A content and social media marketing specialist, Ben Jacobson joined the Lean Labs team in the summer of 2014. Ben has been active as a digital branding professional since the early days of social media, having overseen projects for brands including MTV, National Geographic, Zagat and Wix. His writing has appeared in Social Media Explorer, Search Engine Journal, Techwyse and the Mad Mimi Blog. Ben resides just south of the Carmel Mountain ridge in Israel with his dashing wife and two sprightly descendants.
Like all disciplines that have value, inbound marketing is complex, nuanced, and layered. It’s intuitively logical and straightforward enough that the uninitiated can gain a sense of inbound marketing’s basic principles and building blocks with relative ease, but true inbound marketing mastery is always a work in progress.
User experience expectations constantly evolve, new technology is always being released, and there are continuous fluctuations in the performance effectiveness of various tactics. As a result, inbound marketing practitioners and enthusiasts are unlikely to run out of things to learn and discuss anytime soon.
Let’s take a deep dive into the 37 most important things for inbound marketers to know about as we head towards the summer of 2016.
1. The Skills You Need and Your Talent Gaps
To put your company in the best possible position for inbound marketing success, you need the resources to execute. Of course, you’ll need general marketing savvy, administrative organization and careful time management, but make sure you’ve also got access to human resources for content writing, multimedia production, business intelligence analysis, and community management. Wrap your head around which skills are critical vs. which are nice to have, which should ideally be yours vs. which are fine for someone else to handle, and which need to be present in your team vs. which are best to outsource.
2. How to Contend with the Pros and Cons of Using Freelancers
Good writers are a dime a dozen. Great writers are hard to find. Outstanding writers who can quickly generate all the content you need, with minimal management? That’s a needle-in-a-haystack kind of search. Your options are basically to find that needle on your own, retain an agency, or build up a team of freelance team members. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, so you’ll need to figure out which is best for you, which challenges you can deal with, and which simply aren’t worth it.
3. What It Takes to Recruit Top Talent for Salary Jobs
The global inbound marketing industry is a force to be reckoned with, but different locales have different wage scales and levels of talent demand. There are many factors like these to keep in mind as you consider the costs of putting together an in-house marketing team.
4. Best Practices for Stellar Content Marketing
Just because your company is interested in publishing content as a way to attract relevant prospects doesn’t mean it’s going to work. To drive business performance with your publishing efforts, you’ll need to document your content strategy, tell stories that evoke emotions, engage with influencers, keep your persona-segments in mind, schedule your work flows, experiment with formats, and make sure your narratives address your audience’s key pain points.
5. Best Practices for Email Marketing
Email is one of the most powerful customer acquisition channels, and it’s also your primary hub for lead nurturing. Make sure you’re using the email tech capabilities that are now available to businesses of every size, and stop sending the same messages to everyone on your list. Instead, use triggered flows to send out targeted messages for maximum relevance. Experiment with scheduling parameters, segmentation constructs, and editorial tone, too. Keep it short, visual, mobile-ready and as personalized as possible.
6. Paid Content Promotion and Amplification Strategies
Thought leaders recommend putting at least as much effort into distributing content as you do into creating it. Ensure that your superb content reaches its intended readers by sponsoring placements in relevant social media contexts and publications, to make sure that your message doesn’t fall between the cracks. Lest you think that paid amplification is an unnecessary step, don’t forget that the shelf life of the average link shared online is just three hours. Make sure that your marketing assets are discoverable and continue to make lasting impact for months if not years.
7. Social Media Marketing Tactics
Using social media to build an audience and engage with prospects requires a whole world of knowledge unto itself. Authenticity, accessibility, and transparency are key. Foster a sense of community around shared values and issues, but make sure to keep it light and compelling, using great visuals and timely commentary. Increasing your digital footprint through social media is critical. The more adept you can become at all of the techniques and know-how available, the more effective your efforts will be.
