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What is Inbound Marketing?

Marketing, in general, is the process of building up a customer base and generating sales through a variety of available channels. For the most part, marketing activities fall within one of two definitions: inbound or outbound marketing tactics. A successful business may utilize a combination of the two options, but inbound marketing is a frequently overlooked and powerful solution for many businesses, especially ecommerce and related fields that do well with automation.

Inbound marketing can be thought of as “passive” in the sense that once it is set up, leads will generate themselves. Using a combination of tactics and strategies, a marketer can develop a conversion funnel that essentially works to sell the product on its own. Many aspects of a marketing strategy can be automated, allowing for a low-maintenance profit generator once the system is in place.

However, it takes time and effort to create a successful inbound marketing campaign, and experimentation may be required before the right methods for your particular company are found. By understanding exactly how and why inbound marketing works, you can set yourself and your business up for greater success.

The Inbound Marketing Concept

The basic idea of inbound marketing is to build up your brand’s identity in a way that will attract and convert customers. Often, these tactics revolve around establishing your business as an authority in your niche. Rather than trying to sell a product or service directly, these marketing tactics serve to pique the interest of potential customers and build trust.

In today’s increasingly savvy consumer economy, inbound marketing plays a more powerful role than ever. With so much information available online, most people prefer to research a brand or product before committing to it. Companies that take the time to build up trustworthy brand identities are more likely to succeed in the market.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Today’s successful marketing strategies are:

– Customer-oriented
– Focused on being found rather than finding customers
– Targeted to individuals rather than mass advertised
– Focused on behavioural engagement
– Appeal to a customer’s fact-based decision-making

Traditional marketing and advertising methods, which utilized a more shotgun approach to blasting out ad messages in order to hook a buyer’s attention, are becoming decreasingly effective. This is why Inbound Marketing tactics are more important than ever.

How it Works

In simple terms, Inbound Marketing means attracting the attention of customers through content marketing, search engine optimisation and related strategies. The goal is to create content that provides information and value to the type of people you wish to attract to your brand. People who have a particular problem or need will go searching for solutions; if your brand is poised to deliver those solutions, you can attract an interested customer.

Most forms of Inbound Marketing generally work through the building and guiding potential customers through a “sales funnel.” This strategy works to build trust between buyers and a brand, providing increasingly valuable content to customers in exchange for greater levels of interest and commitment. The process works as follows:

– Content, including blog articles and social media posts, is posted online. This content is optimised for discovery by the people most likely to find value in it.

– At the end of each piece of content, there is a call to action that spurs the reader into taking a specific step. For example, an article posted online may prompt a reader to visit the company’s website. On the website, there may be a link to sign up for a newsletter.

– Increasingly high-quality content can be offered in exchange for information from the customer. The most common way that this happens is through an automated mailer sequence: The visitor signs up for a mailing list, providing an email address in exchange for exclusive content like a guide, webinar or ebook.

– Once the potential buyer has surrendered his or her email address, you can utilize your mailing list to build trust with the buyer and, ultimately, encourage the reader to purchase a product or reach out to you directly to discuss a service.

The sales funnel is just one of several Inbound Marketing strategies that can be utilized by savvy marketers. Other techniques work to aid in your discoverability, build a trustworthy brand identity, establish yourself as a stand-out in the market and more. Further techniques and more in-depth strategies will be discussed later in this guide.

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

Traditional advertising methods can, by and large, be described in terms of “outbound marketing.” The general strategy for these methods is to send out a marketing message into the world, usually with little to no targeting, and hope that it captures the attention of interested buyers.

Inbound Marketing Vs Outbound Marketing


Outbound marketing techniques include:

– Print, television or radio ads
– Direct mail campaigns
– Cold calling and telemarketing
– Outdoor billboards

These methods rely on “cold leads.” In other words, the majority of the people who will view these ads are not people who are looking specifically for the product or service that you’re offering. You must rely on a combination of luck and persuasion to win over audiences of this type of marketing.

For a long time, outbound marketing was the primary mode of advertising. However, as internet usage becomes more widespread and buyers grew savvier about tuning out advertisements, other marketing strategies had to be developed.

Modern Inbound Marketing techniques are the spiritual successor of the yellow page directory. The goal of Inbound Marketing is to position yourself wherever an interested buyer would look when planning to buy something. In our modern world, that primarily means the internet and search engines.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a primary part of Inbound Marketing. However, it’s just one piece of what can be a very large puzzle. Marketing can consist of:

– Blog posts
– Social media content
– Websites
– Optimised paid advertising
– Mobile apps
– Viral advertising

The goal of Inbound Marketing is to cross the path of potential customers and entice them to learn more. When you have something of value to offer, potential buyers will readily give permission to receive additional content and promotions from you. When compared to outbound marketing tactics, which can be pushy and interruptive, Inbound Marketing strategies are permissive and value-added.

