What makes for a successful inbound marketing strategy? Is there a 'secret' recipe to astounding results? What should I focus on to achieve my marketing objectives with inbound marketing?
Common, and valid, questions asked when considering adopting a new approach to marketing. While inbound marketing has many 'moving parts' working in conjunction to deliver the overall result, there are some fundamental aspects that underpin any inbound marketing programme.
What is Needed for an Inbound Marketing Programme
In almost all instances where we see lacklustre inbound marketing results, it can be tracked back to an absence of buyer personas. Personas should be used as the basis for any and all marketing activity. And in order to do so, you need to have a deep understanding of your buyer persona to begin with.
Not sure what a buyer persona is? The ‘official’ definition (from HubSpot) is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. To break that out, a buyer persona is a person you ‘create’ (and by ‘create’ I mean document) who has the demographics, characteristics, challenges, behaviours and interests commonly found in your ideal customer. You give this persona a name like ‘IT Ian’, ‘CEO Clive’ or ‘HR Harriet’ and create their story to ‘humanise’ them. This helps focus your marketing efforts to satisfy their challenges, needs and preferences.
Buyer personas are built around empirical data, not inference or opinion. Research into your existing client base, lost customers, target markets and prospects needs to happen before you are able to develop your buyer persona based on the trends revealed through research. Read more about how to create your buyer personas.
Inbound marketing is nothing without content. It’s the medium we use to deliver our marketing message. But content goes beyond company brochures and product datasheets. Content needs to be created with 2 aspects kept in mind:
- The buyer persona’s challenges, needs and interests
- The stage of the buyer journey (context)
Let’s imagine that ‘IT Ian’ is worried about the security of his network. As it’s grown to accommodate a more mobile workforce, it’s being hit with attacks at an alarming frequency. While he’s managing (just) to keep the threats at bay and no significant damage has been done as yet, he knows it’s just a matter of time before his legacy security solution buckles.
Now let’s assume that you’re an IT services company and one of your products is a network solution that addresses the more advanced and evolving threats that pop up on a daily basis. How, using content, would you let ‘IT Ian’ know that you can help him? That’s right – with content that matches his stage in the buyer journey.
In our example, ‘IT Ian’ has already established that there is a potential problem, which means he is in the awareness stage. Content that would satisfy him in this stage would include blog posts that outline the evolution of network attacks, the latest security threats, the implications of a network attack, as well as security faults on wireless networks. This information would serve to confirm that he is indeed wise to be concerned as this is an ever-present issue. A good content piece at this stage would be an eBook or industry whitepaper on the ‘State of Cyber Attacks and Network Security’. By downloading this eBook, ‘IT Ian’ is added to your contacts and you can activate a lead nurturing campaign that offers Ian further content that will help him move through his research and consideration stages and guide him to a buying decision.
Remember: Quality Over Quantity
Now you have your content and you can post it. But before you go there, assess the quality of your content. Don’t waste time writing 10 mediocre blogs when you could instead knock out 5 fantastic posts. This is the same for all of your content. A piece of good quality content will have longevity, and should be able to be updated after it has been online for some time. This way you can use the same piece to generate better quality leads without spending hours creating new content, when you know that one piece has been very successful.
3.5 billion. That’s how many searches Google processes. Not per month. Not per week. Per day! It’s vital to leverage this online behaviour for successful inbound marketing strategy. After all, organic results – i.e. those that appear in Google naturally without having paid to do so – can continue to deliver traffic over the long-term, most especially with evergreen content topics.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the application of certain best practices in both on- and off-page to better your pages’ chances of ranking in search engine results. Most off-page factors – apart from the technical structure and coding of your site – are largely out of your control, but on-page elements can be optimised. The key aspects include:
- Use your primary keywords and topics in your page title and URL structure
- Use your primary keywords in your headlines and subheadings
- Provide alternative text (alt tag) for images and name them using keywords and terms as search engines can't 'see' visuals but they can 'read' text
- Use you primary and secondary keywords, and natural adaptations of them, throughout your body copy - bolding in key places when stressing a point
- Ensure that any anchor text (that is the text that is used to create a link to another page) contains the keywords or terms of the page you are linking to (i.e. avoid the 'click here' string unless, of course you're aiming to rank for 'here')
- While not strictly an on-page optimisation trick - be sure to include social sharing buttons on your page - social proof and 'popularity' hold a lot more weight in search engines rankings than previously and so you want to make sharing easy for your visitors
If you follow these basic search engine optimisation guidelines, you'll be giving your page a boost in aiming towards rankings that can drive traffic to your site.
