Inbound marketing, the strategy/buzzword/elusive magical beast of the marketing world, is well known, yet not well understood. Coined in 2005 by Brian Halligan of Hubspot (a company now synonymous with the strategy), inbound marketing grew in popularity through the 2010s for one reason in particular … it works. Like, really well.
Yes, it’s true. When implemented correctly, inbound marketing strategies can send your leads soaring. Due to the effectiveness and growth in popularity, there is no shortage of inbound blogs, vlogs, podcasts and papers out there (including this one). It all can be a bit overwhelming to someone not well-versed in the topic.
If you’re new to the whole idea of inbound marketing, these 25 tips will give you a place to start and get your creative juices flowing. If you’re already down with inbound, my bet is you’ll find tactics you’ve overlooked and new perspectives on some you currently use.
So, for the uninitiated …
What Is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a marketing technique designed to draw customers in. Potential customers find you, not the other way around. How? Inbound marketing is all about strategically using quality content marketing, SEO and other digital marketing tactics to attract prospects to your brand or website. And it hinges entirely on providing a solution to a specific pain point.
The goal of inbound marketing isn't an instant conversion. It's building trust, establishing yourself as an authority on the subject. Which means the first order of business (providing valuable content to help a potential customer solve a problem) isn't necessarily the same as the end goal (converting that person into a paying customer).Inbound is a process, typically defined in 4 steps:
Content pieces are strategically used to build trust and move prospects through the process (or funnel or flywheel). By the end, prospects are customers, and those customers trust you enough to become brand advocates, thus attracting more customers to your brand. And on and on it rolls.
Check this out.Let’s Get Crazy - An Inbound Example Featuring Bob Ross
- Linda is a big fan of the painter, Bob Ross. Linda does a Google search for “how to paint like Bob Ross.”
- She clicks on one of the top search results, an article titled “How to Start Painting Like Bob Ross” from TwoInchBrush.com and digs in.
- Linda enjoys the article and joins the email list to get regular painting tips.
- When the time comes to buy paints, she recalls the useful how-to article and emails from TwoInchBrush and decides to see if they have a paint recommendation.
- Lo and behold, TwoInchBrush has a recommendation, and also happens to sell just the paints Linda needs.
- Multiple purchases and countless Happy Little Trees later, Linda trusts TwoInchBrush for all her painting supplies and recommends them to all her crafty friends.
From there on, Linda’s friends are in the funnel, well on their way to becoming brand advocates themselves.
Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing
While inbound marketing focuses on attracting prospects and drawing them in, outbound marketing involves pushing a brand or product out to customers. Outbound marketing tends to include “traditional” marketing like billboards, cold-calling and paid ads.
But (as we will see) there are some blurred lines between inbound and outbound (and not unlike the Robin Thicke song of the same name, it’s not often clear which side deserves credit). It’s best to keep in mind that with a thoughtful strategy, strong marketing tactics can often be deployed for both inbound and outbound purposes.
And that's really the key to inbound marketing (or any marketing). Nail the strategy and your tactics will follow.
So, now that we have a handle on what inbound marketing is (and isn’t), let’s dive into how you can make it work for your business.
Before You Start Inbound Marketing, You Need to…
A house without a strong foundation will crumble under its own weight, and your inbound marketing strategy is no different. Be mindful of these first tips. Doing so will help set your entire foray into inbound up for success.
1. Set Inbound Marketing Goals
It may seem obvious, but this gets missed ALL THE TIME. Before you start generating incredible inbound content and drowning in leads, you need to define your actual goals. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark.
Put numbers to the amount of organic page views, new leads or PDF downloads you want to see. If you’re uncertain where to start, there is very little that thoughtful, tried-and-true SMART goals can’t handle.
Once established, revisit, review and realistically revise as you need to. Be vigilant without being unreasonable.
2. Define Your Brand Consistently
Also frequently passed over is the importance of your brand to inbound marketing. One of the core tenets of inbound is the user coming to you because they trust and value you as an expert. If your brand lacks a consistent voice and your content pieces are a motley mish-mash of colors and font choices, you’d be hard-pressed to come across as an expert, regardless of your experience.
