Sorry, but that tired old “Content is king” cliché is dead as dead.
Authoritative content is something every website should strive for, but without effective inbound marketing, it’s like an undiscovered Bob Dylan playing to an empty Greenwich Village coffee house.
Inbound marketing is a very new term, but is one that’s on a fast rise in the internet marketing lexicon—much like ‘search engine optimization’ or ‘content marketing’ was several years ago.
In fact, in many ways, it’s become the new SEO. Besides sounding about a million times more approachable and user-friendly than ‘search engine optimization,’ the term ‘inbound marketing’ is actually so much more all-encompassing a strategy, and swallows SEO like a whale to a minnow.
The tactical practice of SEO by itself — optimizing pages, building external links, etc — doesn’t have the efficacy it once did. By the same token, neither does good content without the ability to market it online via social media. Effective SEO should be a servant to its master of good content marketing.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Think of the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman who knocks at your door unannounced. And while you may have been thinking about a vacuum cleaner and have one on its last leg, it’s just not a convenient time for you. As an outbound marketer, the door-to-door salesman probably enjoys a very low success rate partly because most are not reaching their customers at inconvenient times.
At its very root, the premise of traditional, outbound marketing is this: Find your customer. Be it cold calls, door-to-door sales, TV-commercial blasts, print ads, or trade-show booths, the strategy is essentially the same: Keep hammering away.
Inbound marketing boils down to your customers finding you.
How does a customer find a company they don’t know about?
It’s simple: Content strategy.
And I’m not talking about just updating your blog once a week with some lifeless copy written purely to please the search engine gods; I’m talking about a mix of compelling, in-depth, and authoritative content:
- Case studies
- White Papers
- Press Releases
- Free Product Trials/Demos
A Bigger Footprint
Inbound marketing is really a fancy way of growing your footprint or expanding your reach. When I began working solely on SEO for Time Inc. Interactive in 2007, the industry was still somewhat new and was in large part about creating content. Lots of it. The quality of the content didn’t really matter as much as the frequency and keyword density of it. Thus, “content farm” websites such as EHow and Mahalo rocketed to the top of search results with thousands upon thousands of pages for every search term imaginable even though the pages usually read like generic drivel.
Ultimately, these were the same websites that were slapped down in Google’s first major algorithm “update” known as Panda. Subsequent updates such as Penguin have all proven that Google seeks out valuable, original, and compelling content to rank.
The decline in outbound marketing is a response to a recent and fundamental shift in consumer behavior. People are more in control of what information they receive and how. In outbound marketing, the company is in control.
An effective inbound marketing campaign seeks to attract users with the primary drivers of organic search (for instance, a Google search for ‘vacuum cleaner maintenance tips’) or perhaps an article about vacuum cleaner tips that was shared on Facebook or Twitter. Next, perhaps leveraging premium content such as infographics, instructional videos, or white papers in exchange for a user’s contact information (usually a name, email address, and phone number).
To continue with the example, if you have a vacuum cleaner website that offered a white paper or ebook such as, “Vacuum Cleaner Maintenance for Dummies,” making it freely available in exchange for user contact information, you now have that person’s trust AND authority in the industry. You are ‘top of mind,’ and they are likelier to buy their next vacuum from you. Even if they don’t, perhaps a social connection, a LIKE, will spread in their circle, or even word-of-mouth. (I wonder how many of these type of referrals the door-to-door guys get?)
The stage is now set for what’s known as “permission-based marketing,” and a company can then follow up with targeted, relevant messages via email drip campaigns and social media marketing, which are much more likely to convert the prospect who downloaded a white paper or shared an infographic into a long-term customer.
A company who has provided some valuable content has a much better chance of driving a sale than one who didn’t and relied solely on outbound marketing. One of the primary reasons inbound marketings strategies have much-higher conversion rates is because of relevancy and interest. You will be reaching prospects who are interested in your services by proxy because they were searching for information when they found you—be it via organic search, social media, or public relations efforts.
Now it’s up to you to convert them with good content, and good content takes time, effort, and experience.