At first glance, you might not think to compare HubSpot and Salesforce. They're two very different companies—one is primarily a tool for salespeople founded in 1999. The other is a tool for marketers that was created in 2005.
But HubSpot and Salesforce, once two companies with little in common, have started chipping away at each other's customer bases trying to further expand their own: HubSpot, with their CRM product, and Salesforce, with their Pardot marketing product.
And according to website data, HubSpot has the advantage.
While HubSpot is six years younger and leaner revenue-wise (they brought in $513M in 2018 to Salesforce's $10.5B), they have grown revenue by an average of 41.37% over each of the last three years.
Much of that growth is due to their incredible presence in organic search. You've probably landed on a top-ranked HubSpot article while browsing Google, whether you were looking for information on “creating a 2021 SEO strategy” or “how to edit a PDF.” It's through those search results, of which HubSpot has more than 54,000 ranking pages, that they've been able to get the drop on Salesforce and blow their organic traffic lead wide open.
1. Site Traffic Overview: Salesforce's dominant brand vs. HubSpot's SEO mastery
Before we get too deep into specific parts of each company's organic traffic, let's examine the traffic sources as a whole for each company's website.
Both companies get around half of their traffic from organic search. Salesforce gets 45.3% of their traffic from search, while HubSpot sees 55.5% of their traffic come from search engines. Those are great numbers for both companies.
Direct traffic, on the other hand, is another story. Salesforce sees 34.3% of their traffic come directly to the website, yet Hubspot gets 12.4% of their traffic from direct. Strong direct traffic typically indicates a strong brand. That's definitely the case for Salesforce. They're a huge, very well-known company. You could probably walk into any office in America and find at least one salesperson who has used Salesforce.
One final thing worth noting is that Salesforce gets 9.0% of their traffic from paid search, while HubSpot's paid search traffic makes up such a small percentage (0.6%) of their traffic that it doesn't even appear on our chart. This is likely a result of each company's organic search strategy.
2. Organic Traffic: How HubSpot is beating Salesforce
HubSpot was one of the early pioneers of the content marketing movement. They consistently produce high-quality blog content that's ranks well on search engines. Their SEO success is one of the reasons that organic search makes up 55.5% of their overall traffic.
Here's the numbers breakdown for HubSpot:
- SpyFu says that HubSpot ranks for 2,285,045 different keywords (as of September 2021).
- In the past 6 months (since April 2021), they've gotten approximately 32 million views from organic search.
It gets even more interesting when we look at the organic value of HubSpot's keywords. Organic value is a number from SpyFu that places a monetary value on each organic keyword and its ranking. It's a way of assigning a value to SEO work that PPC managers can see in their spending. According to SpyFu, HubSpot's organic value from rankings is $12M.
It's clear that HubSpot's content strategy is providing a huge amount of value for them. Let's see how Salesforce stacks up.
Salesforce's organic strategy is much different than HubSpot's. Judging from Salesforce's keyword makeup (which we'll get to), they do really well with branded search. In fact, almost all of their top 100 keywords that drive the most traffic contain the name of one of their brands.
This suggests that their blog isn't a central part of their organic strategy. Brand awareness seems to be what drives their organic search traffic, but this clearly isn't hurting Salesforce:
- SpyFu reports that salesforce.com ranks for 1,200,510 different keywords.
- In the past 6 months (since April 2021), they've gotten approximately 14 million views from those keyword rankings.
- Lastly, SpyFu gives Salesforce's organic rankings a value of $5.73M.
The winner? Based on organic visitors, keywords, and organic value, this round goes to HubSpot.
3. Top Keywords: HubSpot's keywords are worth a lot of money
When we originally wrote this article, most of Salesforce's top keywords were branded, meaning that most organic visitors to salesforce.com used “salesforce” or another of Salesforce's brands in the keyword when they searched. HubSpot, on the other hand, had very few branded keywords in their top keywords list.
