What are the limitations of building a business website on HubSpot?
By John Becker
HubSpot presents an attractive option for many businesses across a variety of industries.
Just like with anything, though, it has its limitations.
I sat with IMPACT’s Senior Front-end Developer Tim Ostheimer to hear his thoughts on HubSpot’s drawbacks.
Should any businesses avoid HubSpot?
Me: Are there any kinds of businesses where building a website on HubSpot may not an appropriate or viable option for them?
Tim: The most common would be e-commerce businesses, since HubSpot is not an e-commerce platform and offers no way of doing that natively on HubSpot-hosted sites. Although, it could be done using third-party client-side methods, but there aren't any that I would suggest due to their technical limitations.
Often what we see are business website designs where most of their marketing pages, landing pages, and/or blogs are hosted on HubSpot, but their e-commerce pages (products, account, cart, checkout, etc.) are hosted somewhere else such as WordPress or Shopify.
Me: Is that difficult to do seamlessly?
Tim: Yes, and it adds a significant layer of complexity because you are essentially dealing with multiple versions of your site. Each website would need to be built separately from each other — but designed to look the same.
This results in a website structure that is somewhat difficult to manage and a need to make certain website updates multiple times (once for each site).
This can also create a confusing experience for the user if the different sites don’t have a consistent design or interface, such as the user’s cart and account information only being available on the e-commerce website.
The only way around this is to use client-side methods to fetch that information on page load which can result in slower load times, technical limitations, and potential security risks depending on how it is set up.
Me: Other than e-commerce sites, are there any other businesses that are not a good fit?
Tim: Very large businesses that require a specific way of formatting or managing their data or website content may not be appropriate for HubSpot.
For example, if you are a manufacturing company that only does B2B and do not have e-commerce site but you have a very complex way of displaying your product information, HubSpot may not be the perfect fit simply because it may be a little difficult to manage that much data.
Other CMSs such as WordPress, which is open source and allows you to use server-side code in full, can provide you with much more flexibility with how you edit and use your website, and the ability to use a database for organizing something like product information.
HubSpot does have a database-like organization system, called “HubDB”, but it’s not nearly as powerful as an actual database that you can efficiently manipulate with structured query language (SQL).
There's really no good way of doing bulk editing on HubSpot, so it may not be the best experience for managing large quantities of data.
Me: So for everyone else, what are the limitations on HubSpot that they should know before they start?
Tim: The major limitation of a HubSpot-hosted site is the lack of server-side code. HubSpot does have a basic server-side language that can be used on its CMS, called “HubL,” which is based on Jinja2 and similar to Django, but it is not a full programming language. It allows you to do some server-side logic such as conditional statements and changing the appearance of the webpage based on the values of the backend editor.
However, compared to something like WordPress, which is built with PHP (a server-side hypertext preprocessing language), there really is no true way of doing any server-side code.
This makes it very difficult to do things like host secure APIs onto your website.
For those who will need that, such as businesses with both an e-commerce and a marketing website, you may find yourself resorting to using an external database or a dedicated API endpoint to securely handle that data.
Me: What does this make more difficult to do?
Tim: Going back to the example I gave about a manufacturing company with a lot of products, this would be one example where they may prefer to use a separate website for their product information rather than use an API to try and display that information on a HubSpot-hosted site.
Although that's something that could functionally work, it wouldn't be a good way of presenting that data from both a user experience standpoint and an SEO standpoint.
HubSpot is really best if you're able to have all of your content stored on the HubSpot CMS and will use their page editor to edit all of your content.
HubSpot is perfectly capable of handling updates to global content, such as your website’s header and footer, or content stored within HubDB, but it sometimes requires a creative setup for managing larger amounts of global data.
Me: Any other limitations?
Tim: HubSpot has applications which can be connected for easy API use, but it does not have “plugins” for its CMS compared to something like WordPress, which has an endless amount of plugins and many developers that are actively creating new plugins and supporting them.
On WordPress, plugins can often be a quick solution to a problem, such as the need for a specific functionality like an interactive map or calendar or the ability to edit data in a certain way, and usually only take a few seconds to set up.
Although, plugins should be used carefully and only when appropriate, since not all of them are well-made or safe.
Instead, HubSpot has a template marketplace which allows you to purchase prebuilt templates or sections. This is not the same as a plugin and may require the assistance of a developer or someone familiar with editing HubSpot templates to appropriately add to your website.
