Introduction to Inbound Marketing
The digital age has connected people and information on a global scale. Giving rise to the modern digitally savvy consumer and changing the way we do business forever.
With products, services, and solutions readily available online, the moats that business once constructed and enjoyed, are now easily hurdled as consumers move freely between offerings.
In this digital environment, the feverish pace of information has exponentially increased competition for an ever shrinking amount of available consumer attention.
What’s more, modern customers are more discerning, informed, and aware of their incredible consumer authority.
The old ways of outbound marketing and generating awareness are becoming expensive, ineffectual, and obsolete.
Organizations must market their products and services in ways that are seamlessly interwoven into the modern customer’s journey.
This requires finding ways to offer value, build rapport, and generate conversations with the consumer on their terms, rather than attempting to disrupt and distract.
If you want to grow your business in this modern era, while creating an authentic brand that’s seen as an authority and loved by customers, Inbound Marketing holds the solution.
Inbound Marketing 101
“The biggest requirement is a shift in mindset from creating messages that talk about us to creating content that solves problems for the people we want to reach.”
– Ann Handley, Head of Content at Marketing Profs
What Is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a modern digital marketing strategy that attracts prospects to your website and nurtures leads by focusing on relevant, helpful, and high-quality content that speaks to customer needs and discerns intent.
It is the polar opposite of traditional outbound (or “broadcast”) methodologies as it focuses on “pulling” customers to your brand on their terms and as their needs arise.
Gone are the days of endlessly “pushing” out short-term, high-cost, and low value ads in the hope of distracting your customers long enough to imprint your brand.
Inbound marketing builds awareness by creating informative, engaging, and useful content that consumers search out to solve their problems—thus promoting your brand and solution.
Through value-filled engagements and content, consumers willingly ingest your content all the while fostering trust and cultivating lasting relationships that generate customer advocates.
It’s no wonder that inbound marketing has been found to be significantly more effective than its traditional counterparts.
Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing
Inbound marketing is the modern approach to generating customer awareness and does so by leveraging your website as an information authority to create a digital watering hole (or “hub”).
Through the creation of valuable and educational content—current and future customers are provided with insights and answers to their questions. This creates a more informed and aware consumer, who is better equipped to make decisions and discern their own best course of action.
As you continue to provide valuable content and information to savvy shoppers, they will repeatedly return to you as an authority on the subject. This fosters brand awareness and builds loyalty. When consumers are ready to make a buying decision—you’ll be top of mind.
Examples of inbound marketing content and tactics includes:
- Social Media
- Online Events (e.g. webinars)
- Inbound Email (e.g. newsletters)
Inbound boils down to:
- Create valuable content
- Customers will find your content
- Customers will engage and demonstrate “intent” (by exchanging contact information)
- Your sales team can engage with high-quality leads
This process of discerning intent through content generates highly qualified leads that convert at higher success rates than what is produced by traditional (“outbound”) methods. As such, inbound marketing has some of the highest returns on investment (ROI) and provides a whole slew of additional brand benefits.
Outbound Marketing on the other hand, is a term for more traditional forms of marketing that we have all grown… annoyed with.
Outbound seeks to disrupt, obstruct, and distract potential customers—invading their lives and attention spans in hopes of gaining their attention.
Outbound methods are less effective at motivating customers to action because—in most cases—they don’t speak to a customer’s current focus or objectives.
Outbound marketing methods include:
- Trade Shows
- Email Blasts to purchased lists
- Cold Calling
- Advertisements (banners, television, radio, etc.)
These efforts attempt to cast a wide net over a large audience in the hopes of even a small return. Due to the nature of outbound approaches—they are more costly, less effective, and have a lower return on investment (ROI) than Inbound Marketing.
Why Inbound Marketing?
Why is inbound marketing so effective?
Inbound marketing is incredibly effective at growing traffic, generating leads, and converting customers for a number of reasons.
First, modern consumers are inundated with a mind-numbing amount of ads.
“A market research firm, estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today. About half the 4,110 people surveyed last spring by Yankelovich said they thought marketing and advertising today was out of control.” (source)
Ad fatigue makes people less perceptive and appreciative of these intrusions which results in outbound ads being less persuasive.
Second, as consumer tolerance to distraction grows, these disruption methods decrease in effectiveness. This has forced marketers to cast wider and wider nets over larger sections of the population—or pay expensive sums in attempts to target increasingly specific segments of ideal customers.
Third, These invasions have grown so ubiquitous that there are now entire industries designed around helping people block out “the ad men.”
TiVo, for instance, is beloved solely for the “skip commercials” function.
This arms race between ad blockers and commercials has inflated the price of ad execution—further lowering the ROI.
Lastly—with the proliferation of available services and products—modern consumers increasingly seek out multiple sources of information before making a purchase decision.
