Wouldn’t it be great if customers just flocked to your business?
No more long nights filled with cold sales calls, cold emails, and cold coffee.
Just beautiful, latte filled mornings where your inbox is full of requests and customers are knocking on your door because they’re dying to work with you.
Sounds like a dream, huh?
But it doesn’t have to be.
Attracting customers to your business through quality content and engagement is the premise of inbound marketing, or as we like to refer to it at WriterAccess – organic marketing.
And as you probably guessed, content marketing plays an important role in building and implementing an inbound marketing strategy.
Let’s dive into what inbound marketing is and where content fits in.
What is an Inbound Marketing Strategy?
Digital marketing takes place in a competitive attention economy. It’s predicted that global data creation will grow from approximately 40 zettabytes of data in 2019 to 175 zettabytes in 2025. Americans alone currently consume over 4,416,720 gigabytes of data every minute. With so much information being produced, getting people’s attention can be an extremely difficult thing to accomplish.
We also live in a world of empowered consumers who can access detailed specs, pricing, reviews, and brand comparisons online. And all of this can be done via smart devices, meaning their buyer’s journey takes place whenever and where ever they want.
In this digitally connected world, traditional outbound, mass marketing tactics no longer cut it. Often it comes across as intrusive or irrelevant, driving away the very customers you hope to engage.
In response, savvy businesses have shifted their marketing plan towards a more organic method of engaging potential customers, known as inbound marketing.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a strategy where businesses attract customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to their needs.
Note that key term: attract.
Rather than interrupting people’s lives in an attempt to force a connection, inbound marketers allow qualified leads to come to them through quality content.
This more organic approach to marketing helps grow your organization by encouraging meaningful, lasting relationships with prospects and existing customers alike.
Rather than being focused entirely on the needs of the company, inbound marketing focuses on providing value to your audience and empowering them so that you both reach your goals. When customers share their successes with others, it attracts new prospects to your brand — who in turn will share their successes with your business. It creates a self-sustaining loop that will help your organization grow.
According to HubSpot, three main principles govern the way that inbound marketing strategies are applied:
- Attract the right people. Create valuable, relevant content for targeted audiences and qualified lead generation.
- Engage with them on a personal level. Personalize conversations, insights, and solutions to align with your audience’s pain points and goals.
- Create a delightful experience. Focus on providing amazing customer experience so that buyers are empowered to succeed with your products or services.
Inbound strategy is powerful stuff. You can give your audience exactly what they are looking for at the precise moment that they need it. Doing so builds a positive rapport with buyers, where they trust your brand and see it as an industry authority.
What is the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?
So, how does inbound marketing differ from traditional approaches like outbound marketing? Let’s look at some examples.
Outbound marketing depends on you “pushing” your brand, reaching out to as many prospects as possible in hopes of converting them into qualified leads. Examples include mass marketing tactics such as TV commercials, paid advertising like banner ads, and some variants of email marketing.
In contrast, inbound methodology utilizes “pull” tactics to create brand awareness and attract business. Examples of these types of marketing techniques include organic search, content marketing, social media, events, and more. You earn the attention of targeted audiences via highly relevant content and make it easy for them to find your brand. You only directly engage after they’ve reached out or permitted you to contact them (such as by signing up for an email list).
How do you use inbound marketing?
What are the fundamentals of inbound marketing and what do businesses use inbound marketing for?
To start, most inbound marketing campaigns incorporate the following elements:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is a key component of effective inbound marketing. Using best practices like effective keyword density and well-structured site design will drive organic traffic, ensuring your content is being seen by the right audience.
A content strategy, such as blogging, can play a powerful role in driving traffic and nurturing leads when it is focused on providing value to readers. This is especially true when a piece of contentis produced around search intent and is optimized for voice search.
The combination of sound, visuals, and information makes video an extremely effective format to engage audiences. Indeed, in Wyzowl’s State of Video Marketing Survey 85% of businesses reported using video as a marketing tool.
According to research, one-third of the world’s population uses social media. Social has changed how we communicate, both with each other and with brands, making social media marketing a critical part of your inbound strategy.
Webinars and other types of educational events can take your inbound marketing to the next level by allowing you to get in front of a willing audience.
