pexels-photoGone are the days of chasing potential customers down the street shouting, “Please buy from us!” Nowadays, your customers will be the ones doing the leg work, walking up to you and asking, so very sweetly, if they could possibly buy some of what you’re selling, since it is clearly the best thing since sliced bread. Why the sea change? It’s all because of inbound marketing – the most effective form of digital marketing since 2006.

But knowing that inbound marketing is the way forward and actually putting it into practice to get your customers coming to you is a different kettle of fish entirely.

That’s why we’ve created this guide on inbound marketing. In celebration of its tenth year at the top, we’ve put together the best of the best advice out there to help you on your way to inbound marketing stardom.

Firstly, before we meet the leading lady of the show, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Here are a few terms that will crop up in this white paper:

CTA: A ‘Call-to-Action’ is a button or link on your website or in an email that encourages visitors to take action. This could be downloading a white paper, attending a webinar or adding an item to their basket. Without CTAs, you won’t convert visitors to leads (or to customers).

Landing page: What it says on the tin – a landing page is a page of your website that a customer will ‘land’ on. They might have received a link to that page in an email, for instance, or could have clicked on the link in search results. You can make the most of a landing page by placing a CTA on it.

funnelMarketing funnel: It’s useful to think of the marketing process as a funnel. Lots and lots of people enter the funnel, where they’ll be aware of a company but not ready to buy from it. However, lots of people will get lost along the way and won’t progress through each stage. The more people that reach the end, having converted from visitors to leads to customers, the more successful your business is. At the bottom of the funnel you’ll have loyal customers who will buy from you regularly and will be happy to tell anyone they meet just how awesome you are. They’re the kind of customer that we all aim for.

There are certain tips and tricks to encourage people to complete the funnel journey, which we’ll get to. Essentially, the job of inbound marketing is to fill the funnel, monitor progress and re-fill where necessary.

SERP: This stands for Search Engine Results Page. It’s the page you see when you’ve searched for something on a search engine, like Google or Bing.


Meet Hannah

Hannah from Hannah’s Hamsters is fed up of spending hundreds of pounds a month advertising in her local paper. She has lots of lovely hamsters for sale yet after deducting the advertising costs, she only makes about £500 a month selling hamsters, hamster cages and hamster fancy dress costumes.

[Yes, hamster clothing does exist. Yet another wonder of the 21st Century.]

Hannah simply can’t afford to fork out what’s needed to get her adverts in front of the right people: Hamster Monthly magazine charges £500 per half-page ad, and Small Pets Weekly only sells double-page spread adverts for £1,400 a pop. It’s out of her reach!

But while advertising is cripplingly expensive for Hannah, her competitors don’t seem to have the same problem, making it even less likely that customers will flock to her.

Hamsters’r’us has a huge advertising budget and can afford to advertise all over the place; in magazines, on television, in pet stores, and they even pay Google Adwords to bump their website up to the top of the SERPs. Poor Hannah often finds that customers who would have shopped with her are instead heading towards the big chain, and she’s beside herself with worry – how can she compete with a huge company like that when she can’t afford the advertising costs?

We have the answer, Hannah. You don’t need to chase after your customers, or stand in the middle of a roundabout shouting at the top of your voice and trying to throw hamsters through open car windows. Instead, you can get your customers to come to you! Here’s our very special, very furry, personalised plan of attack:

step 1-01
Figure out what you have to offer


Yes, you have lovely little critters to sell. You also have cages, exercise balls, food and specially-made hamster swimming costumes. We know that. But what else do you have to offer? Here’s what we reckon you know a thing or two about:

• what to feed hamsters
• how to breed hamsters
• recommendations for hamster clothing for all seasons and situations, from snuggly onesies to summer bikinis
• how often to clean out your hamster cage
• troubleshooting common hamster illnesses
• the best hamster names (because ‘Hammy’ just doesn’t cut it, frankly)
• different kinds of hamsters and their temperaments

You might be wondering, Hannah, what this has to do with making your business a success. Well, here’s the thing… In this day and age, what you sell isn’t aways enough to sell it. But what you know will help.


Share with others what you know – for free

Unless your true aim in life is to become the next Hamster Whisperer and go into people’s homes to help them out on their hamster journey, there’s nothing to be gained from withholding what you know about your industry. In fact, the exact opposite is true. When you are happy to share your knowledge for free, you come to be seen as an authority on the topic; the ‘go-to’ fount of all hamster knowledge.