8. Focus on Building Organic Traffic
Acquiring enough unpaid search engine referrals to your website takes time. It all starts with thinking about how people search for the information you have (or should have). You’ll also need to optimize your site for mobile and local searches, which are emerging as increasingly pivotal SEO factors. To master those pesky, competitive keywords that are most relevant to your business, though, you’ll need to attract quality inbound links by publishing authoritative, link-worthy assets.
9. Working with All Types of Writers
Sourcing content well means working with contributors of every variety—members of your organization who otherwise have little to do with marketing, subject matter experts from the outside, and freelancers who may need a bit of extra hand-holding to understand the nuances of your brand voice. Keep an eye open for new content sourcing opportunities, keep the perspectives fresh, and keep everyone remembering their ongoing contributions are valued.
10. Managing Content Workflows from Conception to Publication
Everyone knows what it takes to turn an idea into a published piece of content, right? Well, only theoretically. Whether you break the steps down to a granular level, or you empower your team to move forward with broad strokes of what you expect, the more your team internalizes the mechanisms you establish, the smoother your production process will be.
11. Tracking Inbound Marketing KPIs that Actually Matter
“Vanity metrics” like follower counts correlate very little with actual business success. Instead, measure and track the engagement KPIs that count—leads captured, time on page, pages viewed per session and social media interactions. Take care to evaluate engagement both according to the source of your traffic (paid vs. organic search referrals, for example) and the nature of it (people commenting vs. sharing vs. liking). Then use that information to realign the strategies you use for growing your business.
12. Putting Your Best Site Forward
Keeping your website current might entail a complete overhaul, but you may find better value with incremental improvements using the methods of growth-driven design. One way to decide is to pay attention to where your website is underperforming and simply modify according to where you need the boost.
13. Website Versioning Essentials
Ongoing website development can help considerably with improving business, especially when done with a focus on methodical experimentation, but even if your site’s design and tech are relatively static, there are some must-have elements for inbound marketing to be effective. You’re going to need an uncluttered homepage, intuitive navigation, lead-capturing landing pages, and clear brand positioning. Beyond that, make sure you’re creating a positive experience for site visitors with a clear message and clear calls-to-action.
14. Input and Influence of the Experts
When we strip away all the distractions, at the heart of your inbound marketing program is the content you provide. No marketer, brand journalist, or storytelling professional can deliver the concepts and voice that true industry experts can. For this level of authority and insight, you’ll need to tap into your in-house resources and possibly also retain the services of a respected thought leader in your niche.
15. Canonizing Expectations, Objectives, and Goals
Anticipating your next steps, and the measurable impact they’ll have, is powerful. The best inbound marketing strategies include documentation for overarching, long-term objectives, your short-term practical goals, and your expectations for how it will all play out. To maximize the chances of success, set goals that are clear, quantifiable, and realistic.
16. Choosing and Using Keywords
You need to rank on search engines so the most relevant potential customers can find your site, but if you write your content with an audience of only Google bots in mind, then your SEO is likely to fall short. Instead, optimize for the search terms your ideal audience members like to use in their searches, and keep their experience at the top of your mind when crafting pages. There are plenty of free keyword research tools out there that can help with this.
17. Best Practices and Tools for SEO Beyond Keywords
Content is king, but it’s your mastery of onsite and offsite SEO that helps the world find your message, probably more so than any other channel. However, search algorithms are highly volatile, so it’s important you pay careful attention to what the experts have to say about how SEO continues to change. Things might change tomorrow, but today you need to make sure your site is recognizably mobile-friendly and that you’re maximizing your social SEO signals.
18. Write Headlines That Demand Attention
Your headline is your “foot in the door” of your audience, as it’s more or less the only thing people will see when they see your content in search results and social media feeds. You might not get another opportunity—make sure your content titles can compete with everything else your readers come across and drive traffic to your site so you can start building trust with site visitors. Put on your creative cap and use all the tools you can to train yourself in the art of headline writing for inbound.
