Sales & Marketing Tech
Marketing Automation

How to Build a Marketing Automation Suite With Free Tools

Published by in Marketing Automation

Marketing automation is powerful. It’s a practice that separates great marketers from good ones. An effective marketing automation process can summon balloons of cash that fall magically from the sky on a monthly basis.

There’s just one problem: marketing automation tools can be expensive.

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If you are an entrepreneur just starting out, the price tag for tools like HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot and others are intimidating. These solutions can cost in excess of $3,000/mo!

Of course, there are lower cost solutions like Infusionsoft or Ontraport. But even at a few hundred dollars per month, it feels like a big commitment when you still don’t have any revenue.

Well, I come bearing gifts.

You can have your cake and eat it too. That’s right, I’m going to show you how to build a marketing automation suite in house for a whopping $0 per month!

The Ingredients of Marketing Automation

Let’s dive into the main ingredients of a marketing automation tool. I’m not saying this list is exhaustive, but it hits on the main features and functionality.

Content Management System (CMS): A content management system is the brain of your website. It lets you add new pages or blog posts and edit content without having to use any code.

What we’ll use: WordPress

WordPress is free and ubiquitous. The code is open-source, which means a lot of people contribute to making it better over time. WordPress can power your entire website and there’s tons of extensions (free and paid) that make it even more effective for a modern marketer.

Most web hosting companies have deep integrations with WordPress so that you can install it with just one click. Again, no real technical knowledge is needed to find your way around.

Email Marketing:  Delivering the right messages to specific segments of your list is a crucial component of marketing automation. Most experts agree, one of the most profitable digital channels is still email!

What we’ll use: MailChimp

MailChimp is 100% free to use when you send 2,000 or less emails per month. It integrates directly with WordPress, so you can quickly deploy forms on your website that let people opt-in to your mailing list…again without knowing any code.

The autoresponder feature is a premium option (for the $10/mo plan), but you can get by without it in the beginning of your marketing efforts.

Beyond sending messages to your list, you can also use MailChimp as a way to “gate” content. A hallmark of inbound marketing is giving away resources for free in exchange for a visitor’s contact information. With the MailChimp plugin, you can easily redirect visitors to a download page once they’ve completed the necessary form.

Analytics:  Any marketing automation plan worth its salt is driven by accurate data. But you don’t need a fancy enterprise level dashboard to get the metrics that you need to be successful.

What we’ll use: Google Analytics

Google Analytics is easy to install. It will take you about 5 minutes to copy/paste the tracking code into your site through WordPress. Google Analytics will then tell you how many people are visiting your site, what content they’ve viewed, and how they’ve found you in the first place.

I’ve worked with billion dollar companies who use Google Analytics, so don’t feel like you are scraping the bottom of the barrel by using it!

Social Media Management:  Your social media presence is never something that can be 100% automated, even with a high priced marketing automation tool. Effective social media marketers interact in real time. That said, you can, and should, automate the practice of content “curation”. That is, finding and sharing content that you didn’t create but that you audience will find helpful.

What we’ll use: Buffer

Buffer is a way for you automatically schedule and post interesting things you find around the web. From one place, you can automatically post to major social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. You pre-determine the times of day things should post and Buffer automatically ensures that your content publishes at those specific times.

As a bonus, Buffer will also show you which social posts got the most engagement, so that you can hone in on what your audience cares about the most.

A/B Testing Landing Pages:  A/B testing is the practice of optimizing for a specific objective by comparing two different versions of a page, title, etc. It’s usually used for improving the effectiveness of landing pages.

What we’ll use: Google Analytics Experiments

Not many people know this, But Google Analytics gives you an easy and effective way to A/B test landing pages and it’s completely free. This tutorial gives a far better explanation that I have room to do in this post, so check it out!

Weaving Everything Together

The challenge of using so many different tools is feeling like nothing is working together. But that’s where the power of WordPress comes back into play. Remember how I mentioned that the platform keeps getting better of time? Thousands of developers have created plugins (extensions) that connect your collection of web tools. These plugins create a nice integration so that you don’t even need to login to the other services on a regular basis. Check out the diagram below:

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Nothing can ever completely replace the power of marketing automation software that is dedicated to the very tasks that we are trying to emulate here. There are certainly features that you can’t copy with what I’ve laid out above.

For example, Infusionsoft’s lead scoring system that tells you when leads are ready to be contacted by a sales person. Or HubSpot’s smart forms, which pre-fill visitor’s information into forms if they’ve visited the page and filled out a form in the past (making it easier for them to opt-in).

But when you are just starting out, sometimes it’s better to build a homegrown system to get a feel for how everything works together.

Either way, you will only get out what you put in!

Looking for Marketing Automation software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Marketing Automation software solutions.

About the Author

Joshua Sturgeon

Joshua Sturgeon

Josh Sturgeon is the founder of the content marketing platform Ripenn. His work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Wired, and SocialMediaToday. He loves startups, surfing and meeting creative people who reject the status quo.


Comment by Madilyn Abbie on

Thanks for the piece-by- piece breakdown of how you’ve set up your own marketing automation system. As an alternative to the methods you’ve chosen, I’d like to quickly mention GetResponse, which is the program I’ve been using. It’s not free, but it’s cheap, and there’s also a free trial.


Comment by Insphyre Performance on

Thank you, Joshua, for this super helpful list. I have been using a few of these, but will add in buffer and see how that works in the mix.

Comment by Jeremie Sterlin on

this is extremely useful. I’m just getting into the game and learning this stuff from the ground up is a great way to start. Much appreciated


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