Inbound marketing is all the rage these days, and with good reason.

HubSpot reported that about 93% of companies that use inbound marketing see increased traffic to their website, and a similar number see an increase in leads to their business.

With results like this, you can see why so many businesses are trying to figure out exactly what inbound marketing is and how they can implement it.

We’re going to briefly define what inbound marketing is, and then show how several real businesses have used various types of inbound marketing to grow their traffic and revenue.

What is Inbound Marketing?

When you think about “marketing” in general, your mind might jump to advertising. More specifically, your first thoughts are probably commercials you see on TV, billboards on the highway, or full-page ads in your favorite magazines.

These are all forms of “outbound” marketing.

In other words, you are going out to find your potential customers and get their attention.

Inbound marketing is just the opposite.

I like the way Lauren Drell described it: “Inbound marketing focuses on earning, not buying, a person’s attention, which is done through social media and engaging content, such as blogs, podcasts and white papers. This content is interesting, informative and adds value, creating a positive connection in the eyes of the consumer, thus making him more likely to engage your brand and buy the product.”

So inbound marketing is producing helpful content related to your industry, products, or services that will draw people into you. As you might imagine, inbound marketing is generally cheaper than outbound and really can be done on a shoestring budget.

This is great news for many small businesses and another reason that inbound is growing in popularity.

1. Get Started!

So at this point you understand what inbound marketing is and what it can mean for your business.

But how do you get started?

I’m going to guess that right now you are picturing your outdated, not-so-great website that generates very little traffic or leads for your business.

You aren’t technically starting from scratch, but you’ve got some clean-up to do for your existing content and then you still have to develop the rest of your inbound marketing strategy.

I’m getting tired just thinking about it…

So how do you start when you don’t have a clean slate and you are inheriting some issues?

Enter Jonathan Bentz.

Jonathan Bentz of Netrepid, an IT services company based in Harrisburg, PA, found himself in a very similar situation about 18 months ago. He joined as the Marketing Manager and the company was getting about 500 visits a month to their website, and their site wasn’t generating much business at all.

Fast forward to today and Jonathan reports that they have “built a traffic flow that has grown 20-fold year over year and pipeline from Google organic search that has generated over $1 million USD in new business opportunities.”

That is an astounding rate of growth.

I asked Jonathan what some of the key things were when he first came in the door. What were the first steps he took with a website that wasn’t optimized to start building a foundation for a better inbound marketing strategy?

Here are couple of the key things that he did to get started:

1. Find out what’s working and make it work better.

Jonathan tried to find out which pages on their site were ranking in Google for ANYTHING, and then optimize those pages to rank even higher.

What does this mean?

Even if you’ve done zero keyword research, you’re probably ranking for something today.

Let’s take a fun example to make the point.

Let’s say that I have a site all about baseball, and I write about my favorite ballparks and give tips on where to park, where to eat, etc.

What I could do is sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and connect it to my website.

After a few weeks, you’ll start to see some information like which websites link to yours and other helpful information. If you click on “Search Traffic” and then “Search Queries” you’ll see a list that looks something like this:

Google Webmaster tools - INbound marketing

 

This is showing you different keywords that you are being seen for (impressions) in the Google search results. The “Avg. position” gives you an idea where you rank for that term.

So in this example, when someone searches for “Chase Field Parking” I am about the 11th result, meaning I’m just outside of the first page.

That doesn’t seem too bad, but when you consider a study by Chitika which shows that the 11th position gets about 1% of the traffic (92% of people pick a result from the first page), you realize that you’ve got some work to do.

What I would want to do is make sure the page ranking 11th is completely optimized for the term I’m trying to rank for. If you are WordPress user, one simple way to make sure you are doing this is to install the SEO by Yoast plug-in. It’s free and it guides you through the things you should be doing in each post to make sure you are optimized for the keyword you are targeting.

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Here are 4 quick pointers to get you started:

(The Yoast plug-in makes all of these very simple to do, and hard to forget)

  1. Make sure the title of your page has the exact keyword you want to rank higher for.
  2. Make sure the page description is compelling, but also includes your exact keyword.
  3. Mention your target keyword early in your post, and a couple of times throughout as it makes sense
  4. When you add images, try to include the keyword in at least one of your ALT tags.

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So Jonathan basically came in the door and took what was working a little bit and focused on making it the best it could be. The result was that pages that were “unintentionally” ranking for certain terms now had a focused effort on ranking for those terms. In turn, those pages started to move up the rankings and draw in more organic traffic.

2. Use “Newsjacking” In Your Blog Content. 

According to Corey Eridon “Newsjacking refers to the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success.” 

Here is an example of how Netrepid used newsjacking to increase their traffic:

In August 2013, BlueHost had a pretty widely publicized outage of their servers. This meant than tons of websites were unavailable as a result. Since web hosting is part of what they do, Jonathan took the opportunity to blog about it and explain exactly what happened.

Beyond that, he went onto explain how the set up of their datacenter prevents these types of incidents and of course gave people the opportunity to get in touch (just in case they were looking for a new host!) Jonathan used some basic optimization tips mentioned above and even though he published the article at 4 PM, that article brought in more visits that day than they had ever had on a single day before.

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Here are a couple of tips on newsjacking:

  1. Keep it professional. Even though Jonathan was covering some “bad news” in the industry, he didn’t take shots at the company having the issue. He simply explained the technical reasons of why it happened, and then explained how their structure is different. You definitely want to use newjacking to build trust and authority in your market – not to come off like a jerk!
  2. Add something to the story. Newsjacking isn’t about reporting the news. People have CNN for that. You need to be looking for an angle to the story that makes it interesting for your audience. Making sense of the details, talking about lessons learned, or some other differentiator that makes your version stand out amongst the rest.

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2. Find What to Write About

Once you’ve optimized and cleaned up any existing issues with your site, the next thing to tackle is “what in the world am I going to write about?”

After all, if you’re going to have a successful inbound marketing strategy then you need to know what your potential customers want to know. Often, the answer to this question is right in front of your face.

What do I mean?

You certainly get asked questions all the time about your prices, your service, your opinions on different products, etc. Why not address those questions in a set of blog posts on your website?

Marcus Sheridan is someone I love to listen to when it comes to this topic because he did it in his own swimming pool company, and he really makes this concept so easy to understand. Here is Marcus talking about “They ask, you answer.”

So when figuring out what to write about, start by jotting down all the questions you hear from customers over the course of your day. Have your employees do the same thing and before you know it, you’ll have a pretty long list of things you can add to your website.

After all, if people are asking you these questions then you can bet many more people are going to Google to ask the same question.

Marc Anderson, the CEO of TalktoCanada, took this same idea and ran with it.

In March of 2013 he decided to get serious about inbound marketing for his English language instruction service and scrapped every “lame” blog post on their site. From that point forward they’ve added only content that is both detailed and in-depth.

I asked Marc how they came up with ideas for what to write about.

The first thing he said was that they were based on questions they had been asked by people who visited the website. What a concept!

Did it work? 

In March of 2013 they were averaging about 6,000 visitors per month on their site. Today that number has nearly tripled to about 16,000 per month.

Traffic is great, but what about sales?

Marc reports that with the increased traffic, sales have “increased dramatically” over that same time period.

Keyword Research

Another great step in figuring out where to start with your inbound marketing efforts, and particularly your own blog content, is by doing keyword research. If this concept is new to you, check out this guide to learning what a keyword actually means for your business.

The idea here is to learn what people are searching for in Google most often, and then analyzing what the results are to see if you might be able to rank near the top for that “keyword.”