19. Finding and Selecting the Best Content Topics
Ideas can spring from anywhere—just not always at the moments that you need them. Keep a file of potential ideas so that when it comes time to draw from your wellspring, you won’t ever run dry. Also make sure to keep abreast of the issues that matter to your audience, so you can chime in on the conversation that is already taking place.
20. Various Types of Campaigns for Inbound
Just because inbound marketing gives you a better return on your investment than the alternatives doesn’t make it easy. Make sure your campaigns are primed for maximum business performance. First, evaluate your goals, and make sure you align your marketing activity with what you hope to accomplish. Then, as things progress, keep an eye on your ever-evolving priorities, shifting focus as called for between your blog, premium downloadable assets, landing pages, content distribution efforts, social media presences and email marketing activity.
21. Best Practices for Writing and Editing
Developing your text-based content begins and ends with the writing, although it’s easy to make a case for paying closest attention to titles, links, keywords, and visuals since these elements have the biggest impact on inbound success. Visitors will leave a site that doesn’t engage them instantly, so polish your pages, keep your prose tight, let your personality shine through, respect your readers, and don’t be afraid to take risks.
22. Best Practices for Blog Formatting
The whole point of your blog is to engage readers so as to build brand equity. If you’re going to have any success with it, then you need to remember how people consume web content nowadays—“scanning” more than actual reading. Your content can only draw attention and engagement if you format it to be easy to digest. That means large, dark text, on a light background, in short paragraphs, broken up by subheadlines, and compelling images. There are even expert recommendations for column width, typefaces to favor, and stylized pullquotes.
23. Use Video to Show What You’re Talking About
Odds are your target audience prefers watching video to reading text (most people do), which is why you simply must include video in your inbound marketing toolbox. To make sure it pays off, use the recommendations of the experts in the business and start formulating a plan for marketing videos. On-demand clips that are brief and easy on the eyes and mind generally perform best, although the latest trend is for socially integrated live streaming.
24. Maximizing Your Design Resources, Human and Otherwise
Graphic design is at the core of inbound marketing, whether it’s overseen by an in-house team member, an agency, freelance talent, or even an amateur who has access to today’s best easy design tools. These efforts are arguably more important than anything else when it comes to getting people to engage with your site. Moreover, establishing a visual identity for everything you do is critical these days. Branding starts with a user-friendly, intuitive design for your website and continues with each communication.
25. Visual Assets for Offsite Marketing
Two main tensions should capture your attention when it comes to conceiving, sourcing, and promoting visual marketing assets. The first is the need to manage the presentation of your visual content so it spices up your text but doesn’t overwhelm the viewer. The second is finding that sweet spot between fast, easy production and long-term utility. You’re investing so much in generating these assets—might as well do what you can to render them reusable.
26. Optimizing Your Brand Voice
Pop quiz! What kind of tone and framing informs your written content? Is your brand voice formal or casual? Edgy or sedate? Authoritative or inquisitive? Establishing your brand voice isn’t necessarily about choosing either/or, but it does depend on consistent tone so your content and product are unified and immediately recognizable. It all comes down to the way you convey your meaning.
27. Using a Publishing Calendar to Plan Ahead
Basic organization is critical to bringing your content to life efficiently and distributing it effectively to the world. That’s why a publishing calendar which enables you to schedule when all of your content goes live where is so useful. It lets everyone on your team know what’s happening when and pushes people to do their jobs with punctuality, as well as quality. This level of transparency injects heaps of accountability, which encourages creative energy and collaboration.
28. Using Remarketing to Bring Them Back
Converting site visitors to customers takes patience, especially when they don’t register as leads the first time they visit your site. It can take several touches with your brand until visitors trust you with access to their inboxes. In the meantime, they might forget about you, which is why remarketing is so powerful. Remarketing allows you to book display ads on other websites, setting them to appear only when someone who has previously been on your site shows up. The best remarketing campaigns use segmenting techniques to maximize the relevance of the banner creative.
