If You’ve Never Seen Inbound Marketing Work, I Can Understand Your Disbelief
The other day I posted an article on LinkedIn about the differences between demand generation and inbound marketing. The article got its fair share of likes and a comment or two, but one of the comments caught my attention.
Here is a direct quote of the exact comment: “To me, inbound marketing is a myth. It is complete nonsense.” The comment got me thinking that I don’t believe in bigfoot, despite the huge amount of grainy and questionable video footage, because I’ve never seen an actual bigfoot.
Could inbound marketing be a myth to everyone who has never seen it in action? Just like bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and UFOs, if you’ve never seen these, it’s going to be hard to believe they exist. That brings me to the point of this article. Let’s debunk the myth with facts and figures from actual inbound marketing engagements.
I know you wouldn’t have seen these engagements execute like I did, but perhaps the details of the specific situations will be enough for any of you who question the existence of inbound marketing and its ability to dramatically reshape how you go to market.
Here’s our indisputable evidence as to the effectiveness of inbound marketing.
Growth In Website Visitors
It’s the ultimate top of the funnel. If your entire sales and marketing funnel didn’t improve at all but you simply drove more visitors to your website, you’d get more leads and you could make an argument for inbound marketing. However, to spot bigfoot you’re going to have to be a little smarter than simply pushing up this one single metric.
If you want to use inbound marketing to improve the top of the funnel, you need to optimize all the sources of visitors. This includes making sure your website is search engine optimized, using off-site search techniques, leveraging social media for new visitors, keeping your house email list nurtured properly and identifying other websites for backlinks that will help your site rise in the rankings and drive new visitors to your site.
You should notice that the tactics identified cross over traditional marketing tactical types. We have search marketing, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing and website tactics described there. Inbound marketing breaks down traditional tactic silos and, when done well, perfectly orchestrates all the diverse tactics to produce the right results. That’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to execute.
Most of these executables produce results over time, as opposed to short-term gains. When we see these tactics working it produces about a 10% to 20% month-over-month improvement in overall website visitor numbers. This might not seem like much, but over the course of a year these small improvements produce big results, typically improving the numbers by 250% to 500%. This means a site that was generating 2,000 visits a month is now seeing 6,000 to 8,000 visits, while a site with 200 visits a month now receives 600 to 1,000 visits.
These improvement percentages don’t slow down or plateau. They actually continue as long as the program tactics execute. For example, our own site, which started at 400 visits a month, now receives 25,000 visits a month after four years of focusing on inbound marketing. To give you even more data, this is usually one of the easier parts of an inbound program. Getting clients’ websites found is rarely the rub when it comes to inbound marketing results. We’ll dig into a few of the more challenging areas next.
Improvement In Site-Wide Conversion Rate
Site-wide conversion rate is a measure of how effective your website is at turning anonymous visitors into leads. A lead is defined as someone who gives you their contact information in exchange for something you have to offer on your website. As long as you’re not offering iPads or free vacations, most of the people offering their contact info are actually interested in your business. They may be very early in their buyer journey, but they’re leads regardless.
Clients come to us with site-wide conversion rates that range from .2% to 2.2%. After working with us, some high-performing clients end up with site-wide conversion rates in the 8% to 10% range. But that type of performance is less likely than delivering a 1% to 3% site-wide conversion rate, which is our goal when working with clients.
The key to increasing site-wide conversion rate is content and website experience. If you are so intimate with the prospect’s buyer journey that you’re able to offer them website pages with compelling messaging and then couple those pages with long-form content like e-books, whitepapers, videos and tip guides, your visitors will want more and convert from visitors to leads at a very high rate.
Increases In Leads Generated
By applying the right offers on the right pages of your website, you can double (and in some cases triple or quadruple) conversion rates. This is where search, content, conversion and websites converge to make inbound more complicated. In short, you need to understand your prospects’ buyer journey and have pages with downloadable educational content mapped perfectly to deliver answers to their questions. When executed properly, you turn your website from an online brochure into a lead generation machine.
I’m sure all the skeptics reading the article are thinking to themselves, “but these aren’t going to be qualified leads, just people who download a whitepaper.” That’s accurate. A number of different types of leads exist within the inbound marketing funnel. Marketing-qualified leads are the people who’ve responded to marketing’s offers. They might not be a great opportunity, but they’re a lead nonetheless.
Regardless of how qualified they are, I’d encourage you to treat them as a lead and nurture them accordingly. You don’t know who they are, who they know, who they’ve already talked to and who they might talk to one day. What I do know is that your offers should make them qualified enough to warrant further nurturing.
Increases In Qualified Sales Opportunities
Moving marketing-qualified (or top-of-the-funnel) leads down into the funnel and out the bottom as new customers is also part of inbound marketing. If you properly create middle- and bottom-of-the-funnel offers, you can successful pull prospects out. By giving them the opportunity to convert on more aggressive offers, they actually self-select and signal their interest.
As an example, a prospect who downloads a whitepaper and gives you their email address isn’t as good of an opportunity as a prospect who attends one of your webinars and provides you with their name, address, company name, phone number, website URL, company size and specific issues they’re dealing with.
To further the conversation, that lead would not be as good as the lead who requests a conversation with one of your sales reps. However, each of the leads described could one day become your biggest client, and so they need to be treated equally.
A wide variety of other metrics improve over time from an inbound marketing effort. Social media audience reach is one of the most significant, but others that we track for clients include blog subscribers, rankings for certain keywords, phrases and questions, domain authority of your website, MozRank (an indicator of your site’s search friendliness), bounce rate and email performance data.
It’s hard to argue with numeric data. Numbers either go up, stay the same or decline. What impacts those changes could be argued, but inbound marketing has such a cause-and-effect impact on numbers like this that it’s difficult to identify other variables that might be impacting performance.
If you’ve never seen improvements like this and if you’ve never been able to deliver quantitative gains like this, then I get why you might think inbound marketing is more myth than method. But just because you’ve never seen it, or never been able to make it work, doesn’t mean something is non-existent.
Instead of thinking that something you don’t understand doesn’t work, I recommend spending a little more time investigating the people who have made it work to see how they did it and how you might want to try to replicate it. I’ll say, on the record, that it doesn’t work for everyone, but that’s much different than saying it doesn’t work at all.
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