According to Google’s Zero Moment of Truth study back in 2011, “consumers consulted an average of 10.4 sources before buying; this is twice the number of sources consulted just the year before”… and it’s been 9 more years since this survey.
These modern trends have dramatically reduced the effectiveness and value of outbound methods. Meanwhile, inbound marketing works to leverage modern tactics and provides significantly higher value with higher conversion rates.
Consumer behaviors have changed. Has your marketing?
The True Value of Inbound Marketing? Compounding Returns.
As markets and consumer trends continue to evolve, inbound marketing is proving itself to be the most efficient marketing strategy to build awareness and cultivate leads.
Here are just a few examples of inbound marketing outperforming outbound:
- Globally, 41% of marketers confirm inbound produces measurable ROI, and 82% of marketers who blog see positive ROI for their inbound marketing (source)
- 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement (source)
- Properly executed inbound marketing is 10x more effective for lead conversion than outbound (source)
- The average cost per lead drops 80% after 5 months of consistent inbound marketing efforts (source)
- Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and triples leads (source)
- Inbound practices produce 54% more leads than traditional outbound practices (source)
- Inbound marketers double the average site conversion rate, from 6% to 12% (source)
Inbound marketing takes time to produce results—typically 3 to 6 months minimum. By investing in long-term assets (your pieces of content) your inbound marketing strategies produce dividends that compound with each additional effort and provide large increases in organic traffic—and ultimately leads.
According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2018, 75% of businesses worldwide are choosing inbound marketing as their primary marketing approach.
The Inbound Marketing Methodology
The inbound methodology is the process of growing your organization by investing in and building meaningful relationships with your customers and prospects through a shared success model.
Inbound focuses on providing value and empowering people to reach their goals, overcome hurdles, and discover insights at every stage of their journey with you. That includes both before AND after they become a customer.
The inbound marketing methodology has three distinct “phases” to ensure your delivering value to your customers throughout their journey.
- Attract: Draw in the right people with valuable content and conversations that establish you as a trusted advisor with whom they want to engage.
- Engage: Present insights and solutions that align with their pain points and goals so they are more likely to buy from you.
- Delight: Provide help and support to empower your customers to find success with their purchase.
The inbound method is a holistic approach to the customer and their needs.
By supporting prospects and helping them achieve their goals—they are more likely to become customers and advocates. When you ensure your customers are successful, you in turn become successful.
Get Your Whole Company Involved in Inbound
Your inbound marketing efforts seek to provide value and build rapport with prospects and customers turning them into advocates of your brand over time.
To achieve this, the customer has to be thought of and cared for throughout their journey with you.
Your brand and the interactions customers have with you need to be consistent, predictable, and valuable.
This requires alignment across your organization. Your strategy, handoffs, communication, value statements, and prerogatives all need to be coordinated across your customer-facing teams.
One of the quickest ways to damage your brand and reputation is to convert a customer—and then forget about them. Customers will remember brands that have mishandled, confused them, or discarded their needs.
When your entire organization works together for the customer, you create effortless experiences that customers consistently return to.
When you focus on providing for your customers’ needs rather than trying to continuously extract value from them—they’ll reward you with loyalty and engagement.
Fundamentals of a Winning Inbound Marketing Strategy
In order to fully leverage inbound marketing, and become a titan of brand equity, you’re going to need to make some investments.
If this is your first foray into inbound marketing, these are the six core concepts you should keep in mind as you develop your own strategy.
The six core concepts are:
Authentic Brand Identity
No one wants to read endless content, see ads, and interact with a brand that only self promotes.
Building content that people want to watch, read, and listen to requires that you connect with your audience over something more meaningful than how great you believe you are.
Instead, express your brand and be genuine in your communications. Share your passions, invest in a purpose, get involved in your communities, and take an interest in what your customers are going through.
Authentic brands are memorable and that is why they generate traffic and stand out.
A Customer-Centric Mindset
Inbound marketing is so effective because it accommodates and anticipates the purchasing behaviors of modern consumers, rather than seeking to disrupt and motivate an immediate decision.
This long-term strategy builds rapport with consumers as they investigate and inform themselves before making a decision to act.
Successful inbound marketing strategies are customer-centric and require that you intimately understand your target audience.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an often repeated acronym that isn’t widely understood.
We often see marketing agencies and web developers say they offer “SEO Services.” Unfortunately, just because a site “supports” SEO—doesn’t mean it is “optimized.”
Do you actually know what it is?
In the simplest of terms, SEO is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
However, there is a great deal of research, nuance, and strategy required to ensure your information gets a high relevance ranking. Optimization is also an ongoing and continuous effort—coordinating your page rank and score with new content as it’s produced..
Do you know what keywords brought you to this site? Or how we managed to show up on your search results despite all the companies that generate related content?
That’s the power of SEO, baby.
