This guide will help you to know if the paid HubSpot Ads Add-On will help your ecommerce business today, or if you want to hold off for later developments down the road and use what’s included in your plan for the Ads tool without the paid upgrade.

I couldn’t be more proud of our commitment to the HubSpot ecosystem. In 2015 our CEO, Dan, pushed us to integrate with HubSpot because he saw their growth from their inbound methodology and commitment to building functionality that solved marketers’ problems.

Over the last 4-plus years I’ve been nothing but impressed with how HubSpot handles innovation and development within their company culture. They let customer feedback drive their development and assemble autonomous, mini-startups within their company to experiment with new features and functionality that has allowed HubSpot to rapidly grow.

Today I’m discussing the use cases for the HubSpot “Ads” tool - both standard and the paid add-on - as it pertains to ecommerce because there are some ecommerce use cases it’s perfect for and others where it’s not a good fit (as of today’s writing).

Given HubSpot’s innovation culture, I’m sure that over the coming months and years the paid “Ads” tool will be improved to match more use cases of ecommerce.

Benefits of the Paid “Ads” Add-On (which won’t benefit most ecommerce use cases)

Lift Retargeting Audience Limits

The most common reason that I’ve seen ecommerce customers upgrade to the paid Ads tool is because of the retargeting audience limits. You can see the limits for Marketing Starter/Professional/Enterprise in the “Ad management” section, but as of this writing our most common Pro and Enterprise subscribers can sync up to 5 and 15 retargeting audiences to your ad platforms, respectively.

For most of our ecommerce merchants, this limited number of audiences is enough to cover most ecommerce lifecycle needs:

  • Maybe they’re syncing a retargeting audience of all prospects who’ve filled out a form for an info course or PDF but still haven’t bought.
  • Another common need is syncing a retargeting audience of non-customers who’ve abandoned a cart.
  • And because the repeat purchase rate of ecommerce is under 50% - with close to all businesses we’ve worked with - it can also be a good idea to retarget new customers on social with community-building onboarding and 2nd purchase offer content.

If the account limits don’t offer enough audiences, then the paid Ads Add-On can sync 50 additional audiences.

The other improvement is that audiences are synced hourly with the paid add-on, but without it they only sync once per day. (Once per day might be enough for most use cases, but if you’ve got a killer 2nd purchase or other offer you’re promoting through your retargeting you might want to remove contacts who re-purchase within an hour)

Lift Monthly Ad Spend Limits

The Ads tool has a spend limit of how much you can be spending across all of your connected ad platforms before functionality is blocked. Depending on your HubSpot plan your account will be limited if you’ve gone over that threshold within the last 30 days. It’s not reset on a monthly basis, it’s just looking at the last 30 rolling days.

Although upgrading to the paid Ads Add-On will lift this limit by $50K, here’s the thing: Tracking, reporting, lead syncing, and audience syncing are not affected when spend limit is reached.

There are only 2 things that you’re limited from doing once you hit your account’s 30-day ad spend limit:

  1. You can’t start/stop your running ads within HubSpot
  2. You can’t create a new ad within HubSpot

Unless you’re primarily running ads that do NOT contain products or product carousels, this will not be a problem for most ecommerce companies. This is really more of an issue for HubSpot’s traditional B2B customers who have products with longer sales cycles than ecommerce where managing your advertising from within HubSpot is more useful.

Truthfully, Facebook’s native ads tool is very good at handling shopping cart products and collections. When our subscribers are trying to get a contact back to their website to look at products, they’re usually better off building their ads in native Facebook or Google AdWords.

Seeing the Ad data in HubSpot is only really useful to ecommerce companies for Inbound reporting and segmentation, and none of that tracking and reporting gets limited when you go over your account’s 30-day spend limit.

So even if you see that warning banner on your ads dashboard every single month, all the reporting will still be there. Not having the paid Ads Add-On will only be an issue if you’re managing and creating your advertising from within HubSpot, which you likely won’t be doing as an ecommerce retailer.

Same Conversion Tracking And Reporting for ALL “Ads” Tools

I’d recommend reading this article on the available campaign metrics you can view within all Ads tool reporting, which will stay in place even if you go over your monthly Ads limit.

