In this guide, you will learn what inbound is and how to create an effective inbound marketing strategy of your very own. Start achieving more significant growth goals and watch your brand predictably increase performance.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is creating valuable content to attract your potential buyers. As opposed to outbound marketing, inbound marketing is about developing resources that your ideal buyers can find organically. This can be in the form of blog posts, content offers, website pages, or other media. If you’re trying to determine what the difference between inbound and outbound marketing is, make sure to read our article on Inbound Sales vs. Outbound Sales.
In order to attract prospects, your marketing department needs to generate content that your ideal buyer is looking for. Developing content is only scratching the surface, inbound marketing also entails: search query/keyword research, setting marketing objectives, developing buyer personas, competitor research, sales and marketing alignment, and so on.
To understand how your company will execute successful inbound marketing, it needs an inbound marketing strategy.
How to Develop an Inbound Marketing Strategy
There are hundreds and even thousands of resources that explain how to create an inbound marketing strategy.
So what makes our resource so unique?
I’m going to explain the process we take to develop an inbound marketing strategy for ourselves and some of the sections we use when creating our client strategies.
As you will soon realize, this strategy does not just cover what types of blog posts should be written or what conversion funnels your website needs. This inbound marketing strategy process is quite a comprehensive one.
Continue reading to find out how your marketing department can create a winning inbound marketing strategy that generates results!
Inbound Marketing Strategy Process
The following segments of this resource cover the sections that we include in our inbound marketing strategy documents. Each numbered header indicates a new section in the document.
The length, timeframe, and sections included in a strategy document vary from company to company. For example, a B2B technology company with $10M+ per year in revenue has a different strategy from that of a B2C ecommerce company with $2M+ per year in revenue. And the execution and recommendations greatly depend on the company objectives. Company objectives drive marketing objectives, and therefore dictate marketing strategy and execution.
Inbound Marketing Strategy Process Step 1. Business Overview
Define Your Business Goals
The first step to creating an inbound marketing strategy is to define your business goals. Once you decide where your company currently is and where you would like to take it, you can then begin creating a roadmap of how to get there.
To track progress toward your goal, be sure to define the key performance indicators (KPIs) that tell you how your inbound marketing initiatives are performing. Here are the top 10 KPIs you should be looking at:
- Total sales per [frequency]
- The lifetime value of a customer
- Your inbound marketing return-on-investment (ROI)
- New contact rate, or traffic-to-lead ratio
- Lead-to-customer ratio
- Conversion rates on your landing pages
- What organic traffic you are drawing
- Traffic to your site from social media
- Traffic, leads, and conversation rates derived from mobile
Furthermore, analyze your competitors, your industry market, and where your current standings are to create SMART goals—that is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
PRO TIP: SMART goals are often not enough. Is it the RIGHT Goal—Relevant, Indicators, Gravity, Hype, Time? More on Goal Clarity from Dr. Jeff Spencer.
Hold a Discovery Meeting Between Departments
If this is the first time you’re discussing company metrics and goals, make sure to include the VP of sales, VP of marketing, and other stakeholders.
In this meeting, you will discuss key metrics, revenue goals, company objectives, and sales department lead goals for the next quarter, year, 5 years, and 10 years. This is a crucial meeting, as it sets the tone for the rest of the strategy document. If the focus is high growth and fast improvements, then the execution portion of the strategy should reflect just that. New market entries, new product releases, and website updates should be included in this discussion.
Think of this meeting as company alignment on goals and strategic objectives.
Conduct Competitor Research
An understanding of your competitors and what other companies are doing in your industry is essential to creating your inbound marketing strategy. You can pinpoint your company’s strengths and see where there are holes in your industry that could be filled.
When analyzing competitors for your inbound marketing strategy, there are two main categories: direct and online competitors. Make sure to review and document both, as they each serve a different purpose.
Direct Competitors: companies that directly compete with your product or service. These are most likely already documented, but it’s good to revise them.
Online Competitors: websites that compete with the keywords your website needs to rank for. These companies don’t need to be direct competitors to be online competitors. For example, a blog or different product or service could be an online competitor. The point of documenting online competitors is to analyze the websites you’re trying to outrank.
Some tools we like to use are Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Deepcrawl.