Note: This breakdown no longer holds true, but the example at the time illustrated a good point about targeting the right keywords for their strong value. Since that's a good lesson, we'll keep this section of the article (#3. Top Keywords) intact from when it was written in Summer 2019:
For comparison's sake, this was a snapshot of each company's top keywords:
These are only the top 10 keywords for each company. Notice that 8/10 of Salesforce's keywords are branded, while only 2/10 of HubSpot's top keywords are branded. This trend continues as you expand and look at the top 100 terms. The questions this raises are: How valuable are these non-branded terms for HubSpot, and should Salesforce go after more non-branded search terms? Is it really worth it for HubSpot to rank for keywords like how to edit a PDF?
To figure this out, we needed to do a little math. We started by looking at both companies' non-branded keywords. We focused specifically on non-branded keywords because there's a different search intent with branded keywords. We wanted to focus on the keywords that resulted in traffic when people were NOT specifically looking for one of these companies.
We then matched up those non-branded keywords with the amount of traffic each one drives to its respective website, and how much that keyword would cost if they were to run a Google Ads campaign on it.
Here were the results for Salesforce:
So, what does this all mean? Basically, Salesforce's top 10 non-branded keywords are worth an estimated $380,720.05.
Now, let's do HubSpot. Using the same process, here are HubSpot's top 10 non-branded keywords and their associated values:
This tells us that HubSpot's top 10 non-branded keywords are worth an estimated $1,115,021.80.
The winner for non-branded search? Without a doubt, HubSpot.
But this still leaves one big question: How valuable is this non-branded organic traffic for HubSpot? Let's go one step further to determine if HubSpot's non-branded traffic is high quality or low quality.
4. Site Behavior: Salesforce's big edge
HubSpot is clearly winning the battle for organic traffic with their strong organic presence. But it's really hard to actually figure out if they're winning the war without analyzing the way this traffic behaves on HubSpot's website. There's a big difference between getting a lot of traffic and getting quality traffic.
The best way we can figure this out is by analyzing the site behavior of organic traffic to HubSpot and comparing it to the organic traffic to Salesforce's website. We know that the organic traffic to Salesforce is high quality because it's mostly branded. How will HubSpot's mostly non-branded traffic hold up?
We looked at three stats* — bounce rate, pages per session, and average session duration. These three stats can help you determine if your search visitors are finding what they need on your website and if those visitors are going to stick around after finding what they're looking for.
Salesforce's organic traffic site behavior:
- Bounce rate: 32.16%
- Pages per session: 20.15
- Average session duration: 09:16
All three of those are very good numbers. Putting those numbers into words, it means that the average salesforce.com organic visitor makes a Google search using a branded term, lands on a Salesforce landing page, and then spends a lot of time looking at other pages on their website.
Now, it's HubSpot's turn. Looking just at their organic traffic, we find:
- Bounce rate: 58.22%
- Pages per session: 5.40
- Average session duration: 03:59
Quite a difference between HubSpot and Salesforce. HubSpot's bounce rate is higher, pages per session lower, and the average session duration is shorter. This means that an organic visitor to hubspot.com is more likely to just press the “back” button than they are to look at other pages on HubSpot's website.
The ultimate difference is that HubSpot uses organic traffic as a brand awareness play, while Salesforce does not. People become familiar with the HubSpot brand through organic search. People become familiar with Salesforce through different sources.
Salesforce has done the hard work of gaining attention elsewhere, while HubSpot prefers to do it through organic search. It's not a bad approach. It just means that HubSpot's organic traffic is always going to spend less time on HubSpot's website.
Regardless, this is a competition so...
The winner? Salesforce for their ability to keep organic visitors on their website much longer than HubSpot.
What can you learn from this?
Brand awareness is still a crucial piece of marketing. For Salesforce, it drives their organic strategy. For HubSpot, on the other hand, it's having a huge impact on the back of their content strategy. It seems that their brand awareness stems from their organic strategy, and it's working.
Let's tally up the final scores. There was no winner in round 1 since that was just setting the stage. Call it a pre-game warmup. Round 2 went to HubSpot for their incredibly high amount of organic traffic. Round 3 also went to HubSpot because their non-branded keywords are worth a ton of money. Salesforce won round 4, though, because of their ability to keep organic visitors on their website.
That gives HubSpot a 2 - 1 win and the organic traffic trophy.
*Update| A word about our access to the analytics and experiments shown here:
At the time of this analysis, we had access to behavioral data about how people interacted with websites, and we visualized that data through the Google Analytics tool. All related data has since been removed, and the service is no longer active.