But what do we mean by inbound marketing?
How can you use it to grow your business?
We cover the answers to these questions in this article, together with nine of the best and most widely used inbound marketing methods and tips to get you started.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a marketing approach that focuses on attracting customers by creating valuable, tailored content and experiences that meet their needs or solve a problem.
This approach is entirely consumer-driven. It’s about helping customers find you when they need you.
With inbound marketing, we think, “How can we help or give value to people who might want to buy from us?”
People often refer to it as using techniques that ‘pull’ customers to us rather than us ‘pushing’ our way into customers’ lives.
Inbound marketing is built on the intention to provide value to potential customers and establish trust in your business.
Popular inbound marketing tools and techniques include content marketing, lead magnets, social media marketing, search engine optimisation, and branding – all of which we’ll be exploring in more detail below.
How does inbound marketing differ from outbound marketing?
Outbound marketing techniques, on the other hand, are marketer-driven. They require you – the business – to interrupt potential customers with your message.
Think more ‘traditional’ marketing methods such as cold calling, buying mailing lists, television commercials, radio and print ads, and email spam.
The following infographic from Software Advice clearly shows the difference between the two marketing styles:
Hubspot compares inbound marketing to marketing with a magnet, as opposed to outbound marketing as marketing with a sledgehammer!
Even though outbound marketing tends to be harder to track and less profitable than inbound marketing, many organisations spend as much as 90% of their marketing budget on outbound marketing methods.
And yet, according to Vital, ‘45% of direct mail never gets opened’ and ‘85% of people fast-forward through commercials’.
This infographic from Movefoundry reiterates this message:
Outbound marketing just isn’t as effective as inbound marketing, especially when it comes to building a loyal base of repeat customers.
It’s clear this money would be better spent elsewhere.
The truth is that a mixture of engaging content, social media posts, SEO and branding are the tools you need to equip yourself with to create an effective marketing campaign.
The great thing about an inbound strategy is the fact that it needn’t feel like marketing. It is all about educating and providing value.
And, even better, it leads to results.
How can you attract more leads using inbound marketing?
Later in this guide, we’ll be looking at the specific inbound marketing tools you can use to attract business.
First though, it’s important to highlight that different inbound marketing tactics will work at different stages in the customer journey (sometimes referred to as the ‘sales pipeline’).
Throughout the journey from hearing about your brand for the first time until a purchase is made (and beyond), there are many ‘touchpoints’, i.e. possible points of contact between your brand and the potential customer.
The general advice is that it takes somewhere between six and 30 ‘touches’ for a prospect to turn into a customer (although you’ll find many variations on these figures online).
The key point remains – people are unlikely to buy from you the first time they come into contact with your business. Securing a sale is about building a relationship and trust between your target audience and your brand.
The four stages of the customer journey
Broadly speaking, there are four main stages to the customer journey:
- Attracting strangers to your business
- Converting these new visitors into leads
- Closing leads into customers through lead nurturing
- Delighting customers so they promote your brand and buy again
Touchpoints in stage one relate to ways in which your business can be discovered. The inbound marketing methods you use could include SEO, your blog, social media or targeted PPC advertising, as a few examples.
Later touchpoints in stages two and three focus on what’s sometimes referred to as ‘certainty growth’.
People won’t buy from you unless they are certain about you, your company and your product. So your job is to nurture them through their touchpoints and increase the certainty that they feel for your business.
You can do this through organic social media posts, helpful blog content, downloadable brochures, email marketing, SEO, videos, calls to action, and more.
Stage four is about showing customers that you care about them beyond that first sale. This is the stage that turns happy customers into passionate brand ambassadors.
The secret to attracting more leads is to develop the best, most suitable inbound marketing approaches for each potential touchpoint.
What are the best methods for inbound marketing?
Below, I’ve covered some of the best and most widely used inbound marketing methods.
Branding runs through everything you do.
For this reason, your brand should inform every aspect of your inbound marketing. You want potential customers to be able to identify your business easily at every touchpoint.
This means using a consistent tone of voice, brand design, marketing messages, images and much more.
There are so many benefits to letting your branding infuse every piece of inbound marketing. It tells people what they can expect from your business and builds a new layer of trust every time you meet that expectation.
It creates a sense of reliability and integrity, of simplicity and transparency. You want potential customers to know what they will get when they buy from you, and to feel that you can be easily picked from the crowd, even in a competitive marketplace.
Tip: Gather up all of your marketing materials, both digital and print. Do they all look like they’ve come from the same company or is there anything that stands out like a sore thumb? How can you change it to make it more in line with the rest of your marketing?
