Master the Four Pillars of Inbound Marketing
By : Alexandra L Watson -
Four Pillars of Inbound Marketing
In this post, let’s further examine the four pillars of inbound marketing: content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing, and social media marketing so that you can master these powerful lead-generation tactics! In the last blog post on Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing: Which is Better? we noted that the value of inbound marketing is that it attracts an audience organically (rather than paid) and builds thought leadership, authority, and trust as it nurtures buyers through their purchase journey. Now we’ll address each of the four fundamental pillars of inbound marketing for the role they each play in attracting and engaging an audience.
- Content Marketing
The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing in this way:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
If that definition sounds a lot like inbound marketing, it’s because content creation (and publication) is fundamental to an inbound marketing plan. Content may include writing blogs, ebooks, whitepapers, webinars, graphics, videos, and more. It takes many forms, including the other inbound marketing pillars: search engine optimization efforts, dedicated messages sent to email subscribers, and original posts on social media. All these tactics, at their core, begin with a unique point of view expressed in an original way to a specific audience for an express purpose. So you might say that content marketing is the strongest pillar of the four pillars of inbound marketing efforts- it all comes down to producing and publishing original content online in order to attract and convert an audience.
Popular business and leadership author Seth Godin explained the need for content marketing in this way: “If the web is a mass of conversations, the way in which you market in that environment is to create content that is remarkable -worth talking about and spreading.” So, consider the frequently asked questions, unique problem points, and needs of your target audience to tailor your content in a way that provides value to them and is inherently share-worthy.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The second of the four pillars of inbound marketing is search engine optimization (SEO). Search engine results are determined by complex algorithms that rank websites in order to retrieve and deliver the best match results available for each user’s search query. Your site is continually indexed and graded by search engines to potentially appear in organic (unpaid) search results based upon evidence of relevance, reputation, and recency within the site. If you missed it before, see our prior SEO blog post here for more information on this topic.
When we talk about “optimizing” a website, what we’re doing is making changes in content and/or coding to give your site the best chance to rank highly by: earning traffic from search and other sources by proper indexing, building trust with your target audience, and being worthy of inbound links, reviews, and shares from across the web. That’s what SEO is all about. It’s very tied to content marketing efforts because all such efforts must be appropriately written and tagged to be found by search bots, as well as to be relevant and credible to searchers. According to Ascend2 November 2016 study, “57% of businesses view relevant content creation as the single most effective SEO technique.” I believe there is a common small business mindset that SEO is done once you’ve built a website. It’s not! The internet changes way too rapidly to take a “set it and forget it” attitude. Good SEO is a long-term, ongoing process of staying up-to-date and active online.
The third of the four pillars of inbound marketing is email marketing. Business email marketing is defined by Wikipedia as “directly marketing a commercial message to a targeted group of people using electronic mail.” But if you still perceive email marketing as “traditional” or “outbound”, I beg to differ. Gone are the days of purchasing email lists and sending blanket outbound messages. Email regulations now require lists to be “opt-in” in nature, either by direct signup or by prior transaction or interaction that implies a business relationship. Good email marketing is a terrific inbound method to reach your target audience on a one-to-one, permission basis.
Besides being the go-to method of communication in business, email is also notably preferred by consumers. A 2017 study by Campaign Monitor found that email was the favorite way for consumers to receive updates from brands (compared to direct mail, mobile apps, social media, push notifications, and mobile wallet), with 66% ranking it in the “preferred a lot” category.
When it comes to purchasing something from a brand or donating to a nonprofit based on an email, Campaign Monitor also noted the percentage of each age group that responded they “always” or “most of the time” decided to take action based on a brand’s email. Results ranged from 11% to a whopping 58% by industry and age, far higher than most other marketing and advertising tactics! The consumer propensity to act upon an email message means that email marketing is extremely cost-effective for businesses. Email has a low overhead cost and reduced time and effort versus other direct-to-consumer media.
Take note though- The latest Litmus study in 2017 found that more than half of email messages are now opened and read on a mobile device (51% on average). Pew Research Center’s most recent mobile usage survey found that 88% of Americans check email on their phone at least once per day. If you’re going to send commercial email, it absolutely needs to be mobile-friendly (if not mobile-first).
Social Media Marketing
I highly encourage you to blaze your own internet trail with original, optimized content that will set you apart from the rest of the pack. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to also take your content to your audience where they are already spending a lot of their time online: on social media sites. This allows you to build a social community and following, listen to your customers in a more open and relaxed interactive setting, and take advantage of the frequent traffic on social media sites to gain greater reach and increased share-ability. That’s why social media marketing is the final of the four pillars of inbound marketing.
But beware: Participation in social media channels is NOT a substitute for having your own website and publishing longer form content. Social media sites are not truly own-able digital space, so you’re subject to the platform(s) ever-changing rules, norms, and algorithms. The content on them tends to be short-form and has a limited shelf-life. People aren’t going to scroll back endlessly on your social page or in their social Newsfeed to find past information. Also, consumers are fickle and social media preferences and behaviors change often. For these reasons, it’s important that you maintain your own website with searchable content and use social media publication and participation to supplement your owned content rather than act as a substitute.
You don’t need to be on ALL social media channels, particularly if you don’t have the time or resources to keep your information current and maintain an active presence. It’s better to master one (or a few) social channels than to spread yourself too thin and have accounts on all but master none. Also, recognize that social media usage varies by generation (and individual user) in terms of time spent, channel, and purpose/task. Not all channels are equally important to your particular target audience. In order to strategically and effectively use social media for your particular business goal(s), you have to know your audience and their behavior! Select one or two social networks for participation based on the habits of your target audience, the nature of the content, your resources, and the measurement capabilities. Focus on building a community there before branching out further.
Inbound Marketing Results
Master these four pillars of inbound marketing: content marketing, SEO, email marketing, and social media marketing, and you will create a powerful lead engine that attracts website traffic and establishes you as a topical authority worthy of trust! With impressions to your website and engagement from an audience, you’ll be well on your way to conversions, sales, and customer loyalty.
For more information and instruction on creating a marketing plan suited to your unique business needs, contact us at Digital Measured for a consultation. Or, go the DIY route by purchasing our new ebook: Strategic Digital Marketing Survival Manual- A Practical Field Guide for Small Businesses and Startups, from Amazon or Kindle Unlimited.