Startup company HubSpot began 2007 with very few customers for its new, Web-based online marketing optimization system. With those tools coming out of beta, Mike Volpe, VP Marketing, needed a promotional strategy to rapidly spread the company’s message and identify qualified prospects for the sales team.
Volpe worried that the high cost of traditional methods, such as direct mail, telemarketing and even email, wouldn't deliver the best ROI for his small budget. Those methods also didn’t match the company’s emphasis on using search, social media and other online channels to attract potential customers.
“The whole premise of HubSpot is that the way people search for, evaluate and purchase products has changed,” Volpe says. “We focus on inbound marketing, and were trying to come up with a campaign to embrace that as a concept.”
Volpe and his team wanted to test a viral campaign that relied on blogs, social networking sites and searches to help prospects find and approach the company. But they knew they didn’t want to rely on a funny online video or some other typical marketing creative element to attract qualified leads interested in improving their online marketing. CAMPAIGN
Volpe and his team created a new, online SEO tool called Website Grader, which automatically analyzes the marketing effectiveness of any URL and generates a free report. With Website Grader, the team hoped to create a pool of prospects for the company’s paid services, which are designed to improve the performance of websites.
First, though, Volpe needed to generate tons of traffic for the Website Grader website and then convince users to run a report on their URLs.
Here are the seven steps they followed to spread the word:
-> Step #1. Give bloggers advance peek
Volpe’s team focused their early efforts on making Website Grader an effective centerpiece of the viral marketing campaign. They needed to ensure that the tool was useful, easy to use and compelling enough for bloggers to share it with friends.
They turned to bloggers with expertise in online marketing and search engine optimization to help evaluate Website Grader and recommend improvements.
- Volpe’s team had spent several months monitoring the appropriate bloggers to keep on top of trends in the industry. Using Technorati, Google’s blog search and other tools, they identified and kept tabs on hundreds of industry bloggers.
- During their product-development period, they formed relationships with several of these bloggers by adding comments to their posts and participating in ongoing dialogues.
- When preparing to launch Website Grader, they contacted 100 bloggers, including those with whom they had formed relationships. They asked them to use the tool to run a report on a website and provide feedback on the process and results.
They specifically avoided the biggest, most popular blogs in the space. “They get a lot of inbound inquiries, and we didn’t feel like we had great relationships with them.”
- At this point, they did not ask bloggers to write a post about the tool -- they only solicited feedback.
-> Step #2. Launch with blog mentions
After receiving mostly positive feedback from bloggers, they incorporated changes recommended by them. Volpe’s team was then ready to launch Website Grader.
- They replied to the bloggers who had responded to their initial requests for feedback, noting that their requested changes had been made and inviting them to write about the tool.
- They included links to Website Grader in relevant posts on their own company blog, such as a post analyzing the SEO performance of top venture capital firm sites.
-> Step #3. Promote tool through social networking
Big believers in the value of social media, the team submitted the Website Grader link to several social media sites.
- Volpe’s team sent the link to StumbleUpon, which allows members of the community to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on sites submitted. The more approval votes a site receives, the more it is forwarded to other members of the community who have expressed interest in that type of content. The process helps sites develop an overall approval rating and determine how prominently it is displayed on the StumbleUpon site.
- They bookmarked and tagged the site at Del.icio.us, where bookmarked sites are shared among members with similar interests and preferences.
-> Step #4. Post messages on discussion forums
Next, the team looked for opportunities to post messages about Website Grader on search marketing discussion forums, such as the Digital Point Forums.
They were careful not to create new threads or post blatantly promotional messages in these forums. Instead, they looked for places where they could include a mention of the tool as an answer to a member’s question, or as a relevant addition to an ongoing discussion.
“You wouldn’t walk into networking party and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you how awesome my company is.’ It’s the same thing online. You don’t cram your sales pitch down their throats.”
-> Step #5. Test paid promotions
As traffic to the site began to build with the blog mentions, social media exposure and links to message boards, Volpe and his team tested whether limited paid promotion would further boost traffic.
With a budget of approximately $5,000, they tested:
- Pay-per-click campaigns. Because search engine marketing is a competitive space in the pay-per-click universe, the team tested a series of low-priced, long-tail type keywords to attract Web users interested in site optimization.
