Why Inbound Marketing is the ONLY Marketing
by Mike Khorev
Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Work Anymore
Back in the days, the term “marketing” usually refers to buying advertising space in magazines, newspapers, TV spots, or billboards, or buying email and phone number lists to broadcast our promotional messages.
However, these “traditional” marketing activities are no longer effective today, thanks to various reasons such as:
- Resistance to intrusive marketing, especially by younger people
- Various forms of ad blocker, even by Google itself, rendering online advertising ineffective
- People care for social proofs like online reviews and peer recommendations more, no matter how good your advertising is
- Advertising cost is rapidly increasing, even when your advertising is effective, it’s hard to ensure a positive ROI
Those are just some examples of many other reasons. So, is marketing dead? Not exactly, but we can no longer rely on the traditional marketing. This is where inbound marketing fills the gap, as we will learn together below.
So, What Actually Is Inbound Marketing?
The traditional marketing practices we have just discussed above is now often deemed “outbound” marketing practices, because they share one characteristic: you are sending your promotional messages “out” to your audience. So, you are pushing your messages outward, which is often, interruptive and intrusive.
On the other hand, inbound marketing focuses on pulling your ideal audience “in”, which is mainly achieved in three key concepts:
- Visible Content: publishing relevant and valuable content pieces which are visible and searchable, mainly by optimizing these content pieces for search engine rankings and social media presence.
- Consistency: trust is a very expensive asset, and yet very easy to lose. By consistently publishing high-quality content pieces, we can establish our position as the expert of our respective industries.
- Personalization: each audience might need different content pieces according to their needs, their current stage on the buyer’s journey, and other factors. The idea is to deliver the right content for the right audience at exactly the right time to encourage them to move forward, closer to the actual purchase.
To summarize, inbound marketing is simply understanding the needs and issues of your ideal audience, publishing a content so this audience can find it when looking for information, and educating this audience until they are convinced to buy your product/service.
How Inbound Marketing Works
Inbound marketing might seem like a complex idea at first glance, however, it is actually quite simple once you’ve got the hang of it.
Here, we will discuss how to execute inbound marketing in a step-by-step approach, beginning with the first one.
Step 1: Setting Your Goals
The first step of a sound inbound marketing strategy is defining your goal(s). There are two main principles to consider here: first, is that your goals should be clear in a way that they are measurable through KPIs and measuring the right metrics. Second, they have to be realistic.
Big goals can certainly have their advantages, but can backfire when you (and your team) feel like you can’t achieve anything. In this case, you might want to break down the big goals into smaller, realistic milestones. Here are some important considerations in this step:
- Evaluate your current state (i.e. your current website traffic, your current number of generated leads, and so on)
- Your inbound marketing goal(s) must align with the overall business goal. For example, if your business goal is to increase revenue by 20%, this can translate to an inbound marketing goal of increasing prospects generation by 50%.
- Your goals must be measurable. Define important KPIs and set up the right tracking system to track these goals. We will discuss this further below.
- Have a timeline. This way, your efforts will have a time-bound purpose, and you can continuously evaluate them
Step 2: Understanding Your Audience
An integral part of inbound marketing is a thorough understanding of your audience: their behaviors, their needs, the problems they are facing, and so on. The idea is so that we can develop the right content that can provide value for this audience.
First, choose the ideal audience according to your goals defined on step 1. Here are some approaches you can try:
- If you are starting from scratch (i.e., it’s a brand new business or site), you can start by developing a reader persona. Developing a reader persona, however, can be beneficial for any business stages.
- Utilize your available data. For example, you can analyze the demographic data of your current social media followers and your website traffic. Use this data to find your most ideal audience
- Research your competitors, their inbound marketing approaches and especially their audience. You can either target this same audience or find opportunities and gaps based on this data.
- If you are a B2B company, remember that there can be several different purchase decision makers in your target company, that can comprise of several different roles. You will need to create different reader personas for each of these roles.
Step 3: Keyword Research
Based on your audience’s needs, we can find out how this audience is searching for content pieces by conducting a keyword research. There are four important factors to consider in this step:
1. Figure out your audience’s search intent
When we are searching on the internet, there is always a deeper search intent behind it. The thing is, our keyword and thus our content should accommodate this specific intent to provide value. Let’s use an example to illustrate this. Assume we are a B2B company selling a marketing automation tool, and here are some common intents for this company’s audience:
- Navigational: the audience heard about your brand from a colleague, online reviews, or other sources, and so are directly searching for your brand name. For this intent, you should optimize for branded keywords.
- Informational: the audience is searching for information related to their needs or problems. For example, an audience might be searching for an answer to their marketing productivity issue. In this case, you can target keywords like “marketing productivity”, “marketing automation productivity”, and so on.
