focus keyword you set, then instantaneously provides a checklist of recommendations how to make your content more SEO friendly (e.g. keyword density, anchor text, meta description, etc.). Comparable functionality can easily be found in tools such as Yoast SEO for WordPress or All-In-One SEO Pack.
The HubSpot CMS is also attractive because it simplifies maintaining a web presence for small businesses who don’t have the knowledge or experience to select a web hosting plan or manage a cloud server. The HubSpot CMS takes care of all of that, with an SSL certificate, content delivery network (CDN), and high uptime built in. If you’re more inclined towards hosting your own website using an open source CMS, take a look at our 9 essential WordPress server tuning tips.
Adding the HubSpot CMS back to the Starter plan (with the minimum of 1,000 contacts) brings the price back up to $350/month. Furthermore, a one-time $1,000 “CMS onboarding” fee is still required for any plans incorporating the HubSpot CMS. For the onboarding, the HubSpot Migrations Team uses a proprietary in-house tool to import all of the existing content and CSS styles on your website, and turn it into drag-and-drop editable regions within HubSpot’s visual editor. In our experience, the importing is imperfect at best, since many embedded elements, including widgets, dynamically generated content, and external scripts, cannot be imported by HubSpot’s migration team. If you don’t want to take our word for it, this HubSpot knowledge base article provides a non-exhaustive list of elements that “can’t be recreated in your migrated site.”
HubSpot CMS Locks You in To a HubSpot Subscription
While few vendors provide a marketing toolkit that is as integrated as Marketing Hub + HubSpot CMS, it can be easy to outgrow the features of HubSpot CMS WYSIWYG editor. Exporting a website from HubSpot CMS is not an easy task if you need to graduate to a real hosting platform later. Much like SquareSpace, Wix, and other WYSIWYG website builders (that we do not recommend), you’ll only be able to download the raw HTML code when you try to export your website to a different provider. After you cancel your HubSpot CMS plan, you won’t be able to edit the website anymore except in a code editor with advanced knowledge of HTML/CSS, and page elements from HubSpot CMS will be broken (since they reference files no longer hosted on HubSpot’s servers). Most clients who imported their website to HubSpot CMS and ended up switching away from HubSpot ended up completely rebuilding their website, at significant expense.
With HubSpot’s legacy plans, the cost of website hosting was embedded into the cost of their marketing automation subscription, whether you used the COS or not. Although unbundling the COS from their marketing automation plans and renaming it the HubSpot CMS is a step in the right direction, it just goes to show that the “free website hosting” advertised by HubSpot was never truly free at all.
HubSpot Free and Starter – The “Basic Economy” of Marketing Automation
We all groan when we’re asked to pay for a tea/coffee or a checked bag on a low-cost airline or “Basic Economy” fare on one of the major carriers, and that’s what HubSpot Free and Starter feels similar to for email marketing.
With the HubSpot CMS and SEO functionality stripped away, Starter, the lowest tier of Marketing Hub at $50/month, resembles an email service provider (such as Constant Contact, iContact, or MailChimp) rather than true marketing automation.
On the signup page for Marketing Hub, HubSpot themselves wrote “Upgrade to Marketing Hub Professional to unlock marketing automation, higher send limits, A/B testing, smart content.” According to HubSpot’s pricing page, Marketing Hub Professional starts at $800/month with a limit of 1,000 contacts + $50/month per 1,000 additional contacts.
By contrast, you can access all features including campaign workflows, unlimited emails & contacts, A/B testing, and dynamic web content with an open source marketing automation tool such as Mautic.
HubSpot Marketing Hub Free and Starter Plan Limitations
So, what happens if you decide to go with Marketing Hub Starter anyways? Here are some of the additional features once you upgrade from the Free Forever plan, and how they compare to Mautic.
- Send limit of 5X your contact tier – Up from the limit of 2,000 emails/month for the free plan, Marketing Hub Starter (with a limit of 1,000 contacts) at $50/month lets you send up to 5,000 emails a month. As a result, on average you can communicate with your entire database up to 5 times a month. Mautic has no sending limit. With a custom email gateway such as Amazon SES, send tens of thousands of emails for pennies a month.
- 25 static lists and 5 smart lists – With Mautic, you can create an unlimited number of segments, which are equivalent to static lists and smart lists in HubSpot. You can import a CSV of contacts to a Mautic segment, similar to a static list, or use a Filter to automatically populate a segment based on list criteria (e.g. contact Country field equals United States).
- Custom reply-to address – A reply-to address can be globally set in Mautic configuration, and you also have the flexibility of overriding the reply-to address for individual email assets.
- Connection to an email sending domain – HubSpot Starter adds the capability of originating marketing emails from your own company domain, as opposed to @hubspotfree.net. Mautic always allows you to send emails from your own domain with SPF/DKIM/DMARC verified for optimal deliverability.
- No HubSpot branding – HubSpot Free slaps an “Send emails for free with HubSpot” footer onto every email sent – not a very professional look. Fortunately, upgrading to the Starter plan removes this branding. Mautic never adds promotional verbiage to your email communications.
To have the marketing automation functionality comparable to HubSpot’s legacy product (prior to the introduction of Marketing Hub), you need to further upgrade to Marketing Hub Professional (one step above Starter). Alternatively, you can consider Mautic, the only open source marketing automation tool on the market that includes all marketing automation features out of the box.
Although some marketers moved from Mautic to HubSpot because they didn’t want the burden of administering Mautic, setting up & maintaining a Mautic server is more manageable than you may realize – especially with professional engineers well-versed in Linux server administration. Depending on the number of contacts you’ll store within the first 12 months, and the monthly volume of emails you plan to send, the Autoize team can recommend you the best cloud hosting provider for Mautic and third-party email gateway for your needs.
Besides the hosting cost, there is no monthly licensing fee to use Mautic. Since Professional plan costs $800/month (+ $50/month per 1,000 contacts above 1K), within a matter of months, you can recoup our one-time setup fee for Mautic, based on the monthly costs you will save compared to HubSpot. Get a quote for professional Mautic installation.