Your content strategy is an incredibly important aspect to your inbound marketing strategy. A properly outlined content strategy organizes and communicates the efforts your marketing team will engage in, the topics they will cover, and how they will go about executing their work.
Effective content strategies are able to distill a wide range of information and tactics into a concise map that guides all of the content efforts you engage in. There are many aspects to a great content strategy, but the basics are:
- Content needs to solve problems or have a purpose
- Content needs to match the right message with the right channels to ensure it gets to the correct audience
- Your content needs to be a mix of visual, written, and audio including long and short formats (think about different personal preferences, different learning types)
- Content needs to funnel prospects into “actions of intent” which generate leads
Get these right and your content will be valuable for years to come, providing you with a flow of high value organic leads and customers.
Tools and Technology for Inbound Marketing
Marketing is no longer just about pretty colors and emotional messaging. The digital age has ushered in a requirement for a high level of technical competency.
Because marketers are, well marketers, they hide all of these deep inner workings behind beautiful imagery and high gloss experiences.
They do this so effectively, that most people take for granted the deep technical chops required to manage effective digital marketing.
A successful inbound marketing strategy relies on a handful of technology solutions we call pillars. These are:
- Inbound-Ready Website
- Marketing automation platform
- Sales operations automation
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software
Measuring Performance of Inbound Marketing
Building and implementing a strategy means little if you don’t understand how it’s helping your business.
Without proper measurement of inputs and outputs it’s difficult—if not impossible—to determine ROI and react to customers.
The good news is, inbound marketing is easy to measure and track.
By recognizing the signs of early success, organizations can quickly pivot to meet consumer’s behavior and stay ahead of the competition.
Authentic Brand Identity
“You’re in trouble if customers can’t place your brand on the map. The worst thing is to blend in with the rest.”
Identify Your Brand Purpose
Before people will listen to you, you need to know who you are and what you stand for.
The same rules apply to a brand.
The first step to a brand identity is identifying your purpose and mission.
Doing so doesn’t require big dramatic statements or overt gestures—just a genuine purpose as to why you do what you do and how.
Start with a strong mission statement that lets everyone know who you are.
To make a mission statement that carries weight:
- Create it with your stakeholders so that its a shared vision
- Keep it simple to help it stick
- Avoid generalizations and generic statements
- Make it relatable so it resonates with customers and team members
Whatever you choose, make it unique to you and aspire to be more than just the solutions you provide.
Some great examples of simple missions that evoke meaning are:
- TED: Spreading Ideas
- REI: Inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.
- Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Craft Your Authentic Brand Image
Once you know your mission—present it to the world through a unique brand image.
While seemingly superficial, a brand’s visual identity is part of its genetic make-up.
A consistent brand image will cement your brand as memorable, make your content easily identifiable, and lend credibility to your presence.
One of the most impactful things you can do is to ensure fonts, images, colors, logo’s, graphics, page layouts, and animations are consistent and as unique as your business.
Apply this style to everything you produce (blogs, videos, websites, social media, documents, etc.)
Even if you have thousands of competitors that offer the same services or products, they aren’t you. Make that your advantage.
Building Your Brand Authority
Share your knowledge with the world.
Weigh in on debates, create informative content, offer free guides, engage in your industry’s community, and be your best self.
Every business in every industry can build authority within their community and customers.
Even if you build industrial packaging—you should build the best industrial packaging and tell everyone why you believe in what you do. Share how you’re different as well as insights into your industry and trends.
Take on thought leadership and show people where you think the future is and how you’re getting there.
Take some risks, share opinions—and above all else—make it relatable.
People want to be equipped with the information and skills to make the best decisions for their needs. Provide it for free and you will draw people to your brand.
Make Your Brand Authentic
People gravitate towards genuine and authentic encounters. They’re also more memorable.
They want to be a part of movements and experiences that are unique.
Be yourself and provide the authenticity people seek out.
This will make your content all the more compelling and people will want to share your story and champion your success.
Brand authenticity is an incredibly powerful advantage and organizations that tap into it are:
Don’t worry about making mistakes as you create your authentic voice. With sincerity and genuine effort, people will be drawn to you and embrace your message.
Know yourself. Express your authenticity. Never look back.
A Customer-Centric Mindset
“It is not your customer’s job to remember you, it is your obligation and responsibility to make sure they don’t have the chance to forget you.”
– Patricia Fripp, Award-Winning Author
The Customer Success Model
When your customers succeed—you succeed.
This is the new paradigm that fosters customer loyalty, creates advocates, and develops virtuous sales cycles.
It’s incredibly important that your inbound marketing efforts revolve around forming long-term mutually beneficial relationships, rather than short-term interactions based on instant gratification.
You need to ensure you are investing in your customers and providing value through engaging content—throughout the customer lifecycle.
By forming these shared success relationships, customers become advocates and promote your brand, return for multiple purchases, and seek your insights as an expert in future decisions.