Got a problem with your hamster? The lovely lady at Hannah’s Hamsters will almost definitely know the answer.
Torn between a Syrian and a Russian? Go ask Hannah.
Worried about the etiquette of a hamster wearing white to a wedding? Hannah will know the ins and outs.

One of the best, quickest and easiest ways to share your knowledge with others is to write blog posts.


Content marketing

Inbound marketing starts with blogging, or ‘content marketing’, whereby you create ‘content’ to share with others. It’s the basis for all inbound marketing, whereby you encourage people to come to your website by offering them things to read, view or experience which will improve their lives. You write articles, blog posts, research papers and eBooks on topics you know and share them – for free, most of the time! – with your customers.

If you want to be found by prospective customers, you need to create educational content which appeals to them and answers their questions. If you know that no one else on the World Wide Web knows enough about The Intricacies of Hamster Mating Rituals to write an article on it, then why don’t you, Hannah? It’ll be a pretty easy keyword to rank for!

Knowing that you need to create content and actually doing it are two different things. Not everyone has the talent to write coherently and with sufficient flair to make a dull-as-ditchwater topic seem exciting. Here are some content writing tips to get you started, Hannah:

1. Don’t use complicated, technical terms. It’s often handy to assume your readers don’t have a clue what you’re on about, so talk to them in terms they’ll understand. Or, as we’ve done above, you can provide a glossary so they know what you’re going on about.
2. Be ‘SEO friendly’. As we said in the glossary, Search Engine Optimisation is a hugely important inbound marketing strategy. When you make your blog posts SEO friendly you are essentially telling search engines what they’ll find on each page, how useful it is to visitors, and how the search engines should rank it. You’ll want to make sure your keywords are in there, Hannah, but make sure you write ‘for people’, not ‘for search engines’. Content that is well-written, reads well and makes sense for real readers will be more likely to rank highly on SERPs, so always write with your visitors in mind. Find out more about how to avoid the pitfalls of Search Engine Optimisation.
3. Paint a picture. Make things interesting for your readers. They don’t have to read your articles – there are hundreds of thousands of other blogs they could be reading! – so make it enjoyable for them. Use imagery, write in a way they’d speak, do something that’ll catch their attention. Be different.
4. Don’t be pretentious. Don’t call a banana a yellow elongated fruit – it’s a banana. It’s not a transportive automobile, it’s a car. And it’s not a rodent belonging to the subfamily Cricetinae – it’s a bloomin’ hamster!
5. Don’t post straight away, Hannah. Always leave your writing for a bit before you edit it, and always edit before you publish. It’s surprising how often you find an erorr error after you’ve come back to check your work. Ideally you’ll have someone else to check it for you, but we know that’s not always possible. So the next best thing is to go away, have a cup of tea and do something else, then come back and re-read what you’ve written. You might find a glairing mitaske.


Get social and share, share, share!

Once you’ve written your blog posts and created information pages on your website, Hannah, it’s time to share them with the world.

A big part of inbound marketing revolves around social media. Since successful inbound marketing is all about creating remarkable content, and social media allows you to share that information with people who will find it interesting and valuable, the two go hand-in-hand. Make sure you’ve set Hannah’s Hamsters up on Twitter and Facebook and get started. In fact, Instagram might be useful for you too, Hannah – I’m sure you have hundreds of cute photos to post. They’ll go down well.


Conversion: from visitor to lead

Once people start visiting your website to read your remarkable articles, the next stage of the process is to get them to ‘convert’ – i.e. to complete whatever task it is that will take them through the marketing funnel to the next stage.

Most of the time, a strategically-placed Call-to-Action is enough to achieve this, providing the information you offered your readers was valuable enough.

CTAs can take the form of sign-up buttons, ‘Buy now’ buttons, surveys, contact forms, ‘Attend webinar’ or ‘Add to basket’ clickables.

One way of moving customers through the funnel is to give them just enough to keep them wanting more. For instance, Hannah, you could write about the hamster reproductive cycle, from maturation to mating to pregnancy, but put ‘birth’ and ‘caring for baby hamsters’ behind a CTA – so if your readers want to learn more, they’ll need to input their name and email address into a form in order to unlock the rest of the article.

Contact details are often seen as the holy grail of inbound marketing – apart from a direct sale, of course. Securing someone’s email address on your database is a bit like squeezing sand until it turns into a diamond. It’s often tricky, and sometimes the sand will just slip through your fingers no matter how hard you try to keep it in your palm, but when it works you’re left with something very valuable: a lead. Hurrah!