Likewise overlooked is the benefit a strong employer brand can have on your inbound strategy. Your employer brand is how your company defines itself to employees and candidates, and is key to retention and recruitment. The way you treat your employees and job seekers has a direct effect on whether a customer will purchase from you. If your employer brand is shaky, with subpar recruitment and retention, you’re fighting an uphill battle to convert any leads you bring in through inbound.
3. Understand Your Audience with Personas
Before you can effectively attract and convert leads through inbound, you need to know who you are dealing with. Cue … personas.
Personas are composite, personalized representations of your audience, complete with likes/dislikes, demographics, behaviors and pain points. Depending on your business, you will most likely have multiple personas. You can even give each one a name.
To create powerhouse personas, you’ll need to rely on all the customer data you can get your hands on—analytics, social insights, sales numbers and (best of all) direct customer feedback you gather through interviews and surveys.
4. Do Journey Mapping Like a BossIn journey mapping, you’ll take your personas and fully chart out what path(s) they may take through your sales or customer life cycle. For inbound marketing, this helps you identify which pain points can be addressed at what time, with what piece of marketing content for each persona:
Source: Nielsen Norman Group
Not only does this map your customer’s journey, it also maps out most of your inbound marketing strategy.
5. Perform SEO Keyword Research and Optimize Content
Do your homework!
A lot of inbound marketing depends on attracting users to you and your website. Potent SEO brings people to your website, and it does not happen without solid keyword research. Take the time to uncover the basic and semantic search terms your personas are using, optimize your content accordingly, and build a strong SEO base for your site. This will have a positive effect (literally) on every inbound marketing tactic you deploy.
Knowing the topics your targets are searching for is important, but knowing how those targets talk about what they search for can be just as critical to effective inbound. If you aren’t speaking the same industry or market language as your targets, it will be more difficult to move them through the funnel.
Take this example:
Growing up in Wisconsin, most folks refer to a water fountain as a “bubbler.” To market anything water fountain related to personas in this region, you’d need to be bubbler-aware to bring in leads. Regional differences like this are found all over the country on topics from sneakers to crawfish.
Speak the language or potentially lose the lead.
6. Research the Competition
You’ve taken the time to define your personas and map their journeys. You need to assume your competitors have done the same. Keep track and evaluate the types of content they offer, how it’s delivered and what persona it appeals to. Take inspiration from, copy or (better yet) improve on what is successful.
Be prepared to exceed their level—don’t bring your checkers to a chess match.
Completing those 6 steps should give you a good base to build your inbound strategy on. You’ll better understand your prospects, your competition and how to effectively communicate with them.
Now, to the tactics you can use to bring home the bacon.
Attract Leads with Quality Blog/Article Content
One of the oldest tricks in the online inbound marketing book, blogs date back to the 1990s.
Like sponsored magazine content before them, the inbound theory on blogs is simple: create non-salesy content that provides value to your customer. Your customer finds your blog, becomes convinced you know what you’re talking about and is now part of your sales cycle. It’s a crude overview, but applies to the goals of most blogs used for inbound.
While the goals have remained consistent, the types of blogs have evolved. The following 3 are the most relevant types of inbound blog tactics at this time.
7. Short-Form Articles
The classic. The OG.
Good, old-fashioned blogs still work. In fact, strategies that include blogging drive 67% more leads than those that don’t. Pick a topic that is valuable to your personas and post regularly. Relevant users will find you (inbound!). And, if the content answers a need or pain point they have, they will move closer to a sale.
8. Long-Form Content Articles
The most effective long-form articles typically run 2,000+ words, are evergreen in topic, and are chock-full of data and high-value content. This can include e-books, case studies and the like.For the most part, long form kicks short form’s butt in generating inbound leads, and here’s why:
Long form works. In an extremely meta turn of events, my guess is you are reading this post, which is in itself a long-form blog.
Eureka, it worked!