- Ahrefs can be used to conduct keyword research, see what your competitors are doing, and get an edge over them. You can also perform a backlink profile search, which has proven to be quite valuable in your comprehensive competitor analysis. Using this tool to website plan can help your business tremendously.
- SEMRush is great for organic traffic research and tracking your performance compared to competitors. Its robust reporting and analytics tools make it relatively simple to use. Findings are presented in a clear, easy-to-process way so you won’t waste your time.
- Deepcrawl is an all-inclusive search engine crawler that provides complete SEO insights and highlights technical issues that could be impeding results. It’s no surprise that it’s trusted by some of the biggest brands out there and has a flexible range of packages designed to custom-fit a business’s needs.
PRO TIP: Use sites like Owler.com to gain a stronger understanding of the business engine behind your competitors.
Document Your Sales Process
Take a look at your sales process. Understanding and documenting your current sales process will help the marketing department understand what a prospect goes through after they become a lead. It also gives insight to the marketers on what to keep in mind when creating content.
You can look at the inbound sales process the same way you look at sales. It’s all about the customer journey and making sure you’re addressing their needs. Stay relevant and keep analyzing. Sales and marketing go hand-in-hand here when it comes to finding and nurturing leads with content. They need each other for the process to work most effectively. Measurement is also crucial to both—if you don’t document where you’ve been, how will you know where you’re going?
This brings us to our next point about the importance of crafting a user-centric experience.
Inbound Marketing Strategy Process Step 2. Develop Buyer Personas For Targeting
A deeper understanding of your audience provides direction for the content you create and keeps your visitors coming back for more. You can create a research-based representation of who your buyers are, what they want to accomplish, pain points that shape their behavior, and how they make buying decisions.
One of the reasons companies struggle with their inbound marketing strategy is because they fail to speak to the right audience. The development of buyer personas is an essential part of any inbound marketing strategy. But what exactly are buyer personas, and which aspects of the persona can you absolutely not afford to disregard?
Creating Buyer Persona Profiles
First, let’s take a look at the essential components of the buyer persona. Here is the most important thing to know:
A buyer persona is a semi-fictitious representation of your ideal customer.
To create accurate personas for your inbound marketing strategy, you need to research, interview, and survey members of your target audience. By doing so, you will get an in-depth look at their wants, needs, pain points, and more!
Here is a rundown of the key areas you will want to focus on during this process:
Buyer Personas Key Areas
Buyer Persona Age: While age is not always an essential variable in your inbound marketing strategy, it can be highly useful. By clearly identifying the age of your persona, you can more easily and effectively communicate and target them directly via email marketing, ads, etc.
Buyer Persona Interests and Hobbies: Discover the interests and hobbies for your ideal buyers. In doing so, you increase your ability to develop an effective marketing message that will easily reach potential clients on a personal level. And when launching PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns, you’ll be able to narrow down your target by interests.
Buyer Persona Job Title: By generating a list of job titles, the content and campaigns you develop can speak directly to the pain points of those positions. Knowing your persona’s job title is very important for PPC targeting on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Buyer Persona Pain Points: One of the most important goals of your inbound marketing strategy is to provide your customers with a solution to overcome their frustrations and challenges. These pain points serve as topics for website blog posts, pages, and content offers. If you understand what keeps your persona up at night, you can better use verbiage that sparks interest and makes them click on your resources.
Goals and Motivators: This overlaps with—and, in a way, is an extension of—the sections about their job title, their personal hobbies, and their pain points. Don’t skip this step. You’re backing off from some of the more specific attributes and making educated assumptions here. Ensure you fully understand your personas and what they really want. Until you can really put yourself in their shoes and think like them, your buyer personas will fail to be fully actionable and goal-driven.
Now that you have your information, you can begin to build out your buyer personas. By creating at least one detailed persona that represents your ideal buyer, you will greatly increase the likelihood of success with your inbound marketing strategy.
You can have more than one buyer persona—in fact, you can have up to five or six—but make sure to develop the most important one first. Which persona contributes to the most revenue? Start there, then make your way through the rest.
Inbound Marketing Strategy Process Step 3. Conduct a Website Content Audit
Content marketing is a cornerstone of your inbound marketing strategy. But before you move forward and start building new content, you first need to take a step back and complete an important (but often overlooked) step: a website content audit.
