Inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is how the smallest firms can compete with corporate giants that have big ad budgets and armies of marketers. To get that advantage, you should know why quality content as the centerpiece of inbound marketing has suddenly become so in demand.

Despite the shorter attention spans induced by tweets and texts, Google recently decided that websites would get a higher ranking in searches if they had well-written, in-depth articles that are designed to educate, not hard-sell. Yes, that means their robots can evaluate good writing (and one can safely assume that Bing and other search engines are trying equally hard to serve up the best options for those looking for help or opinions).

The Google bots are also looking for original articles or blogs in the 500-2000 word range that are exclusive to one company’s website. That means they can’t be from syndicated sources, which is why many formerly high-ranking sites have disappeared from the first pages of search results. This method of rating is why www.WebMD.com ranks at or near the top for queries about health issues: all their doctors write those articles to appear only that site.

ENTREPRENEURS COMPETE WITH EXPERTISE

Those requirements have revived the careers of journalists after the passing of the dead-tree era when real newspapers thrived (I used to write a column for a national paper about how famous people achieved long-term success and most shared an ability to adapt to changing circumstances). We pros at communication have, however, needed to adapt our style to the digital world, which requires a certain structure and phrasing to make it easy for searchers to find the ideal content: search engine optimization or SEO (fortunately, only those who program the content need to know the technical details).

This is also good news for small business because there are plenty of good writers in any field who know how to create optimized articles or blogs (if you don’t know one, ask non-competitive colleagues, do a search for specialists and ask for samples of their work, or discuss your needs with an inbound marketing agency). You may already have lots of content that you haven’t thought about adapting to the digital search world: articles you’ve written for trade magazines or local newspapers, answers to questions on your website or Facebook page, as well as what you’ve put into brochures, ads, and speeches. Because entrepreneurs can be much more agile than business behemoths, they can cost-effectively compete as experts and educators.

GENERATING QUALITY LEADS

However, if you want to get concrete results, you’ll need an expert who can also help translate the content into leads, which is what inbound marketing is ultimately about. The individual managing your website may understand how to implement the SEO aspects of the content and how to promote it on social media or you may need to ask an inbound marketing specialist for help.

One of those, inbound marketing consultant Baron Miller of BuzzBox Media www.buzzboxmedia.com in Los Angeles, told me, “The benefits of inbound marketing can be very concrete, from bringing in a steady stream of quality potential customers with every post to dramatically dropping the cost per lead. Companies that focus on business-related blogging have a 13 times higher chance of positive return on investment than with traditional marketing.”

But, he says, don’t be tempted to take shortcuts, like deviating from a purely educational approach, slipping in a plug about how great your products are.

“You don’t need to oversell because the customer already is aware of who you are, since they’re reading your take on a particular topic on your site or a social media page,” says Miller. “They’re interested in expanding their understanding of the broader issues of your industry and their choices. Showing your expertise and objectivity builds trust in your viewpoint. People want to know that you are there primarily to serve them, not just talk about yourself and push your products. That’s what advertising does and inbound marketing doesn’t replace that, but the payoff comes from truly putting the customer first and helping her or him recognize why you are outstanding in your industry. Without valuable content like this, much of your marketing is just noise to the consumer.”

DOWNLOADS ARE KEY

Miller says downloads are the best way to get potential customers to take action and engage with you directly. Visitors to your site might fill out a form to get an article, giving you their contact info for follow-up (a mere contact form doesn’t capture 97% of visitors to most sites, he notes). The content could be a white paper or a short ebook. Or it might be an introduction to a topic with an invitation to join a free webinar for more in-depth treatment and chance to ask questions. The same content can also be emailed to current or prospective customers, turned into tweeted links, posted on Linkedin and Facebook, or handed out at stores or events. It can also be recycled at other times to get the attention of different audiences.

And consider adapting the same material into several video shorts, using www.Youtube.com to create and host them, then posting on your website (whose function would be slowed down if it did the hosting).

As the social marketing service HubSpot notes www.hubspot.com/inbound-marketing, calls-to-action such as buttons or links will generate the information you can enter into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, which will allow you to not only do initial follow-up by phone, email, mail, social media, or even in person, it can be tracked and analyzed so that those who aren’t ready to buy immediately can be cultivated by the next level of educational content.

With the right inbound marketing strategy, even a minimal effort and budget can be the David that slays the corporate Goliath.

By Scott S. Smith

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