A Path to Inbound Marketing
Ultimately, any opportunity to share quality content is an opportunity to practice inbound marketing. Moreover, you can use a combination of these tools to achieve any of the three principal goals of inbound marketing.
For instance, strategies to attractyour target audience involve effective content creation and development. Start by using buyer personas and search intent to create content that provides value. Optimize all of this content in conjunction with your SEO strategy. This will help your contentrank well in searches for this type of information – thereby increasing brand awareness and drawing them to your site.
When using inbound strategies to engage your audience, don’t use templated, mass targeted messaging. Rather, ensure you communicate with leads and customers on a personal level. The point is for them to want to build long-term relationships with you.
Find ways to promote a solution to their issue rather than selling a product. When talking with a prospect or customer, include information about the value of your business during the natural flow of conversation. Engaging on a human to human level will create a positive, mutually beneficial experience for your customers and your business.
Delight-focused inbound strategies ensure your customers are happy with your brand and satisfied with their experience — both in the short run and long term.
For example, sending a satisfaction survey after a sale to get customer feedback for improvement. Or utilizing social media to answer questions, provide support, and engage with followers. The goal is demonstrating that you hear and care about their needs, regardless of whether or not the interaction provides any immediate value to your business.
Remember, even small interactions have the power to transform a delighted customer into a brand advocate.
Benefits of Inbound Marketing
Unlike traditional marketing initiatives, inbound marketing efforts build upon themselves over time. When utilized effectively, inbound marketing strategies offer immediate and long-term benefits for businesses, such as:
- Improving search engine optimization
- Driving brand awareness and brand preferences
- Increasing customer engagement and satisfaction
- Influencing future purchase decisions
Compared to traditional marketing, inbound strategies can drive a higher conversion rate for less money. It’s also a method that lends itself quite easily to marketing automation.
Now that we have a better understanding of inbound marketing strategy, let’s talk about the role of content in these organic marketing campaigns.
The Importance of Content in an Inbound Marketing Campaign
Wait…aren’t content marketing and inbound marketing the same thing?
Content and inbound marketing aren’t synonyms. It’s true that even experienced marketers tend to speak of them together and often interchangeably.
But more precisely, an inbound marketing plan encompasses content marketing. It also includes steps for developing a multi-platform infrastructure for growing an audience, collecting metrics, testing, and scaling.
Content is a Package That Inbound Marketing Delivers
Think of channels you use as part of a typical marketing plan like social media pages, video channels, a business blog, or landing pages as vehicles where you’re going to load your content packages.
Inbound marketing distributes and delivers the right content to the best-possible audience at the ideal time. Think of it like a mailman delivering a package. You can picture your metrics and analytics tools as the speedometer and other gauges that tell you how well your vehicle’s running.
Inbound Marketing Delivers, While Content Provides the Value
As with physical packages, you should work to distribute content to the right people and make certain that they’ll consider it valuable enough to open and keep.
And that perception of value can drive the recipients to want more value from your business, which means they will keep opening your packages… and done right, start paying for them.
Neil Patel, who does an admirable job of delivering valuable content, uses the example of CopyBlogger. This marketing site produces content that their audience of marketers will find valuable. In turn, CopyBlogger has attracted the attention of the right audience in order to add in their own marketing messages to sell various products and services.
What Kinds of Content Should a Content Marketing Plan Include?
The beauty of content marketing is that it can include all sorts of content, including:
- Blog posts
- Social media posts
- White papers
- And even text messages
Sometimes a piece of content will stand on its own, but just as commonly, one asset will include many different types of content. For instance, you might include some graphs inside a blog post in order to make it easy for people to understand a trend.
Similarly, you may post a video but also include a text summary or transcript, so visitors can choose which type of content they prefer and have an easy way to refer back to a particular point.
What’s the Best Kind of Content to Achieve Your Goals?
The best kind of content to use to achieve your goals will depend on your target audience, the stage in the buyer’s journey, and even the publishing platform.
You should also consider any goals you have for your overall inbound marketing campaign, such as lead generation, direct sales, or improving brand awareness. Do you hope to improve search engine optimization, attract more social media followers, or attract the attention of other media?
Understanding both your overall goals and your audience will help you choose the best types of content.
