What is Inbound Marketing?

what is inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is one of those slightly nebulous phrases that gets bandied about at meetings; something that everybody sort of understands, and feels they should be doing.

Often, however, a well-meaning attempt at inbound marketing simply amounts to somebody knocking out a few blog posts that don’t end up generating much in the way of either traffic or leads.

This usually comes down to a fundamental lack of understanding of what inbound marketing is, and how to go about doing it.

So in this post, I’m going to define inbound marketing and take you through the key steps needed for a successful inbound campaign.

Let’s start with the key question.

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Whether you offer web design and development services or want to build apps for the Shopify App Store, the Shopify Partner Program will set you up for success. Join for free and access revenue share opportunities, developer preview environments, and educational resources.

Sign up

What is inbound marketing?

The easiest way to think about inbound marketing is as a way to pull people to your website through the publishing and optimization of extremely engaging, targeted content. This content is then promoted by you and, very importantly, by the people consuming it.

This differs from a traditional online marketing approach because it doesn’t have to involve a large advertising spend to push people to a website. This makes it attractive to startups or SMEs who lack large marketing budgets.

Remember however that although they might not require a lot of capital to start, inbound marketing campaigns can be very resource intensive. It takes effort to create all that great content.

Let’s look at the key steps involved in an inbound marketing campaign.

1. Start with keyword research

what is inbound marketing: keywords

The first step on your inbound marketing journey involves identifying topics to write about that are likely to generate traffic, and the right sort of it.

For obvious reasons, these need to be related to your business area and your target audience. There is no point in blogging about cats for grannies if you intend to sell flat whites to hipsters.

Broadly speaking, in order for your content to generate a sizeable number of visits, you will need to make sure that:

  • A reasonably large number of people are actually searching for the sort of content you intend to publish in the first place.
  • Search results are not already packed with articles on well-known sites that cover exactly the same topic.

In other words, you usually need to find a ‘content niche’ — a sweet spot in search results where there is demand for the sort of thing you want to publish, without there being a truckload of articles (particularly on popular websites) that already cover that ground.

To find this niche, you’ll need to make use of a keyword research tool. There are quite a few on the market; examples include Moz Keyword Explorer, Semrush, Serpstat and my personal favorite, Ahrefs.

You can use keyword research tools to find out two key pieces of information that will help you find your niche:

  • Roughly how many searches per month there are for a particular phrase.
  • How difficult it will be to rank for it.

Let’s say you have made an iPhone app for runners and want to sell it to people with an interest in staying fit. You can now enter a few phrases into your keyword research tool to see which ones would make potentially good blog post titles.

You’ll quickly find out that there would be little point in publishing articles called ‘iPhone’ or ‘iPhone apps’, because although there are huge volumes of searches for these phrases, you will never outgun Apple in search results.

However, you might find that there is a potential gap in search results for phrases such as ‘free running app for iPhone’ or ‘iOs app for runners.’

The trick is to find phrases that generate a reasonable number of searches from people who are most likely to be interested in your product or service, but which also have a low difficulty score.

You might also like: How to Generate Leads for Your Business Using Content.

2. Create extremely compelling content

what is inbound marketing: content

Once you’ve found your niche, it’s time to create some content that will really draw people and search engines in. Generally speaking, long-form content in the form of blog posts is your best bet here.

There are quite a few reasons why long-form content is the best sort to produce, but two important ones are as follows:

  • It’s keyword rich, something that search engines really like.
  • It’s in-depth, something that users really like as it answers their query adequately and makes them more likely to share it.

When creating your content, you also need to ensure that you take some basic steps to ensure its visibility in search engines. This means adhering to best practices around the formatting of page titles, headers, and metadata in your content.

The key thing about the content you create for an inbound marketing campaign is that it has to be brilliant, regardless of whether it’s a blog post or video, long or short. Whether ‘brilliant’ means informative, touching, or hilarious, it needs to be something that will really satisfy your users and make them want to share it.

3. Encourage content sharing

what is inbound marketing: share

Inbound marketing campaigns only really succeed when people share the content produced for them.

There are two types of shares you need to achieve for your content:

  • Social shares — Tweets, inclusion of your content in Facebook posts, etc.
  • Backlink creation — When somebody creates a link to your content on their site.

As you might expect, social shares generate traffic to your content by increasing its visibility in social media feeds and driving clickthroughs. As such, it’s a good idea to add social sharing icons to your site, make them extremely prominent, and actively encourage social sharing in the copy of your articles.

Backlinks are hugely important for ensuring visibility in search results. Simply put, the more backlinks you can generate to your content from reputable sources, the more likely it is that people will see it in search results.

I recommend being forthright in asking readers to create a backlink to your site from theirs. Though not all your readers will have their own site or blog, a proportion will, and you’ll get valuable ‘link juice’ if enough of them oblige. So include a ‘please link to this’ call-to-action in your content.

Furthermore, in most cases you’ll need to engage in backlink building in general. This involves reaching out to bloggers and editors of news sites with a view of getting links to your content from theirs. Ideally, your backlinks should contain anchor text — the clickable text in a link — that contains the keywords you are hoping to rank for.

4. Convert visitors to leads
what is inbound marketing: leads

Once you have visitors on your page, it’s time to convert them to leads. The best way to do this is to capture their email address.

While it’s undeniably useful to gain social media followers as a result of people consuming your content, capturing an email address is arguably the best sort of lead generation, for two main reasons:

  • Email has a great ROI.
  • You are in charge of the relationship with your subscribers and can contact them directly via email. You won’t have to worry if a social media algorithm will hide your content from your leads.

In order to capture email addresses, you’ll need to use an email marketing platform and embed sign up forms for these tools prominently on your site.

I’ve found pop-up forms and welcome mats to be the most effective way to do this; the conversion rates tend to very high. You should note however that you need to be a bit careful about how you implement them; Google is not a fan of overly obtrusive pop-ups, or ‘interstitials’ as it calls them.

Regardless of whether you use pop-ups or not, you should always ensure maximum visibility for your mailing list sign-up forms.

This typically means ensuring that

  • Sign-up forms are embedded in a sidebar on your site.
  • There is a subscribe option in your navigation.
  • There is a sign-up form at the bottom of each blog post.
  • Your footer contains a button which allows people to join your list.

In essence, you want to make it incredibly easy for people to sign up to your mailing list. What’s more, you want to make the prospect of joining your list very appealing. Don’t use a boring ‘join our mailing list’ call to action — spell out all the great stuff that the subscriber is going to receive when he or she joins your list.

Once you’ve captured a visitor’s email address, it’s tempting to view this as an opportunity to immediately start trying to sell your products and services to that subscriber.

And while it’s obviously important to promote your wares via your mailing list, if you are serious about inbound marketing you should be equally focused on using your list to promote your content — other blog posts, videos, etc. that your subscriber may find interesting.

This is because the more your subscribers who encounter your content via your enewsletters, the more click-throughs you’ll get to it, which in turn can lead to more social shares and backlinks for your content (and — happy days — more traffic).

You can promote your content really easily by using autoresponders — automated enewsletters sent by your email marketing tool at intervals of your choosing. These autoresponders should direct subscribers to other pieces of content on your site that they might enjoy. Obviously encourage them to share it on social media or create backlinks to it when you do so.

5. Apply a sales funnel

what is inbound marketing: sales funnel

To get the most out of inbound marketing, you need to have a very clear idea about what you want to do with the leads you’ve captured as a result of all your fantastic content-creation efforts.

A clearly defined sequence in the form of a sales (or conversion) funnel will help you out here. This is basically a set of steps that each lead should be taken through.The nature of your sales funnel will depend on the type of business you’re running, but the aim is to create a journey that efficiently converts your lead from being a mailing list subscriber into a fully-fledged customer.

Ideally, this conversion process should be as personalized as possible.se data segmentation along with email copy and phone call scripts that deliver the most relevant, targeted information about your products and services to your leads.

Autoresponders can help here, as can CRM tools — particularly those that facilitate sophisticated workflows that look at user data and how your subscribers interact with your enewsletters to provide a highly customized, automated series of communications.

You might also like: Go Back to School With These Online Courses for Continuous Learning.

Analyze, optimize, repeat

what is inbound marketing: analyze and optimize

When you've got a successful inbound marketing process up and running, don’t think you can leave it at that. Your next job is to analyze what’s working and what’s not, optimize the process, and repeat!

Use data from your keyword research tools, website analytics, email reporting, and social media profiles to find out what content really works for you, and what sort of content you should be creating in the future.

Similarly, keep an eye on your sales funnel, autoresponders, and CRM to see what's working well in terms of generating leads and customers, and how you can streamline and improve this process as you grow your business.

Are you planning an inbound marketing campaign? Let us know in the comments below!

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Learn more