An Introduction to Inbound Marketing
Before we get to inbound marketing, I think it’s important you have some understanding of the technical stuff that has led to this massive shift:
About 8 years ago the internet underwent a change that took it from:
Information based websites - We searched, we found, we absorbed and we kept our opinions to ourselves. This is commonly referred to as web 1.0.
The social web – the separation of code from content (in other words you no longer had to understand computer code to publish online content) meant that the previously silent masses were given a megaphone and told to shout. If you were capable of creating a word document then you were, in effect, an overnight web developer. This was the birth of web 2.0 and it changed everything!
And I really do mean everything. Not only are we as consumers now able to join in the conversation online, but that has itself helped to shift our expectations offline. We are tired of slick, inauthentic advertising. We want to see the real company, warts and all, and we know when we’re being deceived!
We expect to have a voice and we expect to be heard. If our experience is good we will share it with our friends. If our experience is bad we will share it with the world!
Every company is now a media company
Every business in every industry now has the capability, albeit not necessarily the desire, to publish media online at virtually no financial cost (just time!). Consequently there are opportunities available that did not exist ten years ago, and as always it is the early adopters that snatch all the benefit. The Jonny come lately’s will survive by the skin of their teeth while the hard headed luddites will, trust me, get left for dead!
Outbound vs Inbound
- Outbound – those activities that involve pushing messages outwards at prospective customers. Also known as interruption based marketing. The logic is that if you shout at enough people that broadly fit into your target demographic, a few of these will listen and with a bit of luck become your customer. In the 20th century it was all the rage – cold calls, email databases, TV ads, billboards. By the turn of the millennium the average consumer was subjected to over 3000 advertisements a day!!!
- Inbound – those activities that involve pulling your customers towards you by ensuring you are active where they are active and offer such a great experience that not only do they return time and time again, but they bring all their buddies and colleagues with them! Since the emergence of web 2.0 and the computer savvy consumer, this is fast replacing outbound as the dominant form of marketing.
Some fictional, real life examples (if that makes any sense)
Traditional Outbound Marketing
Physio Phil has just started out on his own (way to go Phil!) and wants to make a name for himself via traditional methods. First he buys an advert on local radio offering a heavily discounted rate and then purchases a data list for mass emails and cold calls. He even has some flyers printed and spends his Saturday afternoons starting awkward conversations with unfortunate passers-by.
It works but at a price – the discounts have reduced his margins, the data list costs a fortune and offers rapidly diminishing returns, and the hard sell seems to upset more people than it converts!
Traditional Inbound Marketing
Phil has a friend called Dennis. Dennis owns a dentist surgery that’s sat in the middle of a busy high street. Lots of people walk past every day and see a huge sign marked “Dennis’s Dentist” (try saying that when you’ve just had a filling!).
This is no ordinary dentist. When you register you receive a free electric toothbrush, and rather than an old Country Life magazine marked July 1999, the waiting room is packed with 3D TV’s, massaging chairs and small robotic animals. As for the service – spot on. Dennis is charming, interesting, and, above all, a bloody good dentist!
Now in theory this all sounds great. Unfortunately, the prime location and memorable experience come at a price and only help on a very local scale. If only there was a way of doing this stuff virtually. Hmmm…
Online Inbound Marketing
Like his buddies Dennis and Phil, Chiro Chris wants to make it on his own but has almost no cash. He has read about online inbound marketing and decides to build himself a website. He immediately registers with Google places and the local enquiries start pouring in
Not satisfied with local business, Chris decides to add more quality content in the form of an FAQ section and professional blog. As his content grows so does his traffic and many of the users link to his site from their own (which he has just learnt Google absolutely loves!).
Six months later Chris has another lightbulb moment – many of his clients are young athletes and he has heard how much time youngsters now spend on social networking sites. He sets up a Facebook Fan Page and offers a one off discount to all his clients if they become a fan. Soon it’s a vibrant community attracting clients’ friends, friends of friends and even friends of friends of friends!
A year down the line Chris has so much traffic that he starts to sell his favourite products online to people all over the world! His business becomes bigger and more efficient than he ever imagined, and all thanks to online inbound marketing.
Online inbound marketing – A Quick Breakdown
Online inbound marketing online involves a range of techniques. The most important in 2011 are as follows:
• Content Marketing
• Search Engine Optimisation
• Social Media Marketing
• Video Marketing
• Email marketing
Which are going to be important to you? Probably the lot! They all overlap and it is almost impossible to make the most of one without the others.
Before we move into the detail of inbound marketing there is one final piece of the jigsaw that needs a mention. If inbound marketing is the process of bringing people through the shop door, then you still need a salesman to turn them into paying customers. This online salesman is something we refer to as “Website Conversion Optimisation”, and will be our final chapter stage on our inbound marketing journey.