Don’t underestimate these advocates for future lead generation.
“Over 90% of consumers trust word of mouth marketing recommendations over any other type of marketing and customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate.” (source)
Enacting strategies that revolve around your customer’s success creates customers that are also invested in your success.
Identify Your Target Market and Audience
You can’t speak to, provide value for, or build rapport with strangers.
You need to know who your customers are if you’re going to build trust, anticipate their needs, and help them solve problems.
What’s more—if you attempt to fake this understanding, you risk being disingenuous or out of touch which will repel people and damage your brand.
So get out there and find your customers.
To do this you need to adopt a couple strategies.
1. Find your Target Market
Your target market is the entire group of customers/consumers that your company is trying to convert.
Identifying things like industry, customer demographics, geographies, and method of sales will help you zero in on your target market.
This your entire potential customer base—so think on a macro scale.
Once you know your target market, you need to narrow your communication strategy into target audiences—or segments.
2. Find Your Target Audience
A target audience is a small and defined group of people that you can direct specific communications, offerings, and campaigns at.
Target markets are often defined by identifying key demographics, interest, and buying patterns.
Target Audiences are often placed into categories such as:
- Demographic segmentation (age, gender, education, marital status, race, religion, etc.)
- Psychographic segmentation (values, beliefs, interests, personality, lifestyle, etc.)
- Behavioral segmentation (purchasing or spending habits, user status, brand interactions, etc.)
- Geographic Areas (neighborhood, area code, city, region, country, etc.)
3. Identify Customer Segments
While synonymous with a target audience, we further define segments as being both the target audience and the channel for which a specific communication is intended.
So while your target audience may be “young women under 25 who are married.” The specific segment would also include “who use instagram.”
So your specific campaign targeting this audience would communicate over Instagram and use an effective media method (video, or imagery) to convey your message.
Part of understanding your customers is recognizing how to communicate with them on their terms and where they congregate.
Managing this nuance requires an intimate understanding of your customer’s behaviors and needs.
By identifying and speaking to specific customer segments you’ll be more effective in conveying your messages and drawing in prospects.
Tips To Identify and Refine Your Target Audience
If you’re struggling to figure out what your target audience is, here are a few tips that you may find helpful:
Google Analytics is a MUST-HAVE for all websites. Analytics tools will help you organize and understand your audience demographics and interests. GA specifically, can show you how visitors are engaging with your website and interacting with content.
Unfortunately, many websites and businesses fail to connect Google Analytics early on—thinking this is something they can do later. While that is true, you’ll miss out on important data that can be gathered early on. Connect Google Analytics right away. That way you’re collecting web traffic data from the start and when you have the need or bandwidth to make changes—you’ll already be equipped with the information you need to improve.
Google Trends is another great tool that can help you identify what people are searching. This easy to use tool provides leading indicators on search topics as well as insights into the problems and information people are seeking.
A persona is an archetype of one of your customers and acts as a focusing lens to single out your target audience. This puts you in the shoes of your customer and helps you create specific offerings, communication styles and methods that resonate.
SEO tools such as Moz and SEMRush are invaluable for helping you measure your website performance based on your key demographics and keyword selections. These services will help you determine which keywords are most relevant and trafficked and how you and competitors rank. They will also help you to continuously measure and improve your search presence.
Social Media Analytics
See who is interacting with your content, when, and through what methods. Each social media channel will provide insights into who is interacting with you, what is working, and what isn’t.
Engage On Social Media
Ask your followers for insights, respond to their comments, and start conversations. People will often tell you what they want.
Go to the Source
Interview the public, send out surveys, ask your customers input, or hire an agency to provide you with insights.
Understand Your Customer Journey
Once you have identified who your customers are, it’s important to remember that people aren’t static. Their needs change as they move through the customer lifecycle.
As the customers needs evolve, your business will need to meet their changing demands.
For example, from the customer’s perspective… “Once I decide to buy from you, I no longer need promotional offers or to see spec and brag sheets on the products I purchased. I will be more interested in how I maximize the value of the purchase, engage the community, and get assistance when I have issues.”
It’s important that you maintain connection with customers and reassert your value through resources, education, and community.
Your organization will need to adopt strategies to provide pertinent information seamlessly to varying customer needs throughout the customer lifecycle.
Below is a diagram to help convey how your content and messaging should change throughout the customer journey. Though represented in a linear model, this process is iterative and cyclical—turning strangers into prospects into consumers and then into promoters who will re-engage with your brand for future success.
When you fail to adapt your messaging to specific customer needs—you risk alienating customers and turning advocates into critics.
You must invest in the customer throughout their journey and continue to keep them engaged if you want to build brand loyalty and advocates.
Savvy consumers will find the resources and information they need, even if it isn’t with your brand.
Search Engine Optimization
“Today it’s not about ‘get the traffic’ — it’s about ‘get the targeted and relevant traffic.”
– Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer, RKG
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of organic (non-paid) traffic to your website through search engine results.
It’s the art and strategy of making your content understood by search engines to drive people—who are interested in your products or services—to your website, without paying for ads.
SEO is as much about people’s search preferences as it is about the technical details of making your content readable to search engines. While every site requires a unique approach to SEO keywords—there are a range of search engine optimization (SEO) fundamentals, or hierarchies, that are consistent and necessary to optimize sites for both humans and search engines.
The human element of SEO has to do with what people are searching, or the keywords they use to find information. It is “how” users imply intent. This may be in the form of questions, word usage, or phrasing—and all are incredibly important in creating content that meets the searcher’s needs.
The search engine side of the SEO equation has to do with how information is organized and formatted so that it can be indexed by search engines. This is often referred to as search relevance and determines what is displayed in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Search engines scour the hundreds of billions of pages on the internet using “crawlers” that categorize and index all of the information that is available to them.
To help search engines more accurately determine intent and properly index information, webmasters need to structure information and content properly. Through proper formatting and structuring, you can ensure that search engines index your pages accurately and that user searches return your pages among the results.
It is important to develop content on your site that manages the dual needs of users and search engines.
When SEO is performed effectively—and paired with great content—users are able to find and engage with your content.
On-page engagement tells Google (or other search engines) that the content served is “relevant” to the user’s search and further boosts your SEO presence and relevance—ensuring the virtuous cycle of “get found, get engagement, get customers.”
Why SEO is Important
SEO is a critical component of every inbound marketing strategy. By tapping into the vast amounts of online traffic, you can empower your brand with a high volume of “organic” traffic.
Organic traffic refers to visitors who purposefully searched and sought out your content and didn’t arrive there via a paid advertisement.
While ads can drive traffic to your website—these tactics are expensive, often appear less credible, and drive a fraction of overall web traffic.
According to Moz, organic traffic contributes to 20 times the total volume of paid per click (PPC) traffic on both mobile and desktop.
Relevant and optimized content that results in organic traffic pays “dividends” for years. Unlike paid ads where traffic drops once you stop paying, valuable content and SEO efforts contribute to long-term brand and “domain” equity. When you invest in SEO efforts—you boost your domain rank ensuring continued traffic to your website that compounds with additional efforts.
Don’t Waste Your Time Playing SEO Games. Focus on Providing Value to Customers.
The last thing to mention on this topic is that while search engines rules can be “gamed”—we don’t recommend focusing on manipulating the system.
Plenty of brands look to play short-term games for immediate benefits. In the medium to long-term, they lose out on the SEO benefits of brand and domain equity derived from providing “real” value to customers.
As an organization looking to build an authentic inbound marketing strategy, you need to focus on providing great content that is valuable to your prospects.
Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re thinking about your content and SEO strategies.
First, Google’s search algorithms change frequently as they continue to hone results and make the process more useful to searchers. Investing in tactics to game the system often result in efforts that crumble the moment an algorithm changes—making content structured to perform in old logic, ineffectual—even detrimental.
Second, traffic gained by “gaming” the system often results in high bounce rates and gets classified as “low-quality traffic.” When tactics and content aren’t aligned to deliver value (and engagement)—the result is often a dramatic decrease in traffic AND conversion opportunities. Additionally, when search engines recalibrate their algorithms, “low-quality” traffic ultimately hurts your SEO score.
Third, search engineers are constantly refining their approach—searching for and rooting out sites that are gaming the system. If your site is caught doing this it can be deranked and devalued—often resulting in significant reductions in organic search traffic. How well will your business prosper when your whole domain never shows up on Google again?
Lastly, great content stands the test of time. Even if the algorithms change—when you’re providing value that people want—you’re still going to reap the benefits of high organic traffic and engagement.
By outlining and sticking to an SEO strategy that focuses on delivering customer value you’ll build a resilient brand presence and SEO score that drives growth for years to come.
Effective Content Strategy
“What separates good content from great content is a willingness to take risks and push the envelope.”
– Brian Halligan, Co-Founder and CEO of HubSpot
The Fundamentals of Content Strategy
Effective content marketing requires a content strategy.
Before you set out on a journey of creating tens of thousands of words and dozens of hours of video or podcast material—draw yourself a map.
You’ll thank yourself later.
A content strategy will help you align the content you create with the specific needs of customers. It also enables you to scale your content efforts and streamline the operations of your current—and future— team.
The goal for your content—as mentioned—is to provide value. Specifically, that means providing visitors/readers with information that educates, alleviates concerns, and helps them overcome obstacles (and helps them make decisions).
When successful, your content demonstrates mastery over a given topic—also referred to as authority. When potential customers see you as an authority, their trust in you grows. When those potential customers are ready to make a buying decision—they will come back to you based on the engagement and trust you’ve fostered.