29. Nurturing Leads When Nature Doesn’t Cut It
Before the rise of inbound marketing, salespeople educated their targets about products as part of the pitching process. Today’s B2B buyers prefer to educate themselves about their options for solutions to their pain points, which is why the journey from converted lead to closed customer can take several weeks. With the right touch, the savvy inbound marketer can attend to prospects along this journey, sharing useful content at the right moments to nurture the relationship towards sales-readiness. By using triggered automation workflows and audience segmenting signals, you can assign point scores to each lead, so only those who cross predetermined lead score thresholds receive calls from sales reps.
30. Mapping Your Sales Funnel
Inbound marketing success depends on scalable processes, which is why there’s so much emphasis on planning. After all, the better you know what you’re audience is going through as they tackle their purchase decisions, the better you will be able to provide the key information they need along the way. Identifying these patterns is what puts you in position to maximize their impact.
31. Building a Value Ladder
The value latter is a construct that helps maximize profitability via a series of upsells. There’s naturally going to be a lot of friction and resistance to your priciest products and services, but if you can get people to agree to start small, then it becomes easier to intensify your relationship gradually. This is why freemium is such a powerful business model for software—once people get a taste for the value they receive for free, they’re more likely to be willing to upgrade. It’s an extremely impactful means of strategic development because it enables you to think like your customers and position your solutions in response.
32. Knowing Which Site Visitors are Hot vs. Cold
From curious strangers to acquaintances to buyers, the people on your site have varying degrees of purchase-readiness. Each segment will respond differently to different types of content and calls-to-action. Marketers are generally best off focusing attention on warm traffic.
33. Developing Your Buyer’s Journey
Your customers’ journey through the sales funnel has three main phases: top of the funnel (ToFu), middle (MoFu) and bottom (BoFu). Each phase has different modes of content discovery, different types of informational needs, and preferences for different content formats. By mapping out the journey you want your customers to go on, you can identify opportunities to address their various pain points with information.
34. Best Practices for A/B Testing
You might think that square, purple “Buy Now” button your designer came up with is much uglier than the arrow-shaped, blue “Yes Please” button that your copywriter keeps asking for, but you never know which version will pull in more sales until you run an experiment. Serving up different versions of the same elements to different site visitors, or A/B testing as it’s called, is what allows you to scientifically tweak your interface for optimal conversion performance. Just make sure you conceive of your experiments wisely and know how to measure the results accurately.
35. Capture Leads with Landing Pages
Most of your content should be available to the general public, but to help capture leads, inbound marketing usually involves offering premium downloadables like ebooks and white papers. The idea is to prompt people to fork over their contact details in exchange for access to your premium content. This transaction usually takes place on landing pages. For landing pages that convert, you’ll want simple, clear design that conveys an immediate message and is pleasing to the eye.
36. Thank You Pages That Aren’t Dead Ends
Of course, it’s good manners to express gratitude to people who have opted in to your email marketing list, but “thank you pages” where your site visitors are redirected following registration on a landing page are about more than politeness. Visiting this page officially kicks off the process of nurturing your leads. Take sure not to miss out on the opportunities they represent.
37. Best Practices for Unique Value Propositions
Even when you do all of the above exceptionally well, you still need a solid, unique value proposition (UVP) if you’re going to attract, convert, or delight anyone. What does your solution do that no other does? All of your marketing messaging needs to emanate from the answer to that question. People might enjoy your content, but if they’re going to take action, they need to feel your UVP speaks to them—that it addresses their needs.
Inbound marketing never sleeps. There’s always more to learn, whether it’s new tactics, new user behavior patterns, new perspectives, or new tech. Now that you’re familiar with these 37 elements, you’re ready to get started, but make sure to keep reading up, so you don’t get left behind.
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