Your website is one of the biggest inbound marketing tools at your disposal. Most importantly, you have complete control over the design and content.
For your website to be effective, it needs to speak to your target clients and contain content for each stage of the buying journey.
What will people want to see when they’re just looking for information about how to solve their specific needs or problem?
What information can you share when they’re in the learning stage or comparing suppliers before buying?
And, finally, what content will appeal to people who are ready to make a purchase?
What would someone hope to find on your website based on the searches they’re making? Is there a clear entry point into your site for people who are coming to your website for the first time? Is it obvious where they need to go next?
3. Content marketing
Creating content that answers your ideal customers’ questions and educates them is the cornerstone of inbound marketing. This type of content works like magic to not only attract your ideal prospects but also build trust, which is essential if they are to become a customer.
The more of your content a prospect reads, views or hears, the more likely they are to buy from you.
This marketing strategy is proven to drive sales and growth. Conversions are over 80% more likely with inbound marketing, compared to about 20% without!
In the book They Ask You Answer, author Marcus Sheridan compares every piece of content that someone reads or watches as the equivalent of a meeting.
Imagine having 20 or 30 meetings with a prospective customer! Despite being time-intensive, it’s likely that after that many meetings the prospect would know whether or not they will want to do business with you.
Now imagine that a prospective customer has read 30 pieces of your content that answers all of their questions about a product or service. Educating your prospects by giving them the information they need when they need it is the key to the perfect inbound marketing strategy.
As we’ve seen above, your content marketing can include anything from a social media post, video, blog post, infographic or newsletter to a web page, guide or checklist. The list goes on.
It’s not enough just to post the content you create on your website. You have to actively use it in your sales process.
Intentionally using content that you’ve created – that is educational about your products or services and that answers the concerns of the prospect – will build trust and move them down the sales funnel… if they’re a good fit.
Tip: People love interactive content like quizzes.
According to Digiday, 96% of Buzzfeed users finish a sponsored quiz once they’ve started.
Posting interactive content to your website is therefore a great way of reducing bounce rate and maximising the time the user spends with your brand. After all, the longer the ‘meeting’, the better.The result? An improved lead-to-customer ratio.
Video should be an essential part of any inbound marketing campaign – the latest stats show that 92% of marketers are using video and 88% are seeing a positive return in their investment (ROI).
It’s estimated that, by 2021, each of us will be watching a daily average of 100 minutes of online video. Collectively, we’re already watching over a billion hours of video on YouTube every single day.
According to Hubspot, the four most popular video types are explainers, product demos, how-tos and testimonials. And Shopify has found that once someone has watched a video about a product or service, they’re 64-85% more likely to make a purchase.
Not only does video answer consumer questions on your product, videos can decrease bounce rate and increase dwell time for your site, directly improving your rankings. They’re also great for sharing and watching on mobile devices.
Tip: As with all of the content you create, it’s important to target different videos at different stages in the customer journey. You might want to tell your brand story in a video for people at the early awareness stage, but create product explainer videos for potential customers who are almost ready to buy.
Your blog has the potential to be one of the most effective tools in your inbound marketing toolbox.
It is a dedicated place on your website where you can share written articles, videos and even links to your podcast, if you produce one.
What knowledge do you have that matters to your potential customers? This is what you should aim to share on your blog.
On the SEO+ blog, for example, I aim to share in-depth, informative and educational guides about on-page SEO, off-page SEO, technical SEO, social media, content marketing, and analytics tools to help you monitor your SEO performance.
These are the over-arching topics but I dive deep into sub-topics within each category too.
Yes, my courses and services cover all of these subjects and issues, and my ultimate hope is that people will come to me for SEO support. However, I also know that it’s important to help demystify SEO, even for small business owners who aren’t in a position to outsource at the moment.
When the day comes that they do want expert support, hopefully SEO+ will be top of mind.
As well as positioning you as an expert, there are other reasons to use your blog for inbound marketing:
- You have fresh content to share on social media platforms
- Your followers also have content from you that they can share with their networks – this will grow your reach
- You can target additional keywords in individual articles
- You can establish your voice as an expert among your industry peers, building your reputation and authority
- Blogging can help to attract backlinks to your website and link internal content together
- You can use your blogs as newsletter content to send out to your mailing list
Once you start blogging regularly, your audience will know to look out for fresh content from you, giving them a reason to keep coming back to your website. Each visit is another touchpoint on that journey towards becoming a customer.