For example, rather than bidding on broad terms, like “Internet marketing,” they bid on long phrases, such as “website marketing, search engine optimization, free report.” In addition to the click rate, they tracked how many of those clicks actually used the tool to generate a report.
- Paid promotion on StumbleUpon. The service allows sites that are already ranked by the community to pay for additional promotion through the service’s “Stumble” feature. It’s a button that lets members see a new piece of content relevant to their areas of interest.
When an advertiser pays for promotion, StumbleUpon delivers the link to interested users who click the “Stumble” button. Advertisers pay per visitor who lands on the site.
-> Step #6. Issue press releases highlighting data
To further raise awareness for Website Grader, Volpe’s team prepared two reports based on data generated by the online tool:
- The first report reviewed the SEO tactics employed by the top 20 blogs as ranked by Technorati. The report highlighted whether these sites were using important SEO techniques, such as description metadata and keyword metadata.
- The second report analyzed the SEO performance of presidential candidates’ websites.
They promoted these reports with press releases distributed through MarketWire, and by having their PR team approach a select group of bloggers and media outlets.
-> Step #7. Follow up with prospects who ran site reports
When users ran a Website Grader report on a URL, Volpe’s team used three techniques to qualify them as leads and follow-up to discuss additional services.
- Automatic email response. Website Grader visitors could enter their email address to receive a copy of their report. The outbound message that delivered results also contained a personalized note from the company’s VP of Sales. The VP invited the prospect to set up a time for a telephone call to discuss the results and potential improvements.
- Online registration. For users who chose to read their report results online, Volpe’s team included an offer on the bottom of the screen that invited users to receive a personalized expert review of their site.
The call-to-action featured the headline: “Need to improve?” It included a link to a registration page, where the prospect could enter contact information for follow-up.
- Sales team follow-up. Volpe’s team periodically reviewed all the sites being evaluated on Website Grader to find companies that seemed the best fit for HubSpot’s paid services, based on company size and other qualifying factors. Those sites were assigned to a sales rep, who followed up with an email and a phone call to see if they were interested in learning more about the company’s inbound marketing services.
Since launching Website Grader less than a year ago, the tool has become Volpe’s best source of leads and sales. “It has far surpassed any of the goals we had,” Volpe says, with the site so far generating reports for more than 150,000 URLs.
Volpe’s team has converted about 1,000 Website Grader users into leads for HubSpot’s paid services, and has already signed more than 30 new customers to contracts with a lifetime value of more than $250,000. At least 60 more opportunities sit in the pipeline.
Volpe’s sales team also uses Website Grader as a demonstration tool in all its sales presentations. After showing prospects how well their sites are optimized for search marketing, sales reps discuss ways their paid marketing services can help improve lead generation.
Carefully seeding the viral campaign through blogs and social media sites was the key to generating prospect interest. About 20 of the bloggers initially contacted wrote reviews of the tool, and interest from the blogosphere resulted in dozens more small sites each week including a link to the site. To date, that activity has generated more than 34,000 inbound links to the Website Grader website, boosting the site’s overall search engine ranking.
StumbleUpon members continue to rank the page highly, with the site receiving an 81% approval rating from the community. And at Del.icio.us, the site has been bookmarked more than 2,000 times, further boosting traffic and interest.
Paid promotions also proved a valuable component of the team’s marketing efforts: About 60% of users who clicked on a search advertisement used the tool to run a website report.
Creating reports based on the tool’s data also kept the campaign’s momentum going. Thanks to their two press releases, the team garnered write-ups from high-profile sources, such as Guy Kawasaki’s blog and PC Magazine.
Most importantly, they’ve created a viral campaign that’s relevant to the services the company provides, helping demonstrate the problem the company can solve for its customers.
“This campaign isn’t over, and I’m not sure it’s ever going to end. We’re constantly thinking about ways to enhance the reports generated by Website Grader,” says Volpe. “Three years from now, we may be talking about how we got to 1 million unique URLs, which is a response you’re definitely not going to get if you put up one funny video on YouTube.” Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from HubSpot's Social Media campaign:
Digital Point Forums:
Guy Kawasaki’s blog: