We live in an age where most people expect instant gratification. Same-day delivery, swipe right or left, stream your favorite music. Whereas patience was once considered to be a virtue, now it’s practically non-existent.
But just because you want things to happen right now, it doesn’t mean it’s realistic to expect it to happen that way. Such is the case with inbound marketing. But being aware of how it works and the timeframe within which you can start to see results comes in pretty handy. So, let’s go over it, shall we?
What Is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a way to attract potential customers by being useful and helpful to them. Instead of disrupting their lives with loud advertisements — that may or may not be relevant to them — you make them aware of your business’ existence and the value that you provide by answering their questions as they start to research a topic.
For example, let’s say a business owner is looking for ways to amp up their cybersecurity. They don’t just decide to purchase a product from the get go. They first go to a search engine and enter related terms, such as “how to increase email security,” “how to recognize phishing scams,” or “best virus protection for small businesses.”
Once they hit enter, they’ll likely find the following types of content:
Then they will click on the links that seem like they may be helpful. Through inbound marketing, you could be listed as one of those resources. The more resources you offer, the more you establish yourself as an authority within your industry. And if they find you helpful, they may eventually contact you when they are ready to make a purchase.
But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to inbound marketing. Your aim will always be to attract, engage, and delight customers; and to do so, you need to be aware of marketing fundamentals as well as best practices.
5 Fundamentals of Inbound Marketing
These are the people you’re providing value to. It includes anybody your business markets and sells to. Therefore, they’re people with whom you want to establish relationships.
Gone are the days of simply having a list of names and phone numbers. You actually want to align your marketing efforts with each contact’s specific needs at this point in time (also known as their stage in the buyer’s journey, discussed below).
To do this effectively, you want to store as many details about each contact as possible. This will allow you to customize communications so that it feels like you’re engaging in a conversation with them.
But where do you get those details in the first place? Start with collecting data from your existing customer base. You can look for information regarding their preferred social networks, payment preferences, demographics, online activity, frequently asked questions, feedback, and survey answers.
Then, segment your contacts into groups with similar demographics and preferences so that you can send them targeted content (i.e., never send the same marketing emails or newsletters to everyone. It’s spammy and unproductive).
As you start seeing this, you will notice several common denominators that can help you develop your buyer persona.
No matter how great your services are, it’s crucial to define your ideal customer. This will help narrow down the traffic that comes to your website to those who are most likely to become customers.
To create these buyer personas, you use real data (based on research and your existing customer base), as well as educated speculation about who they are, what motivates them, and what are their goals. Once you’ve fleshed this out, you can write content that’s directly targeted to this type of person.
After you create the content, you can also share it on the social media platforms that your buyer persona would typically prefer. If you’re looking for a professional crowd, LinkedIn will serve you well. If you’re selling Barry Manilow collector’s merchandise, skip TikTok and Instagram for Facebook, which tends to be preferred by Boomers. You get the drift.
A person who just became aware of a pain point is not in the same place as a person who’s spent the past several weeks doing research and is ready to buy.
This A to Z spectrum is called the buyer’s journey. It’s made up of three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision.
The awareness stage is when they start conducting educational research when they’ve first noticed a problem. During the consideration stage, they’ve clearly defined what they need and are looking at all the available options to solve it. The decision stage is when prospects are whittling down their vendors list and are ready to purchase.
Every time you create content for inbound marketing, you must do so within the context of your prospect’s stage in their buyer’s journey. If it’s not relevant and helpful to them, they’re not going to read it. You can ensure that the right person sees the right content by segmenting your contacts and using HubSpot’s personalized smart content feature, which can be tailored to a person’s stage in their customer lifecycle.
You also want to make sure you’re providing content in the format that your buyer persona would prefer. This could include long-form blogs, infographics, video tutorials, whitepapers, ebooks, podcasts, case studies, news articles, customer stories, guides, newsletters, webinars, and website content.
Anna Wintour and Mark Zuckerberg likely prefer to consume their content in different formats. It will always behoove you to take into account what your target market enjoys the most. Then, stick with that.
As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which path you take. And it can’t just be any lofty goal.
When setting them up, make sure they are specific (increase sales by 30 percent by the end of the quarter), measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. You can use the SMART acronym to remember this. Set timeframes and have deadlines set at regular intervals. This will give everyone on your marketing team a push to get it all done on schedule.
If you only have a vague idea of what your goals should be, it may be helpful to speak with a business development consultant. Once you’ve identified opportunities for growth, craft your goals around them.