One of the quickest and most effective approaches is to focus on what we call “long tail keywords” which are generally searches that are more specific and often don’t have many great results focused on that exact thing. If you can write an in-depth post that addresses that keyword, you’ll have a much better shot of being found.

An example might be “Dogs” as a very short tail, generic keyword. You’ll probably never make it to page 1 of Google for “Dogs.” A long tail example would be “how to breed poodles.” – On the surface you would have a much better chance of ranking highly for that search term if you write “The Complete Guide For How To Breed Poodles” and give all the information the searcher may want to know.

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Finding long tail keywords that you can compete for can be hard, but Long Tail Pro saves you time and helps you find the best keywords for your business. Click here to try it for free (no credit card required).

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3. Create Content That Deserves To Rank

Even if you are using Long Tail Pro to find great keywords, you still have to deliver the goods.

Your blog post, video series, white paper, or whatever content medium you are using needs to be great. It should “deserve” to rank at the top of Google because it is the best resource available. As Julie Joyce said in a recent interview – “Stop bloating up sites with thin crap.”

So if you are going to make something, take the time to make it the best it can be.

The bad news is, it takes time and effort to create great stuff.

However, that is also the good news.

It’s good because so many of your competitors won’t take the time to do it, so if you really knock it out of the park with your content you can make a huge impact on your business.

David Waring at FitsSmallBusiness.com knew that writing about small business loans and services was a competitive space, so they invested heavily in creating top-notch content. He said “we spend days and sometimes weeks researching and writing our articles.”

That’s not easy, but it has certainly paid off.

Their site has seen just over 1 million page views in the last 12 months.

One example of an article that has done well attracting organic traffic is their guide to SBA loan rates. As you might imagine, the Small Business Administration’s own site ranks very highly for all things “SBA”, but David knew there were still opportunities to pull in traffic from certain long tail keywords.

David always starts his blog content with a simple question: “What would a person coming to the page want to know?”

In this case, they covered all the basics of an SBA loan but then went above and beyond to talk about how the rates are determined, what might make them change, and in the end they had created a comprehensive guide that most of their competing sites couldn’t touch.

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Key Takeaway: Don’t just create content on your site. Create content that deserves to rank.

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4. Contribute To Other Sites

When first starting out, becoming a contributor to other sites is an effective way to pull in new readers to your site. There are a bunch of opportunities for this in the internet marketing space, and some are well worth your time.

For instance, being an ongoing contributor to SearchEngineLand is an opportunity for someone like Janet Driscoll Miller to show her expertise in optimizing for mobile SEO. Notice that at the end of the article, the author section includes a short bio as well as a link back to her company:

Janet Miller - Guest Post

An outlet like SearchEngineLand has HUGE reach! They sent out this tweet to their 291,000 followers about Janet’s article:

Tweet For SearchEngineLand

While you may not be in the SEO or internet marketing space, you can follow this same strategy for many other types of businesses.

Click here to read Brian Dean’s guide to guest posting. It’s full of great suggestions on what to search for and where to look when you want to find new sites that you can contribute to.

While finding an industry site to be a regular contributor to is ideal, you can also find more irregular opportunities with guest posting on other sites. Typically this has the same effect as you are getting in front of a new audience and showing your expertise on the topic.

Does it really work? 

This same exact strategy works well for The Media Captain in Columbus, OH.

As a digital marketing agency, they were looking for opportunities to find some new leads. The owner, Jason Parks, decided that taking the time and effort to contribute their expertise on a handful of industry sites would help increase both traffic and revenue.

Today they contribute regularly to 5 well known industry websites on topics such as social media, SEO, and digital advertising. By writing top-notch content, Jason and his team have begun to position themselves as an authority in the industry.

Jason delivers the goods to places like Social Media Today, and in return he gets a killer author bio like this:

Media Captain Guest Post

The Numbers

Since The Media Captain started contributing to other industry websites, they’ve seen their referral traffic increase by 45% and have seen about a 10% uptick in leads.