Me: Are these fairly common concerns, or are they things that will only affect certain businesses?
Tim: Server-side code and e-commerce is a critical feature that should be prominent in the decision making process when choosing a CMS.
However, something like plugins may be a minor consideration since they are usually only needed when no better option is available.
Even without these features HubSpot is able to host very powerful templates with an intuitive editing system as long as they are built properly and the developer building the template adds in all of the capabilities that the marketer needs to create their pages.
Customization in HubSpot
Me: I read once that HubSpot is sort of like Apple. It's more about ease of use than it is about customization. Do you agree with that?
Tim: HubSpot offers enough customization on the developer’s end in terms of how the template code is organized and constructed, but in terms of how the content is edited and data is stored in the back-end, developers are pretty limited by the abilities that HubSpot gives them.
It isn’t all bad, though, since the reason for HubSpot’s lack of server-side code is for better security. For anyone who's familiar with WordPress — WordPress is susceptible to hackers, especially if you use something like a poorly-built plugin.
Because HubSpot is not built using PHP, and the backend code is not editable, your website is perfectly secure.
Support for (and from) HubSpot
Me: So if a company does use HubSpot for their website, what type of staff will they need to maintain it?
Tim: At the very least, you will need a marketer to manage the content and build out any pages or adjust any forms or workflows for your marketing automation.
You definitely do not need an in-house designer or developer, but they could be very useful for assistance with managing larger websites.
This is exactly where IMPACT comes in.
We a digital sales and marketing company that can build very powerful templates, educate and empower your marketing team, and provide you with a website structure that you can edit yourself without ever needing to know or touch the code.
This means working with us is a better option for most companies than hiring an internal designer and/or developer.
Me: Can you talk about HubSpot support?
Tim: HubSpot does offer support, either through live chat or over the phone. But, depending on the complexity of your question, you may not resolve your problem immediately.
HubSpot support is not there to help you build templates or troubleshoot something wrong with your code. Instead, HubSpot support is primarily there for assistance with using their tools.
Complex questions may be more appropriate for HubSpot’s user forums, which is a community filled with other HubSpot users who may have experience working through the exact problem you’re facing.
You can go and ask questions or search for similar topics that you're struggling with that are outside the range of what HubSpot’s support can help you with.
Me: What are the costs of hosting your website on HubSpot?
Tim: Compared to other CMSs, HubSpot is on the more expensive side, but it comes with a wide array of tools along with hosting your website.
Depending on what is appropriate for your business’ needs, HubSpot prices may vary. It isn’t simply an all-in-one package.
You can select the services you need and pay for only those — so if you are only looking to host your website, there are packages available for that. Or, if you simply want a blog, landing pages, and emails, that is one of their more entry-level packages.
However, the cost of having customer information in HubSpot can be one of its more expensive features since HubSpot’s pricing is based on the number of contacts in your portal.
So, if you are a smaller company with under 1,000 contacts, you are going to be paying significantly less than a larger company with, for example, 10,000+ contacts.
Pros and cons of building a site on HubSpot
Me: In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of building a site on HubSpot?
Tim: Personally, from a development standpoint, HubSpot is my favorite CMS, even considering some of its technical limitations and lack of server-side code. As long as you do not need e-commerce, it is usually our recommended CMS, and we can create some very powerful templates with a wide range of flexibility and control built into them.
I work with many clients and I work on many websites, and what I like most about HubSpot is the consistency between the backend interface and editing experience for all of those websites.
In contrast, every WordPress site can be very different depending on what plugins are installed and what theme is used. It can be a struggle to work with those since it can take a lot of effort to become familiar with how that site is set up and structured.
Also, HubSpot makes website launches very convenient. HubSpot offers a staging environment that allows you to build out all of your pages and then launch them all with the click of a button.
Lastly, HubSpot handles system updates for you. For example, on WordPress you have to manually install updates — and sometimes those can affect things like plugins or themes if they are using code which is outdated or no longer supported. You could potentially break your WordPress site by accidentally having a typo on a page or updating your core version before your theme version.
On HubSpot everything is handled by HubSpot so you don't ever have to worry about system updates or theme version.
Me: And for cons?
Tim: For me, it’s these three:
- It’s expensive
- There’s no native e-commerce solutions
- There’s no server-side code
But I'll say it again: HubSpot is my favorite CMS.
Wondering where to begin?