Consider these types of content and where they might fit into your overall content marketing plan:
Long-Form Blog and Social Media Posts
You will probably hear some marketers and even content producers tell you that nobody on the Internet bothers to read long-form content. Here’s the deal. People will read long content if they find it valuable.
Active Content, a marketing automation company, published some helpful statistics:
- Long ad copy for Facebook can deliver lower costs-per-action and more engagement than shorter pieces.
- Increasing Crazy Egg’s content length by just 20 percent improved conversions by 36 percent.
Some examples of long-form content that you can produce for blogs, home pages, social media, and even behind-subscriber-wall reports could include how-to content, ultimate-guides, case studies, and other in-depth informative pieces. Value-added pieces that summarize original research or new insights tend to also do remarkably well because they provide the sort of information or analysis that readers can’t get somewhere else.
Shorter pieces have their place too, particularly if they deliver insightful solutions to common problems or questions. Sometimes, you might use a short, punchy post to draw attention at the top of the sales funnel. Then lead your audience to your in-depth content to help convert and close.
Some short pieces, like recipes that include the company’s products, can even stand very well on their own on a site that already has plenty of authority. Still, you will probably notice that most bloggers add in a lot of chat before they provide the recipes these days, probably to help with search engine optimization.
Sometimes, nothing beats the power of video.
In fact, 54% of Internet users say they wish businesses would create more videos.
I know that’s a tall order. And since you create content to meet business goals, it’s vital that you can get an ROI.
But consider this: 88% of content marketers who use video say they’re satisfied with their ROI. And marketing research has shown a well-produced video can generate about 66% more qualified leads than outbound marketing alone.
Videos are often more expensive and time-consuming to produce. So they work well as a supplement to faster, regular content like a blog post.
Companies might use videos to demonstrate innovative products and develop a more personal connection with their audience. Videos work really well to display how-to guides for unfamiliar products and services and even for an online help system customers can use after they buy. While people do read on the Internet, they also spend A LOT of time watching videos.
As one example, one of my client’s sold garage door parts and accessories. Since repairing garage doors is often a more complex and potentially risky DIY job, he produced a number of guides that demonstrated the best way to safely install new products. This helped overcome some buyers’ reluctance to buy parts themselves instead of hiring a service.
Webinars provide you with an interactive kind of video. Viewers can participate with comments and questions. They tend to work well near the top of the sales funnel, and you can always save the recorded webinar to also use as an on-demand video later.
A lot of marketers overlook the power of podcasts. People can do other things while they’re listening to a podcast, and recently, they’ve increased in popularity as alternatives to radio for people driving cars, working, or doing tasks around the house. That may also contribute to the reason why people tend to listen to podcasts far longer than they’ll read articles or even watch videos.
Podcasts work really well to explore subjects in great depth. On the other hand, some marketers say that they struggle with discoverability, so it’s probably best to start a podcast if you already have a well-established audience or other marketing channels.
For instance, some popular YouTube channels produce fairly short videos to introduce topics and then have podcasts for interested subscribers to explore these subjects in more depth.
People are visual animals, so catchy graphics can help attract attention. Since many businesses deal with data these days, data visualization graphics — like infographics — can also offer viewers a quick way to analyze and absorb information. Infographics have traditionally also worked well as link magnets, so if you want to create sharable content, consider including them.
You can use graphics on social media, or your own blog. You can also distribute them, with a link back to your landing pages on a number of sites that specifically publish graphics of this type.
How the Right Content Supports Your Entire Inbound Marketing Strategy
In the best case, your content can provide your audience with the kinds of information, insights, or even entertainment that they can’t easily find anywhere else. You offer potential customers value in exchange for their getting their attention. In turn, you can take the opportunity to craft the sorts of content that will help people remember your brand and absorb your marketing message.
How Do Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing Work Together?
I like to translate abstract concepts into something I can see and touch.
So in case that delivery driver and package example didn’t explain it, how about this…
Inbound marketing is like a building’s foundation and frame. It holds the building up and makes it function as a building. Content is what you put inside. It’s what makes that building inviting and livable–minus the wood paneling and popcorn ceilings, I hope.
Content marketing is an essential subset of your inbound strategy. It’s a narrower concept within the big picture that is organic marketing, the way customers prefer to be marketed to.
Inbound and content need each other. And it’s hard for either to reach its full potential without the other. Why?