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Key Takeaway: Quality comes first. Don’t just start throwing up content anywhere that will take it. Instead, look to post on sites with authority, that look professional and already publish great content. When you do get opportunities to contribute, deliver the goods! This could be your one shot, so make sure to give your absolute best effort.

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5. Share it like crazy

Once you’ve started producing amazing content for your own site, and for related sites – you need to share it.

Sure you can write some content for long tail keywords and pull in traffic from Google, but sharing with people who might be interested in what you have to say is a fast and effective way to increase your audience.

Max Galka understands the value of sharing content.

Max is the co-founder of Revaluate – an apartment review site in New York.

As you could imagine, ranking for real estate related keywords in the New York market can be difficult.

They were getting about 100 visits per day on their website, when they discovered the power of getting their content into the right hands.

A few months ago, Max published an article listing the 5 craziest buildings in New York.

If he would have stopped there, it likely would have sunk quietly into the abyss of the countless other blog posts published each day.

However, Max didn’t use the “publish and pray” method – he started sharing the article.

In his words, “Our previous ad hoc attempts at marketing posts did not accomplish much… We did some research and made a list of places where people share blog content (forums, Reddit, Hacker News, Stumbleupon, Quora, Yahoo Answers, the different social media platforms, Craigslist, RSS aggregators, Outbrain, etc).

For each of those platforms, we looked for places where people may appreciate the post (e.g. social media groups about NYC, top 10 lists, architecture, real estate, etc).  And after publishing the post, went around and shared it.”

There are tons of places where you can share your content. So keep a running list of sharing sites, forums, etc. that may be interested in your content so you aren’t starting from scratch every time you publish a post.

In Max’s case, their efforts produced about 400 social shares and 7,000 visits to their website in the next 24 hours.

Not everything you publish is going to be a smash hit.

In fact, some groups you share with may not like it at all. Max was surprised at how varied the responses were. For example, the NYC subreddit voted it down, but the urbanexploration subreddit loved it and provided a lot of traffic.

Stumbleupon didn’t send much traffic at all to this particular post, but a more recent post about famous buildings in New York sent about 3,000 visitors from Stumbleupon in just 2 days.

Here are some key takeaways from Max that I completely agree with:

  • Think through the different groups who may be interested in your content
  • Spend the time researching your options for sharing content.  There are a ton of options out there.
  • It is hard to predict who will like it, and it takes some trial and error to figure it out

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Consider This: How many times do you publish a blog post and tell nobody about it? Revaluate is the perfect example of how your traffic numbers can explode when you produce great content and then get it in front of the right people.

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Wrap Up

My hope is that by presenting a few practical, real life examples of content marketing success that you’ll be inspired!

Here is a quick recap:

1. Get started! Whether you have no website, or like Jonathan Bentz you’ve inherited a site that needs some work – you need to start moving in the right direction. Find some “easy wins” like optimizing current blog posts.

2. Figure out a direction for your content. The 2 easiest ways to do this are to listen to your customers and to do keyword research. Find out what people are asking and start answering those questions on your website (and answering them in a better way than your competitors)

3. Make better content by writing thorough, long posts and linking out to authority sources on the topic. Be well-researched and think like the searcher. If you were searching that keyword, would you think that your page is better than the other results in Google?

4. Contribute to other industry sites. You’ll both build authority for your brand as well as find new traffic opportunities. Make sure that you only contribute to relevant, high quality sites and ALWAYS give your best effort when contributing. This is your one chance at a first impression.

5. Start sharing. Creating the best content is one thing, but like Revaluate – you have to help people find it. Start making a list of sites, forums, etc. in your industry (besides the big sharing sites like Reddit and Stumbleupon) so you have places to tell about your post.

You should also think creatively – in Revaluate’s case they were sharing with sites dedicated to New York City, not just real estate sites. Are there other “related” sites which may be interested in some of your posts?

Now go out there and get started!

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