How to Create an Inbound Marketing Plan
Inbound marketing is all about getting found by your ideal customer by providing the right content to the right people at the right time. To do this, you'll need to cultivate an online presence that goes beyond just having a website to include SEO, social media, email marketing, blogging, and other content-sharing opportunities.
Historically, business strategies have been structured around the sales conversion funnel. Though the funnel proved very useful in its day, this linear approach to measuring success is flawed. Funnels produced customers but didn’t take into consideration the buyer’s journey, and how placing those customers at the center of their process could turn them into an asset that will amplify success. Ignoring how customers can help organizations grow is tone-deaf in today’s world.
Funnels lose their power through the process, with conversion to customer being the end of the process. Flywheels leverage energy throughout, harnessing the efforts of all customer interactions from marketing, to sales and service, to keep the process spinning. Also, because flywheels preserve momentum, the more energy you add to spin it, the faster it adds to the process.
When you think about building your business with a flywheel model instead of a funnel, you will be able to create an effective growth strategy aligned across marketing, sales, and service. This growth strategy starts with a solid inbound marketing strategy. Before we go into key steps in creating a plan, let’s review the inbound marketing methodology
The internet revolution has turned the tables in the buyer-seller relationship. It used to be that the seller was in charge of what information to share, and how to promote their products and services.
These decisions are now driven by the buyer – Google search algorithms are based on what makes the user happy and social proof is an important metric in brand reputation.
Businesses need to give ideal customers the information they are looking for when they are looking for it. This is the essence of the inbound marketing flywheel, putting the customer first.
The inbound marketing flywheel is about:
- Attracting your ideal customers
- Engaging them, converting them into leads and nurturing those leads into customers
- Delighting your customers so they keep coming back AND spread the word
Using the inbound methodology, all of your teams work together to attract, engage, and delight your customers. You do this by providing an amazing, customer-centered experience throughout the entire buyer’s journey
Assess where you are today
In order to know where you want to go and determine how to get there, you have to know where your brand is now. Before beginning any kind of marketing plan or activity, a clear understanding of your current reality, no matter what that reality is, is paramount.
You will need data to understand the current state of your marketing. Key tools for collecting the data are:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Social Media Analytics
- HotJar or other website insights tool
- Website Grader
HubSpot’s closed-loop analytics is a fully- integrated tool for excellent data on the performance of online channels, as well as a competitors’ comparison tool
Define where you want to be (goals)
Take the time to establish S.M.A.R.T goals:
Make sure they are specific, e.g. “to increase site traffic by 20% in the next six months” and “to increase overall revenue by 10%.” Ensure your goals are well documented and share them with all of your stakeholders so that all eyes are on the same prize. A Harvard study showed that the graduates who wrote down their goals were (on average) earning ten times as much as the other 97%
Identify your ideal customer/audience
(personas/study the audience)
Marketing your business isn’t just about you—it’s about your ideal customers, the pains and challenges they have, and how your business helps alleviate those pains. And if you don’t effectively communicate to your audience “what’s in it for them,” it’s unlikely they’ll ever become customers.
In order to develop messaging and content that speaks to your ideal customers, you need to make sure all content creators know who your ideal customers are—with buyer personas.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customers, based on data about customer demographics and online behavior, and your experience and educated speculation about their motivations, concerns, and histories.
To get started, download a free persona template that you can easily populate with your ideal customers’ information. You can download HubSpot's business persona templates or Yodelpop's nonprofit persona template.
Plan content strategy/SEO
By now, it won’t come as a surprise to you that to build an effective content marketing strategy you have to consider the customer first. Content marketing isn’t about “selling,” it’s about educating. It focuses on attracting your ideal customer to your website by creating and sharing valuable, relevant material that answers the needs, challenges, questions, or problems they have. Providing the right information, to the right person, in the right place.
By examining your benchmark data, you’ll be able to identify how current customers are finding your business online. You’ll also be able to identify holes— keywords you want to be (or should be) ranking for but aren’t...yet. And you’ll be able to determine which keywords are easy wins—those with high monthly search volume and a low difficulty rating for breaking into the first page of search results.
Keyword research is a key component of any marketing strategy.
Content without keyword optimization is just words, and the chances of reaching your ideal customers online are slim.
Researching keywords, and building them naturally into your content, will help you better optimize your site for search, which will result in more organic traffic, leads, and eventually, customers.
Don’t forget to scope out the competition and determine how difficult it will be to break into the first page of results by conducting searches in the major engines. Tools like Google Adwords and HubSpot SEO will provide you with data like monthly searches and ranking difficulty, making keyword research easier.
Getting found online is essential to achieving your goals and improving your site metrics. If no one is coming to your site, or if you are getting hits to the home page, but no one is engaging, how can you increase leads, downloads or sales?
Based on the goals, do you have the web tools in place to help accomplish those goals?
For example, if you don’t have a blog on your site, it will be difficult for you to increase traffic. If it’s more leads you want, you will need a way of capturing them on your site.
Typically, the more content you have, the more website visitors you will attract which will grow your business faster. It is said that a 100-page website will beat a 10-page website 99% of the time. And a 500-page website is even better, especially when it includes a constant flow of fresh content.
But this content needs to be well organized. Google's search algorithms reward content marketers who -
- Build visibility across topics, rather than keywords
- Provide real answers to questions
- Produce long, informational and authoritative pages
- Publish their content in topic clusters with carefully planned internal links
Organizations are being awarded higher visibility when they publish long, authoritative pages on a core topic (a pillar page), with secondary rewards being given for pages that provide useful information on subtopics of that core topic (topic clusters).
