How do we know we're on the right track?
It's a common question for anyone embarking upon an inbound marketing campaign. You can read all the blogs, talk to all the experts, and tinker with your website design until cargo pants become cool again. But at some point, you have to take action.
Learning happens along the way.
However, the curve can be significantly shortened by beginning with clearly outlined objectives. According to Hubspot's 2015 State of Inbound Report, marketers who document their strategies are significantly more likely to experience a positive ROI than those who don't.
Of course, this isn't rocket science. Knowing which tasks to focus on, and which to ignore, are essential to the success of any job. But perhaps, even more so with inbound. Unlike traditional forms of advertising, inbound can take a while to get going. Waiting 6 to 8 months for results is not uncommon.
During that waiting period, even the coolest of cucumbers can begin to doubt their efforts. Which is why having a documented content strategy is so important.
Focus on the right actions early on and you can expect big gains in traffic, leads, and sales during months 8 to 18. Focus on the wrong actions and you'll just get really frustrated! For the remainder of this article, we'll reveal how to always know if your inbound marketing efforts are on track.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
Inbound marketing can be broken down into three general components: Content creation, content distribution, and metric evaluation. All three of these actions need to be in place to achieve long-term success. And each one involves many smaller steps.
The results of your consistent efforts will be cumulative. Meaning, the more quality content you produce around your chosen keywords and the more you strategically promote it, the easier things will get. But getting the ball rolling takes time. Here are some tips for setting realistic expectations:
- Recognize you will NOT achieve similar results as pay-per-click search advertising (PPC).
- Target relevant, long tail keywords with low competition to achieve faster wins.
- Commit to a plan that delivers residual results.
2. Work Within a 5 Year Plan
We know, five years sounds like a long time! But it really isn't when you consider some of the blogs ranking as number one on Google have been at it since Meg Ryan was a leading lady (You've Got Mail, anyone?). The advantage to mapping out a long-term plan is the motivation it provides during that first year.
At Lean Labs, we've proven we can double a business' traffic, leads, and new customers with 1 year of consistent effort. Assuming we've done our job correctly, each year after becomes significantly easier. That's because our client's site has begun to gain authority in the search engines, thanks to more pages indexed, more backlinks accounted for, and more traffic generated.
With a 5-year plan in place, you can break your efforts into quarterly targets. That way, you'll always know whether or not your business is on track.
3. Track Key Performance Indicators
A large part of inbound success is tracking the right Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Measuring success by numbers of followers on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram is a common mistake. Unfortunately, such measurements can lead to unwarranted back patting.
If you've ever "liked" a family member's new real estate page, you know just how little thought can go into following a social media account. Similarly, many of your followers have no intention of ever buying from you. Does that mean generating brand awareness is a waste of time? Not at all.
But it does mean you should focus more on increasing page views, decreasing bounce rates, and increasing conversions. You should also determine your Cost Per Acquisition. Your CPA is how much money you have to spend on average to obtain a new customer.
Calculate this number by dividing your overall marketing expenses by the number of new customers achieved during that time period. Also consider a customer's lifetime value, the volume of sales with individual customers, and referrals. Regularly analyze these metrics once a month to determine what's working and what isn't.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Inbound marketing isn't about quick returns. It's about making consistent actions that yield long-term results. By setting realistic expectations, working toward a 5-year plan, and tracking key performance indicators, you can always know whether or not you're on track.
If you are on track: Keep doing what you're doing—it's working!
If you're not on track: Revisit your buyer personas, content strategy, and distribution methods. Ensure you're writing about relevant topics in a fresh and interesting way. And finally, try something new. Sometimes all a fledgling campaign needs is a little tweak to achieve big results.