An Inbound Marketing Primer for Digital Agencies
If you haven’t harnessed the power of inbound marketing, you could be losing customers and sales to your more savvy competitors. Inbound marketing allows companies of all sizes to compete on a level playing field without having to spend a fortune on print, direct mail or television advertising.
I. What is inbound marketing?
Simply put, inbound marketing is the art and science of drawing readers (and potential customers) to a company’s online presence (website, blog and/or social media pages) by creating engaging content. The goal of inbound marketing is to create a loyal “fan base” that sees your company as an authority in your field. Thus, when a reader has a need for one of your products or services, he or she will naturally turn to your company.
The differences between inbound and outbound marketing
Inbound marketing differs from traditional (outbound) marketing in that the company is providing useful information, not just advertising copy. Instead of the constant bombardment of “Buy this,” “Call now” and “Visit our showroom today,” inbound marketing is generally viewed as entertaining and useful as stand-alone content. The marketing aspect of inbound marketing material is much more of a soft sell and much more subtle than that of traditional marketing.
While traditional, outbound marketing includes such methods as newspaper and magazine advertising, direct mail pieces, billboard ads and radio and TV ads, inbound marketing uses tools like SEO to make sure that interested readers find your website, content marketing, social media posts and videos organically via search engines like Google and Yahoo!
Benefits of inbound marketing
There are several key advantages to inbound marketing over traditional marketing. Among the most important of these is the cost of reaching potential customers. An entire Internet content campaign can be created and posted for a fraction of the cost of a single radio or print ad. In addition, inbound marketing works to create a more solid relationship with your customers and potential customers than does traditional “Buy now” type copy.
Another key advantage of inbound marketing is its higher close rates. On average, nearly 15 percent of SEO content leads to a close while only 1.7 percent of outbound marketing leads to a sale. This is due, in part, because inbound marketing can be targeted directly to those Internet surfers who are most likely to benefit or be interested in your products or services. Print, radio and television advertising work on the broadcast method of sending the message to a huge number of readers, the majority of which are unlikely to need or want your product.
Yet another benefit of inbound marketing is its flexibility. Unlike a print or television ad, you can make changes in your inbound marketing at any time, even after the campaign has launched. This dynamic feature allows you to adjust pricing, extend an offer and/or correct any errors in the piece in real time.
II. How to formulate an effective inbound marketing strategy
It doesn’t take a dedicated department or a huge marketing budget to craft an effective inbound marketing strategy. The key component is consistency, both in the message and in the posting frequency.
- Define the message and goals. Because consistency is paramount to a good inbound marketing campaign, the first step is to define what message yo want to emphasize and what your goals are for the campaign. Do you want to attract new customers? Do you want to gain new readers for your newsletter? Or, perhaps, you want readers to attend an outside event, such as a trunk show, a wine tasting or a booth at a trade show or festival. Whatever the goal, it’s essential to define the desired outcome before you begin the campaign.
At the same time you are defining the inbound marketing message and goals, you’ll want to map out the marketing strategy. Do you want to post articles solely on your blog or website, or do you want a multi-faceted campaign that includes social media and a visual site like Instagram as well as the website and blog? Only when you know what you want to accomplish and where you will be communicating your message can you begin to work on the copy and topics.
Consistency comes into play in the choice of posts, as well. You’ll want to make sure that you post the same message across all of your digital media, including social media, the blog and website, your email marketing messages and your text messages.
- Create a posting calendar. It’s too easy to lose sight of your marketing goals without a clear map of what you want to post where and when. It’s tempting for you to think that you can keep all of this information in your head, but this is rarely the most efficient plan. In addition, when you have a posting calendar, it’s simple for another staff member to stand in for the primary writer/administrator if he or she should be unavailable.
- Make sure that the website and blog are up to date and sending the right message. Before you start attracting new readers to your digital sites with inbound marketing, take a long, objective view at your current sites. Is your website up to date? Do you have recent posts? Is the design eye-catching and appealing to the target audience. Make sure to tackle any necessary housecleaning tasks before you begin the inbound marketing campaign. You may even need to assign a staff member to be responsible for site maintenance.
- Create a robust social media presence. There are more than 400 social media sites today, with more being added every month. Some, such as Facebook and Twitter, appeal to a broad audience; Others are niche sites, such as Goodreads for booklovers and authors, Ravelry for knitting enthusiasts and Flixster for movie fans. A good social media network means more than just creating pages and cutting and pasting a company’s information. To be effective, you need to post regularly on all of your sites as well as be responsive to readers’ comments, questions and posts.
