January 06, 2011
How To

Inbound Marketing: How to pull in customers without pushing ads

SUMMARY: Inbound marketing gives companies the power to attract customers without advertising. The strategy is based on modern trends -- easy access to publishing, the prominence of search engines, the popularity of social media, the power of A/B testing, and others.

The inaugural edition of our new Inbound Marketing newsletter dives into the trends, tactics and strategies that make inbound marketing effective. It includes case study data, expert analysis, stats on tactics, and more…
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

Researching a purchase is a wise shopping strategy -- and most consumers realize this. They are more frequently turning to the Internet to investigate what to buy.

According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, 78% of U.S. Internet users say they at least occasionally research products. For U.S. adults in general, 58% have researched products or services online, up from 49% in 2004. On a typical day, 21% of adults research purchases online, up from 9% in 2004.

Many B2B and consumer marketers have responded to this trend by making their companies easier to find online. They do so by providing the content that potential and current customers want. In return, they have a chance to capture a lead, make a sale, or meet another marketing goal. This is the key concept of inbound marketing.

"Inbound marketing is doing all the right things so that when people are out there on the Web,they can't help but bump into you -- almost by accident," says Mike Volpe, VP, Inbound Marketing, HubSpot.

This is the first article featured in MarketingSherpa's new Inbound Marketing newsletter. Below, we describe the key topics we will cover and how they apply to inbound marketing -- complete with stats, tactics and examples of marketers' results.

Content marketing: Achieving goals with the right tactics

There is some debate on the definition of "inbound marketing" and "content marketing" and where the two meet. Our newsletter defines "content marketing" as a vital part of "inbound marketing" that involves creating materials so compelling that they attract and retain customers for your business.

Types of content that can be used for marketing include:

o Blog posts, articles, whitepapers and slide shows
o Videos and podcasts
o In-person and online events
o Real-time updates and interaction
o Print books and magazines
o And any other non-advertising creation you offer for free

Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute, says that for companies to effectively market with content, they have to start thinking of themselves partly as media companies.

"The only difference," Pulizzi says, "is that a media company leverages content in order to sell paid content and sponsorships ... A non-media company needs to create that same type of content, but they do not get paid content or sponsorships -- they do it to sell products and services."

- Start with marketing goals

A common mistake for content marketing beginners is to jump right into the tactics without planning, Pulizzi says. Marketers should start by setting the goals they want to achieve. Examples include:

o Generate leads
o Cross-sell products
o Retain customers
o Raise awareness
o Increase customer satisfaction

Then, Pulizzi says, teams can figure out the right mix of content to achieve these goals. The exact approach can differ for every brand, market and objective.

"If we need lead generation components in it...we would probably want a wide-net strategy like a blog that goes to a call-to-action that might be for a whitepaper or e-book or webinar program or something like that," Pulizzi says.

- Pick a channel to excel in

Once teams commit to a content strategy, they need to consistently churn out great content that is valuable to customers and that helps solve customers' problems. Pulizzi says to avoid publishing too many types of content. Instead, focus on about three that fit your strategy.

"But you have to do one really well," he says. "You have to do an awesome blog or the best e-book program that's ever been run; focus on what you can do really well, better than anyone else in your industry."

- Do not shut off your ads

Good content marketing takes time to develop results. You should not shut of your traditional media programs or your overall performance can plummet, Pulizzi says. You can also use advertising to promote your content.

"You need to take baby steps. Take a little money out of those big money traditional programs and put it toward your content marketing," Pulizzi says.

SEO: Make your company easy to find

One of the most popular ways to research purchases is by using search engines. Research by BIA/Kelsey in 2010 showed that 90% of consumers researching products or services in their local areas used search engines.

Search engine optimization helps ensure that your content is easy to find by the most relevant prospects. It's no secret that designing your website and its content to rank well in search engines is a great way to attract potential customers.

The top three marketing goals that SEO most effectively accomplishes, according to the MarketingSherpa 2011 Search Marketing Benchmark Report:

1. Increase website traffic: 97% say at least "somewhat effective"
2. Increase brand or product awareness: 93%
3. Increase lead generation: 93%

SEO applies to much more than textual content. Images, videos, slideshows and virtually anything that can be put onto your website can be designed to either attract or repel search engines. Future editions of this newsletter will help your team understand how to apply SEO tactics to achieve marketing goals.

- Impact from optimizing content

Women's clothing retail company Michael Stars completed a 12-month effort in June 2010 that focused mostly on fixing technical issues with its website, optimizing copy for targeted keywords, and adding more internal linking to its site.

The team started with keyword research and identified about 100 generic keywords. It added them to product descriptions and image data to improve their pages' search engine rankings for those terms. The team also added relevant keywords to pages' title tags and meta descriptions, and crafted these areas to differentiate pages from competitors' in search results.