To keep things simple, we’re going to asterix any term that we think you might not be familiar with and then you can pop back here and check out the definition.
• Above the fold – that information that is immediately visible on your screen when you land on a website, without having to scroll down. This is the most important information on your page. Of course it will vary slightly with different size screens.
• Algorithm – the formula that a search engine uses in order to decide on the results it gives you for any search. There are literally hundreds of factors or “signals” that contribute to the formula as the search engine attempts to distinguish the high quality, relevant web pages, from the low quality, irrelevant web pages. Algorithms are updated regularly by search engines as users look for different things in their web experience.
• Anchor text – the text within a link. So if I link the words click here, then “click here” is the anchor text.
• Bounce rate – those people that only visit one page of your site. They don’t go any deeper either because they found precisely what they were looking for or, more commonly, because what they found was so rubbish
they couldn’t get away from it quick enough!
• Call to Action (CTA) – a statement that attempts to get users performing a certain action, so “Buy Now!” or “Click here to download our latest brochure”.
• CMS – Content Management System – A system that allows non techie’s to change text, images, videos and even formatting within a website.
• Conversions – could be anything from a phone call to an email to a download to an online purchase. Whatever it is that you want your customers to do once they are on your site!
• Indexing – Google spends lots of time “crawling” the web trying to find new, useful content. When you add a new page to your site, it will take a bit of time before Google finds it. When that happens and it begins to feature in Google’s results, we say that it has been “indexed”.
• Infographic – an image designed to illustrate a particular concept or set of statistics. They are most usually included in blogs.
• Landing page – a page from your website that appears in the search engine results. View them as doors into your website; the more you have, the more visitors will come knocking!
• Link bait – content on your website that encourages people to link to it, such as a funny video, an educational info-graphic, a useful tool, etc.
• Link juice – the authority that is passed from one web page to another when a link is added.
• Meta-descriptions – This is the bit of text that appears in the search engine results page alongside the link to the web page in question. Its purpose is to provide a brief summary of the contents of the page. It will often determine whether or not people click through, so choose your words carefully!
• Plug-ins – software that allows you to “plug-in” to large applications. Very common on websites to allow people to watch video, listen to music and use countless other tools.
• Sales copy – Marketing text written with strong sales language that encourages you to take action towards a purchase.
• Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) – the page that gives you your results when you enter a search.
• Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – the most important acronym on the web. Search Engine Optimisation is the process of ranking higher in the search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) for the terms that are important for your business.
• URL – the address for a web page, such as www.mywebsite.com/contact-me. Stands for Unique Resource Locator.
Since the likes of Facebook and Twitter have come onto the scene, people (including many self proclaimed experts) are now talking about the end of the humble website – it’s nonsense. For the foreseeable future your website will continue to be the most valuable asset your business owns.
Think about that for a moment. Your website is the most valuable asset you have. I bet you’ve never thought about it in those terms before. But why not? You use it to sell your products and services. You probably send partners and suppliers there for information about your company. Perhaps you even use it as an online portal through which your staff can interact, store data and organise themselves. It is, in effect, your office and shop combined. It can be as vast as you want and contain just about anything, and yet you’re telling me that you’ve never attached a monetary value to it?!
Well now is the time to start
You can’t polish a …
If you’re a new business then you obviously need to start afresh, but what if you have an existing site? Should you begin all over again or just accept its imperfections and tweak it into shape? Well that really depends on a couple of things:
• Design – how bad we are talking? Look at your competitors sites. I assume that the reason you are reading this is because you want the best online presence in your market. How does yours look compared to theirs? Be honest…
• What does it allow you to do? Nowadays every business needs a solid Content Management System (CMS*).
As you will shortly learn, your website is a constant work in progress. You always need to be able to expand and enhance it. Can you add new pages? Can you add images and videos? If your system doesn’t allow you to do these basic things yourself then it’s time to start again.
Now the more SEO* savvy among you may be thinking “What about the search engines? My existing site has been around for years and developed a high level of authority in the eyes of Google.” If so, nice spot! This is a really important point but never fear – a good SEO expert will know exactly what to do to retain as much of this authority as possible.
Bespoke or open source?
Right, I’m guessing there’s a good chance these terms might require a little explanation:
• Bespoke websites – You pay a web developer to create your site from absolute scratch. Every last detail will be designed to suit your exact requirements.
• Open source websites – You pay a designer to take an existing CMS and (with a combination of templates and plug-ins*) design a custom skin that appears unique to your brand.
Now before I begin attacking bespoke options I will concede that there is definitely a place for them. For those organisations that require complex e-commerce solutions, custom tools or high levels of security then unquestionably a bespoke website is appropriate. However, for every one appropriate bespoke website sold by an agency, there are five that are mis-sold. Most businesses get on absolutely fine with open source solutions.
