If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you’ve heard the term “inbound marketing’ numerous times. However, do you really know what it means and how to use it to drive more business your way? If you’re not quite clear about this, don’t panic. We’ll break it all down for you and tell you what inbound marketing is, why it’s so important and how you can use it to build your brand and generate more leads and sales.
What is Inbound Marketing?
“Inbound” is a term that’s frequently used but not always defined or explained. In a broad sense, an inbound marketing strategy is one that attracts leads and customers with techniques such as creating helpful content, answering questions, and optimizing your website with the search engines. This differs from traditional outbound marketing which reaches out to customers with methods such as untargeted advertising, cold calling, direct mail.
Top Benefits of Inbound Marketing
Here are some of the main advantages of inbound marketing.
- Highly targeted. Inbound marketers do niche and keyword research to identify the issues their customers care most about. TV commercials or ads in print magazines are typical examples of outbound marketing. While these types of ads are sometimes effective, you don’t have as many options for targeting as with inbound methods.
- Cost-effective. Targeted campaigns are generally less expensive than broader ones. You don’t have to reach everyone, only your selected audience.
- Measurable results. You can track analytics for all your major inbound goals such as traffic, conversions, email open rates, social media engagement, and more. This is another reason inbound is cost-effective as tracking data lets you improve your results over time.
- Non-intrusive. Many people are tired of traditional advertising. Some even use technology such as ad blockers to avoid them. Inbound marketing is based on providing information and answering questions so it feels less like an interruption.
- Builds authority. Inbound marketing is often more effective than advertising for building trust and credibility. When you create informative blog posts, social media posts, videos, or other content you display your knowledge and expertise.
These are some of the reasons that businesses can enjoy solid ROI as well as an enhanced reputation with inbound marketing. At the same time, inbound isn’t always a stand-alone strategy. There’s still a place for outbound marketing especially when you combine it with inbound techniques. When you measure the performance of all your marketing tactics, whether inbound or outbound, you can identify what works best for you.
Creating Your Inbound Marketing Strategy
How do you go about forming an effective inbound marketing strategy for your business?
It helps to be clear about your objectives for inbound marketing. These may include:
- Getting more leads. Inbound tactics can be extremely effective for building a mailing list or enticing people to call you or visit your brick and mortar locations. For example, you can entice people to complete an opt-in form on a webpage, email for newsletter or download.
- Selling products. While inbound techniques are more about providing information than directly selling, they can motivate customers to visit your sales or product pages.
- Build brand awareness. Inbound is especially good for spreading the word and controlling the narrative about your brand. You can do this by creating strong content, generating traffic to your web pages and building social media engagement.
For marketing campaigns to proceed smoothly, it has to be clear who will be doing what. Whether it’s one person or a dedicated team, make sure everyone is clear about his or her responsibilities. For teams, it’s important to have an efficient line of communication open at all times to avoid confusion and redundancy. Team members need to be accountable and inform the right people when tasks are completed.
In some cases, it’s more advantageous to outsource inbound marketing. Small businesses without a dedicated marketing department, for example, may lack the time and expertise to perform the necessary tasks for content marketing, social media, email marketing, and other inbound tasks. You might also handle certain tasks yourself and outsource others. This balance might change over time based on your results. It’s important to understand your capabilities and time constraints when it comes to handling such projects on your own. It’s easy to underestimate the scope of developing a comprehensive inbound strategy.
Understand Your Audience
How well you know your audience is one of the most vital factors that determine the results of your marketing efforts. As we noted, precise targeting is one of the main advantages of inbound marketing. Yet to do this effectively, you must have a clear idea of whom you’re targeting. Otherwise, you may as well use less targeted, outbound tactics. There are a few essential points to clarify about your audience.
Create a buyer persona. A buyer persona is a fictional yet useful representation of your “typical” customer. You want to understand who your customers are, what problems they face, and what solutions are most appealing to them. You can gather this information by doing demographic research. You might find, for example, that a beauty product you’re marketing is most likely to appeal to suburban women between the ages of 35-55 who have an annual income of at least $50,000. You can gather more specific information by engaging with your readers and followers on social media. You might conduct polls and ask questions on your blog. Some businesses may have multiple buyer personas. An airline, for example, is likely to have several types of customers such as business and leisure travelers. They will launch different campaigns for each type of customer.
When researching your audience, you’ll want to learn where they spend their time online. Which social media platforms do they use most frequently? You can take an educated guess about this based on demographic research. Facebook is popular with all demographics. However, LinkedIn is a professional network that’s primarily for B2B marketing. The majority of Pinterest users are women (though this is gradually changing). Younger customers are likely to spend lots of time on YouTube, Instagram, and SnapChat. While these are some general principles, you always have to test your results on various platforms. You can also gain this type of information by observing your competition. We’ll get more into “spying” on your competitors in the section on social listening.