5 Tips for Setting Your Business Up for Inbound Success
Now that you know the fundamentals, you want to be aware of the best practices to be successful with your inbound marketing strategy.
1. Conduct Market Research.
To know what your target market wants, you’ll have to first gather information about what they need, want, and what their preferences are. Doing this is crucial to prevent wasting your time marketing to unqualified leads.
Once you know their pain points, create content that provides them with value. The more you answer their questions — even those they weren’t even fully sure yet that they had — the more they start thinking of you as an industry leader and will keep coming back for more information from you.
This comes in handy so that you can see the type of content your prospects are looking for. It also allows you to find content gaps so that you can stand out from your competition. You can do A/B testing with focus groups, conduct customer satisfaction surveys, track your NPS score, and/or do market segmentation research.
2. Create a Content Strategy.
Once you have specific business goals, plan how you’re going to share it and modify it depending on the reader’s stage in their buyer’s journey. You do this with all aspects of your content — written, video, photographic. How are you going to lay them out? Where are you placing calls to action? When are you publishing what?
SEO tools like Ahrefs and Moz can help you research relevant keywords and determine how difficult it may be to rank on a search engine results page. You can use that as a starting point and create your content around it.
You should then create a cohesive editorial calendar clearly laying out each topic, keywords, and possible titles and subheadings, as well as relevant websites that are ranking well. Then craft content that’s better than what’s currently ranking well. Look for information gaps or outdated data to make what you publish more useful.
3. Optimize Content.
You can create the best content of the universe, but if it doesn’t show up in search engines, barely anyone will ever find out about it. Search engine optimization (SEO) helps you increase the likelihood of ranking on search engine results pages by letting Google know that your content is useful and relevant.
In fact, SEO drives 1,000 percent more traffic than organic social media. Some of the best SEO practices include
- Writing compelling titles and meta descriptions
- Optimizing your images for faster website loading times
- Including target keywords in the URL
- linking your pages to authoritative sources
- Using alt text for images,
- Writing for human readers
Simply stuffing your content with keywords to the extent that it sounds unnatural or robotic is useless, and can harm your site’s ranking.
Before getting started, first use an SEO tool to help you identify the user’s intent when doing the kind of search that should lead to your content.
For example, if you search “how to train for a marathon,” you’ll see that most of what pops up on Google’s first page are blogs. So write blogs.
But if you type “running shoes”, you’ll mostly get ecommerce pages showing you what they have on stock. If what you’re trying to do is sell running shoes, then you’re golden. Create an online shop.
Seeing what appears on the first results page lets you know what users researching for a similar product are looking for.
4. Provide a Good User Experience.
User experience (UX) refers to how a person feels when interacting with your content. Is your website appealing? Easy to read? Intuitive? The content and layout has to make sense for the website visitor.
It also should load fast and adapt well for mobile devices. The north star is to always be user-centric. Is your buyer persona a busy person who’ll likely be carrying a kid on one arm while scrolling through your site one-handed with the other? Are they likely to prefer video content instead of the written variety? Are they likely to be more comfortable reading larger text?
Whatever it is, design everything thinking about how to make it easiest and most enjoyable for them.
5. Track Results.
By tracking how your content is performing, you’ll be able to identify areas that are working well and which ones need to be optimized.
Do you want more people to sign up for your newsletter? Enroll in a webinar? Increase blog subscribers by 10 percent by the end of the quarter? Figure out what it is you want to accomplish, then align all your efforts to achieve it.
Keep in mind that there are many metrics, and if you try to pay attention to every single one of them, your head will spin and you’ll want to drive to the airport and never come back. So focus on what’s relevant to your specific goals. This could be website traffic, bounce rate, qualified leads, social media engagement, enrollments, conversion rate, and/or customer acquisition costs, to name a few.
How Long Does Inbound Marketing Take to See Results?
As with anything else that’s truly worth it, it takes time. You could do a short-term analysis by waiting about six months to see if you notice any changes.
However, keep in mind that inbound marketing is a long-term strategy. The answer of when results will be obvious also depends on how often you publish new content — blog posts, instructional videos, webinars. Each of them is a new website page that, when optimized, increases the likelihood of one of them ranking on Google’s first page results. If everything’s done right, you could see substantial results within a year.
That said, inbound marketing shouldn’t be static. User behavior, likes, and expectations evolve with time, and so should your marketing strategy. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen overnight, so once you find a strategy that works for you, you can stick with it for a while.