A content audit is an in-depth look at the existing content on your website to analyze how it’s performing and ensure the content is effective, engaging, and—most importantly—relevant.
You may be thinking…
“Is it really necessary to review all of the content on my site?”
“What can a content audit tell me that I don’t already know?”
By meticulously analyzing all the content on your website, you are able to:
- Cut out (and avoid) duplicate content on your website
- See which keywords you’re ranking for
- Learn what’s working and what your audience is responding to
- Utilize the strongest content on your website
- Determine which content can be repurposed
- And much more!
The truth is that a casual, loosely structured content audit won’t give your company the whole picture it needs to run a successful inbound marketing campaign.
In order to truly understand the quality of your content, it is essential that you use the following 5 steps.
Step #1: Take Inventory of Your Site’s Existing Content
To kick off your content audit, you must first know what website content you have at your disposal. Do this by taking an inventory of your existing content.
If you have a small website, you can choose to do this manually. However, you will most likely want to use a tool to comb through your site, such as WordPress and its robust selection of plugins. When it comes to site-crawling and performance tools, they have everything from stats and SEO apps to security scanning apps.
In addition to WordPress (because no tool is 100% perfect) use tools like Google Webmaster Tools, XML Sitemaps, and Google Analytics to accurately grab every existing URL from your website.
The purpose is to see how your online content is performing. These tools will show which content pieces are doing well and which are not. Only once you start here can you later make the executive, educated decision to either get rid of older pieces or improve them if you feel they could still be valuable by bringing those analytics up to a healthier level. The goal is for everything on your site to be doing well and not let any weaker content bring your statistics down.
With all the insightful technology available today, there is no reason to keep unnecessary content on your pages. Most crawlers also give you a list of on-page data such as H1 and H2 headings, title length, meta description, and word count. You’ll need this information as you get started on the next step.
PRO TIP: Use SEO Meta 1 Click Chrome extension to view a web page’s header structure.
Step #2: Organize and Tag Your Content
With a comprehensive list of all URLs from your website in hand, you’ll need to review your existing content based on the following criteria:
- Which stage of the buyer’s journey does each piece of content fall into—awareness, consideration, or decision?
- Which buyer persona(s) is your content targeting?
- What is your content about?
- Are your website categories staying the same or are you updating them? If they are the same, assign them to correct categories. If categories will be updated, come back to this section.
- What’s the word count of each piece?
- Does the word count affect how it’s viewed and shared by your audience?
- Do your personas prefer longer, more comprehensive pieces of content; or shorter pieces they can digest quickly?
- How relevant is the content to what your business does?
- Does the page talk about your audience’s pain points? Or is it something that’s only loosely relevant to your business?
- Create a scale and determine where each piece of content falls.
- What’s the tone of each piece of content? Come up with a few adjectives that describe the tone of your content pieces.
- Examples include: professional, conversational, and persuasive
- Some content is evergreen and lasts forever, while other content is more temporary and tied to a current month or year. Decide which category your content falls into.
- Is your content properly optimized for SEO?
- Does it have a designated keyword, title tag, headings, and meta description?
- Document this information and note if something is missing (you’ll want to go back to optimize this later)
Step #3: Add Your Success Metrics
Now it’s time to add success metrics to each post. The metrics you choose to focus on will depend greatly on your company’s particular goals for your inbound marketing strategy, but here are a few of the top ones to get you started:
- Rank in search engines
- Number of ranking keywords
- Time on page
- Social shares
Step #4: Analyze the Data for Patterns and Gaps
Well done! You’re nearly finished with your content audit! Now you simply need to analyze all the data you’ve collected.
As you comb through your data, look for trends. For example, are your articles all a certain length? How about targeting your buyer personas—are your highest converting landing pages focused on specific buyer personas?
You must also look for gaps in your site’s content. You may determine that you have an excess of awareness stage-focused pieces or that you only have content that focuses on two or three topics at the most. This information is useful when creating your content gap analysis.
A content gap analysis shows you which type(s) content from the buyer’s journey is missing from your website. So to the point above, if there is a lot of awareness content but no decision stage content, it’s clear what type of content should be prioritized in the execution plan.
