I'm a believer in inbound marketing, because when executed properly it will generate leads, help you acquire customers, and turn up customer engagement. Beyond that, it's a methodology you can tailor, to some extent, to fit your size. You don't need to spin up a new marketing arm of your company to get started.
But, it's that whole getting started part that so many companies have a problem with. They don't know where to begin, how to start, and they can get stuck in any number of spots. They worry about targeting the right audience, promoting on the right social networks, or doing SEO correctly. These are all valid concerns, but hesitancy on each can lead to inaction.
If you're looking to start an inbound marketing program, or to jumpstart your lead generation, there are nine key steps you should follow. It's the same process we following when we start working with new clients, or when we launch a new campaign. We call it an Inbound Growth Plan.
In this post, I'll lay out all of the steps, tell you what you can learn, and explain how to use those insights to jumpstart your lead generation.
1. Website Audit
A website audit is an exhaustive crawl of your site to find anything that might be wrong with it, and to identify potential improvements.
Website audits generally look at the following:
- Missing pages
- Missing meta descriptions
- Broken links
- Issues with content
- Issues with images
- Speed and other performance issues
- Security of the site
Pro Tip: We also take a look at keyword usage on the site to inform the keyword research step in this process. We look for which keywords are used, and if they're used consistently in headers, content, and meta descriptions.
Once you’ve audited your website, you'll likely have a to-do list of problems to fix and optimizations to try. These might be simple fixes, like adding header text to pages, or they could be more complex, performance related issues which need deeper analysis and effort.
Remember, your website is your public face to the world, so it's worth investing the time and effort into fixing any problems. In the end, your site should be clean, uncluttered, and deliver a focused message that drives visitors towards become leads - and leads to becoming customers.
Pro Tip: Get those fixes done, but, be aware, you're not done with your website. The other steps in this process may guide additional restructuring and SEO optimization.
2. Content Audit
A content audit looks at the content published on your site pages, on your blog, and on your social media channels. The goal is to identify topics and categories of content, see how your audience has responded, and to determine how your content is helping you meet business goals.
This audit should examine the following:
- Messaging consistency, about your brand, products, and services
- Topics covered in relation to business goals
- Keywords and hashtags use and consistency
- Social engagement, mentions, and other metrics
- Traffic, leads, and customers generated
You're looking to discover what topics you're audience engages with the most, and which content types they're more receptive to - e.g. blog posts, infographics, videos.
Taking it a step further, you're seeking insight into what content has generated the most leads and customers.
Pro Tip: This is a great time to locate and fix problems on your social media channels, including profiles incompletely or inconsistently filled out, issues with cross-channel promotion of content, and inconsistent keyword use. The data you collect should also tell you which days and times you get the most engagement on each social platform.
3. Keyword Research
Keyword research should focus on two things - discovering the best keywords for your business, and then ensuring they're properly used on your website, social channels, and in content.
While SEO is always evolving, keywords still are essential to the process. Keywords are how people that are searching for companies, products, and services, find yours.
Your keyword research should identify keywords you use now, as well as keywords commonly used in your industry, local area, and by competitors. From this list, you can select the best keywords for you - keywords which are relevant and widely used, but which also illuminate the unique value a business offers.
Once you’ve determined the best keywords, you can start using them on your website, social profiles, and content. That, in turn, will help search engines and people and find your business wherever it is online.
Pro Tip: We also look at content organization. SEO has evolved and content clusters designed around pillar pages have become a better way to organize for SEO. An audit is a great time to make changes to how content is organized on your site to optimize for SEO and to make sure the site design works well for inbound marketing.
4. Competitor Research
To be well informed about your market - and how to differentiate your business - you also need to understand what your competitors are doing.
You can discover their:
- Keywords (there are even articles written about how to steal your competitor's keywords)
- Social channels and promotion strategies
- Content topics, posting time, and online engagement with their audience
- Positioning and messaging.
Looking at how your competitors are positioning their products and services can help you refine your content strategy. You might choose to target an underserved audience segment, or promote a specific service or value which differentiates your brand.
Pro Tip: You can use tools to discover what promotional channels your competitors are using when they're posting online, and what types of engagement levels they're seeing. This can give you a big advantage when starting, or jumpstarting your inbound marketing process - you can steal strategies that are working well, avoid strategies that aren't, and identify potential underserved channels or audiences which may present opportunities.
5. Define Your Goals
At this point, you've got a lot of information and it's time to put it to use. Take the data you've collected and use it to help create your marketing goals.
In general, marketing goals should not be about getting more likes and follows. Instead, focus your marketing on helping achieve other goals set for your company, such as growing revenue, increasing sales to a specific market segment, or penetrating a new region.
