Depending on how deep you’ve delved into the rabbit hole that is online marketing strategy, “inbound marketing” may be an unfamiliar term.
Rest assured, inbound marketing isn’t false hype for “the next big thing,” nor is it some snake oil cure-all.
The term was coined in 2005 to describe a set of practices that focus on delivering valuable content to potential customers, growing closeness with a brand and bringing visitors in to the business’ website.
These practices differ from “outbound marketing” in that they are not actively placed in front of potential customers like TV ads, spam emails, telemarketing, or paper mail.
These traditional forms of advertising (that we’ve all come to love so much) are simply not viable for many small businesses. In many cases, they don’t work well anyway.
What is Inbound Marketing?
So if inbound marketing practices don’t actively place brands in front of potential customers, how do they work? Well, to answer that we have to go back to the old (perhaps cliché by now) phrase, “content is king.”
At the center of inbound marketing is content. Content can be a great many things, but usually comes in three forms: written content, images, and videos. One of the simplest and most widely used forms of inbound marketing is blogging. Blogging allows your business to deliver anything potential customers might be looking for, including tips and tricks, data, insider info, news, upcoming events, and much more.
The topic of the content can pretty much be anything, from industry statistics for the last year to a guide on how to properly shoe a horse. The caveat is that the content is somehow valuable to the visitor. Valuable content engages the visitor, connecting them with your brand. The better the content, the more likely someone is to share it with even more people.
Having great content won’t necessarily generate customers on its own, though. To do that, your website needs to be set up to accomplish a wide variety of goals.
Optimize your Site and Content to be Found Easily
The first goal is clear: getting your content found. You can create the best piece of content to ever grace the internet, but it’s useless as a marketing tool if nobody can find it. Getting your content seen is the only way you’ll attract visitors to your site. Sharing content on social media platforms (Facebook, Google+) is a great place to start. If someone likes your content enough, they may share it, opening avenues to other potential customers you had no idea about.
Social media isn’t enough, though. Good ol’ SEO is still necessary to keep the visitors flowing once the content is out in the wild.
Let’s say you’re a plumbing company and you create a nice blog post about steps Californians can take to conserve water during the drought. People seem to like it and it starts to get a lot of shares on social sites.
What happens if you haven’t optimized that post (or the rest of your site) to rank highly for relevant search terms? People genuinely interested in that content and perhaps your services as well (qualified traffic) won’t be able to find you, and you’ll lose potential customers.
Allow Visitors to Engage; Help them Convert
The endgame is conversion. Conversion means that a visitor to your site is converted into a lead (someone to follow up with) or a customer. Once someone visits your site, there needs to be clear and powerful motivation to actually interact with your business. The content should be valuable to them, but is it clear what they can do if they want to hear more from you? What if they want to purchase your services on the spot?
Through a combination of calls-to-action, landing pages, forms, content, and design, your site must be built in a way that maximizes conversion from visitors into leads into customers. Visitors should be able to easily navigate your site, finding ways to interact with your business, give you their contact info, or make purchases right away. You should be able to easily navigate your data, determining which strategies work, how to follow up on leads, and how to keep customers coming back.
Is Inbound Marketing Right for Small Businesses?
All of this sounds great, but is it important or even achievable for a small business? Small businesses are actually the perfect candidate for inbound marketing strategies. A large part of this is the shifting landscape of advertising due to the internet.
The internet allows consumers to access way more information than ever before about the products they buy and the companies they buy from. A potential customer can look up reviews and find similar products in the blink of an eye.
Because of this, people are getting warier and warier of traditional forms of advertisement that are intrusive, impersonal, and tell you nothing about the company or the product behind them. That is, other than the fact that the company has a lot of money to spend on ads.
Inbound marketing can be a doorway through which people get to know your business. For example, videos can be a great way to show potential customers the real people that work every day to keep your business running, social media is an amazing tool for interacting directly with your customers, and blogs can let people into the world of your business in any number of ways.
These experiences are enhanced by the fact that your business isn’t a huge, multimillion, multinational corporation. More and more, consumers want to know that they can trust the company they’re doing business with.
Inbound marketing is also a great fit for small businesses because it can so easily be scaled. No matter what the size of your business, an online marketing firm (like West County) can develop a strategy to maximize returns within your budget. Simply being found online at all is key to running a small business these days.
Small businesses aren’t in the position to advertise like the big companies do, but inbound marketing makes it so that such extravagant practices aren’t necessary. The key is to connect with the right people through the right content optimized in the right way, all of which is possible online.
If you’re interested in starting an inbound marketing campaign for your small business, West County may be able to help. Contact us online or give us a call at (707) 579-2089