Communicating the Value of Inbound Marketing to Managers
Whether you need a budget to hire more help, purchase services or software, or hire an agency to perform certain tasks it’s often necessary to convince managers or your CEO that inbound marketing is a worthwhile investment. You can start by explaining some of the leading benefits of inbound marketing. However, senior management is impressed with specific plans and numbers.
- Align your marketing strategy with the company’s goals. Explain that inbound marketing tactics can help you obtain more leads and customers. Recite numbers that support your claim. For example, the Content Marketing Institute reports that content marketing generates three times as many leads as outbound marketing while costing 62% less.
- Create forecasts of projected results. For each goal, compile a projection on the results you expect to achieve. You might forecast how many additional website visitors you expect to get through SEO or how many leads you expect to acquire with email marketing.
- Be realistic. Don’t be overly optimistic about your projections. Keep your projections realistic. You should also make it clear that many inbound marketing tactics take time. It often takes at least 3 months before any progress is seen and it may be closer to 12 months for the full impact of a campaign to be felt.
- Use case studies. Case studies are one of the best tools to argue your case. Find examples of companies in your industry that have seen impressive results from inbound marketing. It’s also helpful if you can point to companies using the specific strategies you’re pitching. For example, if you want to launch an influencer marketing campaign, look for case studies that back your claims.
- Analyze the competition. If you can show that your competitors are getting solid results from inbound marketing this will be a strong incentive for senior managers to get on board. No one wants to be left behind.
Justifying your marketing plans and budget is an ongoing process. Once you get the green light to move forward, managers will expect regular reports on your progress.
A Look at Some of the Top Inbound Marketing Tactics
Now it’s time to delve into some of the actual tactics you can implement for your inbound marketing campaigns.
Content marketing is really the central focus of inbound marketing. It includes or overlaps with every inbound strategy. “Content” is anything you create to inform or entertain your audience. Originally, this generally meant written content such as blog posts and articles. Now, however, it increasingly includes video, images, and other visual content. It also includes other platforms and channels such as podcasts and webinars. Here are some examples of content you can create to engage your prospects and customers.
- Blogging. Your blog is one of the most powerful content marketing tools of all. As the Huffington Post reports, businesses that blog get 67% more leads than those that don’t. Blogging really embodies all of the advantages of inbound marketing. It helps build your brand, gives you a way to engage with readers, and helps you rank in the search engines.
- Video. As visual content gets more popular, video is now one of the best ways to reach your audience. Research indicates that people retain more information by watching videos than by reading. According to Insivia, people retain 95% of what they watch in a video but only 10% of what they read in text format. Another benefit of videos is that they can be posted in so many places. Once you have a video, you can place it on your website, YouTube, Facebook, and any other social media sites you use. There are also many types of videos that can be tailored to a variety of purposes. Animation and whiteboard videos can explain products and concepts in an entertaining way. Videos in which you appear in front of the camera are good for engaging viewers. Live stream videos let viewers participate and talk to you in real-time.
- E-books. Publishing books is a powerful way to build your authority. With digital platforms such as Kindle, you can include links in your books.
- Podcasts. Podcasting is a quickly growing phenomenon. Podcasting is useful for providing insights and interviewing experts in your industry. Podcasts are published as audio files that can be easily shared on your website and on social media.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO and content marketing are closely related. One of the benefits of posting content is to get it indexed by Google and other search engines. Google has made it harder to rank your site with SEO gimmicks such as generating lots of backlinks or keyword stuffing (filling content with many keywords). Instead, sites are now rewarded primarily for offering valuable content to searchers. Still, there are some SEO factors worth implementing.
- On-page SEO. Many aspects of your website such as title tags, user-friendly navigation, and page loading speed affect your ranking. If your site runs on WordPress, you can manage many of these elements from your dashboard and by using SEO plugins such as Yoast.
- Local SEO. If you have a brick-and-mortar business or serve people in a specific area, you need to consider ranking locally. Listings in Google My Business and other directories is essential. It’s also helpful to generate local reviews for your business.
- Links. While Google will penalize you for generating lots of low-quality backlinks, it’s still beneficial to link in a natural way. Both inbound and outbound links to authoritative and relevant sites are useful. Internal linking between your own posts and pages is also good for SEO. Note that many inbound tactics such as creating strong content and engaging with your audience on social media will help you generate links.