Most of the work was completed by January 2010. Comparing metrics from January 2010 through June 2010 to the same period in 2009, many of Michael Stars' Web pages ranked higher in Google for competitive keywords such as "women's tee shirts" and "ladies skirts." The team also achieved:

o 67% revenue increase from generic terms
o 32% revenue increase from generic and branded terms combined
o 179% traffic increase for generic terms
o 32% traffic increase for brand-related searches

"From a high-level standpoint, the percentage [increase in] revenue that we see from brand terms might not be as outstanding as what you see on the non-brand terms, but in terms of dollars, it's significantly higher. This effort basically paid for itself," says Mike Malinowski, Director, Ecommerce, Michael Stars.

Social Media: Add more value and promote content

Connecting with your audience in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks is one of the most popular content marketing tactics. Messages and interactions are a form of content that can pull in and satisfy a relevant audience.

Social media can be an excellent place to repurpose content. For example, you can start discussions around your newest whitepaper in a LinkedIn group, and you can send 140-character nuggets of wisdom via Twitter (if that's what your audience wants).

The top three marketing objectives achieved by social media, according to the MarketingSherpa 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report, are all related to perception. Here are the top three and the percentage of marketers who say they are "very" or "somewhat" effective:

o Increase brand/product awareness: 96%
o Improve brand/product reputation: 95%
o Improve public relations: 95%

- Promote existing content

Social media provides many ways to call more attention to your content. Tactics include:

o Mention new content and send links to friends and followers in social networks

o Add social buttons to make content easy to share via email and third-party networks

o Add social features to your website to help engender a sense of community and enable readers to highlight your best content through votes and comments.

- Social marketing is not where you start

Although using social media is one of the most popular content marketing tactics, it's also one of the most abused, Pulizzi says.

"You cannot have a good social media strategy without first having a good content marketing strategy...You're not going to get people interested in you in social media unless you have something interesting to say first."

Landing Page Optimization: Convert incoming traffic

Inbound marketing can build your reputation, but marketers are also using it to achieve concrete business goals, such as increasing sales, lead quality and lead quantity.

Achieving these goals online often requires converting traffic into leads and converting leads into sales. Page optimization can increase these conversion rates. You can increase performance by using A/B split and multivariate testing in areas such as:

o On-site content promotion
o Purchase and lead-capture forms
o Social sharing buttons
o Traffic landing pages
o And many others

During a MarketingExperiments Web clinic in November, Flint McGlaughlin, Director, MECLABS, noted that marketers should follow an order of operations to most effectively increase a landing page's conversion rate:

o First: Establish a great value proposition -- tell visitors why they would want to convert

o Second: Optimize the landing page's appearance to increase conversions

o Third: Optimize the channel(s) that drive traffic to the page

"That should be the order if you want to get the highest return on financial investment," McGlaughlin said. "It doesn't matter if you drive a lot of people to a site that doesn't sell."

- Impact from page testing

The impacts of landing page testing can be varied and dramatic. Marketers just starting out who have effective tools and guidance can achieve dramatic lifts in conversion rates. Experienced marketers who are testing changes on pages that have been tweaked for years can achieve incremental gains -- and the gains add up.

Baptiste Intsaby, Director, Business Development, EasyRoommate, is in charge of marketing and site testing across a 29-country network of roommate-finding websites. His team invested in an A/B webpage testing tool last year to determine the best designs for its U.K. site.

Intsaby and his team saw an opportunity on the site's "need a room" registration form. The page requested 27 fields of information organized into six categories, which looked cumbersome (see creative samples below).

The team individually tested four changes to the page:

1. Reorganize field categories from six to four
2. Remove six required fields
3. Organize fields into a single column (as opposed to two)
4. Combine winners of the three previous tests

Tests #1 and #3 were shown to improve results. Test #2 did not. The team combined these lessons in test #4 and realized a 7.5% lift in the form's completion rate.

Each test took about two and a half weeks to reach statistical significance. The entire process, including planning, design and coding, took about three months.

Useful links related to this article

Subscribe to the free MarketingSherpa Inbound Marketing newsletter

Creative Samples: EasyRoommate "need a room" before and after

MarketingSherpa 2011 Search Marketing Benchmark Report - SEO Edition

MarketingSherpa 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report

Pew Research Center: Online product research

BIA/Kelsey: Nearly all consumers (97%) use online media to shop locally

Members Library -- Page Tests Lift Site Registrations and Conversions: 3 examples that stopped site-design bickering

MarketingExperiments: Images vs. Copy landing page Web clinic

Michael Stars

Performics: Guided Michael Stars' SEO strategy



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