Improve Your Reach and Profits with Inbound Marketing

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If you've ever gone fishing in the dark -- or launched an advertising campaign -- you're

Inbound Marketing

familiar with the concept of outbound marketing.  If you have a really big net -- or a really big ad budget -- you might get lucky and reel in paying customers.

But there's a better, more cost-effective type of marketing.  Inbound marketing is like being king of your pond -- people will swim across strong currents to reach you.

Inbound marketing includes three basic components:

1.  Content.
2.  Search Engine Optimization and
3.  Social Media.  Sophisticated campaigns may also include public relations and mass media outreach, but the savvy use of content, SEO and social media almost always pay off for almost every business.

So why are fledgling and small online businesses still relying so heavily on advertising -- spending a record-breaking $17 billion in the first half of 2012, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau?

Partly because some business owners follow tradition, and advertising has for centuries been the chief form of marketing.  But mostly, the reluctance to focus on inbound marketing stems from impatience and lack of understanding.

Inbound marketing rarely provides the instant gratification that comes with someone clicking on your ad or opening an email.  And it requires more of a learning curve.  But it delivers an enormous return on investment.

To understand inbound marketing is to love it.  With that in mind, here are three key things to know about inbound marketing.

1.  Content

Content -- blogs, articles, ebooks, white papers, videos, webinars and other forms of written and visual material -- provide the core of inbound marketing.

So, it's crucial to create or acquire valuable content.  Valuable content supplies readers with valuable information -- it informs and educates.  It also demonstrates that you are a knowledge powerhouse -- you're the person or the company who best understand and fulfills customers' needs.

Don't use content to fill up space on your website or to overtly promote your business.  Readers have short attention spans and tons of content to choose from.  Readers will click away from weak content.  Strong content attracts readers to your site and keeps them there.  Use content to demonstrate such things as:

  • Authority 

Weak content:  Neti pots can be fatal.

Strong content:  Government health officials warn that improper use of neti pots -- small ceramic vessels used by allergy sufferers to irrigate their sinuses -- may in rare cases cause a deadly brain infection, The New York Times reports.

  • Language Skills

Weak content:  She had back luck with men.

Strong  content:  In the fruit basket of love, she was always the bruised banana.

  • Personality

Weak content:  Shop with confidence.

Strong content: "If you're not fully satisfied, I'll refund your purchase price and shipping costs  OR sing The Five Days of Christmas (I won't torture you with all 12 Days.)

The Internet is flooded with content.  Distinguish your business with attention-getting words, photographs and video.

2.  Search Engine Optimization

People only read content -- weak or strong -- that they can find.  SEO marketing helps your website and content rise to the top of the search pages.

Links to your website help prove your authority to Google, which helps you rise in search engine rankings.

But not all links are equally powerful.  A link from Harvard University will obviously help your rankings more than a link from your cousin's Facebook page.  But many factors affect the authority of a website -- and the benefit of a link to your website.

You may have heard that publishing guest posts increases your authority and helps you gain links.  This is true, but publishing a guest post on a site that has little authority reflects poorly on you.

Online tools can help you analyze a website's authority before you submit content to the site.  Avoid linking from sites with tarnished reputations, but don't necessarily pass up opportunities to  provide guest posts to new sites.  Provide great content to a new site and you will increase the site's authority -- and yours by linking from it.

Online tools reveal a great deal about the quality and value of a website but don't tell you the whole story.  Do some old-fashioned homework -- read a site's content -- before deciding whether you want to associate with the site.

Strategic use of keywords also helps your rankings.  Don't use too many -- or too few -- and use keywords with a purpose.

If, for example, you own a bakery called Sally's Treats in Vancouver, British Columbia, what words do you think someone would type into a search engine to find your company?  A link from the keywords "Vancouver bakery" will likely serve you better than one from "Treats," but you shouldn't rely exclusively on "Vancouver bakery" for your anchor text (text from which you create hyperlinks to a page on your website.)

Search engine optimization involves a great deal of strategy and nuance and finding the right SEO company can be challenging.  Getting to the first page in a search demands both quality and quantity of links.  If you were the owner of Sally's Treats, a search engine optimization company in Vancouver might help you build a strong local presence.

No matter where you live or what type of business you own, consult expert help.  Going it alone on SEO could damage your company's ranking and reputation.

3.  Social Media

Social media platforms, including Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, can put all of your inbound marketing efforts on overdrive.

A guest post might garner you one or two links.  Share the links on Twitter and you might get dozens or hundreds more.  Post them on Google+ and Facebook and your blog could gain exponentially more links and viewers.

Social media is simple in concept  -- I share/you share -- but some users skew the concept to I promote me/ you promote me.  If you are generous with others in social media -- you comment on their posts and circulate other people's material at least as often as you share your own -- most members will be generous with you.

Social media is easy to use but difficult to use well.  It can both increase and undermine your business's authority.  It's the area of inbound marketing over which you have least control.  Consult a professional before running a social media campaign for your company.

Social media provides an unprecedented opportunity to communicate directly with your target audience.  It gives you the chance to listen to your customers and potential customers.

And when you listen -- really listen -- to customers, they reward all of your inbound marketing efforts.  They not only swim across the rough Internet waters to reach you -- they bring their fans and followers with them.

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