What is Inbound Marketing? Definition, Examples, Types and Strategies
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is defined as a marketing technique that uses informative and value-added content to draw in potential customers to the brand/ organization. An article that ranks on Google search and draws in traffic based on its content, a viral video, or social media post that gets organic views due to its relevance, are examples of inbound marketing. By definition, inbound marketing is strictly ‘owned and earned media’ and excludes paid media. In pure marketing convention, any content or asset that draws users to itself based on the value of its information contents is an inbound marketing asset/ content. For instance, a well-written research paper that gets shared organically among professionals and hence draws downloads for the company is also an example of inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing differs from outbound marketing based on goal and effort:
The goal of inbound marketing is to enable readers discoverability of the content based on their own intent and related relevance of the content. The goal of outbound marketing is to reach out to readers who may accept or reject the content based on relevance. Similarly, inbound marketing content does not need additional effort to market the content, whereas outbound content requires promotions to reach readers. Lastly, inbound marketing does not include any paid promotions and relies solely on owned and earned media. This is unlike outbound marketing which may tap into paid programs to fuel reach to readers.
Key Inbound Marketing Channels with Examples:
Before you can create your inbound marketing plan, it is first critical to note all the available channels you have and the estimated effort/investment each need. Below are the key channels for inbound marketing for 2021:
According to a 2018 Shareaholic report, since 2017 search engines had taken over social media as the highest source of inbound traffic to a site. Of course, this was still an average, and companies that invest dedicatedly in search engine optimization and writing inbound/ search-driven article topics can easily see a site share of at least 50% search traffic across channels. The main reason why search engines are an effective source of inbound traffic is that once you write a piece of content that ranks on Google, Bing, or other search engines, there is no other investment/ effort needed to keep the traffic in-flow. This is unlike social media sites or webinars, which only draw traffic to their content/ video assets for a short period of time. Moreover, with search, one doesn’t need to put in additional effort into becoming part of groups or cultivating one's own brand followers. The largest cultivator of search is relevant content based on gratifying or answering a query of a user’s keyword search. For example, ‘what is inbound marketing’ is a keyword and the article that ranks for it will qualify to do so largely because of the content quality. Brand awareness (based on URL) may play a role in the first click on a search engine results page, however, if the content does not satisfy the user’s query, the user will leave the page and the search engine will understand that the content is not relevant (despite the brand).
Social media platforms
After a search, a well-cultivated social media following and relevant content provide the next richest source of traffic - the quality of which may even be better than users from search engines. The unique benefit of social media is the capacity to bring together highly engaged and relevant users into a group or page following. For instance, organic search can give a conversion rate up to 4-6% at best, whereas, if you have a well-nurtured social media following, your key campaign landing pages (when shared), may generate a conversion rate up to 10-12% or higher. In other words, when it comes to social media inbound marketing, the goal is not the volume of users, it is the quality of users. Even if total conversion from the entire organic search may dwarf social, as your followers and brand relevancy in social media grows, so will the eventual increase in revenue. In social media sites, brand recall also plays a key role for established brands. This is because of the available branding space on a page, such as a logo space, cover images, tag lines, pinned posts, etc - which is not available on search engines.
Video marketing platforms
The nature of search and platform of search is quickly evolving. More and more users now prefer to watch videos over reading articles and hence video hosting platforms with good search engines in-built are rising in relevancy. According to a MusroomNetworks study, Youtube is, therefore, the 2nd largest search engine today, after its parent company Google. Of course, apart from different platforms, it is largely suspected that YouTube’s search is driven by Google’s own search algorithm, which basically makes it a video version of Google search. While Google processes about 100 billion queries a month, Youtube processes about 3 billion, still making it the 2nd largest search engine driven platform. There was a time when only short-form videos were considered relevant and watch-worthy. This view has been proved to be wrong when it comes to quality information. Long-format interviews videos and concept explainer videos have shown to top the charts in YouTube views time and again, only to further prove the value of quality content over the length of content. Furthermore, videos are said to garner much more views on organic social media posts than texts and images alone. According to a ContentMarketingInstitute report 2019, 71% of B2B and 66% of B2C marketers saw better results with video marketing over text/ images on posts on social media platforms.
Earned media coverage
Earned media entails any media site that writes about your brand and facilitates brand awareness and transfer of users from their publication to your website/ brand. For example, an online article on Forbes/ Entrepreneur/ other B2B sites can be relevant for B2B companies. On another hand, traditional media coverage, both digital and physical, can be leveraged for increasing quantifiable users to one’s brand. For B2C brands, with increased online penetration due to smartphones, even offline earned media ( organic coverage on TV, radio, and newspapers) can eventually result in online traffic as users readily switch between platforms. This is because often mentions on offline platforms result in online searches for related terms and associated brands.
Trending/ news posts
Keyword/ search intelligence tools on Google Trends, Twitter Trends, Facebook Trends, etc have allowed bloggers and marketers to tap into news and trending topics for inbound readers and potential customers. While more relevant to B2C companies as they enable them to tap into popular culture trends, B2B companies can also search and find trends relevant to their business.
For example, Google Trends has a special section on industries - where trends are segmented by industry and can be filtered further by geography. News trends may last only for a few hours, or if you are lucky, for a few days. However, they are known for sending short but large bursts of users to your site through your relevant blogs and content. Furthermore, trend topics are a good filter for user intentions. The more closely the trend is related to your business, the more relevant the users for customer conversion. It is a time-consuming process to manually research and copy data from the Google Trends site. For automatic data extraction, you may use the Google Trends API, which significantly reduces the amount of time and effort required to collect large amounts of keyword data.
