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Sr. Front-end Developer, 8+ Years of Web Development on HubSpot and Various CMSs
November 10th, 2020
9 HubSpot CMS limitations:
You can only host your website on HubSpot if it is built with HubSpot's CMS
Enterprise portals with multiple domains and businesses face frustrating overlaps
Personalization and smart content isn't available everywhere
Multi-language blog functionality is still being implemented
Securely showing content from an external database is not easy
HubSpot has revision history for content and templates, but no global backup and restoration point for the whole website
No built-in e-commerce functionality
Code limitations for developers
Some features are only available with certain packages or cost extra
Although HubSpot is our preferred platform for building and hosting websites, that doesn’t mean it’s free from criticism.
After all, redesigning or migrating your website to a new content management system (CMS) can be expensive — and you want to be sure you’re making a wise investment.
Whether you’re looking to rebuild your website, are considering what CMS is best for your business, or are just interested in learning more about some of HubSpot’s features and limitations, this list will help address your questions and concerns so you can make the right decision for your business.
I’ve been developing websites on HubSpot for over seven years and I’ve worked with many of its features since they were first introduced.
In fact, I built sites before HubSpot renamed its CMS “COS” (content optimization system) and then switched it back to “CMS” again.
Here is a list of some of the most significant or commonly encountered limitations when using HubSpot and their CMS, based on my experience developing websites for many of IMPACT’s clients.
1. You can only host your website on HubSpot if it is built with HubSpot’s CMS
Simply put, HubSpot combines a CMS with hosting. You cannot build a website with a different CMS and host it on HubSpot and you cannot host a website built with HubSpot’s CMS on an external server.
This is different from a CMS such as WordPress, which can be hosted on most web servers.
2. Enterprise portals with multiple domains and businesses face frustrating overlaps
There are multiple pricing tiers for many of HubSpot’s features, and some features can even be added à la carte.
For example, corporations with multiple businesses within them must have the Enterprise level of HubSpot’s CMS and marketing software in order to host and manage each of the websites all in one HubSpot portal.
This is the most cost-effective way to use HubSpot for multiple websites or businesses, but if those websites all have different brands and customers it isn’t always ideal.
Aside from potentially being overwhelming to keep organized, a major issue with this type of setup is that HubSpot only allows you to have a single set of communication preferences pages per portal. These are required pages that allow users you send emails to unsubscribe or change what types of emails they agree to receive.
For those using HubSpot to host multiple business websites, this is problematic with the communication preferences pages for three reasons:
The same page is shared for each of the websites
The list of subscription types may contain options which aren’t necessarily related to the website the user originally subscribed to receive emails from
The domain of the page may not be the one the user is familiar with
At this time there is no great workaround for this situation, and you may find yourself needing to use a dedicated template with logos of multiple businesses to ensure users know they’re in the right place.
3. Personalization and smart content isn’t available everywhere
However, what many people don’t know is that this functionality isn’t currently available in all areas of a website. For most of its existence, smart content has only been available in specific areas such as rich text inputs, forms, and CTAs.
Many of our clients have been interested in using HubSpot’s smart content to completely change sections of a page, and that isn’t something that can always be done without a workaround or custom setup right now.
4. Multi-language blog functionality is still being implemented
HubSpot has the ability to host multi-language variations of website pages in a convenient way, but even this functionality is still relatively new. As a result, some parts of the CMS are still catching up and don’t have this fully implemented yet.
One type of content that is still waiting to fully receive this ability is blogs. For many businesses, the ability to have blog posts written in multiple languages would be advantageous. HubSpot has recently implemented this as a beta feature, but this means it’s still experimental and possibly limited to certain HubSpot portals.
The benefit of using HubSpot’s multi-language setup for blogs and website pages is that it allows you to automatically add the appropriate code, such as the hreflang tag, which tells search engines which pages are translated versions of each other.
Prior to this new beta feature being made available, as a workaround many HubSpot users simply create a dedicated blog for each language. However, now that HubSpot supports multi-language blogs, those HubSpot users are not able to easily combine their blogs into a single multi-language blog in order to use HubSpot’s new functionality.
Although we’re excited for multi-language blogs to become an official feature, it would be nice if there was an easy way to bulk manage posts so this could be used more easily with existing blogs.
5. Securely showing content from an external database is not easy
HubSpot’s CMS is best used with content or data that exists on HubSpot.
