What is inbound marketing? If you’re new to the game, it might be difficult to wrap your head around, so here’s an analogy. Consider marketing like a date between you and your customers. If outbound marketing is the active pursuit or the grand gestures– the courting, the wining, the dining– then inbound marketing is the subtle cues that attract someone to you– what you’re wearing, the topic of conversation, and your common interests. It’s how you come across to others that make them interested in you, without you having to throw yourself at them.

I dare quote an unlikely source to help give a simplified– albeit less “millennial-friendly” – explanation of what inbound marketing is. According to a Gartner report, “inbound marketing is about getting found — in not just search but all the places buyers go to self-educate.” That’s why when people talk about inbound marketing, there’s almost always the inevitable mention of SEO and social media. You want people to be able to search for what they want, and find you in the results list.

According to Larry Kim, founder and chief technology officer at Wordstream, however, in 2017 this is easier said than done: “the challenge is that everyone has jumped on this bandwagon so it’s harder than ever to get people’s attention.”

If you’re new to the game, you’re probably wondering what the best way of executing on inbound marketing in today’s competitive landscape is. The rest of this article is dedicated to giving you a basic toolkit to help you win at inbound marketing, including the what, the who, and the how of a proper inbound marketing strategy.

  • The what: what you need for inbound marketing.
  • The who: the people that you’ll need to leverage.
  • The how: the tools that can help you execute.

The What

What do you need to start inbound marketing?

Content

Good content is the cornerstone of inbound marketing. Whether it’s web copy or blog content, video or graphics, the way that you present yourself online is how people will judge your product or service, especially if it’s solely based there. When it comes to blog content specifically, the definition of what’s “good” might seem like a moving target, but there is some general consensus:

Let’s not forget that the better your content is, the more backlinks you’re likely to get, which improves your SEO value, taking me to my next point…

SEO

Love it or hate it, you need SEO (search engine optimization) to make your brilliant content discoverable. SEO may change year after year, but there are common practices that’ll get you further up in Google’s search. As mentioned above, backlinks– getting reputable sources to link back to your site– are a big part of SEO that’s showed no signs of slowing down.

Some more SEO trends and predictions to keep on top of in 2017?

Social media

If you’re yet to rank highly in Google’s search engine (and let’s face it, not many of us do), social media is where you’ll likely be getting most of your referral traffic – if you play your cards right. Whether you’re posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or one of a plethora of other social media networks the kids are using these days, the key is finding out which social media platform your target audience is on. From there, identifying the right influencers (I’ll touch on this a bit later) and building up your social following will help you get your content in front of the right eyes.

The Who

Who do you need to make inbound marketing work?

An audience

It might sound like a no-brainer, but knowing who your audience is– and what they’re looking for– is one of the most important parts of executing a successful inbound marketing strategy.

Saying “I’m targeting 18-65 year old consumers” might be too broad, while saying something like “I’m targeting 30 year old sheep herders with graying hair” might be too niche.

First, you want to make sure that an audience exists; then, find a unique angle to target that audience. If the market is already saturated, you’ll have a harder time breaking through than if you can find a way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

While that’s usually easier said than done, Inc. gives some good advice on how to define a target audience here, including:

  • Looking at your current customer base.
  • Analyzing the competition.
  • Analyzing your product or service.
  • Choosing a target demographic.
  • Analyzing that demographic’s personality traits.
  • Re-assessing your target market based on findings.

Writers

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that writers are more important to your inbound marketing strategy than marketers. Okay, maybe not more important, but they should be considered on a level playing field. The majority of inbound marketing revolves around writing, whether it’s blog content, web copy, or social media posts, and who better to execute than trained writers.

Given the saturation of content marketing efforts and the current state of content marketing, quality (i.e. well researched, well written, and informed content) will be the smoking gun between a good website, and a bad one. Similarly, as Google moves away from traditional SEO and focuses more on search intent, you’re going to need a wordsmith to make your content stand out beyond straight up keyword stuffing.

On that same note, if and when you start to expand your inbound marketing to include graphics and video, hiring full-blown professionals will get you a lot further than stock photos and home made movies.

Influencers

Make industry leaders, influencers, and subject matter experts your best friends. Not only can they provide credence and weight to your content through contributions, but they’ll also be the ones to help promote your content within their networks.

As outlined in a previous article on the GetApp Lab, there are five different types of influencers that you can leverage in order to maximize your inbound marketing efforts:

  • The media– gives your brand instant recognition on a large scale.
  • Social media influencers– helpful for reaching niche or targeted audiences on outlets like Instagram or YouTube.
  • Industry leaders– provide knowledge and insight to your subject matter.
  • Employees– will share your company’s content within their trusted online networks.
  • Customers– leverage user generated content like reviews from third party sites to help show off your brand.

The How

What tools can help in your inbound marketing efforts?

SEO tools

Your content is only as good as the people creating it, but during the process, you can use SEO tools to make sure that you’re taking the right steps to get yourself found in Google. This includes finding and targeting the right keywords, maximizing on-page SEO, and looking for backlink opportunities.

  • SEMRush, Keyword Planner: look for keywords with high search volume and low competition to target.
  • MozBar: shows you page and domain authority to help you size-up the competition, as well as more detailed info like page speed and markup.
  • WooRank: gives you detailed on-page SEO details including basic SEO, usability, and mobile optimization.
  • Open Site Explorer, BuzzSumo Alerts: help you find backlink opportunities for sites that may have mentioned your site but did not link to it.

Beware though: multiple sites have predicted the demise of at least one big SEO vendor in 2017.

Social media tools

Once you’re ready to promote your content, social media efforts can be fully optimized using social media marketing tools that will help you spread your content, find the right influencers, and analyze your ROI.

Analytics tools

You won’t know how successful any of your inbound marketing efforts are without measuring them. This includes seeing how many people came to your site, how they got there, and if they’re engaging the way you want them to using different analytics tools.

  • Google Analytics: no assessment is complete without checking out your traffic, time on page, clickthroughs, and time on site
  • HubSpot Analytics: shows how you’re doing on clicks, conversions, and keywords
  • Kissmetrics: web analytics and conversion tracking software

It’s never too late to start inbound marketing

Inbound marketing can help you increase your visibility online without you having to shell out the big bucks usually associated with traditional marketing methods.

It’s all about being able to position yourself so that if and when people go looking for what they want, they’ll find you. In summary:

  • Create good quality content using SEO best practices and social media to increase your chances of visibility
  • Define your audience, hire writers, and utilize influencers to maximize relevancy, quality, and exposure
  • Use SEO tools pre- and post- content creation, amplify its reach using social media marketing tools, and use analytics tools to help gauge your success