9. Guest Posts for Inbound
While it may be tempting to horde all your creative blog content for yourself, getting your blog posted to other influential sites in your industry is also extremely effective. Not only will your brand, your content and your solutions reach new users, all backlinks you land (when others link back to your content) can help boost your SEO.
Engage Potential Leads with Video, Infographics and Podcasts
While stellar written content is a must, sometimes it’s better to show than to tell when it comes to inbound. Remember, as with every inbound tactic, killer content is key.
10. Inbound Marketing Video Ideas
It’s no secret that people love video, especially on the internet. Video accounts for 85% of search traffic and over half of executives prefer watching a video to reading text. If you aren’t engaging users on this level, you are most likely leaving money on the table.
Get in front of users, and make sure your video provides value to your user personas. Even a Scorcese-helmed video won’t move users along your funnel if it fails to connect with their needs (with or without questionable de-aging).Try these three simple inbound video tactics:
1. Produce a video series
If you are in tune with your customer needs, creating a series of videos that address their pain points can really boost your inbound marketing. Present your expertise, include subtle calls to action, and see engagement and website visits increase.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams of Ohio does an incredible job of providing ice cream lovers with recipe ideas and useful content:
2. Host a webinar
Hosting a webinar gives you the opportunity to share your know-how in direct interaction with your audience. Low-cost and easy to produce, you also benefit from email collection of users at sign up.
3. Facebook Live
If a webinar is too daunting, or if a less formal one-on-one experience is better for your personas, try using Facebook Live. It’s easy to use and effective—Facebook users spend 3x as much time watching Live videos over pre-recorded ones.
Take questions, provide answers and, before you know it, your audience members will become your customers.
11. Infographics for Inbound Marketing
Infographics allow you to present a lot of complicated, descriptive and (let’s face it) potentially snooze-inducing information in an appealing format. Don’t skimp on design—well-crafted infographics increase leads and are shared at three times the rate of other content.
12. Podcasts Are an Inbound Marketing Strategy Too
Podcast listenership is at an all time high, and growing. You can start your own branded podcast or do branded guest spots on others. Doing so will not only raise brand awareness, but increase the likelihood that users view you as an expert. Podcasts present a relatively low-cost, high-reward medium for sharing valuable information with your personas. Just make sure your podcast schedule has a consistent cadence (daily, weekly, monthly) or you risk losing your repeat listeners.
PPC: Meet Your Inbound Users Where They Search
Are PPC (pay-per-click) ads outbound or inbound? The debate has raged on (at least in nerdy marketing circles, for well over a decade now). The answer/cop-out is … PPC ads are both inbound and outbound, it just depends on how you use them.
When used correctly, PPC campaigns can help drive your inbound leads through your funnel. And here’s how:
13. Inbound Paid Search Ads
The core of paid search ads strongly relates to inbound marketing strategy—users have a need, and they search for it. With paid search ads, not unlike optimized blogs, you can appear in their results to help answer their needs.Tips for keeping it inbound:
- Your ads should answer their need by driving searchers to valuable information, not a product or quick-sale opportunity.
- Gameplan how your PPC ads can move your personas from one stage of your funnel to the next. Consult your journey map for assistance.
- Remember, especially in your ad copy, these ads should help build your relationship with a lead.
14. Use Remarketing Ads to Nurture Inbound Leads
Remarketing = Reminding.
When a potential lead finds their way to a blog or video on your website, you can kick in the remarketing ads to engage them after they’ve left without taking an action (email signup, purchase, contact form, etc.). Remarketing ads are shown to users as they browse other sites online. These ads can remind them of the content or provide additional content they would find useful in their decision making process. It really does help to stay top of mind.
Optimize Your Website to Convert Like Crazy
As we’ve discussed, inbound marketing is built on you attracting and engaging your targets with incredible, useful content. Let’s assume you’ve brought them to your website. Now what do you do with them?
All the attraction in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans if you can’t continue the engagement and build that relationship. You need to optimize your site to move your leads along their path, and landing pages and opt-ins are two great ways to do so.