But what does this mean for your content strategy? Very simply, you’ll want to create three varieties of content:
- Awareness – Content that will help you get found on search engines and demonstrate your relevance to visitors to further engage.
- Consideration – Content that educates and informs visitors, builds your credibility (authority), and visitor’s loyalty in you.
- Decision – Content that persuades and drives those engaged to action.
How much content should you create for each of these?
How do these apply to the content types you’ll produce (blogs, podcasts, etc.)?
What topics should you focus on?
All of these questions represent why your content strategy is so important.
Overall, your content strategy should outline and describe the following elements:
- Goals, objectives, and focus (short and long term)
- Key brand and messaging points
- Content types you will produce (blogs, podcasts, videos, infographics, etc.)
- Structure of those content types (Where they live on your website, pillars, topic-clustering, etc.)
- Voice and messaging for each content type (May vary)
- Primary content categories
- Primary content topics
- Key customer personas and segments
- SEO focus keywords (5 or 10 main keywords, long-tail opportunities)
- Channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, email newsletter, etc)
- Conversion strategy and structure (How and when sales gets involved)
- Measurement & Reporting (How and where do you present KPIs and dashboards, HINT: Marketing Automation)
With these elements documented at a high-level and agreed upon among your organization’s leadership—your content strategy will serve as a guide throughout your inbound marketing journey.
Outlining Your Content Strategy Goals, Objectives, & Focus
The intent of this section is for high-level strategic alignment. We’ll cover it here, because it serves as the foundation for all of your content marketing efforts.
This section should convey your current primary objectives to anyone who will participate in your content marketing. Define your goals, outline your approach, and provide some general guidance in a quick, bite-size format.
If you’re just beginning the content marketing journey—your primary goals will likely be to generate increased awareness and web traffic.
Example of a Content Strategy Outline
Here is an example outline:
In Q1 and Q2 of 202X, our primary goal is to build out a conversion funnel around <insert topic/keyword here>. The objective is to increase organic website traffic and improve our keyword rankings around <primary topic> and the primary keywords outlined in our SEO focus keywords (section).
Primary Goals Include:
- Complete <primary topic> conversion and pricing pages
- Generate X pieces of content per month (minimum)
- X long-form piece (pillar or cornerstone)
- X short-form pieces (supporting blogs)
- X news article or press release
- X conversion download (whitepaper, guide, or checklist)
- Set benchmarks and measure website traffic, downloads, and conversions (Marketing Qualified Leads)
- Increase organic website traffic by XX%+
- Rank on Page 1 of Google for at least two keywords
- Streamline efforts and create SOPs for content generation efforts
Secondary Goals Include:
- Identify X future content opportunities (topics for engagement, thought leadership, content types, etc.)
- Identify X additional valuable SEO keywords for optimization
Once we are able to consistently meet these goals—we will analyze and determine additional or alternate forms of content to optimize the funnel, increase engagement, and produce more leads.
TIP: When possible—make your goals measurable.
Additional Thoughts On Your Content Strategy
As outlined above, there are many more aspects to an effective content strategy. We won’t go into every one of those here, but we’ll touch on some of the most important aspects.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO research and planning has to be woven into the very fabric of your content strategy. You may create the best, most tremendous, content in the whole world, but if no one is looking for those search terms online—you’re not going to get the results you want.
Planning out your most important keywords up front will help inform every downstream marketing decision you make from primary content categories to topics, page titles, meta descriptions, how you insert hyperlinks, etc.
Simply knowing which search terms get the most traffic, which one’s perform best for click through, and how fierce the competition is for each will immediately boost your inbound game above any organization that hasn’t performed that research.
Content Types, Categories, & Topics
With your SEO research complete, you can align your primary content categories around the most relevant and high value search terms that you can envision developing content for.
Plan out the types of content you can create around your chosen categories and topics. Determine how frequently you will produce content to drive traffic and meet your goals.
What types of content and mediums are you best equipped to create?
Will you create blogs, podcasts, videos?
How will each of these contribute to your ability to generate awareness, educate, and promote action?
Channels, Content Promotion & Socialization
The next step is to determine through which channels you will promote your content. Social media, business networks and listings, and email marketing are among the most popular.
For each channel you plan on leveraging—define how your message best applies to that specific audience. For example, you may want to leverage more authoritative, value-based language for LinkedIn while staying informal and letting your images speak for you on Instagram.
Make sure that you have a strategy to publish and promote your content on a variety of channels. Marketing automation tools can help expand your reach—but the point is—other channels have a lot more traffic than your website alone. You need to spread the word.
The Role of Advertising in Your Content Strategy
Generally speaking, your inbound marketing and content marketing strategy are medium to long-term strategies for driving domain equity, organic website traffic, and high-quality conversions into your organization. But advertising and promotion still have a place.