There’s a truth too many content marketers have found out the hard way. Content without a clear conversion path will not make a sale. People just consume your content and they’re off, gone, never to be seen again.
At the same time, an inbound marketing strategy without the right kinds of content is just a shell. You have a mapped out buyer’s journey and buyer personas. But what do you do with them?
Content strategy helps you invite people in to stay awhile.
It gives your inbound marketing strategy context that potential customers are drawn to. Inbound marketing gives content direction, purpose, and at the end of the day measurable results, which are important for any digital marketing department.
How Does Content Reach and Attract?
The most vital benefit of organic marketing is its ability to reach and attract. As seen in the earlier example, content is your magnet. It helps you:
- Increase brand awareness
- Build an online presence on social media
- Increase appearances in organic search (search engine optimization)
- Earn attention and time with the right message at the right time
- Build a following of engaged followers who share and expand your reach
- Connect with customers by addressing their pain points
- Answer important questions customers have about your industry, products, services
- Reach people without being overly salesy too soon, which scares today’s consumers away, especially with products and services that require significant consideration time
To accomplish these things, you need valuable content that respects a potential customer’s time.
Give them something they can use now and they’ll reward you later with their dollar bills.
How to Create Content that Reaches and Attracts
If you want to create content that reaches and attracts, you must do your homework. In content marketing that includes:
- Social listening to see what people are talking about
- Keyword research to know what people are searching for
- Competitor analysis to understand how to overtake the competition
- Content analytics to understand what’s working for you
Now, take what you’ve learned. And fill out a content calendar. If you need help creating the actual content on a schedule, freelance content creators can help.
Types of Content that Reach and Attract
Earlier, I talked a little bit about the different types of content that you can use as part of your content marketing strategy. But now, let’s look at the types of content that work particularly well to help you reach and attract new leads:
- Blog posts
- Social media posts
- Memes, gifs, and other images
How Does Content Convert and Close?
Content can also help you convert. An inbound marketing strategy often includes an offering of some kind that people want. They sign up for the content and you have a lead to now nurture.
Without high-quality content here, you don’t have a conversion. On top of that, leads consuming your content is what helps you close the deal.
To prevent a leaky inbound funnel at this critical stage, this content must not disappoint.
How to Create Content to Convert and Close
Conversion content should be content that your leads can’t get for free anywhere in this form. On your landing page, you need to be able to sell it as exclusive. The customer should feel that this content will change their life for the better in some way.
Types of Content that Convert and Close
Here are a few different types of content that are well-suited for the conversion stage of the buyer’s journey:
- White Papers
- More in-depth how-to videos
- Exclusive market research, studies, reports
- Other educational resources
- Demonstrations and free trials
How Does Content Delight and Retain?
According to research conducted by business consulting firm Bain & Company, increasing retention by just 5% can increase profits a minimum of 25%. For some companies, it’s much higher.
How does retaining customers increase profits? Well, retention helps you:
- Lower marketing costs
- Increase positive reviews
- Increase the customer lifetime value
- Decrease returns/refunds
- Increase brand affinity and goodwill
- Lower customer care costs
All of this drives more repeat and new traffic to your site. And once again, content has a huge role to play.
About 40% of people now prefer that you provide self-service tools online versus forcing them to work with a rep. Investing in content that helps your customers get the help they need without reaching out to a person helps you foster a better customer experience.
How to Create Content for Retention
Survey customer service and sales reps. Gather customer service data to understand the most common issues customers have with products and services.
Take a look at returns and refunds data to better understand where enhancing customer education could prevent those refunds.
Then, create content that focuses on the issues your customers face most often. This informative content should help them identify and troubleshoot problems while also helping them get more out of your products and/or services.
Types of Content that Retain Customers
Here are just a few types of content that you can use to drive customer retention:
- Troubleshooting Resources (Videos, Blog Posts, eBooks)
- How-To Videos
- Onboarding or Welcome Emails
How Content Quality Directly Affects the Outcome of Inbound Marketing
Okay, so we’ve talked about how content marketing works within the inbound marketing strategy to draw in leads and drive results. But, not all content is created equal.
The content rules have changed as more content is created each year and search engines continue to improve algorithms to serve better content to their users.
Is Content Quality More Important than Quantity?