How to evaluate a marketing strategy’s effectiveness
Another important aspect of inbound marketing is putting in place a system for evaluating the campaign’s effectiveness. In some cases, it’s easy. For instance, if the goal is to increase newsletter readership, you can simply chart new subscribers during the period that the inbound marketing campaign runs. However, other goals are not so easily quantifiable. For example, if you want to increase sales, it’s difficult to tell whether an increase is due to the marketing or due to other factors, such as seasonal trends.
While there are no absolutes in measuring inbound marketing effectiveness, keeping an eye on these three metrics will help you get a feel for what is working (and what is not.)
- New site visitors. Since inbound marketing’s primary goal is to draw new readers to your website, blog and/or social media pages, looking at new site visitors can give you a good indication of whether the campaign is effective. This is preferable to looking at overall traffic, since other influences can be padding those numbers. Strive for around 15 percent new visitors.
- Traffic sources. Organic traffic, that is, traffic that comes from search engine results, is another good measure of your inbound marketing effectiveness. If 30 to 40 percent of the traffic isn’t coming from your SEO after allowing a reasonable amount of time for these search engines to find your new pages, then you will want to make some changes to the strategy.
- Social engagement. How many times your readers share or react to your posts is another good way to measure your marketing effectiveness. Obviously, people aren’t likely to share the content if they don’t find it interesting or informative. Facebook makes measuring social engagement easy by listing posts “your friends are talking about.”
III. How digital agencies can use inbound marketing to help grow their businesses
Inbound marketing can be used effectively in a number of ways to increase your customer base, your digital readership and ultimately your bottom line. Just a few examples and ideas on how inbound marketing can be effective include:
- Present your company as an authority in your field. Good, regular content creates a feeling of trust from readers. Within this atmosphere of trust, readers are likely to turn to your company or recommend it to a friend when they or their friends have a need for your product or service. Become an authority on their topic by answering common questions about their topic on your site, posting new uses for your product or service, sharing stories about satisfied customers’ experience with your product and/or sharing related articles (written by other, non-competing sources) that you think may be of interest to readers.
- Offer a free, valuable giveaway. A free item, such as an e-book or a whitepaper, is another way to grow that feeling of trust as well as entice new readers and customers. Make sure that what you offer is perceived to have value, not just a rehashing of information already available on the Internet.
- Build a unique brand. A brand is to a company what a personality is to an individual. It’s what makes a company unique and what people remember about the company after they’ve left the store and exited the website. A number of components go into creating a strong brand. These can include the company logo, a catchy tagline, the website design and the voice you use in your website and social media posts.
- Invite guest bloggers. Inviting others in your field to write articles or social media posts for your business not only varies the content and makes it more interesting to readers, but adds authority to the website or blog. These guest bloggers will also likely bring their own following to the site, adding to your website readership and potential customer base. Be sure to choose the writers carefully, however. You want to invite someone who adds credibility to your topic and who doesn’t offer a competing product or service.
- Include a mixed bag of media with the posts. Words may be the most informative type of content, but they can be rather boring. Consider that the average Internet surfer loses interest in just eight seconds and that 10,000-word essay will seem like a rather bad idea. Instead, use a diverse mixture of images, short posts, videos and polls to keep your posts fresh and interesting. If you feel your readers need to know what’s in that 10,000-word piece, offer it instead as a free whitepaper and write a short blog post with the highlights to encourage readers to download it.
- Master the art of the call to action AND the close. The most clever and interesting post is of little use to your business if it doesn’t translate into an action, such as a sale, a download or a new newsletter subscriber. As important as your grammar and vocabulary is your ability to convert an interested reader into a satisfied customer. Don’t waste your marketing efforts and resources by failing to include a call to action (and following up on it) at the end of each and every post.
Inbound marketing offers a myriad of ways for businesses of all sizes to connect effectively with their customers and potential customers without having to spend a huge amount of money. Of course, even the most effective inbound marketing campaign is worthless without the product and customer service to back it up. However, to draw new customers and site visitors to your business, you can’t do better with your marketing dollars than to use inbound marketing.
To learn more about how to make inbound marketing work for your business and help to increase your bottom line, visit Pagestead or feel free to share thoughts and remarks in the comments below.