- Mobile-friendliness. You must ensure your website is mobile-friendly, both for your customers and the search engines. Using responsive design ensures that users on all devices can access your content. You can perform your own tests or use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
Email marketing embodies some of the most notable strengths of inbound marketing. Salesforce estimates that the ROI for email marketing is $38 for every dollar spent. An email list gives you a way to contact subscribers according to your own schedule. Your list is something over which you have complete control, independent of SEO or the algorithms of Google or Facebook. It’s also one of the best ways to develop trust and loyalty. Of course, the best way to use email marketing is in conjunction with other inbound methods. Your messages can link to your website, offers, social media pages, and any content you want people to see.
- To get people to subscribe to your list you need to provide a strong incentive. A lead magnet such as a report, e-book, or coupon gives people a reason to provide their email address. Make sure your offer is highly targeted to your audience and provides real value. Your objective is to develop a relationship with your new subscriber. You can’t do this if your lead magnet is just a gimmick to grab their email address.
- Create a newsletter. The newsletter format is a good way to provide value and use your list to build your brand’s authority. It’s fairly simple to create a professional newsletter with today’s tools. Use a template that reflects your company’s style and include your logo. Send it out on a schedule that works for you whether it’s weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
- Always include a clear call-to-action (CTA) in your emails. Whether you want to send subscribers to your latest blog post, a product page, or announce an upcoming promotion it’s essential to suggest an action. Make sure your links are highly visible. An eye-catching button for your CTA is more noticeable than an ordinary text link.
Social media has become an integral part of inbound marketing. With the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, people are spending more and more time on social sites. There are several ways to use social media to benefit your business.
- Part of your content marketing. You can publish (or link to) authoritative content to your pages. LinkedIn lets you publish articles that can get indexed by Google. Instagram and Pinterest are great for sharing visual content. YouTube, which is also a social media site, is the premier video-sharing site.
- Customer service. Customers increasingly expect businesses to offer support via social media. As Adweek notes, people who receive responses to questions on social media are more likely to make purchases and spend more than they otherwise would. Social media is also useful to answer questions about products customers have already bought.
- Engagement. Social media gives you a way to connect with customers, show your appreciation, and answer their questions. While this can be done via other channels, many people today prefer interacting on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. You can build engagement by posting polls and creating contests. Facebook and Instagram are particularly suited for contests. For example, many companies run contests where subscribers send in photos or videos featuring their products.
Research social media demographics to find out where your audience is. However, you also have to track your results and find out which platforms provide the best results.
Can Advertising be Inbound?
Advertising is generally associated with traditional outbound marketing and in many cases, it indeed falls into this category. TV commercials, radio ads, print ads, direct mail, for example, are all outbound. Online advertising tactics such as banner ads are similarly outbound because they are untargeted. However, there are also inbound advertising platforms that qualify as inbound because of how they target customers based on specific topics and keywords.
Google AdWords, Facebook, and other PPC platforms target consumers in a manner similar to organic content. People see these ads based on web searches or, on sites such as Facebook, based on their demographics or interests. Social media sites are also increasingly using native and sponsored ads which blend with organic content. Finally, retargeted ads are shown to website visitors who have already expressed an interest in a topic or product.
Whether you consider such targeted advertising as inbound or outbound is ultimately a matter of definition. However, the fact remains that targeted paid advertising can help you accelerate your inbound marketing. Whereas tactics such as social media, email, and content marketing take time to build up, paid advertising is a way to get traffic quickly.
Social Listening and Monitoring
Social media listening and monitoring help you create a more effective and targeted inbound strategy. These two terms are similar but not exactly the same. Social monitoring involves watching (or monitoring) social media for mentions of your brand. When you find these, you can respond as needed. Social listening is broader in scope and includes any topic relevant to your business. In this context, “social” goes beyond social media and includes anything on the web (news stories, discussion forums, websites, etc.). Here are some ways that you can use both to enhance your inbound marketing campaigns.
- Reputation management. Social monitoring is essential for managing your reputation nowadays. You’ll want to watch comments and reviews for your business so you can respond appropriately. Be sure to monitor any sites where customers are likely to leave reviews such as Yelp, Google, Facebook, and Yellow Pages. Don’t overlook industry-specific review sites such as Angie’s List, Glassdoor, Manta, and others. Responding to reviews needs to be handled with delicacy. Thank people who praise you. When someone has a complaint or problem do everything you can to solve it. Avoid getting into debates or arguments as this reflects poorly on you. For complex issues, invite the reviewer to contact you offline.
- Watch the competition. Social listening is a good way to keep up with your competitors. Follow them on social media, read their blogs, set alerts for brand mentions. You can learn from their mistakes as well as get inspiration from their victories.