Inbound Marketing Benefits

A strong marketing campaign can help to:

– Establish a brand preference and inspire loyalty among customers
– Create social media shares, allowing customers and potential customers to become brand ambassadors
– Boost search engine rankings
– Improve brand awareness
– Allow customers to take a proactive role

A clear benefit to inbound strategies is that they are inherently interactive, built upon two-way channels of communication. This more personable form of marketing allows for greater customization and more data to measure and analyze.

Another significant benefit of Inbound Marketing is cost-efficiency. Because inbound strategies are primarily built upon a foundation of content and social media marketing, there is little need to spend money on costly advertising space. By skipping the usual media channels, you can save money and have greater control over your brand’s message. Although you will need to spend money on freelance SEO and content creation or invest the time in learning these skills yourself, the greater flexibility and lower costs of Inbound Marketing are perfect for start-ups and other businesses that need to maintain lean ad budgets.

Inbound Marketing Effectiveness

Consumers have grown increasingly intolerant of advertisements. With the ability to skip and block ads across a variety of media channels, traditional marketing techniques have become less effective. It’s estimated that more than 58 percent of people surf the internet with some type of ad blocker software.

Inbound Marketing techniques, which are non-intrusive and provide value to the consumer, do not suffer from this same reduced visibility. This makes them extremely valuable. Although some inbound techniques utilize paid advertisements like pay-per-click ads, others are based purely upon organic content and search engine placement.

A survey conducted by Fractl and Moz looked at the relative efficacy of traditional and Inbound Marketing tactics. The findings speak for themselves:

– Nearly 90 percent of internet users surveyed had researched companies online in the past week.

– 89 percent of users had read an article online.

– 50 percent had exchanged an email address for additional information from a website.

– 28 percent had followed a company’s social media profile within the last week.

When asked what tactics consumers prefer when it comes to businesses attracting their attention, the results were overwhelmingly in favor of inbound tactics. More than half of all respondents said that offering free content about an interesting topic would get their attention; 48.3 percent said that finding a company in the search results was a primary way of learning about a company.

By comparison, only 37.6 percent preferred mass media advertising, and just 26 percent were affected by ads found on websites.

Inbound Marketing Channels

Inbound Marketing strategies are diverse and can be spread across numerous channels. Although content marketing in general is primarily associated with the internet, many of the same tactics that work online can be adapted for offline use as well.

The best marketing efforts will take place across a variety of channels. By diversifying how and where your brand message is spread, you have the greatest opportunity to place your brand in front of potentially interested buyers. Some of the channels available to you as a marketer include:

– SEO tactics
– Opt-in email lists
– Books and other publications
– Event sponsorship
– Press releases
– Community outreach
– Blogging
– Public speaking engagements
– Social media interaction
– Viral marketing
– Content creation
– App store visibility
– Video content

Regardless of what path you take, the goal of Inbound Marketing is to earn attention organically. The best strategy will be one that plays to the strengths of your company and fulfils the needs of your target buyer. By understanding what your potential customers are looking for and what types of content they will appreciate, you can craft content that will attract attention and create positive brand awareness. Once you’ve captured the attention of potential buyers, you can work to win them over, converting them not only into profitable sales but also brand ambassadors who will work to spread the word of your business to their friends and family.

Getting Started with Inbound Marketing

Whether you’re working with an established business that needs its marketing tactics updated to the 21st century or needs to establish a marketing play for a new start-up, understanding and implementing Inbound Marketing tactics is a key to your success. Because this form of marketing is so diverse and can be spread over so many channels, developing strategies can seem daunting. However, a thorough understanding of how these methods work can provide a valuable baseline for developing your own marketing plan.

When considering your options, it’s important to realize that not every business needs to take advantage of every marketing channel. There is always a risk of spreading yourself too thin and diluting your message rather than providing the sort of targeted content that will generate leads. Therefore, your first step is to decide which channels you will focus on before creating a strategy.

First, consider the nature of your business and the customer base it will serve. In order for Inbound Marketing to be effective, it must place content in the path of people who are looking for it. For example, websites must be optimised for keywords commonly searched by people looking for the service and solutions that you offer. Content must be published on websites frequented by your target audience. The articles, podcasts, videos and other content you create must appeal to the people you wish to attract.