This can be problematic for businesses with large amounts of data that is already organized and stored in a specific way and used for internal operations if the goal is to use it directly on the website as well. Databases like this can be difficult, or impossible, to use directly on a HubSpot website in a secure and efficient way.
An example of this would be an industrial manufacturing company with hundreds of products in a database that they plan to continue using. Ideally, the website would directly pull information from this database so employees only have to manage product information in a single place.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to securely access that database on HubSpot, which means the content should ideally be separately entered in order to publish it on website pages.
As a result, changes to the product information that displays on the website would be handled separately from changes to the company’s internal product database.
Sometimes this limitation alone is enough to disqualify HubSpot for such businesses, and they instead use a CMS such as WordPress, which is able to access the database without issue.
6. HubSpot has revision history for content and templates, but no global backup and restoration point for the whole website
Any time a page, blog post, or email is published, HubSpot stores a version of it so it can easily be reverted back to if needed. Similarly, any time a template is modified, HubSpot will do the same thing.
However, there is no built-in way of backing up or restoring an entire website to a previous version.
This isn’t a feature you would want to rely on, but some CMS or servers will automatically back up the entire site so it can be reverted in case there’s a disaster.
This is most beneficial on a CMS such as WordPress, where a new CMS version is made available frequently. On platforms like this, a new CMS version could add features, change existing ones, or remove them entirely, which is why having a restore point is necessary in case something goes wrong.
On HubSpot, however, CMS updates are handled automatically and they rarely deprecate existing features. If they need to, they’ll at least give you plenty of time to prepare for it.
As a workaround, most HubSpot users who require e-commerce capability simply host their store on a separate platform, such as Shopify, while the rest of their site is hosted on HubSpot. However, managing multiple websites can be unintuitive and inefficient, and some users would prefer to use a CMS such as WordPress that is able to host everything in one place.
8. Code limitations for developers
Another one of HubSpot’s most noteworthy limitations is the inability to modify the CMS itself or use server-side code such as PHP to build templates and handle content. Compare this to a CMS such as WordPress, which is entirely open-source and built with PHP, giving developers an unlimited amount of control over how both the backend and frontend of the website works.
Although the majority of HubSpot’s users would have no need for this, this type of code would be most beneficial when external data, such as that coming from an API, needs to be securely requested, modified, formatted, and displayed on the website.
An instance where this would be desirable would be a business who wants to display product information from their internal database directly on the website.
However, HubSpot has its own custom markup language named HubL, which can be used by developers to create powerful templates, perform server-side logic, and modify content as needed. Although it's not nearly the same thing as PHP, HubL fulfills many of the more basic needs that server-side code would be used for.
Web developers working on HubSpot will also be disappointed about not having any built-in way of compiling code such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) if preprocessors like SASS are their preferred method of organization.
The major downside to this is that it will result in an internal development process which mostly takes place outside of HubSpot. Developers will need to be consistent with their own custom setup in order to avoid accidentally overwriting any changes that were made directly inside of HubSpot’s template editor.
9. Some features are only available with certain packages or cost extra
HubSpot can be expensive, and you may find yourself needing to upgrade your pricing tier or add on features in order to use HubSpot the way you need as your company grows.
This isn’t necessarily a limitation itself, but depending on the HubSpot products you pay for, you may come across certain features or limits that you may not have access to.
Despite some shortcomings, HubSpot is impressive — and always improving
HubSpot is perpetually improving and expanding the capabilities of its CMS, and this inevitably means that some desirable features that may not be available yet will be soon, so the limitations I’ve listed here are not necessarily permanent.
The HubSpot team is great about listening to their community, keeping up to date with modern website techniques, and implementing quality of life updates that improve the overall experience of using the platform.
Many of the things I’ve mentioned here are features I, as a developer, would love to see added — but they may not all be critically important to your business. Don’t let my list scare you away from HubSpot since it truly is an impressive platform that is committed to perpetually updating its product line.
The CMS Hub, combined with HubSpot’s suite of tools, empowers its users to utilize marketing strategies and automation to grow their businesses and deliver continuous value to customers.
Even if you don’t use HubSpot’s CMS, you can still use some of HubSpot’s most powerful features regardless of where your site is hosted. But don’t underestimate the convenience of having your website, blog, email, marketing analytics, and CRM (customer relationship manager) all in one place.
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