- Follow news and trends. Social listening can help keep you up to the minute on the latest happenings relevant to your industry. If some new technology is about to create a disruption, you want to be among the first to know about it. You can also learn about product and design trends to help you create more popular products in the future.
You can conduct basic social monitoring and listening by setting Google Alerts. There are also more advanced tools to help you gain deeper insights and uncover more discussions.
Sales Funnels and the Buyer’s Journey
A sales funnel is a tool that utilizes several types of marketing. It often blends email, social media, content marketing and even advertising (sales funnels can include outbound as well as inbound techniques). An effective sales funnel guides your customer through the traditional buyer’s journey. This is made up of three main stages: awareness, consideration, and purchase. Let’s see how your inbound marketing strategy can work for each of these stages.
- Awareness. Your prospect sees a blog post, video, ad, or something else you’ve created. This is information related to a certain need, interest, or problem he or she is facing. Making targeted prospects aware of your business is the essence of inbound marketing. Someone enters your sales funnel if they take an action such as requesting information. This might mean filling out an opt-in form, ordering a free sample, or calling you for more information.
- Consideration. During this phase, prospects are considering different options to fill their need or solve their problem. This is the time to provide them with more in-depth information. Downloadable information products such as e-books or white papers are useful for this purpose. So are webinars and other online training.
- Decision. At this point, prospects are ready to buy. Case studies and reports that break down the features and benefits of specific options are useful at this point.
In practice, the three stages overlap. You should also realize that the same types of content (e.g. blog posts, videos, reports) can be used at each stage. What differs is the type of information you include at each stage. More general information is appropriate at the awareness phase. In the consideration and decision phases, you’ll want to provide more specifics. The buyer’s journey is not an exact science. It is, however, a useful model that helps you supply the right kind of content to prospects at the right time.
Measure Your Results
If you want your inbound marketing efforts to yield success, you must track your results. Analytics is a crucial aspect of content, email, and social media marketing. Fortunately, there are many effective tools for tracking your inbound campaigns.
- Set measurable goals. One of the first inbound marketing principles we stated was the need to set goals. One reason for this is that it gives you something quantifiable to measure. You might seek to increase traffic, leads, social media mentions, or sales.
- Start with free analytics tools. Google Analytics is a powerful free tool that lets you track useful website metrics. Social media sites all have built-in analytics. Facebook Insights lets you track not only your own stats but those of any Facebook page which is great for monitoring the competition.
- Don’t emphasize vanity metrics. Certain metrics look impressive at first glance but don’t necessarily translate into tangible results. That’s why clicks, impressions, and social media likes or shares are sometimes called vanity metrics. This doesn’t mean these numbers have no value. They are easy to track and can help you gauge interest in your content. However, you should recognize the limitations of vanity metrics and understand that your managers are more concerned with sales qualified leads (SQL), cost-per-lead (CPL), and customer acquisition cost (CAC).
- Monitor the competition. Some analytics tools let you “spy” on your competitors. As noted, Facebook Insights lets you do this with Facebook pages. You can also find your competitors’ SEO (e.g. top keywords), website traffic, backlinks, and paid campaigns.
Continue to Evolve Your Inbound Marketing Strategy
Inbound marketing is constantly changing due to many factors. Your marketing strategy needs to be informed by technological advances, Google’s latest algorithms, feedback from your customers, your own metrics, the competition, and industry trends. Here are some final points to keep in mind as you continue to refine and evolve your inbound marketing strategy.
Think of every campaign as an experiment. You can learn as much from your failures as from your successes. Test as many variables as possible such as keywords, headlines, time of day to post, and engagement on different platforms.
- Don’t get overly attached to a certain platform or tactic. What works today might not work next month and vice versa. It’s worthwhile to periodically revisit older approaches and test new ones.
- Consistency is one of the most important factors for all types of inbound marketing. Stick to your schedule for posting content, sending emails, and any other methods you employ. The more consistent you are, the easier it is to build authority and a loyal following.
- Inbound techniques work best when combined. Just about every inbound tactic we’ve covered works best as part of a holistic strategy. Strong content helps you rank better in the search engines. More traffic to your blog and social media sites helps you grow your email list.
- Inbound marketing takes time and results are cumulative. As you publish more content, your website will start to rank better. More engagement on social media means more followers and shares. A growing email list helps you generate more leads and sales. One way to jumpstart your results is to combine inbound and outbound techniques. You might, for example, send traffic to your digital properties with offline advertising. Paid digital campaigns can also help you see faster results.
RedShift provides customized inbound marketing services to help you communicate the uniqueness of your brand and find more leads and customers. To learn more about our services contact us.