A Crash Course in Inbound Marketing and How it Can Help A Business Grow

By Kendall Pope

Whether you are familiar with the term “inbound marketing” or not, you probably are familiar with all of the elements that comprise inbound marketing. While inbound marketing is not a new idea, the term itself is rather new (in the scheme of things). Essentially, inbound marketing is a way of grouping all the digital channels that your organization has direct control over and paying special attention to those channels in an effort to drive awareness, sales, and brand advocates.  

The digital channels that we have the most control over would be your organization’s website. For that reason, a lot of inbound marketing happens on your website, be it in the form of blogs, ebooks, videos, webinars, white pages, and the list goes on. The purpose of this activity is two-fold: 1) increase your digital footprint across search engines and 2) give your visitors more helpful information on your website.  

The hope is that when those two things are achieved, visitors will be able to move through the buyer’s journey. Which is a simple way of saying that when I do a Google search about couch covers, I find your blog about cat-friendly materials for couches. Then, after spending some more time on your site, reading about your cat friendly couches, I decide to write into your chat feature, talk with a sales rep and order your store. Through your inbound marketing efforts, a blog post sparked a sale.  

The most obvious contrast would be a sale that comes from an advertisement. That form of marketing, for the sake of contrast, we can call outbound marketing.  

In addition to your website, marketing emails are social media posts fall under the umbrella of inbound marketing. That’s because they are digital platforms that are mostly under your control. But they also offer the same mindset as your website, which is best summed up by the term engagement. Inbound marketing is focused on engaging your potential buyers and helping educate them through buying process. This is different than a TV commercial which is trying to allure people to you. Or a sales call, which is trying to drive a purchase. Inbound works to engage a person to learn more about your industry and come to conclusions on their own.

Content Marketing Versus Inbound Marketing 

In addition to inbound, you’ve likely heard this term: content marketing. With content marketing and inbound marketing having similar definitions, it’s easy to assume they are the same. Let’s review the industry definitions first, and then we’ll get into the finer details. 

  • HubSpot describes inbound marketing as a holistic, data-driven approach to marketing that focuses on creating quality content that attracts individuals to your brand and converts them into lasting customers.
  • The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, drive profitable customer action. 

Some marketers believe one strategy is a subset of the other. Some believe the two strategies are one and the same. There are also those who believe one strategy is better than the other. The truth is, the two are not the same and it’s more important to understand how they work together. The approach you use is dependent on your business goals—and the truth is, they work better together. 

Content marketing is about the creation and distribution of quality content to a well-researched, defined audience. The content should be educational, provide value, and offer a solution to the reader’s problem without containing any sales-focused language. It’s about attracting and educating your readers, building trust, and getting your customers to think about your company as a solution to their problem. Content can be digital or non-digital; the most important factor is it’s helpful to your audience (not salesy). Content marketing creates value, elevates perception, drives awareness, and builds trust. 

Content is the fuel of an inbound campaign. Without content, an inbound campaign would be difficult to execute. From a steady, consistent stream of blog posts and the messages on your website, to downloadable ebooks and online videos, content generation is essential to every inbound marketing campaign. 

Inbound marketing can be understood in three ways: as a philosophy (why), a methodology (how), and as a tool set (the game plan). It’s about creating content that attracts individuals to your brand that you can then convert, close, and delight over time. This philosophy is backed by a methodology for creating content designed to help a business attract, convert, close, and delight visitors, leads, and customers through various tools and channels. The inbound methodology aligns tools and content with the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel. It also focuses on measurement and data—and how to “nurture” your prospects, once they’ve interacted with your content, into becoming customers. It’s the methodology that empowers marketers to create content that their prospects want, publish the content at the right time in the buyer’s journey, and share it in the right place. 

In simple terms, content marketing and inbound marketing both focus on creating valuable, educational content for your target audience. Content marketing will help you build credibility and trust with your audience. It may also help you increase your website traffic and leads. If you’re looking to increase your revenue and hit sales goals, a comprehensive inbound marketing program and strong content strategy together will help you to align your marketing and sales initiatives and hit those goals, following the inbound methodology. 

Inbound Marketing & Lead Generation 

Most of the time, inbound is not purely a brand awareness initiative. Driving traffic to your website and getting eyes on your content can be helpful. But most businesses want to use inbound marketing as a way to generate new audience members and yield new and repeating customers. Driving users to your website with the sole purpose of converting them into sales is called lead generation or lead gen, for short.  

What is a lead? A lead is a person who has in some way indicated interest in your company. A website visitor becomes a lead when he or she submits a form with his or her contact information. 