15. How Landing Pages Help Your Inbound Marketing
Landing pages differ from standard web pages in that they serve a very specific purpose, usually for digital advertising. This purpose is usually marketing related. Your blogs, e-books, videos, etc., may all be landing pages on your site. With inbound, most landing pages will first deliver value, then encourage leads down the path to a sale.
Consider the elements of an effective landing page:
- On topic and relevant. Effective landing pages are relevant to the need the user has. They should align with what your user is searching for. No bait-and-switch, especially within an inbound setting, as building trust is paramount to success.
- Have an obvious CTA (call to action). Perhaps this is downloading a PDF, subscribing for more info, or linking to other content relative to this user’s needs.
- Steer clear of clutter. Your lead has come to you for a solution, not a smorgasbord. Don’t oversell, overlink, or overdo too much. This isn’t a hard sell. It’s the start of a relationship.
16. Use Opt-Ins to Keep Inbound Users Engaged
On any page on your site (not just your landing pages), consider using opt-ins to encourage sign-ups to your email list. Be succinct; don’t ask for too much info right out the gate. This is an introductory handshake, not an interrogation.
If you’ve attracted a user with relevant content, or if they are taking the time to research your company on your site, the opt-in is their chance to reach back to you in a small way and show they are interested in continuing a relationship with you.
Your Inbound Strategy Needs Email Automation
Once users are opted in (as described above), it is up to email marketing to make the sign-up worthwhile. Email gives inbound marketers the opportunity to provide personalized content at predetermined, optimal rhythm. It should all be valuable content, specific to a user’s pain points and optimized to where they are in the sales flow. This may be five emails, 10 emails or 50 emails—it all depends on your business, your personas and your sales cycle.
17. Choose a Platform That Best Fits Your Email Automation Needs
Marketing Automation features are not exclusive to expansive (and expensive) platforms like Salesforce or Marketo. You’ll find that most major ESP platforms (MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, Omnisend, etc.) have email automation options with a variety of triggers and options for you to customize workflows for your business, regardless of size or budget.
18. Select the Workflow for Your Target AudienceYou’ll want your inbound email automation to be personalized to your users. This ensures that the right content is hitting the right person at the right time, increasing the chance of conversion. Here are 3 ways you could personalize your workflows:
- Workflow Based on Your User’s Point in the Sales Cycle
Personalize the content based on how long (or short) a customer has been in your sales cycle. For example, informational content is more valuable for users still researching; testimonials are more beneficial as they move toward a decision.
- Workflow Based on the Page or Content They Interacted With
Depending on your business, your content may not be a “one-size-fits-all” type business. If a user opts in and downloads an e-book on “Labradoodle Grooming Styles for the New Year,” you’ll want to make certain the forthcoming email content follows suit.
Workflow Based on Acquisition ChannelThe needs and habits of a customer who found you on Google search may be completely different from the pain points of a user who heard about you on a podcast. Be aware of these differences and make adjustments to your automation to ensure each customer gets an optimized workflow.
19. Ensure Your Email Copy Compels Them to Take ActionThe most well-thought-out workflow in the world won’t do you a lot of good if your users don’t actually open and read your email. You need to snare their attention and give them good reason to read on. Do the following:
- Use concise subject lines and preheaders that address your personas’ need
Stick to 50 characters or less for your subject line. Preheader copy can be a bit longer, but in most cases, mobile viewers will only see the first 55 characters.
- Keep body copy relevant and include a clear CTA (call to action)
You’ve piqued interest with the subject line, now the body copy needs to follow suit. Don’t stuff your text with info unrelated to your customer's need. Most important, provide a clear CTA as a button, text link or both.
- Make sure the experience is consistent through the landing page
From subject line to body copy to landing page, your user’s experience needs to stay consistent. That applies to content, style, graphics, and ensuring that your landing page relates to the email CTA your user clicked on to get there. Doing so will increase the probability of your prospect moving toward a sale.
