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Secrets to Better (and Cheaper) Online Marketing

Hubspot founder Brian Halligan says you can quintuple your website's traffic--without spending a ton on Google ads and email marketing. Here's how.
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Is the money you spend on Google AdWords the Web equivalent of shoveling cash into a burning furnace?

Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan challenged Inc. 500|5000 Conference attendees to quintuple their Web traffic in the next year--all by spending less on Google Ads, email campaigns, and other traditional techniques and instead creating blog posts, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages, and participating in social media like Twitter.

“We’re sick and tired of being marketed to, and we’re getting really good at blocking everything out,” Halligan told the audience Thursday. “What I want marketers to do is… match the way humans shop and learn today, instead of interrupting people.”

This year Hubspot, a marketing software company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, made the Inc. 500 for the second year straight, with $28.5 million in 2011 revenue. Founded six years ago by Halligan, a onetime venture capitalist, the company helps clients measure social-media response and manage email campaigns and other aspects of online marketing.  

Over the years, consumers have become inured to Web ads, and bidding on Google Ads has become too competitive and expensive, Halligan said. Once you’ve bought them, the money’s gone, he added, pantomiming the act of shoveling cash into a burning furnace.

A smart blog post or online tool, he argues, can attract new customers for years to come: “Success is about the width of your brain, not the width of your wallet.”

Here’s how Halligan advises clients to increase their site traffic and their conversion rate--the number of people who buy a product, submit their email address, or otherwise express interest in the company’s services:

Divide and con-quer.

Businesses should divide their Web marketing departments into two parts: “content” and “context.” Content includes articles, blog posts, infographics, online tools--all the stuff that makes people actually want to visit the website. “Context” is how the site then persuades interested customers to actually sign up and buy, using information about the pages they visited, the searches they made, and other data to better tailor marketing messages.

It’s not marketing. It’s HBO. 

Posts must be a complete package. They need to be useful, entertaining, and sold with a sharp headline. “Think of your marketing department like a production company,” Halligan says, “like it’s Showtime, it’s HBO, it’s CNN, it’s PBS.”

“If you are targeting the process engineers, have the best blog for process engineers,” Halligan said. That will keep new ones visiting, replenishing your list of leads.

Done right, a successful article or online calculator becomes “a massive magnet,” he said, not only in the short term, as people interested in the article click and visit, but also in the long run as people keep visiting the page and all the links to it increase your site’s overall ranking on the major search engines.

Become a destination.

Progress snowballs: The more that bloggers and Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn users link to a company’s site, the higher that company ends up in search rankings, and the more potential customers visit every week. So make it easier for them to link to your site. Set up pages on all the major social-media sites, and have staff keep them fresh with news about your company and industry. “You want hundreds of highways coming in and out of it, and that’s the links coming into your site--you want a giant airport, that’s your Facebook page; you want a big ol’ train station, that’s your Twitter,” Halligan said. “The more you become a hub on the Internet, the less you have to pay for traditional marketing.”

Learn from your audience.

As more visitors read articles and search for content on the site, their behavior leaves clues about the kinds of products and services they might want. Halligan pointed to companies such as Netflix and Amazon, which mine users’ browsing histories to suggest movies or books they might like.

“The more you use the site, the more personalized it gets,” said Halligan. “Then the better value you get, and the more likely you are to convert” those visitors into paying customers. And that makes the site more useful for everybody.  

Last updated: Oct 5, 2012

BURT HELM | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Burt Helm is a senior writer for Inc. magazine.




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