- Product research: here, the audience is already interested in buying a marketing automation tool, and is currently comparing different products including yours. Here, you can target keywords like “your competitor’s name VS your brand name”.
Understanding your audience’s intent will also help in the content development process, and so this is a very beneficial approach for any inbound marketing strategy.
2. Utilizing Available Tools
Fortunately, there are many available tools that can help us in this process. Some of them are:
- Google Adwords’ Keyword Planner Tool
You can also use tools like Ubersuggest and BuzzSumo to suggest keywords and topics, among others. There are two important metrics to focus on when using these tools:
1. Search Volume
Refers to how many times people actually search for this keyword, usually on a monthly basis. No matter how relevant you perceive a keyword for your business, there’s no value in focusing on this keyword if no one is actually searching for it.
The “proper” search volume will be largely dependent on your industry, but generally, a search volume of above 500/month is considered decent.
2. Keyword Difficulty
Keyword Difficulty (KD) is closely related to the number of competitors you will face for a specific keyword: the more competition, the more “difficult” to optimize for the keyword. Tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs can show KD as a percentage, based on their algorithms. You might also want to check out this guide by Ahrefs to further help with the subject.
In general, the higher the search volume is (hence, the more popular the keyword), the tougher the keyword difficulty. The key here is finding the right keywords with the right balance of a decent search volume and manageable competition.
3. Manual Approach
The thing is, we can’t always rely on digital tools when researching keywords and topics. Sometimes, we have to rely on our human creativity.
For example, if you are targeting the boxing niche, most keyword research and suggestion tools won’t be able to come up with keywords like “southpaw”, which can be relevant. Similarly, if your main niche is basketball, most tools won’t come up with the “slam dunk” keyword.
Based on the other approaches we have discussed above, use your own creativity to fill in the gaps. You can then validate your keyword by using the keyword research tools above.
Step 4: Content Development
Now that you’ve decided on your target keywords, it’s time to develop your content. Here are the key considerations for this step:
1. Developing a Content Calendar
You can expand each target keyword into several (in fact, many different topics). So, it is wise to plan all these topics ahead and develop a comprehensive content calendar.
A proper content calendar should list at least:
- When and where (the channel) you will distribute the content. The channel will also often dictate the form of the content
- The tentative title of the content (optimized for the target keywords)
- Target keywords
- Meta description, meta tags, and categories
- CTA (Call-to-Action) plan
- Development progress
- How you will promote the content
Ideally, you should prepare a 12-month editorial calendar.
2. Developing Your Content
While content development is a very broad subject on its own, and we won’t give it much justice here, here are some key principles to follow:
1. SEO Optimization VS Value
Optimizing for SEO is a very important aspect of inbound marketing. However, make sure to focus on providing value and uniqueness for your human audience. Include your keywords naturally and don’t overstuff your content with keywords.
2. Content Length
The longer your content is always the better, especially for SEO purposes. However, it will be harder to maintain quality and engagement, the longer your content goes. The key here is finding the right balance, and according to studies, the average length for top-ranking textual content pieces is 1,890 words. What about podcasts and videos? This guide can be a good place to start.
3. Media Diversification
Even if you are posting a textual content, you should use images and videos to enhance it. On the other hand, you can use textual blog posts to support videos and podcasts. For example, you can publish relatively short and engaging videos and podcasts, and then provide a link to a more in-depth textual content.
4. Use Various Forms
There are many different content forms available:
- Educational and informational content
- Behind-the-scenes content
- Images, infographics, and photos
- Premium downloadable content like a report, white paper, or an ebook
The idea is to go back to your audience’s intent, and publish a content form that will provide better value for that specific intent. This way, we can encourage the audience to move forward in their buyer’s journey.
Step 5: Content Promotion
No matter how good your content is, it won’t bring value unless someone is actually consuming it. So, content promotion is just as important as the development process, if not even more important.
There are various channels you can use here:
- SEO: As we have mentioned, SEO is an integral part of inbound marketing. You might want to check out this guide to further learn about SEO optimization.
- Social Media Marketing: With so many people using social media, obviously social media marketing, both organic and paid, can be effective.
- Influencer Marketing: There are two core benefits in using influencers to promote your marketing. First, you can effectively reach their audience. Second, you might get valuable backlinks for SEO purposes.
Obviously, there are many other tactics you can use, and you might want to check out this guide by Moz about content promotion.
The idea is, treat your content as a landing page: optimize for the right keywords, build backlinks, and use all the possible tactics to promote each content.
While inbound marketing is certainly a pretty deep subject, the tactics and principles we have shared above can be an excellent foundation for any inbound marketing strategy.
Remember, however, that the key here is consistency: you will need to consistently publish high-quality, relevant content to continuously generate inbound leads in the long run.
June 6, 2020