If you advertise on Facebook, you’ll see that HubSpot’s reporting numbers are different, which is common across any attribution tool (Facebook and your AdWords ecommerce numbers won’t match, either). Here is an article with a high level overview of HubSpot’s Ad attribution.

Terminology Confusion: “Conversion”

HubSpot’s Inbound marketing methodology is about helping more anonymous visitors organically find your company’s website content and then give them a reason to give over their information, switching them from an anonymous visitor to an actual business lead you can contact.

Broadly speaking, the Inbound methodology is an incredibly important concept for ecommerce because 99% of your website visitors will never buy, so you can improve your sales with two major buckets of activity:

  1. Improve that 1% sales rate: Provide intermediate “free” steps they can take along the way by trading their email and personal information with your business for information they’d value (topic-specific newsletters, free training products, information PDFs/video series, retail store extended warranty signups, discount codes, general newsletters, etc)

  2. Get more site visitors to improve the size of that 1% sales: Write and regularly (once a week, minimum) post quality content that your potential customers are already searching for that will lead them to your site as the answer. Covering the scope of helping them solve problems they have that will set you up as a subject matter export and build trust with you and your product solutions.

With this as background, the terminology issue is that most of the time HubSpot uses the word “conversion” on their knowledge base, blog, or this specific academy training video on the subject, they’re broadly describing any “moment when a website visitor takes a desired action."

For HubSpot, the word “conversion” can cover a broad range of activities that include form submissions, booking a meeting, clicking a link, etc. And a site visitor can have multiple “conversions” on their way to becoming a customer. A “conversion” is seen as one of many “checkpoints” in a sales funnel and a prospect can have multiple “conversion points” along the buyer’s journey so that a marketer can better problem solve the issues with their sales funnel.

Do you see how this is different from how we use “conversion” in ecommerce?

In ecommerce the word “conversion” is pretty much exclusively applied to the desired action of making a purchase on your shopping cart.

That’s it. It’s not going to be used in any other way in 90% of ecommerce writing. (Even in writing this section I had to go back and switch the phrases “1% conversion rate” to “1% sales rate” for clarity because the word “conversion” is so ubiquitously tied to sales in ecom)

Adopting HubSpot’s “Conversion” Definition in Analyzing Your Sales Funnels

It’s important to embrace HubSpot’s Inbound concept to think of “conversions” in terms of the multiple actions a visitor can take along the buyer’s journey because then it’s easier for you, as a marketer, to problem solve where sales are stopping or where visitors stop engaging.

This is a critical concept to the majority of HubSpot’s non-ecommerce B2B customers and even their ecommerce B2C customers that apply the Inbound content-heavy methodology.

Remember that when HubSpot uses the terms “conversion” all across their Ads documentation, what they are concerned with is measuring that first form submission that finally converted their anonymous UTK tracking cookie from a website visitor into an actual HubSpot contact with an email address. The form submission pairs the site tracking data with that email.

“Conversion” does NOT usually mean a website sale on your shopping cart. As of today, none of HubSpot’s 5 different Ads attribution models are really geared towards tracking shopping cart sales.

Ads Tool Accuracy Limitations For Tracking Ecommerce Sale

The paradigm for most of HubSpot’s customers is that they’re trying to use their Facebook/Google ads to get a visitor to their website and fill out a form for more information that starts a conversation and leads them down their funnel.

Most HubSpot users aren’t trying to get Facebook browsers straight from their website to a shopping cart purchase, so that’s why HubSpot’s Ads reporting is focused on measuring contacts created via from submissions.

Filling out a form for more info is the logical “step 2” that most HubSpot customers are trying to get their leads to achieve. Many of our Ecommerce merchants fit this model and also utilize a heavy amount of lead capture forms (info PDF's, discount coupon signups, followup request signups, extended warranty forms, etc).

Measuring the funnel stage of “site visitor -> form submission” is still a useful “conversion” point for tracking performance on your social campaigns, but that means that at this point there isn’t really an attribution model in the HubSpot Ads tool that works for Ecommerce. The Ads tool is focused on reporting contact creations and form submissions, and then revenue that comes later in the future from the contacts who submitted those forms because of an ad interaction.

As mentioned previously, there are 5 different attribution models in the HubSpot Ads tool. None of them track the “clicked an ad and then made a site purchase within the next day” model that we’re looking for in Ecommerce.