Step #5: Determine Your Next Steps
The great part about a content audit is that it gives you the opportunity to determine the next steps for your content.
So now that you’ve collected and analyzed your content, what do you do with it all?
Based on the data, you might decide to re-optimize blog posts for new keywords and update old posts with new data, or you may also determine that certain pages offer no value to your site and should be deleted.
For each page, you will want to choose one of four actions:
- Leave As Is: no improvement needed. This content ranks for many keywords, receives plenty of ongoing organic traffic, has a conversion point, and is useful to your buyer persona.
- Improve: content optimization is needed. This content could be missing a call to action or SEO details. Or maybe it needs to be updated to be more relevant to the buyer persona and search engines.
- Remove: The content provides no value, receives zero to little traffic, or is no longer useful (like a past event). Delete these posts or pages.
- Combine: If in your analysis you discovered that there are many blog posts on the same topic but none of them rank individually, this is where they can be combined to provide more value as one post.
Successfully carrying out a website content audit takes time. However, it’s a highly effective way to understand how your website is performing and is worth the effort to see it through.
I recommend breaking down the process into small, manageable steps and spreading out the tasks over a month (or more).
Finally, don’t forget that no content audit is ever complete. The best practice here is to conduct a new audit at least once a year to help you see what has been proven to work, what hasn’t, and where the gaps are in your content.
Inbound Marketing Strategy Process Step 4. Website Funnels
Now it’s time for our website conversion funnels review, where you’ll evaluate the current state of the inbound sales funnels. Don’t miss our inbound sales funnel resource that breaks down the specifics. There are typically 2–3 (and sometimes several more) funnels built for specific buyer personas and their buying journey.
If you cater to specific industries, you can make the conversion path far more effective by building a funnel focused around that industry.
A more full way to look at the buyer’s journey is as follows: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase, post-purchase, and re-purchase.
Buyer’s Journey Website Funnel Example
As for the funnel, look at it this way:
- Answer questions and establish thought leadership
- Introduce your positioning
- Address common sales questions (awareness stage)
- Provide product and service information
- Address pushback (consideration stage)
- Finally, the lead is ready for sales, which can go into a consultation or sales call (decision stage)
The key here is to always personalize the experience for the reader. This is how you will have successful sales. Don’t write generic content, as the power in these personas comes with connecting and resonating with them on a deeper level. Prospects need to see that you care and understand their pain points to feel that you will add value to their lives by solving their needs and frustrations.
They’re coming to you because they recognize that you’re an authority on a topic and can help them significantly. Write according to each persona and what you think they want and need to see.
When you determine the goals of your buyer persona ahead of time, you won’t trip up when going in to make the sale.
You always want to know who you’re writing to and why.
Think of the questions they’ll be asking online. When you make this prediction, you will understand how to craft your company’s “answers” in your marketing content writing.
Inbound Marketing Strategy Process Step 5. Completing the Buyer’s Journey
Buyer’s Journey Triggers
Understanding Buying Triggers – What is Causing Your Buyer Personas to Search Online?
A buying trigger is an event that causes a buyer to have a clear need. This need usually converts into a sense of purpose and urgency in their buying process.
For example, you may have had a vague interest in buying a new video camera. This might have caused you to browse the web and read various reviews. Eventually, an upcoming family trip to the Grand Canyon could act as the trigger that gets you shopping with clear intent to purchase.
Other examples of triggers:
- Your company grows beyond a certain size and your old school accounting systems can no longer cope.
- Your hard disk fails and you realize you need a better backup system.
- A lack of quality sales leads.
- Moving to a new city.
Having a very clear understanding of these triggers helps you to do the following:
- Recognize who to target.
- Improve your messaging to those target prospects.
- Do a better job of qualifying who is really ready to buy.
- Help a customer recognize when a trigger has happened.
It’s not just one trigger you need to be aware of. This analysis is done at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Awareness, consideration, and decision stage triggers are needed to really understand the buyer and what they are looking for at each stage of their journey with your company.
To get a deep dive into What the Buyer’s Journey is and Why it Matters, make sure to read our article on the topic.
Webinars, Videos, and Podcasts
These are all important to appear as an authority in the space to future prospects.