While it can take months to see a significant impact in organic traffic due to your inbound efforts—advertisements can help bolster your efforts and produce results much sooner.
If your marketing budget permits—you can test out segmentation and promotion strategies using your strongest foundational and conversion content—even early on.
Starting with a small budget, run experiments to identify the groups of users that engage with various types of promoted content. It’s essentially a short-term stimulus package that will get valuable content in front of eyes so that you can start analyzing and optimizing your customer segments and your messaging to them.
Updating and Revisiting Your Content Strategy
As you produce and develop content over time—you’ll need to come back and revisit your content strategy. This will include updating your goals, performing a content audit, and refining your approach.
Likely, you should revisit your content strategy at least once every six (6) months. If you’re aggressively investing in content marketing to drive significant growth, it might be better to revisit every quarter—or even every month.
Final Thoughts on Content Strategy
An effective content strategy is one of the most powerful tools for aligning and generating results from your content marketing efforts. Successful organizations continuously refine, update, and measure the performance of their content based on their latest content strategy.
Tools and Technologies for Inbound Marketing
“Marketing isn’t magic. There is a science to it.”
– Dan Zarrella
Inbound Marketing Utility Belt
Successful, inbound marketing requires organizations to build and manage content that addresses specific customer needs, is widely distributed, and speaks to multiple audiences.
Prospects that engage with this content are then guided back to an optimized website that is designed to segment offerings, generate and qualify leads, and notify sales teams members when to engage.
Managing the array of activities, processes, and operations needed to generate leads and convert prospects is a difficult endeavor, particularly at scale.
However, with the right systems and tools, these efforts become easily managed, well-curated, and effective campaigns for driving your business.
Not all websites are created equal. Websites that are designed and optimized around your inbound strategy are a requirement.
An inbound-ready website is engineered specifically for your content and lead generation needs.
An inbound-ready website is similar to your standard website in that:
- Has high gloss image and finish
- Is easily navigable and intuitive
- Speaks to your value proposition on core pages
- Is a digital representation of your brand
Inbound-ready websites differ from standard websites, in that they are:
- Built from the ground up with search engines in mind (SEO for structure, keywords, and metadata)
- Built and optimized for high performance
- Equipped with a content delivery engine to manage, distribute, and organize content
- Strategically designed to guide prospects into lead generation through landing and conversion pages
- Designed around campaigns
- Integrated with analytics to measure traffic and empower decision making
Without an inbound-ready website, your organization will struggle to generate high volumes of organic traffic and will be unable to effectively generate conversions and leads.
If you’re not seeing results from your digital marketing, despite high value and consistent content generation—likely your current website isn’t up to the task.
Marketing Automation Platform
Managing large volumes of content is a difficult proposition for any organization. When you compound these efforts with multiple segments, channels, audiences, schedules, and campaigns—it becomes overwhelming.
Marketing automation platforms enable you to tame the content marketing beast and streamline, automate, and manage content at scale.
Effective marketing automation platforms enable an organization to:
- Tailor messaging to specific target audiences and lead segments
- Create an automate effective email campaigns for prospects and customers
- Engage prospects and customers over channels beyond just email
- Manage relationships and personalize experiences of customers
- Make better strategic decision through reporting and analytics
- Measure engagement with video, email, and content tracking
- Focus on the entire funnel from awareness to customer
Marketing’s primary objectives is to generate leads and assist in conversions.
To accomplish this, an organization needs to drive traffic to their website, convert that traffic into leads and close those leads into customers. Where marketing automation integration really makes an impact is the conversion and closure stages of this process.
Savvy organizations take this focus a step further and keep existing customers engaged and generating leads through focused campaigns that provide additional value and awareness.
Marketing automation platforms drive value and empower your inbound marketing strategies to fill the pipeline with leads and keep current customers interacting and primed for upselling.
Sales Automation Software
Effective lead generation means little without the tools to empower your sales team to follow up and convert prospects into customers.
Sales automation software streamlines workflows, automates administrative work, removes redundancies, and ensures accurate data capture.
Without sales automation handoffs–it’s easy for:
- Leads to go unnoticed
- The sales experience to be inconsistent
- Data to be inconsistent
- Tactics to go unmeasured
When implemented correctly, sales automation tools benefit the customer and enhance the buying experience while also providing deep insights for sales leadership and decision making.
Sales automation provides:
- Qualification, notification, and lead handoff
- Email automation and templates to remove redundant work
- Schedules and reminders to keep sales team members following up
- Detailed playbooks that guide sales team members to effective strategies tailored to specific customer needs
- Easy-to-use mobile systems that remove the administrative work of keeping CRM’s up to date
- Automated workflows that enable specialist and closers to assist in closing deals
- Deal management automation to generate quotes and discount approvals that remove the hassle of escalating every deal
- Email, calendar, and meeting integration to ensure your customers never get left out in the cold
Effective sales automation isn’t about reducing or removing sales team members. The needs for soft skills, direct human engagement, and skillful negotiation aren’t going away.