Tip one: Create blog posts that answer your prospects’ questions
Give your prospective customers the information that they’re searching for. The more relevant questions that you can answer for them, the more they will trust you and be attracted to your business.
A great tool for discovering what people are asking about a product or service is Answer the Public.
Here’s a screenshot of the questions people ask about inbound marketing:
Including some of your audience’s most asked questions in your content is a sure-fire way of making sure it engages prospective customers.
Tip two: Repurpose and re-promote existing blog posts
Time is precious so it’s important to get as much mileage out of your existing content as possible.
Take note of popular, existing blog posts on your site and re-purpose them to make them more shareable. Perhaps make them into an e-guide or quiz, and then re-promote them.
6. Social media marketing
Inbound marketing is all about giving people the content they need when they need it. And social media is one of the best tools we can use to achieve this.
Along with your content marketing, blog and SEO, social media marketing one of the most effective ways that you can get in front of a new audience. It can also help to bring new visitors to your website where, ideally, you will convert the visitor to a lead and then a paying customer.
Social media marketing has many benefits as an inbound marketing tool. It helps you to:
- Build brand awareness
- Grow your online authority
- Show your integrity and build trust
- Talk to potential customers and show that you care about what they have to say – by responding to your social media followers, you can go from a business to a personable brand
- Turn people into paying customers and passionate fans
Your content marketing and blog can be used to feed what you say on social media, giving you something to share that’s highly relevant to your audience.
Your social media posts should reflect your brand identity and voice and be aimed at those all-important target customers.
Tip: Remember to keep an eye on the data provided by the various social media platforms so that you can track the reach and engagements of each post. This will help you to build a clearer picture about what your audience wants to see and hear from you.
SEO is an integral part of any digital strategy. According to Hubspot, 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority.
It makes sense to focus on SEO.
When people have questions, they ask a search engine. Each search represents a potential customer who wants something you offer or needs help with a problem you can solve.
If you can provide high quality, informative content that answers searchers’ questions, you have a greater chance of appearing in SERPs and attracting a visitor to your website.
This attraction, the act of giving people the information they need when they need it, is the very essence of inbound marketing.
Great content is at the heart of effective SEO. Articles that keep people reading, videos that keep people watching or podcasts that keep people listening can all help your SEO by:
- Keeping visitors on your site for longer (increasing ‘dwell’ time)
- Encouraging visitors to view more than one page (decreasing bounce rate)
- Prompting visitors to share your content on social media
- Building your authority
- Attracting the attention of influencers
- Creating a source of backlinks
Together, these signals tell Google that your web pages deserve to be ranked highly. In turn, this will bring more new visitors to your website, giving you the opportunity to turn them into leads and then customers.
Tip: Look at the most common search terms people are using to find your website (you can find this information on Google Search Console). What pages are these searches taking them to? Does the content on the page give information that reflects the intention behind the search term? In other words, does it give searchers what they’re looking for?
If it doesn’t, think about how you can tweak the pages to better meet your audience’s needs. You may need to write blog articles focused on specific search terms.
8. Lead magnet
Do you have a mailing list or a mechanism for growing one?
Your mailing list is a list of people who have given you their contact information and permission to get in touch with more communications from your company.
These people are incredibly valuable because you know that they’re interested in your products and services and you have an agreed way to make regular contact (more of those ‘touchpoints’ we talked about above).
Of course, most people won’t sign up to a mailing list without an incentive. Why should they give you their email address unless they stand to benefit in some way?
This is where your lead magnet comes into play.
A lead magnet is something that your audience can only view, access or download by signing up to your mailing list. Many companies choose to offer free or low-cost items as a kind of ‘irresistible freebie’.
Common lead magnets include:
- Personality/archetype profiles
- White papers
Alternatively, you could simply encourage website visitors to sign up to receive your e-newsletter.
Lead magnets can be an incredibly effective inbound marketing tool, especially if you can tap into something that your potential customers would find valuable in some way.
By capturing contact details, you turn your website visitors from anonymous viewers into viable leads.
Tip: Do you have any blogs that are all on a related subject? How about turning them into an ebook?
For example, a dog behaviourist could take five or six of the blogs they’ve written about helping a stressed, fearful dog be less reactive on their lead and turn them into a free ebook entitled “From growly dog to happy dog: A guide to calmer walks”.
Pulling together content you’ve already created is a great way of maximising its potential and saving time, while reaching a new audience.
An e-book can be a great place to initially establish your brand as an industry expert.
At its most simple, it’s a hub in which to answer consumer questions and provide a call-to-action for your company. More in-depth e-books can even be sold on Amazon Kindle or other publishing platforms to reach a wider audience.