Content is a big deal to most marketers, but should you push for more content or better content?
The quick answer is that quality content is absolutely more important to your content marketing strategy than just churning out a certain number of posts. But let’s talk about why.
The History of Keyword Stuffing
In the ‘90s through the early 2000s, search engines were relying on exact keyword matches to provide search results. So, it was important to get out content that dealt with a specific keyword the user was searching for in order to land in those top search results.
This led to “keyword stuffing” or brands cramming their articles full of the terms they thought the searchers were using. An article might be generic text blocks of near nonsense and fluff that didn’t answer the search question but instead repeated the topic keyword over and over in an attempt to look like they were addressing the topic. And, those early search engines would let these articles land in the top results because they looked like they really covered the topic.
But spammy sites were abusing this tactic with mass content creation to draw in leads that were searching for keywords completely unrelated to what was actually on the site. A site selling buggy software or something shady might have a post crammed with keywords related to Nostradamus or anthrax (two of the top five Google searches in 2001). In some cases, they would even hide big blocks of keywords by including them in a matching color to the page background so they “counted” without even being visible to the reader.
A Shift to Value
Search engines got smarter and better at determining natural writing, the popularity of the content with users, and content value. The algorithms began to look at things like dead ends (no outbound links), authoritative sourcing, length, visitor shares, and backlinks as just a few ways to determine value. Google makes approximately 500-600 changes each year to the algorithm to make cheating the system a lot harder. In 2018, Google reported 3,234 algorithm changes—more than 9 changes every day!
This shift has taken a combatant stand against “black hat” SEO practices. This means Google is actively penalizing content that looks like it is skirting the rules with keyword stuffing or other “cheats.” Search engines have a vested interest to provide the best results to searchers. If Google brings up a lot of spam articles, someone could always switch to Bing, Duck Duck Go, Yandex or another search engine that brought up better results.
That is why today all sites are focused on providing results that keep users happy, which means content that provides value and actually addressing the keyword topics.
Enter Social Media
In 2004 Facebook was born. The sharing of links and posts was not nearly as popular before the rise of social media. On Facebook alone, an estimated 54,000 links are shared every minute by users, leading to 1 million links every 20 minutes.
For a while, clickbait articles were on the rise. Brands tried to craft sensational titles to trick users into sharing and clicking. You probably remember the titles that read like:
- She took a routine trip to the doctor, but what happened next will blow your mind…
- I read these 10 shocking food facts and never want to eat again…
- Looks fun until 2:03 and now I think I’m scarred for life
These are examples of clickbait titles that often led to really lackluster posts or videos. Most of those articles were stuffed with fluff so you scrolled forever just to find out if the point was even worth reading. Even now, I bet you’ve clicked on an article shared on Facebook and become beyond irritated with the pointless history shared for the first ¾ of the story or the million and one popup ads you have to get past to see anything.
But, clickbait isn’t getting shared or clicked on as much as it used to. How effective do you think it is when 100,000 people click on your article, only to be irritated that they were tricked by clickbait? It would be better to have 10 or 100 people visit that were delighted to read what they clicked on, right?
So, while marketers still work to craft enticing titles, they have to work just as hard (or harder) to create content that is interesting and engaging.
According to OptinMonster, professionals are slowing their content frequency down to focus on producing longer (and better) pieces of content:
- The average blog post takes about 3.5 hours to write and it performs better when over 2,000 words.
- The majority of bloggers (66%) are now publishing a few times a month (not multiple times a week like they were in 2014).
- US audiences spend 3x more time on blog posts compared to emails.
- Prioritizing blogging makes marketers 13x more likely to achieve a positive ROI with their marketing strategy.
- 57% of marketers says they’ve gained customers specifically through their blogging efforts.
In fact, at WriterAccess, we’ve started to create 4-5x more long-form content than we have in the past. While this does mean we often publish fewer posts, we are able to pack each post with more value.
But “good content” is a pretty vague term. So let’s talk about it.
What Makes Quality Content?
I’ll start by defining what quality is not. Great quality is not determined by:
- Visual aids
- Correct spelling and grammar
These are all important parts of good content, but they are not what defines quality. So, let’s look at what goes into quality content.