What is lead generation? Lead generation is about finding unique ways to attract potential customers to your business and convert them into leads. Once a visitor becomes a lead, the goal is to nurture that lead with relevant, useful content over time. Because the prospect shows organic interest in your business, they start the relationship with you— instead of you starting it with them. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to lead generation; however, there are a few essential ingredients every lead generation campaign needs: an offer, a landing page, a lead-capture form, and a call-to-action. 

This may sound obvious but understanding your audience and their needs is the first and most important step to inbound lead generation. The most successful campaigns start with buyer personas and focus on the buyer’s journey. To get found online and generate more leads in 2016, you need to deliver content that will appeal to the right people, in the right place, at the right time. To start, take some time to build one or two primary personas. You can always develop more in the future if you need to. 

Although acquiring more leads might be your top priority this year, generating leads may not be the actual issue. Let me explain. When lead generation campaigns perform poorly, there’s typically an issue somewhere within the marketing funnel. Oftentimes, you can fix lead generation issues by addressing other problems (e.g., website traffic and conversions). 

Inbound & Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 

If you’ve been doing any research into digital marketing, you’ve likely encountered the acronym SEO. Short for “Search Engine Optimization,” SEO is essentially a set of best practices that helps search engines like Google read and rank your site. Ideally, you will rank highly for a set of keywords that directly relate to the type of business you provide. But it’s not always that easy.  

For a few years, SEO and inbound were so wrapped up together that it seemed impossible that they ever would split. As time goes on, however, they are more like ship passing in the night than they are bedmates. That said, the principles of inbound, done without regard of SEO is a shipwreck waiting to happen.  

I like to use blogs as an example for how the two are related. In short, a blog is an inbound marketing technique that helps your SEO. For that reason, a blog is also an SEO tool.  

So how does it work? Google uses a complex and elusive algorithm to read and sort pages on your website. Authority on a subject is increasingly becoming an important ranking feature.  

But how do you gain authority? There are two main ways to do this. The first is through creating content on your website about a subject. If you have several web pages on a single topic, you are more likely to be seen as an authority on that subject. But you cannot merely duplicate pages. Search engines look for spam and copied pages and penalize sites that use these tactics. 

A blog, however, helps you generate new material and discuss, in detail, several topics related to your business. This allows you to diversify your keywords and build out unique content to help you gain authority in a few key subjects related to the work your company does. 

Blogs help you diversify your keyword set on more pages and gain more authority through inbound links. All of this allows you to rank higher in search engines, which means more people will find you. They are an inbound effort that helps you optimize your site for search.  

Other ways optimize your site may include adding meta-descriptions, image and video alt-text, and other code-based tactics. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) while often a large part of lead generation campaign, can also impact SEO. 

Building an Inbound Campaign  

To ensure your hard work pays off, there are a few essential elements that every inbound campaign must have: 

A strong strategy and flawless execution 

Unfortunately, poor execution of a good strategy is no better than excellent execution of a bad strategy. If you dedicate the time and resources to ensuring both strategy and execution are strong, you won’t regret it. If your team is strapped for time (like most teams are), consider partnering with an agency that can work as an extension of your team. 

An inbound marketing website 

Buyer behavior has changed—meaning, if you’re working with an?outdated website, you’re not going to be successful. Since a website is the foundation to every good inbound marketing strategy, it’s critical your website at least has the following elements: a professional design, a structure that supports inbound elements (i.e., CTA placement, social share and follow buttons, landing pages, lead capture, form integration), a strong message on every page, a blog that’s updated consistently with new content, analytics tracking, and a simple to use and understand top navigation. If your website doesn’t fulfill the criteria mentioned above, it may be time to consider a redesign. What’s the point of a website if it can’t help you achieve your business goals? 

Engaging content 

Inbound marketing cannot exist without content (and various types of content). To attract visitors to your website, you must blog regularly—the more you blog (quality posts, of course), the better your results will be. To convert website visitors into leads, you must offer educational, downloadable content (whitepapers, Ebooks, tip sheets, templates, infographics, presentations, webinars, and videos). This mix of content is essential for inbound success. 

A healthy social presence 

Having a strong social presence will make a world of difference to your inbound marketing program. By publishing blog posts and content offers to your social channels, your company’s social channels become valuable resources for clients, customers, prospects, and friends. If you want to gain credibility, increase visibility, and become a valued resource, you must have a healthy social presence. 

Inbound marketing is a philosophy (why), a methodology (how), and a tool set (the game plan). While there are other tactics that contribute to a strong inbound marketing program that generates leads, these four elements are absolutely required if you’re thinking about exploring an inbound marketing program for your business.