Otherwise, a mismatch between the content you create, the channels you utilize and the demographics of your audience will render your marketing efforts ineffective. Business clients looking to buy B2B services will search for solutions in very different places than Millennials looking for consumer goods, for example. Knowing your audience is the foundation of successful marketing no matter what techniques you employ.

It’s also important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a content creator. Fortunately, you do not need to create all of your marketing materials yourself. In fact, it’s often best to leave it to professionals. Freelance SEO experts, writers, artists and designers can all be utilized to produce top-quality brand content without excessive costs.

With these factors in mind, let’s look at some of the specific ways that Inbound Marketing strategies can be implemented to grow your business across multiple channels.


Search engine optimisation, or is the process of improving a website’s visibility in search engine results. The ultimate goal is to place a site high in the organic listings of Google and other search engines by taking advantage of search algorithms. Because so many consumers turn to the internet for information about products, brands and services, having your company show up at the top of a search is crucial to getting found by interested buyers.

Many factors are involved in successful search engine strategies. Things to consider include:

– Keyword usage and density
– The age of a domain
– The number of pages on the site
– Internal and external links
– Authoritative backlinks
– Quality of content

Because so many factors are at work, relying on the experience of an SEO expert to get you started may be the best course of action. Search engine algorithms are complex and change frequently, and techniques that worked well a few years ago are no longer effective. Because so much modern marketing relies on having a website or blog found by Google, mastering the concepts of search optimisation is a vital skill for any inbound marketer.


Blogging is a way to provide value to your potential customers while also boosting the page rank of your site. Because they are updated frequently, blogs appeal to the parts of search engine algorithms that prefer timely and up-to-date content. Blogs also provide a platform with which to build authority and strengthen your brand’s message.

In general, the strength of a blog will depend upon the value it offers to customers. In order to make the most of your blog as a marketing tool, you will need to post articles that touch on topics of interest to your target demographic. Blogs are a great way to address long-tail keywords, or the sort of very specific search phrases that people may type into search engines. For example, you can use a blog to answer common questions about your industry, serving both to answer those questions for curious searchers and to establish yourself as an authority in your niche.

Blogs also provide content that can be shared across social media platforms, creating additional benefit for your followers. If you have a significant number of followers on Twitter or Facebook, for example, you can use your blog to attract these followers to your website. From there, they may be encouraged by a call-to-action to follow up for more information about the company and its products or services.

Another option available for content marketers is guest posting, which helps to boost your website’s page rank and spread your brand’s message to a new audience. Although not as popular a tactic as it once was, guest posting allows you to publish blog posts or articles on another website’s blog, reaching that site’s audience and providing a link back to your site. Many site owners are hungry for fresh content and are happy to accept guest posts as a way to bring new voices to their blog, and this can be a powerful tool for boosting your reach and visibility.

Social Media

Social media marketing is diverse and frequently changing. The tactics used will depend on the type of social media platform you’re using, the audience that you’re intending to attract and the content that you have available to share. Every social media platform has its own user base and site culture; tailoring your social media involvement to the needs of each site is important. For example, LinkedIn is a valuable resource for B2B marketers looking to connect and network with other businesses; it’s essentially useless for consumer marketing, however.

Your social media strategy may include a combination of any or all of these methods:

– Posting content for engagement, such as likes, shares or retweets
– Posting content to direct users back to your blog or website
– Using social media to communicate directly with your customer base
– Using your social media profile like a yellow pages ad for people who might search for you
– Taking advantage of targeted ads and boosted posts to reach a specific audience

Different social media sites target different users and have different options for reaching your audience. For example, ads work differently on Instagram than Facebook; the users who frequent Snapchat are not the same as you’ll find on LinkedIn.

One of the best ways to get a feel for social media marketing is to find an influential brand in or related to your niche. Choose a company that you respect that has been successful, and carefully study what that company has done to grow its brand presence online. By copying successful methods that will work for your needs and discarding things that seem ineffective or inappropriate for your business, you can build up a strategy for success.

Email Marketing

For many businesses, email marketing is the cornerstone of a campaign. A primary goal of many other forms of content creation and marketing is to attract customers and obtain their email addresses. Once an email address has been captured, it provides a direct line of communication to the recipient. There are few marketing efforts as intimate and easily customized as email marketing, and research has shown that properly targeted and written email campaigns are some of the most successful in terms of driving conversions.

With that in mind, however, you must be careful when crafting an email campaign. If your emails at any point come across as superfluous or “spammy,” you run the risk of losing the attention of your audience entirely. Your goal, then, should be to consistently provide email content that will be worth opening and engaging with.

