What is inbound marketing?

What on earth is inbound marketing? Is it just jargon or a new way of marketing? Find out more about a potent form of internet marketing.

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Our regular readers will have noticed that we updated our site last week.

As well as a fresh skin (do you like it?) and a catastrophically ill-timed server failure (now moved and spread in the cloud) the new site heralded a new label of inbound marketing agency.

I really don’t like jargon but inbound marketing is something that I  believe in strongly and it is actually a much better description of what we do – SEO is still absolutely key to driving targeted traffic but we are much more than just another SEO agency.

So what is inbound marketing?

If I had to summarise it in one sentence, it would along the lines of:

“Successful inbound marketing is attracting your target audience to your website by earning  their attention”

I could ramble on for hours, but it is the notion of earning attention that I believe to be key. No spam. No cookie cutter junk. Lots of consideration of what your target audience is interested in and serious thought about how to present this to them.

We have HubSpot‘s CEO and co-founder, Brian Halligan, to thank for term and at the time of writing this blog post, a visit to their homepage will see the brilliant strapline “Create Marketing People Love”. Pure genius.

Hammer or magnet?

The more astute reader will have noticed the magnet image on this page. This is how I see inbound marketing – it is a strong magnetic  force that attracts people to your website and you then work hard to convert that traffic.

Traditional, or outbound, marketing is all about identifying your target audience and then hammering them with marketing messages. It is often poorly targeted and usually invasive.

Not only is the interruption usually not wanted, technology is rendering these techniques less effective as you can now block cold calls, skip ads on your TV, filter out spam emails and use RSS to digest content

As David Meerman Scott (author of the excellent ‘The New Rules of Marketing and PR’) puts it, outbound marketing involves buying, begging or bugging your way in.

The inbound marketer will seek to earn their way in.

Content is king

Hang on, are we back to SEO again? How often have you heard the SEO community bang on about how important good content is?

In my humble opinion, a good SEO agency is already an inbound marketing agency. A good SEO agency will not be fussing over meta tags but they will be helping their clients create and share excellent content. It is impossible to talk (good) SEO without talking content, outreach and social media engagement.

Content is indeed king, but it needs to be a popular king. Content for content’s sake will not cut it and you will not be able to harness the potential of social media to help amplify the impact of your content if it is not interesting or engaging.

The tools of the trade of the inbound marketer include on-page content (e.g. blog posts), whitepapers, webinars, ebooks, podcasts, video and interactive tools. Their success will be aligned with how useful / engaging they are for the intended audience and how successful you can be at making enough noise about them so that the right people (influential) know that they exist.

Invest in the long term

I have often heard people saying that inbound marketing is a cheaper form of advertising. I have never liked the word cheap and prefer to consider value and ROI.

Successful inbound marketing requires resource and brain power. Excellent inbound marketing requires both in abundance and it will require investment.

Just as it can be hard to forecast value of PR coverage (don’t even start talking to me about advertising equivalent values…), it can be difficult to know what to expect from your investment in content and outreach.

What I can say with absolute conviction is that you will build long term value through your inbound marketing efforts and you will reap the rewards for a long time.

I saw a very good presentation from Mike Volpe, from HubSpot, at the Econsultancy Funnel event last week in which he discussed the concept of owning v renting your marketing.

He used PPC as an example of rented marketing – if you turn off your ads, your traffic will dry up. A good piece of content (owned marketing) is likely to have a very long shelf life. In their case, 70% of leads from their blogs in a given month are not a result of content published in that month.

Think about that for a second.

He mentioned a particular blog post that is 3 years old but continues to attract traffic in droves and high numbers of leads.

Investing in inbound marketing will deliver results for months and years to come. It isn’t cheap, but it will deliver incredible long term ROI.

Is SEO dead?

No, of course it isn’t.

Just because we are now calling ourselves an inbound marketing agency does not mean that we have given up on SEO. Far from it. Anyone who says that SEO is dead can’t have access to a web analytics platform which will show that search marketing is still the no.1 driver of traffic to almost any website. SEO is core to inbound marketing.

I would agree that SEO has evolved, but that evolution has been occurring over the years. Yes, the penguins, pandas, EMDs (see  www.seomoz.org/google-algorithm-change if I have lost you) have made 2012 an especially turbulent year for SEO, but Google’s fundamental goals have not changed and most of the people whining have been from sites that really didn’t deserve to rank very well as they do not actually offer anything of real value.

We used to describe ourselves as a PR-led SEO agency. I still believe that SEO and PR have an enormous amount in common, but we can offer a lot more than just ‘traditional’ SEO.

If you fancy giving it a go, you know where to come!


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