Social media is another important tactic in your inbound marketing toolbox. Social serves a purpose not only throughout the buyer journey but can be a valuable resource when it comes to research too.
By 'listening in' on industry or product related conversations you can quickly establish a list of frequently posed questions, main concerns, key trends as well as general sentiment in the market. This insight is excellent for formulating inbound strategies that address what is being raised in social media and, if you're creating remarkable content that satisfies those needs, you're well on your way to positioning your business as a forward-thinking leader in your field of expertise. Social monitoring also helps to check if your known leads and potential customers are asking questions or making statements that you can leverage to 'seal the deal'.
By regularly sharing your content, as well as curated content that is of relevance and interest to your buyer persona, you will be seen as a valued resource of information. Naturally, when sharing your own content you are driving traffic to your website and content pieces, thus aiding lead generation too.
A widely underutilised application of social media is in delighting your clients. Providing quick turnaround for customer care and support via social media platforms they're most familiar and comfortable with can foster long-term customer loyalty and a network of evangelists that sing your praises.
When someone comes to your site, aim to deliver the most personal experience possible. Personalisation tokens can infuse a more individual experience by welcoming them back to your site by name, or perhaps including their company name within text where relevant. You have to find a careful balance with personalisation so as to not come off as totally stalkish, but if you're adding value to the person's interaction, go for it. HubSpot's SMART content functionality takes this one step further and allows marketers to interchange entire blocks of content on their site, based on the visitor's profile. For example, if a particular visitor has previously completed a form indicating they work in the manufacturing sector, the content displayed on the site the next time he visits could be pertinent to that industry, providing him with highly specific information for his needs.
Analysing or A/B Testing
Without analysis, you may be missing out on key points which could lead to better content generation, lead generation and conversions. Check your click through rates to see how people are engaging with your site and your content. Test your site's elements regularly to ensure that it is performing at the best possible rate. Don't forget to document your tests and findings, since you want to have the metrics to compare month to month.
Your user's experience of a site can quite easily be made, or destroyed, by design. A skilled designer will incorporate a blend of latest trends, best-practices and user experience to create a site that offers a streamlined journey from arrival to conversion. Balancing messaging and visuals is an art form (with plenty of science thrown in for good measure). Distractions should be kept to a minimum to ensure a good flow through your site and help visitors to uncover the information they are looking for.
An Optimised Site (For Humans and Search Engines)
Visitors are of the utmost of importance and your site needs to be optimised for their experience. But without optimising for search engines, chances are they wouldn't find themselves on your site in the first place. This is why if is critical to optimise your pages for people AND search engines. Include keywords in your content, meta information and alt tags all adds to a well optimised site. But optimising goes further than that. If a site takes a long time to load, a potential lead or customer will get bored and leave. The same can be said for images which don’t show, or buttons which can't be interacted with. Create a custom 404 (error) page so that there is always something interesting and helpful if visitors happen to find themselves in a website cul-de-sac. Be sure to always let users that are regularly on your site know if you are doing upgrades to pages, this way you always come across as a page owner who cares about your users experience.
Be Mobile Friendly
Lastly, one of the biggest factors for all websites is mobile friendliness. Our previous blog showed how much mobile usage has grown in the past few years, and continues to do so. Without a mobile friendly site you will lose out on a significant portion of leads which could have been generated. Remember that mobile sites need to load very quickly, and have geographical locators so that people on the move can find you (if you run a business which deals directly with 'walk-in' customers, of course). As mobile grows, having a site optimised for mobile will become more and more important, so keep testing and improving on your mobile experience.
Inbound marketing is an approach that allows you to create marketing that is genuinely useful for and valued by your ideal customer. It 'humanises' companies and adds a personal touch not achievable with traditional marketing tactics. By developing your buyer personas, creating content for them, for every step of their buyer journey, optimising that content for search engines and actively participating on the social platforms they spend time on, you will already be doing your potential customers - and your marketing results - a favour.