Nurture your leads like you would care for your favourite hamster

OEOJM50You’re on the right track now, Hannah – you’ve attracted the right people to your website, you’re increasingly being viewed as an authority on all things hamster,

you’ve converted some leads and have got visitors coming back for more. What’s next? Well, you now need to make some money by transforming those leads to customers!

At this stage in the process, you’ll need to try to stay at the forefront of your potential customers’ minds. An email here, a Tweet there, and a funny photo posted to Facebook will remind your leads of who you are and what you offer – so that when they’re eventually ready to make a purchase, they’ll go straight to Hannah’s Hamsters to do it.

Emailing your leads can be a great way of keeping in touch and nurturing them to become fully-fledged customers. Don’t bombard them with daily emails, but once a week or every fortnight, send out an email to a) remind them who you are, what you can do for them and how you can solve all their hamster needs, and b) offer them some kind of treat.

By offering a treat – a discount, a limited-edition hamster ball gown, or a free eBook download on How to stop mummy hamsters eating their babies – you reaffirm your place within the market not only as an expert, but as someone who cares about your customers. They’ll feel valued to receive a 20% discount or a free download that’s not available elsewhere.

Making your leads feel special will keep them moving on down the marketing funnel. Emails also help to recapture any of those leads who have fallen out of the little holes in the sides of the funnel. Without email newsletters, these people would be lost forever – they’ll forget all about Hannah and her hamsters, I’m afraid. But an email here and there will reignite their interest, spark an, “Ooh, I remember Hannah…” moment and plop them back into the funnel with all the other lovely leads, ready for more nurturing.

Effectively, Hannah, you want to duct tape up all the holes in the funnel – apart from the all-important one at the bottom, of course!


Delight your customers

Once you’ve got people buying from you, Hannah, you want to keep them happy and coming back again and again. There’s something amazing that happens with repeat customers: when they return, they often bring new customers with them!

There are a few ways you can make your customers happy and secure return business, like offering discounts and free downloads in emails. But emails aren’t the only way to communicate with your customers.

If you really want to make your customers feel valued, ask them for their opinion. Surveys can answer a whole host of questions you might have been asking yourself, Hannah, like:
• do my customers really care about the average length of a hamster’s tail, or should I stop measuring each and every one?
• would my customers be interested in reading about my new technique for administering hammy medication?
• is it worth setting up a members’-only section on my website so customers can chat about their hamster addiction?
• are my step-by-step DIY Hallowe’en costume ideas too complicated?

You won’t know the answers to these questions unless you ask, Hannah. Asking for feedback and asking your customers what they think is important is a surefire way to make them feel special and valued.

Stay social
It’s not only the leads and potential customers you need to befriend on social media. Nurturing the relationship you have with existing customers is vital. Think of it this way, Hannah; how would you expect to be treated by a company if you just spent you hard-earned cash with them? Would you like to be treated affectionately and compassionately, or ignored? If you had a question about a product, would you expect it to be answered? What if something went wrong – how would you expect to be treated?

Keeping on top of social monitoring will also alert you to any potential storms a’brewing. You’ll be able to see when things are about to implode and do some damage limitation before it happens – in your case, Hannah, let’s imagine that unfortunately the latest five hamster feed bags you sold were infested with maggots. Some customers wouldn’t call your customer service number, but would jump on Twitter to express their anger and dismay. If you’re monitoring your social channels properly, Hannah, you should pick up on this problem straight away, get in touch with the complainer and issue an urgent recall on all affected bags of food – doing this you’ll be able to stay on your customers’ good side. If you didn’t check your Twitter, you might not know about Maggotgate until it’s far too late and those few customers with manky maggot-filled food bags have put off the entire Twittersphere from ever buying from Hannah’s Hamsters again! Gulp.

To conclude…

Hannah, you should now know the steps you need to take to improve your inbound marketing. Hopefully you now see just what opportunities lie ahead – there’s a whole lot more to marketing these days than putting an advert up on a bus-stop or paying Google to bump your website to the top of the page.

The best inbound marketing is the kind that doesn’t feel like marketing to the consumer. If you do it right, your customers don’t realise they’re being ‘marketed at’. To them, they’re taking advantage of the wealth of hamster information on your website. They’re learning and enjoying themselves.

And when they do need to buy any hamster-related memorabilia, guess who’ll pop into their head first?

That’s right. Hannah’s Hamsters. Huzzah!

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Author Chris Painter

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