Videos can be how-to’s and show you demonstrating something they’ve been wondering about and need guidance in a more interesting way. Not everyone will want—or have the time—to read a lengthy post. Many want an attention-grabbing, lively, and easy sound-bite to help them learn quickly.
Podcasts will deliver value in nearly any setting, which spells convenience for the potential buyer. This is always a good thing. They can select precisely the lesson they need and listen to your advice and thought leadership while driving in the car on the way to work, commuting on the subway to a friend’s house, or even traveling on a plane while heading off on a business trip (or vacation, if they’re that interested in the topic). It’s an anytime, anywhere kind of talk. Podcasts are often done in a semi-casual interview style, which makes them easy to listen to and record.
Webinars can give a more interactive vibe for when the listener wants to be engaged. Depending on the tool you’re using to conduct the session, they can choose to take a back seat and listen quietly, ask the presenter questions, or even live-chat for other listeners to see.
It’s easy to see why many people seeking help on a topic love webinars. These types of sessions are so popular that many companies offer them as a tool to trade in exchange for information from prospective listeners. Again, information is always a good thing when it comes to sales.
Website Blog Posts
When planning your blog content creation, you must plan for a balanced approach in order to educate and guide your prospects to ultimately spend money on your products or services. Let’s take a closer look at the three stages of the buyer’s journey.
Awareness Stage Blog Posts
In the awareness stage, your prospect is just becoming aware of the fact that they have a problem or need. They know little about the possible ways to meet that need or solve that problem.
It’s helpful to also think of this stage as the “information-gathering” stage. Customers are not yet knowledgeable enough to make any purchasing decisions because they are still researching the topic.
As you have probably already guessed, this is the least qualified type of lead. Try to focus all of your efforts on nurturing them (for free, with no strings attached) toward the consideration stage and helping them develop more trust with your brand.
Consideration Stage Blog Posts
Your goal in the consideration stage is to get your prospects to a knowledgeable level of understanding of their problem or need.
They still, however, have yet to identify a clear solution.
The consideration stage is about defining options. In this stage, think of your prospects as putting all their options out on the table so that they can better make the best possible decision.
Like the awareness stage, your prospects are not yet ready to buy. They still need help deciding on how to resolve their issue.
Decision Stage Blog Posts
As is probably evident, prospects in the decision stage are ready to buy. They have determined their options in the consideration stage and are looking for information on why they should choose your brand.
Here is where you get to—and must—share the benefits of your product or service. Don’t hold anything back!
In the decision stage, your sales team should be active in reaching out to qualified leads. These individuals/companies are the most informed about their issue and thoroughly understand their needs and options for solving it. They probably know a bit about what your company can offer them as a solution, as well.
Content Offers Can Be Valuable for Every Stage
Great content offers will also help you close on a lead. Similarly to the blog posts you saw above, these should be categorized into awareness stage premium content, consideration stage premium content, and decision stage premium content. The easiest way to think about content offers is like blog posts, but gated and downloaded. It’s also worth noting that because content offers are typically PDFs, they don’t need to be optimized for search engines.
Make sure you perform a content gap analysis, as well, to map your current content to your buyer’s journey. Check for holes, as these will prove to be holes in your strategy. Like we talked about in the section on carrying out a content audit, it’s not just about getting rid of or improving poorly-ranking pieces that exist, but about adding what’s missing.
There may be something vital that your audience is searching for—and will undoubtedly go to a competitor for, if they don’t find it on your site—that you could have easily come up with when analyzing content gaps. Use your analytics and site crawler tools to take out the guesswork. See to it that your site is an ultimate source for them. You’ll learn to add as time goes on. This will be a process.
Email Automation Is Also Great for Every Stage
In addition to content offers, you’ll want to use email lead nurturing workflows to segment for customization and relevance for your audience. Think back to your all-important buyer personas. Many people will simply become annoyed and delete an email—or worse, permanently block future email attempts from your company—if they do not feel relevant or personalized to them. Tailor the messaging, timing, and links used in your emails to your funnel. Make sure each element is appropriate for your goal.
Email campaigns are another core part of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy. You will want to segment emails appropriately to keep everything relevant to what each persona and buyer’s journey stage should be seeing, as is true with your other content. Emails have the opportunity to give prospects more of a personal feel since they are sent directly to their inbox.
