13 ways to make your inbound marketing stand out

Experts in content creation and digital strategy discuss the best methods and channels to attract new customers.

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Converting leads and contacts into customers continues to be the top marketing priority for many companies, according to HubSpot research. And organizations that focus on inbound – e.g. using content marketing, social media and SEO to attract customers -- (vs. outbound) marketing are more likely to be effective.

Here are 13 things your business can do to make your inbound marketing efforts more effective – and convert more prospects into customers.

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1. Know who your target audience is – and where they get their information

“You must define your audience before you even get started, creating the fundamental inbound marketing ‘buyer persona,’” says Ryan Malone, founder & CEO, SmartBug Media. Personas should factor in demographics – gender, age, education, location – and include things like the customer’s likes and dislikes, where they shop, where they work and who they buy for (family, friends, coworkers).

Once you’ve identified and defined your ideal customer, use that buyer persona to guide your strategy, “from the keywords [you] choose, to the website experience, the blogs you write to the social media sites you use for promotion,” he says. “Many organizations mistakenly try to be everything to everyone; however, to truly see inbound success, you must focus on attracting the right audience first and foremost."

2. Plan ahead

“SMBs need to look at the big picture and strategically plan content long term,” says Jamie Domenici, vice president of SMB marketing, Salesforce. “This allows your business to capitalize on… seasons, holidays or events [that are relevant to your business and target audience].” For example, Valentine’s Day is a holiday no florist, chocolatier or jeweler would want to miss. And “having an editorial calendar ensures the business can prepare interesting and insightful content well in advance.”

3. Develop an SEO strategy

“Search optimized blogging is one of the best ways for small and medium sized businesses to improve inbound marketing,” says Lauren Fairbanks, CEO, S/G Content Marketing. Just “make sure you focus on the right keywords that match your customer's pain points and work on creating content around those.”

“The best (and free) place to start with this is AdWords Keyword [Planner],” says Amy Nedoss, marketing strategy director at SocialRaise. “Find low-competition and high-volume search terms. Then align your content with [them]. That way the content is highly targeted and has a better chance of being found [by your target audience].”

“Another trick to improve SEO is to revive your old content,” says Tim Jernigan, marketing analyst, Badger Maps. “If your existing posts don’t receive traffic anymore, you can revamp them with infographics [or] images. You can even combine a few blogs to make a PDF guide [or white paper] and post [with a new title].”

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4. Create a company blog and fill it with useful content

“The secret to a successful inbound marketing strategy is to consistently provide quality content that is interesting and helpful to current and prospective customers. At the heart of this strategy is the humble blog,” says Domenici.

“Company blogs drive inbound traffic to your website, and can also give your business credibility within your industry,” she says. “Customers favor companies that offer valuable knowledge rather than ones that are too self-promotional, so be sure to identify common customer pain points and provide easy-to-follow solutions. Extend the reach of your blog by sharing posts across your social networks to engage with customers where they are.”

5. Send fewer emails but with better content

“A big theme we’re seeing this year is sending less email better, which is something we’re really leaning into at HubSpot,” says Jon Dick, vice president of marketing, HubSpot. “As people’s inboxes become more and more crowded, many marketers have resorted to increasing their email volume to get the same number of opens. But this approach is backwards.”

Sending fewer but more relevant emails “will actually get you more opens and better engagement in today’s environment,” he says. The key is to “focus on adding… value and investing in good content that shows, not tells, your message.” If you do this, “the few emails you do send will get good engagement.”

6. Include graphics and/or photos in messaging

“Humans are more receptive to visual content,” points out Domenici. So “incorporating visual elements [in your messaging] is a sure-fire way for your small business to increase the draw of your inbound marketing strategy. Readers will often become disengaged with ‘how-to’ blog posts that are text heavy, but adding graphics can help illustrate step-by-step instructions in a clearer way. Video tutorials are also a great way to easily provide a solution to a common problem and can easily be shared through different channels.”

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7. Interact with consumers through podcasts and videos

“Nothing showcases the personality of a brand better than utilizing the latest digital media channels,” says Mark Nardone, executive vice president, PAN Communications. “Brainstorm podcast topics that will open up discussions around industry trends and best practices. This will garner interest from consumers and influencers and position your brand as a thought leader and resource for your target audience.”

And don’t leave out video.

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