One common tactic is to use an email auto-responder sequence to deliver information on a topic. For example, you may offer a free ebook or guide in exchange for subscribing to the mailing list. After this content has been sent to the subscriber, you may follow up with an email that builds upon the information in that guide or invites the reader to contact you for more information. Subsequent emails may offer more information, offer deals and rebates or let subscribers know about specific products or services that may be especially helpful.

Podcasting and Vlogging

Like blogging, podcasting and vlogging, or video-blogging, provide a way to build your brand’s identity and expertise within a niche. This type of content can be very powerful because it can reach an audience you may otherwise not interact with. People who subscribe to podcasts or watch videos online may not read blogs or web articles, and having your brand’s message spread across multiple forms of media can help in building your reach.

Be aware that podcasting and vlogging can be time-consuming and potentially expensive in terms of start-up costs when purchasing equipment. You will want a good microphone and camera in order to develop quality, professional content, and a podcast or video may take longer to create than a blog post of similar size. For this reason, these multimedia techniques are not always the right fit for every business, but they can be a powerful tool under the right circumstances.

Live Events and Webinars

If you are an expert in your field, you can build your audience and cement your authority in your niche. They also provide an excellent opportunity for you to interact directly with your audience, adding the personal touch that makes Inbound Marketing tactics so successful.

A live event or webinar is similar to delivering a lecture to an audience. However, instead of meeting at a lecture hall, you will be meeting virtually with attendants to provide your talk online. You may discuss important concepts or topics, field questions and build trust with an audience. You may offer a free webinar in exchange for an email address, or you may choose to charge for this content to boost its apparent value and increase revenues. The strategy you utilize will depend on the content you’re offering and its value to your customers.

News / PR / Media

Although media coverage has become increasingly decentralized in the Information Age, there is still value in generating buzz for your company or product. By disseminating information to news outlets, speciality publications and bloggers in your niche, you can raise awareness of your company’s products and potentially spread your reach far beyond your own audience.

Press releases are not quite as effective today as they once were, due in large part to the large quantity of them sent out each day. However, a press release can still help with building buzz and capturing media attention, especially if the announcement is newsworthy. If multiple publications pick up on the news, your announcement can spread quickly and may trend, encouraging discussion and word-of-mouth engagement among potential customers.

Aside from the possibility of media coverage, a press release can also provide search value. By providing authoritative links back to your site, keyword-focused press releases can help to boost your website’s page rank. Indeed, many businesses take advantage of press releases purely for this purpose rather than anticipating any media coverage.

Content Marketing

Outside of the content strategies already detailed in this guide, there are many other types of content that can be produced and disseminated to strengthen your brand’s identity and authority. These include but are not limited to:

– Books and pamphlets
– Magazine and journal articles
– White papers
– Infographics
– Surveys
– Interviews

Anything that puts you and your business in the public spotlight or serves to place you as an authority speaking on a topic of interest to your target audience can serve as a marketing strategy. The goal of this type of content creation is two-fold. First, it establishes you as a trusted authority and can help make your brand ubiquitous in the field; when people see your name frequently in connection with informative and helpful information, they will in turn be more likely to seek out your brand when they each a period of need.

The second benefit to content creation is that it provides additional opportunities for back-linking. When your website is linked to from an authoritative site, such as a respected publication, it helps to boost your site’s rank in search engines. This aids in discoverability and provides multiple channels through which visitors can find and engage with your content and your brand.

Marketing Automation

With so many options and diverse strategies for implementation, Inbound Marketing can seem overwhelming. Creating engaging, value-added content is a time-consuming job, and you run the risk of your marketing efforts taking valuable time away from other aspects of your business.

One solution for this is to outsource content creation whenever possible. Working with freelancers can help you to create more content without investing the time to do it yourself. Another solution is to automate the process as much as possible, whenever possible, without sacrificing opportunities for two-way communication.

Setting up a mailing list auto-responder sequence, for example, will require some work on the front end to create a series of emails and valuable pieces of content. Once the pieces have been assembled, however, you can use automation to ensure that every person who signs up for your mailing list receives the same series of emails and shares the same experience of being guided through the sales funnel. Once the system is in place, it will essentially run itself with minimal additional interference required.

Learn More

Inbound Marketing is an exciting and ever-growing field, and the techniques are constantly changing and improving. This guide should help to get you started, but there are many other things to be learned through experimentation, studying other successful marketing campaigns and speaking with experts in the field. You can also contact me for more information about how I can help your business make use of Inbound Marketing here.

By Stephen Sumner

Stephen has worked across 100's of websites in his 21 year SEO career including leading start-ups, award-winning agencies and leading consumer brands. Today Stephen works directly with clients in a number of capacities to help their SEO and he also operates a number of niche websites of his own.