Your goals should also be SMART goals - that's to say, they should be:
- Specific - Because discrete goals are easier to understand and focus on
- Measurable - So that you can track key performance indicators (KPIs) to see if you're on track, and adjust course if need be to hit the goals
- Attainable - So that your team has a realistic chance of hitting the goals
- Relevant - So that your digital marketing efforts are meaningful to your business
- Time-bound - So that there's a defined period that you have to achieve the goal
Setting goals you define around these qualities will help ensure they're meaningful to your business, and will help your team focus on execution. It'll also make tracking performance much easier.
Pro Tip: You may think that defining your goals should be the first step, but we've found this is the best time to set goals for two reasons:
- After discovering all of the information from audits and research, your marketing goals may change based on opportunities you discover
- Depending on what state your digital marketing is in, you may not have a clear idea as to what's achievable and what's not until the audits and research are completed
6. Build or Refine Your Buyer Personas
Continuing to put the information you've learned to use, now, in conjunction with the goals you've defined, it's time to create or refine your buyer personas.
Buyer personas are detailed portraits of your ideal customer (or customers) which can be used by marketing staff to create relevant content for prospects at all stages of their buyer's journey. Buyer personas can also be used by sales staff to personalize outreach.
We're not going to cover the fundamentals of creating buyer personas here - suffice it to say that having buyer persona's is a must because it gets your marketing and sales teams on the same page, and focuses content, engagement, and outreach so that your messages are reaching and resonating with the people most likely to buy your products and services. All the data you've collected during this process will help you create new, or update existing, personas based on the current state of your marketing, industry, and goals.
Pro Tip. If you already have buyer personas defined, review them before doing the audits and research. As you do the research, score content topics, and keywords used by you and your competitors to see how well you've been engaging your target audience and to find ways to improve. This could also help you identify new or niche segments that might be interested in your products or services.
7. Develop a Content Plan
Remember that inbound marketing is not about content for the sake of content - inbound marketing is about getting results. Your content should not only drive traffic to your website, but should be driving engagement by getting your prospects to download content offers by giving you their contact information.
Your content plan should start by defining great content offers to create ebooks, whitepapers, strategy guides, checklists and so forth. This is your gated content.
Content offers should be deep and detailed, going beyond what you'd normally publish on your blog. And they should be valuable enough to your target audience that they're willing to share their contact information to get it.
Once you've defined your content offers, plan blog posts and other content with topics related to each offer. To bring visitors in, publish your content to your blog, and surround that content with calls-to-action that lead to landing pages where visitors can opt-in to your content offers.
Pro Tip: To develop content offers and content, think of questions your target audience has, and use your content to answer those questions. Take each different stage of the buyer's journey into consideration so that your content helps visitors define their problem, consider different solutions, and finally make the decision to buy.
We recommend creating two content offers per quarter at a minimum - one larger, and detailed, such as an ebook or whitepaper, and one smaller, like a checklist, or how-to guide.
Depending on your target audience, plan to create one or two pieces of content per week for the quarter to drive awareness of the issues related to your content offer.
8. Define Your Promotion Strategy
The audits and research that inform your personas should also give you a good idea where your ideal customers are hanging out online - the social networks, forums, and other online locations where you need to publish and promote your content. You should promote your content across all your channels to make sure you reach your potential customers wherever they may be. More than that, you need to promote each piece of content several times a month.
You should also mix your content with content curated from other sources. This will help attract more prospects to your social channels, as they'll start seeing your social profiles and your blog as a valuable resource for awareness and education. Ideally, this will keep them coming back for more, and help further expand your content reach.
Pro Tip: When a piece of content if first published, promote it frequently on all channels for the first few days, then put it into your content mix so that it gets promoted again on each channel a few times a month.
And since you're creating clusters of content around specific topics, find opportunities in the content you create to link to other content you've created in a context-appropriate way. For any piece of content of yours that receives a high number of likes or shares, you should also consider using paid promotion on your social channels to increase reach.
9: Create an Editorial Calendar and Stick To It
An editorial calendar puts your content promotion strategy down on paper (digitally speaking). It documents what content's being created, when it's due, what channels it will be published on and when. Editorial calendars provide the day-to-day plan for promoting your content and are essential for keeping the content strategy portion of your inbound marketing on track.
Pro Tip: There are lots of fee-based editorial calendars out there, including those from CoSchedule to DivvyHQ (which we use). There are a lot of benefits to these paid editorial calendar tools, but, if you don't want to pay for one, you don't have to - a spreadsheet will work to get started, or you can download editorial calendar templates for free.
Don't Wait - Get Started Now
If you want to start, restart, or simply improve how your website is generating leads, acquiring customers, and engaging clients using inbound marketing, this nine-step process is where you should begin. But the process, and the follow-on work, does take time, so the sooner you begin, the sooner you'll start seeing results.