Facebook’s native ad reporting handles that “click ad then buy product” model very well, but the closest you can get in HubSpot’s Ads reporting tool is the “All form submissions” model. This model looks for any form submission that takes place during the same 30min session window after clicking the Ad.

To make sure you know, Unific also submits a webform via the API called the “Unific Customer Tracking Form”, and we do this each time an order is placed or the order status updates. This is what allows us to pair the anonymous website tracking cookie (the HubSpot UTK, or hubspotutk as discussed in this article) with the email address on that order record.

So Unific does submit a webform for every order that’s made, but due to the order in which API events can be fired and because of how the Ads tool reports, at this point, you can’t rely on the reporting, accurately, to measure sales.

Even in that broadest “All form submissions” attribution model, it relies on a 30min session window. It’s going to be extremely rare for someone who engages with your ad to go straight to buying on your shop (thus triggering the “Unific Customer Tracking Form”) within 30min. There will be a lot of site visitors who have clicked on an ad but, at best, will take a day or two to make their purchase decision.

Unless they fill out some other sort of form on your site before the purchase, there will be no accurate way for that customer to be tracked in the HubSpot Ads reporting tool.

There are three common columns in the HubSpot Ads reporting definitions that you’d want to understand, clearly, because they’ll also differ from how they’re used in Ecommerce:

  • "Contacts": This is going to be the total number of site visitors who went from anonymous to contact records by filling out a webform during the time window you’ve specified, and depending on which of the 5 attribution types you’re using.
  • "Customers": This is a subset of the previous “Contacts” group. It’s going to be the total people who counted in that previous “Contacts” definition who ALSO currently have the Lifecycle Stage of ‘Customer’. (It’s not reporting based on what day the Lifecylce Stage changed to Customer, it’s only looking at the web form conversion date that’s being measured by your attribution model, and then seeing that they also have the “Customer” lifecycle stage)
  • "Revenue": Again, this is a subset of the previous “Contacts” list, meaning those specific contacts who also have Deal revenue that’s “won”. If the customer has ecommerce Deals but they were never counted in that “Contacts” list based on the attribution model selected, then the revenues will never show for those contacts. (Again, there’s currently no HubSpot Reporting type that measures a straight "Ad Engage -> Shopify Sale", for example)

How to Use the Ads Dashboard as an Ecommerce Company

I’m confident that, at some point, HubSpot will implement a Facebook-like “who clicked then made a won Deal” attribution model, along with some methods for attribution decay - that will fit great for ecommerce.

In the meantime though, it’s still a great tool for measuring what’s intended using Inbound methodology; site visitors who make the jump from clicking an ad to filling out a form on your site.

That’s a reason why Facebook Lead Ads fit perfectly for the HubSpot Ads tool setup. And HubSpot enables varying degrees of Ads functionality all the way down to the free version of their software.

If you’ve got an Ecommerce business that requires education, relationship building, or even some purchase incentives in order to close that sale, then you’re in good company with many other HubSpot users who are using the Ads reporting to track the contact-creation conversion on their ads efforts.

You can use the Ads integration for re-targeting audiences, as well as keeping track of the early critical steps in your sales funnel where contacts “convert” by filling out forms and get to know your company.

For many ecommerce businesses with a longer sales cycle or products with a larger need for education using Inbound content, you’ll find HubSpot’s current Ads tool to be great at helping measure that part of the funnel.

Summary Conclusions (TL;DR)

HubSpot is awesome and they’ll keep developing their software into more ecommerce-centric use cases over time, including the ecommerce sales revenue reporting on the Ads tool.

The current Ads tool will be sufficient for 90% of ecommerce companies without needing to upgrade to the paid Add-On, as long as:

  • You’re using the reporting to primarily measure form submissions and lead entry points, not ecommerce website sales.
  • Inbound methodology means the word “conversion" refers to multiple checkpoints along your sales funnel, not just the end shopping cart sale.
  • You’re okay with ignoring the banner that you’re over your ads account spending limit on a monthly basis.
  • You don’t need more than 5-15 lists to retarget all of your lifecycle stages like Abandoned Cart, New Customers, submitted a lead form but hasn’t bought, etc. And you’re also okay with those lists updating daily rather than hourly.


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