Executive’s Guide to Inbound Marketing
There are many different levers you can pull to drive growth for your organization, but these days if you’re serious about scaling your business you need to be focusing on one thing in particular — inbound marketing. The truth is, if you’re not, you’re behind the curve. And besides, there’s only so much cold calling your business can manage.
With inbound, it’s all about the top of your sales funnel and how you fill it with qualified traffic and leads. The whole idea is to make your website work for you. That means your site needs to get found online, and not just function as a billboard in the desert.
Inbound marketing makes it possible for your prospects — researching solutions in Google, in social, in a forum or elsewhere online — to discover you. Whether they are looking for information, advice, entertainment, thought leadership, analysis, predictions, tools, data or conversation, they should find your content, your people, your brand, your products, and your company!
Below I’ve outlined five primary pillars of inbound marketing that serve as a good primer for what it’s all about. From there, to help you get started, we’ve also created a quick and easy inbound marketing assessment that can help you evaluate where your marketing organization currently stands, and identify gaps in your efforts.
Keep in mind the beauty of inbound marketing is that you can make changes to your marketing execution right now and start seeing results today. That said, inbound marketing is a long-term play — the longer you do it, the better the results. You need to be constantly trying new things, testing, learning, and reiterating. Getting these basics down and then taking our assessment will help you do just that.
Know the Basics: The 5 Pillars of Inbound Marketing
The aim of inbound marketing is generating more qualified traffic to a website, but the first — and most important — part of getting found online is creating remarkable content. That means blog articles, web pages, videos, photos, webinars, whitepapers, and other web-based tools that are useful, interesting, thought provoking, controversial, and/or entertaining.
This is no small feat, but it’s the most critical step if you’re serious about generating more traffic and leads. You need to determine your content creation strategy and publishing schedule – then stick to it. Every web page has the potential to drive traffic via search engines as well as other sources, like social media sites. Of course, whether a page draws traffic (and links) depends on whether it’s optimized and how remarkable (useful, interesting, etc.) it is.
Standard web pages are a perfectly legitimate and effective form of content to produce to draw traffic and leads from the search engines and social media sites. Often there are “low-hanging fruit” opportunities for marketers to create new web pages to increase the size of their web footprint (read: relevancy) before turning their attention to more sustainable forms of content creation, such as blogging or more creative web forms of content.
Why create blog pages in addition to regular web pages? Actually, you may think that from an SEO perspective there isn’t much of a difference. A page is a page, right? But there are some significant reasons why you should definitely blog. Blog posts get shared more frequently than website pages. The content also serves an entirely different purpose, as it’s usually much more educational and informational (targeting visitors earlier in their buying process, whereas your website is more geared towards content about your business, brand, products, services and/or company culture.)
As you create content you will want to optimize that content for the ultimate user experience and consumption – whether it’s via search engines, email, or social. While the foundation of your inbound marketing is to create compelling content, optimizing that content is key to ensure it draws traffic across the web.
Most marketers think of “optimization” as the process of placing keywords to increase the chances of ranking on Google and other search engines. Indeed, that is part of it but it’s more than just keywords these days. Optimizing content is much more broad than simple on-page SEO. For instance, before you submit an online press release to PR Web, an article to LinkedIn, ad for pay per click, or a video to YouTube, you’ll want to optimize your content specifically for that channel to maximize your return, which means you’ll want to understand the audience your communicating to and the channel you are using – that means knowing what kind of content they like to consume. It’s not one size fits all.
Now that you are producing content regularly and optimizing it for search engines and other channels, you are ready to start promoting your content. You may be promoting content via one or multiple channels such as social media, Google AdWords, email marketing (newsletter or special promotions), and offline events (like trade shows).
Social media, most notably, is a critical element of inbound marketing and content distribution. You can use social media to build brand awareness and community, and to drive traffic, leads, as well as engage with customers. Many B2B businesses choose to use social media sites to connect with their audiences and establish credibility through thought leadership in their industry for example.
In order for social media marketing to be effective, it is not something for you to do once and then forget about. And in most cases it’s not something you should outsource – because most vendors will not understand your business or your audience as you do. To be done right, social media engagement needs to be part of a regular routine for you and other key stakeholders on your team.
The key to using social media is to build trust with individuals by forming relationships that start by sharing quality (read “worthwhile”) content and having genuine conversations in addition to distributing your content.
Being able to drive more traffic is a big win for your business. But that’s not where the buck stops. You’re writing articles by day, an SEO ninja by night, and running wild on social media … all kidding aside … let’s talk goals; but keep in mind that traffic is not the end goal (and that’s usually where people stop). The goal is quality sales leads and customers, so let’s focus on converting as much of your traffic as possible to leads and customers.
There is a lot of value if you can increase your conversion rate and generate more leads from existing traffic. If you only get a few hundred visits per week, increasing your conversion rate by 1% could generate 10-15 more leads per month. If you get a few thousand visits a week, you stand to increase your lead flow by 100-150 leads per month.
As you create, optimize and promote content you’ll start to generate lots of traffic from myriad online sources. Your website will essentially function like a magnet that attracts prospects throughout the web. Now it’s your job to capture (aka. convert) them!
The inherent challenge here is that when someone hits a page on your site or your blog, you don’t actually know who that visitor is or where they are in the search process. If you can, however, offer them more information on a specific topic related to the corresponding page, then you’ll be able to capture their contact information in exchange via a landing page.
Analyzing and measuring results need to be part of the inbound marketing success equation. Being able to dig into the results of your online efforts is critical. Doing so will allow your business to repeat successes and fine-tune underachieving campaigns. Monitor how much traffic your site is getting, as well as where that traffic is coming from. And how much of that traffic is converting in leads (traffic to leads conversion rate), and leads converting into customers (lead to customer conversion rate).
Create benchmark data for yourself (where are you now, and define where you need to go based on sales goals), talk to others in your industry and track results from month to month. Use the shifts you see in your analytics to inform the next steps of your inbound marketing strategy. Determining which channels provide your business with the most qualified traffic and leads is a huge advantage when it comes to spending your time most efficiently.
The success of our businesses will largely be determined by our ability to let go of old assumptions and habits, many of which have served us well, and create the dynamic conditions that allow us to speak to our customers in ways that are personal and important to them.