Sales automation is about providing your sales team with the tools to delight customers, identify and engage high value leads, manage follow up, and increase transparency.
This enables sales teams to hone strategies, build playbooks that work, and stop wasting time on unqualified leads.
Know exactly where your opportunities for growth are and the best ways to convert customers with sales automation.
Customer Relationship Management Software
The golden record of all customer activities, a well-constructed Customer Resource Management (CRM) platform is the backbone of your customer experience.
When inbound marketing is seamlessly integrated with your CRM, it elevates your business to a new level.
Your CRM enables you to customize experiences for prospects and customers and accurately measure and record your interactions along the customer journey.
Without an integrated CRM, your sales and marketing efforts will be inconsistent–with leads getting lost, customers going unheard, and having no record of handoffs between teams.
Without an accurate record, leadership teams can’t develop meaningful strategies, team members aren’t accountable, and customer needs and opportunities can’t be tracked.
These are environments designed for obscurity, customer disappointment, and—ultimately—failure.
With an integrated CRM, marketing teams gain deep insights into your customers and prospects. A CRM enables marketing teams to segment offerings, tailor communications, and run effective campaigns that generate high-quality leads.
An integrated CRM also enables your sales (and service) teams to identify customer needs, recall past history, and pinpoint where opportunities for engagement exist.
You can’t effectively manage prospects and customers without a CRM that’s seamlessly integrated into the entirety of your customer operations.
Measuring Performance of Inbound Marketing
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
– Peter F. Drucker
Measure and Develop Your Inbound Efforts
Inbound marketing is a long term strategy that compounds value and pays dividends over time.
Due to its distant horizon, it’s important to develop strategies that set targets, discern progress, and measure results.
Without a system in place to measure your inbound marketing efforts, it’s easy to miss opportunities and trends that have huge growth potential. There is also the risk that your content slowly slips into obscurity taking months of effort to correct.
Thankfully, the nature of inbound marketing makes it very easy to measure success and determine areas of opportunity.
Before we jump into what you should be measuring–let’s discuss metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).
Metrics are goals that you set and the measurements you take to identify progress.
KPI’s consist of leading and lagging indicators that identify specific and tangible results.
- Leading indicators are predictive measurements that are used to influence change
- Lagging indicators are an outcome measurement that shows what has occurred
All are required to navigate where you’re going, how far you’ve come, and when you will reach your goal.
Setting Metrics and Measuring Inbound Performance
You haven’t really started until you’ve defined a finish line.
An effective goal, identifies a specific end result you wish to achieve.
Most people say, “I want to increase website traffic or I want to move up on SERP rankings.” But these are just lagging indicators in disguise and often lead people to short term solutions.
Your goal should be something along the lines of, “I want to grow by business by doubling my conversions from 50 a year to 100 in 12 months.”
This is a time bound and measurable goal.
From here setting up a metric to measure progress is simple. At a regular interval you can measure how much your lead conversions have increased compared to your goal—and how much time has passed.
This will provide an easily summarized and high level status update by which to measure progress.
Also, this provides the framework for determining your ROI.
I spent “X” over “Y” time and got “Z” out of it.
Common KPIs for Inbound Marketing
Next you need to figure out leading and lagging KPIs will provide insights and measure results.
These will vary based on your specific goals but typical useful indicators are.
Examples of Leading KPIs:
- Organic website traffic month over month
- Bounce rates
- Click through rates (CTR)
- Highest ranking conversion page
- What channels are producing the most clicks and engagement
- Landing page conversion rate
- Nurturing funnel completion rate
- Keyword rankings
- Inbound email statistics
Examples of Lagging KPIs:
- Visitor conversion rate
- % change in conversion rate
- % change of each landing page conversion rate
- Total site conversions
- Conversion won/lost
It’s important to consider both leading and lagging KPIs to understand the complete picture.
Not measuring the complete picture creates blind spots that increase the risk of wasting resources chasing poor quality leads, neglecting high quality conversions, and missing opportunities to capitalize on trends.
Final Thoughts on Inbound Marketing
“Success is making those who believed in you look brilliant.”
– Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder and CTO of HubSpot
Inbound marketing is a holistic strategy that aligns your content with the behaviors, needs, and authority of modern consumers.
Successful integration of inbound marketing into your business requires a change in how you think about your customers, provide value, and build lasting relationships.
Once established, it is the most cost-efficient and effective way to generate leads, foster customer advocacy, and build brand awareness.
Through strategic, thoughtful, and customer-focused content creation you can draw customers to your brand as a valued authority instead of just a solution provider.
There are few more impactful steps an organization can take to invest in their brand and grow their business.
Your customers are out there looking for you. Are you ready to be found?