Online events such as webinars, workshops, discussion forums, and company update events (for well-known companies) can be a source of high purchase-intent users. Inbound webinars focus on helping users get answers to common problems, explain concepts that are hard to explain with only text and without visual aid and presentations, providing product walk-throughs, discussing pressing topics with special guests, etc. Online events may be a source of new users or may help convert existing followers of your brand/ subscribers. In order to plan your inbound marketing, the first step will be to short-list the channels, then prioritize the channels and finally, you can start creating content to target each channel in your list.
Intent-driven content marketing (search and social)
Inbound content marketing is an umbrella term for creating content that will:
Rank on search engines,
Do well on social media based on set metrics and benchmarks.
When it comes to investing in content writing, any marketer needs to ask themselves a simple question - where will readers come from?
More often or not, articles and blogs are written without keeping in mind the source of readership. Unless you have a well-established publication/ brand with unique and direct site visitors that only need new content to read, you will need a strategy where the content pieces can market themselves. This can only happen if your content can tap into querying demand on search engines or create newsworthy content. Search engines are the biggest source of consistent new users. Tools such as Google Adword or 3rd party software can help you get an estimate of average monthly searches for a given topic/ keyword and based on these inputs, a well-crafted article that answers/satisfy these queries can be created. Based on competitive content research and improvements based on ranking page position, these content pieces can be ranked in top positions and turned into new user magnets. These users can then enter your conversion funnel to be successfully turned into clients/ customers of your products/ services.
A similar flow follows for social media platforms. Tools like Buzzsumo and Hootsuite provide social media search analytics and gives an estimation on topic demand, based on which articles/ blogs can be written. The content can then be marketed on social media groups and pages. Since the inflow of users is limited to a 24-48 hr window since posting, before it stops showing on user feeds, you can circulate the content after certain intervals - without being too repetitive. It is important to note that reposting the same article/ content too many times in 24 hours may lead to loss of users or removal from a group by the admin on charges of spamming. It is typically a good practice to share a post once a week when it comes to groups, and once every 2-3 days on your own page (depending on the frequency of other posts and amount of post diversification).
Drive conversion with informative webinars and online events
Webinars and online events can be a rich source of new users and buyers or can be a powerful conversion tool. As we explained above, as a channel, online events like webinars and workshops are leveraged to draw in users from search engines, social media sites, and other sources, and then the event is used to convert them or establish first business contact. In other words, since an online event needs marketing of its own, the smart thing to do will be to leverage your own inbound user-driving and relevant assets to promote the related event.
For example, if you have 10 articles related to an upcoming webinar topic that draws consistent traffic from search engines as a result of their ranking, then the online webinar should be promoted on these pages. Users who sign up show potential interest in the product/ type of solution being explained in the webinar. It can also be promoted on engaged social media channels. Here, the webinar will act as a useful filter for conversion to customers without intruding on the reader experience through product ads and promos. Instead, a webinar offers real-time and more knowledge depth on a subject that the reader is already diving into. A smarter strategy that can be incorporated even while planning the webinars - is to backtrack from topics that are currently a source of search/ social traffic and then close the funnel by planning a webinar to convert users from these articles/ engaged social channels.
Leverage Google Trends for quick news and analysis posts
Unlike articles that are intended to rank for search topics and need to belong and elaborate explainer-type content, news needs to be short and to-the-point. They are quick to create, typically no more than 300 words, and require less research time. With Google Trends and other online trend/interest indicator tools, the total time between identification of interest/trend, researching, and content production has been reduced to minutes. This enables even a small company with just one or two writers to generate 1-2 news articles per day without much additional time/ resource investment. Google Trends is free for all users, so is Facebook and Twitter trend reports. If you can invest in 3rd party tool purchases, you can have an hourly report sent to your inbox on key trends across social and search platforms. If budget and time permits, you can also invest in longer news-analysis posts that basically provide add-on information by stitching current events to past events and future predictions. However, even analysis pieces need to be produced in a 24-hour notice as the relevancy of content and discoverability go down significantly as the trend dissolves.
Segment your audience based on content consumption
An effective inbound marketing strategy knows which user should be targeted with which content. For this, if you do not have a strong technology stack that can conduct audience segmentation and management for you, you can simply use the content itself as a filter. For example, a user which lands on a concept explainer article is still getting familiarized with the basics and is a way further from deciding whether to invest in a solution or service and is, therefore, higher up in the funnel. Such a user can be brought further down the purchase funnel by providing more information on potential solutions to implement a concept in real-life. Once a user downloads an ebook or performs high intent actions, they can be pitched for a product or service. One can use native content spaces to promote related content, using ‘learn more’ hyperlinks or simply content hyperlinks. In the case of downloadable/ gated assets, marketers can use specially designed content sections to grab attention. The trick is to always promote content that is closely related to the original content being consumed by the reader and not cross over to unrelated topics. To achieve this, a site should be proper content segmentation based on topics, so that content/ event promos can be accomplished with ease and effectiveness.
Create and use value-added digital assets for inbound lead capture
Digital assets such as research reports, topic explainer kits, ebooks, buyer guides, etc, can be used as valuable exchanges for basic user information. Digital asset downloads are great indicators of interest in a solution related to the topics since accessing them requires a user to perform additional action - such as filling a form or clicking a button agreeing to share information (like in Google or Facebook sign-ins). These actions serve as intent-filters and users who actually download a digital asset can be used as potential leads to sell products and services. It is always a best practice to map the stage of the buyer’s journey based on the asset/ content they are consuming. This way your outreach program can avoid a pitch to a user too early into their journey or too late after they already made a purchase from a competitor. This classification of assets helps you further segment your audience based on their content consumption preferences.