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Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online

By: Brian Halligan & Dharmesh Shah

Reviewed By: Bob Ruffolo

Who better to write the book on Inbound Marketing than the team who coined the term in 2005?

Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, co-founders of HubSpot, teamed up to write Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online.

HubSpot is widely considered the best resource for all things Inbound and I have to agree with that notion, so even though I happen to know a thing or two myself, I’ll always read any book that these two put out. Once again, they didn’t disappoint with the revised version of their 2009 book.

Unlike most marketing books on bookshelves today, Inbound Marketing is actionable and backed by data. The authors aren’t business professors from an ivy league school that spend all of their time studying marketing instead of doing it.

Halligan and Shah are at the forefront of Inbound Marketing and they actually practice what they preach. This book is a must-read for anyone considering an Inbound approach for their business or anyone who wants a career in Inbound Marketing.

Inbound Marketing vs Traditional Outbound Marketing

Traditional outbound marketing techniques include:

  • direct mail
  • telemarketing
  • email blasts to rented or bought lists
  • TV commercials
  • radio ads
  • print advertising
  • billboards
  • trade shows

For decades, companies relied on these techniques to reach their potential buyers.

After years of this interruption style marketing, people have found more and more ways to avoid these marketing messages.

We throw away junk mail without looking at it, we keep our email spam filters on a short leash, and we use DVRs so we don’t have to sit through commercials. Instead of having companies beg for our attention, we’d rather find them when we’re ready to buy.

The way that we shop has changed dramatically, but there are still a lot of companies who haven’t changed the way they approach marketing. Inbound Marketing is all about attracting your ideal customer, not seeking them out and shouting for their attention.

Search engines, blogs, and social media are the three primary forms of interaction that people are involved in when shopping.

Marketers need to match the way their prospects shop for products to have a greater chance of success.

Your Website is a Marketing Hub

Your goal isn’t to get people to visit your website one time and hopefully purchase. You want to create a collaborative hub that gives people a reason to stick around for a while and keep coming back.

The amount of traffic you get to your website will be determined by what people think of it.

Halligan and Shah stress the point that your web design isn’t near as important as your content. People are willing to forgive mediocre web design if your content is great, but the most beautiful websites won’t see any traffic if they publish low-quality content.

Making the transition from outbound marketing to inbound is all about “getting found” online by your customers -- that’s the goal.

You get found by having a unique value proposition and by creating remarkable content that your persona enjoys.

Help Your Persona Discover Your Brand

When you publish great content, you attract more links from other websites and you get more shares on social media. Remarkable content accomplishes the same goals that paid advertising does, with significantly less cost involved.

Experiment with different types of content, from blog articles, to white papers, videos to webinars, and podcasts to webcasts. Figure out what works for you, what your persona enjoys the most, and keep going with that medium.

It’s normal to feel like you should withhold information, either because you want to hide it from competitors or you want to save it for premium content. However, doing so will limit your content marketing success. It’s better to offer all of it upfront.

Your value to your persona won’t be measured by how much you sell, it’s measured by how much information you give away. Publish content regularly and frequently.

Publishing valuable content on your blog and other blogs establishes your company as a thought leader in your industry.

Rather than looking like a marketing brochure, a blog transforms your website into a living hub where you can engage and interact with your persona before they decide to become a customer. It starts the process of building a relationship and creates brand loyalty.

Make sure you own the domain for the platform you create content on. Encourage your persona to leave comments and subscribe to your blog posts by email.

Create content that they will look forward to reading and share links to other relevant articles that you know they’ll enjoy.

Getting Found on Google

People are already on Google looking for what you offer, it’s your job to help them find you.

There are two kinds of search results on Google: paid results (PPC ads) and organic results, which are the results that Google ranks based on how valuable and relevant they perceive the content to be. Your goal is to get organic search traffic by ranking high for searches relevant to your brand and niche.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing your website and creating content that ranks well in search engines.

To succeed with SEO, you need to understand how Google works and make sure that you aren’t going against their guidelines. The best long term SEO strategy is creating remarkable content for valuable keywords.

Four tips on creating page titles for SEO:

  1. Put your most important keywords in your page title.
  2. Ideally, put the keywords earlier in the title, because earlier words carry more weight.
  3. Ensure that the title makes sense for humans, don’t just write for search engines.
  4. The page title for your homepage should include keywords first and your brand name last.

Getting Found on Social Media

Your persona is on social media, so you need to be on social media as well. These platforms allow you to engage with prospects and customers in real-time and they build awareness for your brand.

Social media is also one of the three most common sources that people turn to when doing research before a purchase.

Social media allows prospects to see what real people are saying about your brand and it gives them a chance to see how you interact with people, which is why it’s important that you are actively engaged.

Halligan and Shah stress the importance of picking the right username for your social media profile.

Here are four recommendations:

  1. Use your real name whenever possible.
  2. Make your username simple and clean, don’t confuse people.
  3. Don’t include numbers in your username or it will look like spam.
  4. Pick a name that available on all social media platforms, that way you can keep it consistent and make it easier for people to find you.

Visual content is popular on social media and grabs attention. Include high-quality images with your social posts as much as possible.

Not only do people love visual content, but it makes your posts take up more space on the timeline or news feed and gives you a better chance of being discovered.

Converting Visitors Into Leads and Leads Into Customers

Attracting visitors to your website is only one part of the process, although it’s a crucial part.

Once your website is getting traffic, you need to figure out who to convert those visitors into qualified leads and eventually into customers.

A great way to get qualifying information from leads is to offer premium content, such as an eBook, webinar, white paper, free trial, etc, in exchange for their information. You entice your persona to sign up for this premium content with a strong call-to-action (CTA).

The final step in converting a visitor to a lead happens on your landing page, which is where your persona lands when following your CTA. The landing page is very important and you shouldn’t throw something together carelessly.

Tips for increasing your landing page ROI:

  • The content should match your CTA.
  • The landing page should have a professional design.
  • Your copy should be well-written and use the language of your persona.

The goal of your landing page is to get people to fill out your form.

Everything on your landing page should lead to this goal and you want to make it as easy as possible for your persona. That means leaving out unnecessary content and keeping the form short and simple.

Once your persona signs up and becomes a lead, they enter your sales funnel.

From there, you will grade them based on how they found you, their engagement on your website, the premium content they’ve shown interest in, and the answers they’ve provided on your forms.

You will convert these leads into customers by nurturing them and building a relationship with your qualified leads. Lead nurturing is performed with ongoing communication and offering more premium content that moves them along your funnel.

As you test and refine your process, you will get to a point where you can accurately predict when the time is right to pitch your leads and convert them into loyal customers.