You will want to personalize and provide content that is engaging and informative. Provide them with other resources of yours via links in the body text. And most importantly: keep it short. Check out these tips for how to write great emails that will actually be read and avoid being moved to trash.
To make your life easier and also make sure things are staying organized and on track with a pre-determined schedule, you should be utilizing automation. You can go through HubSpot, Constant Contact, or several other powerful platforms to tackle this. We also encourage you to skim through this ultimate guide, which breaks down email automation into a simple step-by-step format—with pictures, for those who are more visual.
Inbound Marketing Strategy Process Step 6. Keyword Strategy: Getting Found
Over the years, Google has kept us on the constant lookout for algorithm updates. Despite the frequent changes, one thing has stayed pretty consistent for inbound marketers looking to optimize their websites for search: keyword research.
You can write the longest, most educational blog posts and have the sharpest, catchiest website copy on the internet, but without targeting it to specific keywords that users are actively searching for on the internet, you will never be successful in your inbound marketing strategy.
When you understand your audience, it is much easier to figure out how people are searching for your content through keyword research.
Keyword research allows you to see the estimated local and global search volume.
In addition to this, you can easily access the ranking difficulty and projected cost of running paid campaigns.
Your job is to determine which terms and phrases to target in order to attract the right visitors to your website.
If you want to be found for the keywords that are chosen in your keyword strategy (we fully believe that this is the case) it’s important to optimize every page that is created on your website.
Each page of your website should include an appropriate target keyword within not just the content, but the page properties and image tags too.
The editorial calendar is very important to your inbound marketing strategy! Before you start your blogging campaign, create an editorial calendar to ensure that you are publishing and promoting content on a regular basis.
An editorial calendar does three things for your inbound marketing efforts:
- Makes it easier to schedule content
- Capitalizes on an upcoming product or service launches
- Encourages discipline in running and updating any blog.
Blog Writing and Posting
When posting the right type of content, blogging has the power to bring traffic and, most importantly, relevant visitors to your website.
Creating content around your buyer personas’ pain points and main industry topics is crucial to your inbound content marketing strategy’s success. Consistent blogging must always be a top priority. The more frequently you blog, the more visitors you will attract. Check these two vital steps off your list to have the most valuable and high-performing pieces of writing:
- Review current keyword rankings of your website
- Research industry, competitor, and topic keywords
PPC campaigns give you an opportunity to put your message in front of an audience that is seeking your product or service. Through keyword research, strategic bidding, and a compelling advertisement, you can get the results you want. PPC is no longer limited to search engines—you can also run PPC campaigns on various social media platforms.
Use this powerful marketing and sales weapon to boost your chances of success further. It does cost money, so don’t go this route if you’re too small or just starting out and looking for organic search only. However, it is a favorite among businesses across nearly every industry, as it can get your name and products or services out there more quickly than some of the more traditional methods.
Inbound Marketing Strategy Process Step 7. PPC Assessment
Paid advertising is a “numbers game” in that your ads are either hitting their marks or they’re not. Even if your ads seem to be doing well overall, there are always many ways they can further be improved that you haven’t tried yet.
When it comes to PPC, you should be using this format:
- Create a document to store your findings
- List your active accounts, each in a separate tab
- Import your last 60–90 days worth of data
- Identify which metrics to prioritize in order to achieve your goals
- Quantify the gap between where your metrics are and where you want them to be
- Identify any quick-win opportunities
- Read about performing a Facebook audit—you’re going to need to optimize your page and ads continually in order to get the most out of your Facebook marketing
A Facebook marketing audit is an evaluation of how your current Facebook marketing efforts are performing. This is done so that revisions can be made that reflect your current strategy and improve the overall output and success of your Facebook marketing.
Now Take All This and Start Creating an Effective Inbound Marketing Strategy
Don’t waste any more time.
You could be converting more leads than ever before—and close them too—by targeting specific prospects and weeding out non-qualified leads. This guide will be your best friend in taking all that you just learned a step further. Read through and you’ll soon feel like an expert.
Once creating an inbound marketing strategy is no longer a new concept for you and your team, you’ll be able to implement these tips confidently.
Your success begins today—make the first move and start planning.