Benefits of an open source website include:
• Cost – they are almost invariably a fraction of the cost of a bespoke site.
• Quality – there is a misconception that open source means you are compromising on quality. The whole point with open source is that communities of experts have collaborated on creating the best possible solutions to universal challenges.
• Plug-ins – as mentioned, your website should be constantly evolving. This means new tools, widgets, designs, etc. These open source communities are constantly releasing new plug-ins that will allow you to build on your website with the click of a button. Sometimes you have to pay a very small amount and other times they are free. To put that in perspective, if you were to have such tools created for you from scratch you could be looking at thousands.
A few open source options include Joomla, WordPress and Drupal. We ourselves use WordPress like it’s going out of fashion. In fact 14% of all websites are now WordPress based and consequently the community is huge and full of kind hearted folk offering more support and plug-ins than ever!
That’s all you need to know. You are probably never going to design a website yourself, but you need to know that if you have modest website requirements and your designer scoffs at the idea of an open source solution, it’s either because he doesn’t keep up to speed with online developments or he is trying to squeeze a few more quid out of you. Either way it’s time to find a new designer.
While ecommerce sites are often more complicated (and therefore frequently require a tailored approach), we would still always recommend considering an open source solution. There are some modest WordPress ecommerce plug-ins, but the Rolls Royce of the open source ecommerce world is Magento. The community edition is free of charge and an experienced developer will be able to do just about anything you want.
By using an open source model one of the biggest advantages is that you are not tied into that one developer. Anyone can access the code and make changes, which is critical with an ecommerce site that will continually need updating.
• Decide whether or not you need a new site or whether your existing one can simply be improved. It must have a solid CMS
• If you do decide to have a new site, then find a web designer that can show you examples of some nice, web 2.0 style CMS sites they have created. For a basic site using an open source platform you shouldn’t be charged more than a couple of grand. For e-commerce it will probably be more like £3k-£7k. For completely bespoke solutions there is no limit so do your research and get a handful of quotes.
We will be coming back to web design later in the final chapter – Website Conversion Optimisation.
Content marketing is all about developing unbeatable resources so that people come back time and time again; a bit like Dennis the Dentist who crammed the waiting room with loads of funky stuff to make the visitor experience memorable. The same applies to your website.
Great content includes:
• Resources – high quality written material, useful tools or educational content, such as a video training series.
• Entertainment – funny, thought provoking, controversial – whatever gets people talking!
Why bother with great content?
Well that’s easy:
• Happy visitors
• Higher conversion rates
• Lots of return visits
• Social recommendations
• BIG SEO benefits
Most of these speak for themselves, but let’s just quickly explain why great content = great SEO:
1. Every new page of content you write can act as a new landing page* in the search engines. So if I have a website with 10 pages, I should theoretically get 10 times the amount of traffic as a site with just 1 page (all else being equal).
2. Happy visitors are likely to link to your resources from their blogs and websites. Google loves links – in fact, as you will see in the SEO chapter, this is one of the most important factors in determining your rankings!
3. Google is now taking into account those factors that it believes reflect a happy user experience – so high click through rates from the search engines, a long time on sie, low bounce rate, social mentions, etc. This is all Google gold.
So never stop creating great content. With every page that is added, your site will become a bigger player on Google and an increasingly valuable asset to your business
Becoming an authority and going Viral
If you provide important, valuable and free resources to visitors on your website, you are likely to become a popular authority, even in very traditional fields. I was chatting to a tax advisor recently who was receiving huge volumes of traffic to his blog. At first he was confused as to the source of all these new visitors, but after conducting some quick research he discovered that a link to his blog had been placed on HMRC!
There are lots of things that go viral, most notably video and imagery, but some of the easier wins lie in:
• Guides - free, helpful resources are hugely popular, don’t hold back with information
• Breaking news – if something new and exciting happens in your market then you can be damn sure people will soon be searching for it, so get in there early while the buzz is intense and the competition scarce.
• Interesting or funny statistics – why not put a new, quirky twist on some statistics in your industry. If you have any design skills then illustrate the stats in an infographic* to really bring it to life.
Content Marketing Action
- Decide the best format to add new content to your website. Should it be a blog, a resource section, FAQ pages, instructional videos? What have you got to offer your market?
- Create a plan and be realistic. If you think you can manage one new page a week, plan for one page every fortnight but NEVER miss it. This is all about momentum.
- Quality not quantity. Every page must offer something unique. This is NOT about creating content for the sake of content.
- Write about stuff you enjoy. It will show.
- Don’t worry about going viral. It cannot be forced but if you consistently produce high quality material then sooner or later something will take off