Mass-produced or popular content isn’t going to help you stand out from the crowd. Quality content gives your brand a unique place in the industry. If you are producing the same content as your competitors, then it is more follow-the-leader and less thought leader. Create content that is important to your audience and not content for the purpose of ranking well on search engines.
Content should never be a dead-end. Quality content always leads the visitor to a next-step. Take the time to answer the questions, but include links to resources and an actionable ending. Great content is going to funnel leads toward conversion without being focused on self-promotion. Content that isn’t in line with your marketing goals is going to be time and money spent without value for you.
When you set out to cover a topic, answer it correctly and thoroughly. Great content is credible and backed by research, reviews, links, and cited facts. While it takes extra time to research topics in-depth, it more than pays off in the end when your content has helped you build a reputation for industry expertise and authority.
If your content doesn’t get the reader thinking, then what is the purpose of writing it? If you find it difficult to create though-provoking content, you’re not alone. In fact, 60% of marketers say they struggle to create content that is engaging. Try thinking outside the box when addressing common topics or issues in your industry.
You will never be able to determine great quality content without understanding your audience. Analytics and data will be your best friend in defining the top performing 3-5% of your content. These are the pieces with the best click-through rate and the ones that get the best social engagement rates. When you are looking at your data, you may notice that a small number of posts are responsible for most of your traffic. These are the posts that help you define quality.
Content Focused on Buyer Stage
If all of your content marketing efforts are focused on people who already have identified their problem and are in the research stage, you are going to potentially miss drawing people in who haven’t fully recognized the source of their pain points (or those still in the awareness stage). It is important for your content to draw in leads at every point of the buyer’s journey. Content addressing different buyer stages will be better for broadening your organic search traffic, good for PPC ads targeting qualified leads, and helpful for content supporting segmented contact lists for your email marketing strategy.
Content Focused on Social Sharing
What makes your audience proud to share information about your company? Content that your employees, customers, and leads want to share will increase your reach. But don’t just look at one social platform. What is getting attention on Facebook may not be the same content heavily shared on Pinterest or LinkedIn. A well-rounded content strategy will have a variety of content drawing in traffic from all platforms.
Static Web Pages
Don’t neglect your static website pages. Craft content that clearly defines and sells your products or services. The goal of these pages should be to offer value in clearly defining the products while setting your company apart from the competitors.
Your website content is an important part of your content strategy, since most sales funnels should lead visitors here. Don’t get so caught up in content marketing efforts that you forget about the content on your static pages, like:
- Product Pages/Descriptions
- Company History/About
- Local Landing Pages
- Welcome/Home Page
- FAQs Page
Content Supporting Needs
Your content should cover the needs of your employees and customers. A well-rounded content strategy isn’t just focused on bringing in new leads, but on supporting your company efforts as well. The frequently asked questions and support pages will help delight your customers beyond just landing a sale. Content should be crafted to keep bringing your customers back to retain them as loyal customers.
Brands tend to either focus on evergreen content or time-sensitive content. But for a well-rounded content strategy, you want both.
Evergreen content is the content that will retain value for a long time, covering topics in-depth that are always important to your audience. An example of an evergreen piece of content would be a blog post that explains one of your target audience pain points. These pain points are not likely to change, even if the solutions to these problems may look a little different later on.
But time-sensitive content covers the events, deals, and topics your audience will find interesting, but won’t last a long time. Content surrounding COVID is an example of important content that probably won’t stay relevant in the long-term. Seasonal topics are also examples of time-sensitive content that is less likely to be shared after the season has passed.
Make Content a Priority
While paid ads certainly have their place in your digital marketing strategy, there is no denying the power of organic marketing. Being able to consistently generate new leads who are ideal for your brand through quality content and engagement is a sustainable and profitable practice for any business.
So if you currently are not making content creation a part of your marketing strategy, there’s no better time than now.
If you need help finding a writer to get started (or many writers to start scaling your content creation), schedule a demo to see how easy WriterAccess makes it to find the right writers for your business.
Sarah Jane Burt is Sr. Content Strategist at WriterAccess. For the past decade, she’s helped brands big and small, from tech giant IBM to the local plumber, tell their stories and create strategies for customer-driven content. When she’s not working on developing and implementing our content strategy, she’s writing blog posts that help demystify content marketing and strategy for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and enterprise content teams.