An Attractive Pair = Influencer Marketing + Inbound Marketing
Influencer marketing relies on (wait for it) social influencers to showcase your brand, building awareness. This pairs well with inbound marketing, especially in the attract phase. These don’t need to be salesy product showcases. You really just need to be present, so when a problem requires a solution, the prospect thinks of you.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
20. Sponsor an Influencer Video
Let’s say you run a chain of hardware stores on the East Coast. You find a popular DIY-er in your area and sponsor their video. No hard sells on products or services. But, when those DIY-ers gear up for their next project, they’ll certainly have you top of mind.
21. Partner with a Social Media Influencer in Your Industry
We can’t all muster scratch to partner with Ariana Grande (an estimated $1 Million per post), but even less prominent influencers can have a large impact on your brand awareness. Find influencers with ties to your industry to avoid the shameless-product-placement vibe, and focus your content on addressing a pain point.
The trust of their followers will begin to transfer to your brand, feeding both the attract and convert steps of your inbound strategy.
Utilizing Social Media for Inbound
With inbound (more so than outbound) your strategy hinges on attracting and building relationships, which social media platforms are made to do. Building brand awareness with large social audiences not only helps attract and convert customers, it provides one more avenue to showcase your quality content.
22. The Usual Suspects: Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter
Facebook and LinkedIn. You’ve heard of them. Post useful content to both often. Link back to blogs, infographics, videos, everything. If you aren’t doing this already, you are behind the eight ball.
23. The Unusual SuspectsWhile Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are top of mind for most businesses, there are other platforms with features that lend very well to nurturing inbound leads. Give these other platforms a go:
- Instagram - A great fit, especially if you have strong infographic or video content. BONUS TIP: check out Instagram Stories. Instagram Stories are viewed by 500 Million people everyday, with 62% of users saying they’ve become more interested in a brand after seeing it on Instagram Stories.
- Snapchat - With a Stories feature similar to Instagram, as well as a Discover feature, Snapchat is primed to showcase your valuable content, especially if you have Millenial or Gen Z personas to target.
- Quora - A platform designed for questions and answers, Quora is well suited for inbound. You can provide answers and content and establish yourself as a trusted authority on industry-related questions. As a bonus, Quora posts often appear in Google Featured Snippets at the top of organic search results.
- Reddit - Similar to Quora in that, for inbound, you’d be providing relevant content to questions or statements. Reddit sports 330 million active monthly users, organized into content-specific communities called subreddits. If you can tap into a subreddit, and regularly provide good, relevant content, Reddit could become a nice option for attracting new leads.
Inbound Matters After the Sale
According to inbound marketing methodology, after you convert and close you enter the all-important delight phase. Remember, inbound marketing is about building meaningful relationships. You can’t simply call it a day when a sale or conversion happens. In the delight phase, you wow your customers post-sale and transform them into brand advocates.
24. Loyalty Programs Make You Money
79% of customers expect a special recognition or benefit when completing a sale, so at this point, a loyalty program is a no-brainer. Not only do loyalty programs strengthen your customer relationships and increase the likelihood of repeat business, they make you money by significantly reducing your spend on customer acquisition.
25. Use a CRM to Optimize Your Inbound Process
Keeping track of your customer’s needs post-purchase (and in all phases of the inbound journey) will help you have the most valuable resources ready for them at the right time. Using CRM (customer relationship management) software can help you do this, and scale as your business grows. Big names like Hubspot and Salesforce are out there, but don’t sleep on lesser-known options like Nutshell or Less Annoying CRM.
Find the right platform for your business and budget and make the most of it. Bonus tip: Consider adding a chatbot to support your inbound efforts.
Ready to Take Your Inbound Marketing Strategy to New Heights?
You now have the base knowledge, prep work and tactical know-how to effectively implement an inbound marketing strategy for your business. Will it be easy? Heck no! Will it be beneficial? Yes, and like anything worthwhile, you need to plan and execute.
Take the time to listen to customer needs, address persona pain points and build that trust. And before you know it, you’ll be writing long-form articles about your successful inbound marketing strategy, which ranks high on Google and draws in more leads … those leads become customers then brand advocates writing about your strategy … which draws in more leads, and those leads … you get the idea.
And if you want some additional assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to chat with you about how we might be able to augment your team’s efforts.