9. Email marketing
Email marketing is an inbound digital marketing strategy where you send emails to the leads and customers on your mailing list.
This approach has many benefits:
- You can target and tailor the content you send to different segments of your mailing list, e.g. you could send product discounts to prospective customers and then campaigns about related products to someone who has already made a purchase.
- It delivers your message directly into people’s mailboxes rather than being dependent on algorithms.
- Email has a high ROI and drives conversions.
- 72% of people prefer to receive promotional content via email.
- Email has outlasted a number of social media platforms (who still uses MySpace?) and is a more reliable way to stay in touch with your leads.
We all have crowded inboxes so people will quickly unsubscribe from your list if they feel like your emails have no value.
The key with your email marketing is to make every communication count, even if you’re just sending out a monthly e-newsletter.
Tip: Use the data at your disposal to understand where a lead is on that all-important customer journey. What lead magnet did they download to join your mailing list? How did they find your business? Have they bought from you before?
Remember, inbound marketing is all about giving your audience the information they need when they need it. If you can make your email marketing as personalised and targeted as possible, you should see your conversion rates soar.
Implementing an inbound marketing strategy
Now you know what inbound marketing is and what tools you could use to attract new customers to your business, your next step is to formulate an inbound marketing strategy.
This can broadly be covered in six steps:
Step one: Set your inbound marketing goals
Your first step is to pinpoint what you want your inbound marketing activities to achieve. As we’ve explored above, you will need to have a good sense of your target customer and how your products or services meet their needs.
You will also need to map out the customer journey (and tweak it as you learn more).
Finally, in this goal-setting stage, it’s worth looking at what your competitors are doing or the issues that are affecting your industry. Is there a gap that your company fills? How can you let people know about this?
Step two: Getting your business found
Your next step will be to identify and then optimise all the ways you can help potential customers find your business. This will include some, if not all, of the following:
- Keyword research
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO, such as guest blogging or content syndication
- Planning your editorial calendar
- What blogs and other content do you need?
- Who is it for?
- What stage are they in the journey to becoming a customer?
- What needs to be posted, as well as when and where?
- Social media planning and content
- PPC advertising
Your aim here is to provide content that will appeal to people who are looking for the products and services that you offer, even if they’ve never heard of your brand.
Step three: Turning visitors into leads
Now that you’ve attracted visitors to your website or social media pages, your next step is to begin building the sense of connection and trust.
To do this, you may want to focus on:
- Blogs aimed at further into the customer journey
- Landing pages
- Lead magnets
- Calls to action
At this stage, your inbound marketing strategy will ideally concentrate on growing your mailing list – i.e. capturing contact details – and spurring people into taking action, whether that’s making an enquiry or a purchase.
Step four: Turning leads into paying customers
Step four of this process is about turning those so-called ‘warm’ leads into paying customers.
This is where email marketing comes into its own.
Your aim should be to nurture the prospect by gently moving them forward on their customer journey with targeted information and offers.
Think about how you can use different calls to action to encourage your leads to complete whatever action you want them to take.
You might want to use case studies and testimonials in your marketing at this stage or highlight any product guarantees or endorsements. This will help to remove any of the final concerns that can stop people from buying.
Step five: Turning first-time buyers into loyal customers
Stats show that acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer. Increasing customer retention by just five per cent can increase profits by 25-95% and selling to an existing customer has a 60-70% success rate, compared to a rate of 5-20% when selling to someone new.
These are just some of the reasons that it makes sense to try to retain as many customers as possible.
Your inbound marketing strategy should continue beyond a customer’s first purchase. You will want to create:
- Targeted newsletters and email content for existing customers
- Social media content for repeat clients
- Continuing education pieces
- Loyalty and/or referral schemes
Based on what someone has bought from you, think about what they might still need to solve a problem or make their life better in some way.
Step six: Review, refine and repeat
It’s crucial to track your inbound marketing efforts using all the data at your disposal. This could include Google Analytics, Google Search Console, social media data, email open rates, mailing list growth, blog comments and more.
By monitoring the data, you can build up a better picture of the customer journey and what information people need at the various touchpoints.
Armed with this knowledge, you can refine your inbound marketing strategy and repeat what works for your audience.
Inbound marketing will take some time and energy to research and implement. However, you should see significant improvements to your number of website visitors, leads and sales as a result.
If you come from a place of wanting to provide high-quality, trustworthy information to your customers when they need it, you won’t go far wrong.
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Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
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