A topic cluster is a group of interlinked content centered on one larger, umbrella topic. This larger, core topic is the main hub, pillar page, of your topic cluster. This pillar page is a long, authoritative page that covers all aspects of the core topic in one place with more specific, in-depth blogs linking back to it.
Your strategy should include a plan to continuously add more and more content around your topic clusters to tell a whole story that makes the case for your organization while answering the public’s questions, as validated by search data.
Brainstorm topics based on your personas. Go back to the profiles you created. They are who you are writing for. What are their pains? What information do they need the most? You can use keyword research to determine which topics you can get the most traction out of.
Be educational and memorable. You are the subject matter expert, and your audience is looking for answers.
Plan Premium Content
Premium content is an important part of any inbound marketing game plan. Premium content is valuable content that can be used as a gated offer designed to attract and retain a clearly defined audience, and ultimately, to drive that audience to download that offer in exchange for filling out a form and providing more information about them (eg. name, email, phone number, etc.) and advance them through the buyer’s journey to become marketing qualified leads after downloading the offer.
Premium content is informational and educational and can take many formats, such as:
- Case studies
- White papers
Ebooks are pdf documents that provide in-depth information on a topic of interest to your ideal customer.
The content is educational, not spammy, or promotional. It’s focused on answering a question or solving a problem that you know visitors to your website have.
Case studies, including quotes and testimonials, provide examples of how your organization has solved similar problems for your ideal customers in the past. Case studies usually include an analysis or metrics of success that are likely important to them and a description of the steps you took on their behalf that led to successful outcomes.
White papers demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership by presenting research data, findings, and analysis on a relevant topic.
Webinars are excellent opportunities to educate your ideal customers about a topic in a multimedia educational format. Webinars can also be recorded and repurposed in ongoing campaigns as on-demand offers.
Infographics can transform complex topics and dry statistics into visually appealing content. Infographics are highly engaging and are liked and shared on social media 3X more than any other type of content.
Optimize website for inbound
Optimizing your website with ample opportunities to convert your visitors into leads and continue to engage contacts and customers is key to the inbound process.
The lead generation process often begins when a visitor clicks on a call-to-action (CTA) on one of your web pages or blogs. That CTA should take them to a landing page, with a form that will collect their contact information. Once the visitor completes and submits the form, they are then led to a thank-you page and can be enrolled in a lead nurturing process using email marketing.
Other conversion activities on an inbound-optimized website include forms where visitors can opt into content-driven email newsletters that provide added value to contacts, for example, as well as a way to subscribe to a digest of recent blog posts sent to subscribers on a regular basis.
In addition to making sure there are forms for visitors and returning contacts to take action at different stages of the buyer journey, landing and pillar page templates and calls-to-action, preparing a website for inbound marketing also entails making sure there is a blog section set up that is designed for ease of consuming content and ongoing search engine optimization.
Email is a great way to promote content to your subscribers and leads. If you follow best practices for email marketing and keep your personas in mind, it can help you increase conversions and reach your marketing goals.
If you’ve come as far as setting your goals, optimizing your web presence, and beginning to create content campaigns -- then you will have leads to nurture!
Fifty percent of leads are qualified but not ready to buy. This is where lead nurturing comes in. You’ll want to engage with your leads once they have engaged with their content, and meet them where they are at.
Because you will most likely be dealing with 3 - 5 different personas -- and leads that are at different stages of the buying journey, you will need to do away with the mass email. Segmentation of your leads is key in engaging with your prospects effectively.
Set up a system of segmentation so that you can send different types of emails to different leads. Create different types of emails that will depend on which list you are sending to. Examples are: educational emails, best practices, personal email, blog digest, content newsletters
- Map out which email to send when
- Use automation and set up triggers around your campaigns so that your leads never miss an email, and get them at the appropriate time.
- At Yodelpop, we use the HubSpot lead nurturing software.
The goal of organic content promotion on social media platforms is to increase the visibility of your content without spending money on advertising. You can use multiple platforms to promote your content to your fans and followers who can then amplify your messaging by liking and sharing, which can help increase awareness.
Your persona research should tell you which platforms your audience spends the most time on, and where they go to find the information you are sharing.
The goal of social media is to engage your contacts and visitors by driving them back to your content-rich inbound site, where you can continue to engage with them as they travel through the buyer’s journey.
By supplementing your organic promotion efforts with paid content promotion you can share your most popular, best-performing content with a highly-targeted audience on platforms, such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
Paid promotion gives you the ability to develop and deliver this relevant and engaging content to specific consumer groups, who will be most receptive, with customized messages.
To get the results you are looking for from an effective marketing plan, it’s crucial to monitor how the activities are performing and to adjust wherever needed by optimizing throughout.
Sustainable growth rarely happens overnight. It will take patience, consistency, and commitment to stay the course, and see the return on investment.
If you’ve set your goals, created a solid plan around those goals, and you are following through, then you will begin to see some results. This will encourage you to keep improving and keep going!
Once you establish and are practicing all of the steps in your marketing plan, over time, you will:
- See better and better results
- Evolve content
- Streamline systems
- Tie it together with an inbound sales plan
- Be inspired by the process
- Think more out-of-the-box
- Accomplish your goals!