The marketing landscape is an ever-changing space. With society becoming increasingly more connected by the day, many of the tried-and-true methods of traditional advertising are falling by the wayside while new methods are falling into favor.

Over the past five years, many successful digital marketers have shifted their strategies from campaign-based interruption marketing toward a closed-loop marketing strategy that focuses on drawing interested customers in and creating lasting relationships. That closed-loop strategy is more commonly referred to as inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing, a term coined by Hubspot’s Brian Halligan in 2005, refers to the methodology of using social media, blog posts, podcasts, e-newsletters, SEO and other forms of content marketing to draw customers into your brand, rather than interrupting customers’ daily lives with cold calls, spam, and traditional advertisements.

As we transition even further into the digital age, inbound marketing strategies are proving to be more and more successful. In 2013, 60% of companies incorporated at least one inbound marketing strategy into their overall marketing strategy.

The most successful way of drawing in potential customers has been through creating engaging and useful content for company websites and social media accounts. In the world of digital marketing, the adage has become “content is king”. However, according to the Hubspot’s 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Report, only 18% of marketers were purely focused on developing quality content in 2013.

I know what you’re thinking- another content marketing blog post from a digital marketing firm.  Keep reading, I promise there’s more to it than that.

So is content important or is it just a misnomer? Well…it’s both.

Content marketing, as a whole, is a term any abecedarian marketer can throw around in order to attempt to establish legitimacy. Because, let’s face it, it sounds important. It’s not hard to imagine an uber-important CEO slamming his fist on a conference table in a room full of investors and yelling “Content! We need more content!”

In the realm of inbound marketing, content isn’t just king. It’s queen, jack, Prince, Madonna, Cher… you get the point – it’s important. It’s so important, in fact, that 10% of companies now employ at least one dedicated content marketer while 9% of companies employ either a full-time SEO expert or blog lead.  When it comes to marketing your brand and increasing leads, developing content is one of the most successful weapons in a digital marketer’s arsenal.

However, anyone can sit down and halfheartedly write a blog post or compose a tweet simply for the sake of creating content. But if that content isn’t relevant to what your company does or doesn’t have a strong call to action leading them to your company’s services, that content actually does very little.

The equation isn’t just creating content = increased sales. Content is important, yes. But it’s more of a sub-service that gently directs potential customers toward your company. Instead of focusing solely on developing content, try shifting your marketing strategies to more closely align with the overall inbound marketing view. After all, inbound marketing strategies have been proven to raise conversion rates. In 2013, the average website conversion rate of inbound marketers was 12%, exactly double that of non-inbound marketers.

In the following article, I’ll lay out the three main tenets of inbound marketing and ways you can implement these practices with your company.

Step #1- Bring the traffic in

The ultimate goal in any marketing strategy is to bring in traffic. In the basest of rationalities, more traffic is equal to higher sales. Inbound marketing tactics differ, however, in their implementation. Instead of canvassing the internet and passing out flyers for your services through spam emails and advertisements, you’re spending time drawing in customers who are searching for things related to your company. So, how exactly do we do this? Through developing relationships with customers through social media, creating strong content on-site to improve search rankings and providing existing customers with information and updates via email marketing campaigns.

Make sure your site works

Ensuring that your website is clean and functional is a very important aspect of inbound marketing as a bad website can wreak havoc on your sales figures.

Visitors to a website are often fickle and any number of things can cause them to navigate away from your site. According to Chartbeat’s Tony Haile, the majority of visitors spend a mere 15 seconds on a site before navigating away. A confusing layout and an exorbitant amount of ads can be only some of the causes behind a high bounce rate.

Hooking customers by presenting them with a captivating website is important, but it’s also important to spend time ensuring that your site functions properly, as well. Having a site with cool features and nice pictures means nothing if none of the navigation links work. Here are some web design tips for your site to ensure that customers don’t turn away in disgust.

Links are good

Regardless of the changes to Google’s search algorithm, links are still of paramount importance when it comes to improving your site’s rank. As shown in Moz’s 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors, links are still the core of Google’s search algorithm.

From directory submissions to blog articles shared across social media, there are many ways to build links. One thing to keep in mind when link building, however, is the quality of the links, as one high-quality link to your site can be worth more than 10 low-quality links. Blog posts may not be the quickest way to build links, but they tend to result in more high-quality links than other practices, which brings me to my next point:

Blog it up

Blogs are a very good way to bring in traffic and generates links to your site. On average, blogs give websites 434% more indexed pages and 97% more indexed links. Further, companies that post on average 15 blog posts a month get five times as much traffic as those that don’t.

Blogging takes up very little resources (other than time, of course) and has been proven to improve your site’s search rankings.

In the next section, you’ll find out how to ensure your blog posts bring in the most traffic possible.

Sharing is caring

Blogging is not a “set it and forget it” venture. Writing the post is only half of the battle – the other half is sharing the post. Take advantage of social media to get the word out to your fans, family and friends. Although Facebook’s organic reach has been declining recently, that doesn’t mean that you should avoid sharing on the social network site altogether. In fact, post engagement showed an increase through the fourth quarter of 2013.

Spread the love across all social platforms, including Twitter, Google+, Triberr, BizSugar and LinkedIn.

Before we start sharing your posts to the world, however, it’s important to step back and review your content.

Step #2- Make them happy

Now that you’ve ensured your site is optimized and you’ve begun to bring in traffic, you can really focus on making your potential customers happy. Here is where we focus on content. This step in the process is where you convert prospects into customers.

Solve your prospect’s problems rather than sell them your product

One of the key tenets of inbound marketing is shifting the focus away from selling and toward helping the customer. Of course, the end game for any business to increase sales, but that doesn’t mean you have to include a link to your Ecommerce site in every paragraph of your blog articles.

“People don’t like being sold to, but they love to buy,” is an old adage that draws attention to the differences between sales and marketing.  Overly enthusiastic car salesmen tend to have the lowest sales percentages, according to a survey run by me as I currently shop for a new car. Your content isn’t the place to hammer in your products or services as often as possible. As we discussed before, it’s there to provide them a sub-service. It’s how you get your foot in the door.

If you have to, think of your content as a soft sell. People aren’t necessarily looking for your company’s services when they read your article, watch your video or check out your infographic. They’re just looking for information, entertainment or, in some cases, to plagiarize your work. So give them what they want, and they’ll be more inclined to see what else you offer.

Content should be unique, relevant, and useful – because, duh

Turning out 10-15 blog posts a month that say nothing other than “This is who we are, this is what we do, here’s an semi-relevant statistic, here is what we do again” isn’t helpful to you and it certainly isn’t useful for readers.

Your content should be relevant and provide a purpose. It should pique the reader’s interest and make them want to research your company further. The goal isn’t just to attract potential prospects. The goal is to convert those prospects into customers and to cultivate that relationship by providing them with useful, delightful content in the future.

Don’t get friendzoned

This is the tipping point in the inbound marketing funnel. You’ve drawn in the customers with engaging content, now you have to convert. Here’s where you draw the risk of getting friend-zoned.

Being friend-zoned is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the customer saying “I like you, you’re good to me, but we have no future together.” Don’t get friend-zoned by the customer. If you come across too needy and try to sell your product at every opportunity, the customer is going to dial back interest and ultimately navigate away from your site. However, if your posts don’t have some semblance of a CTA in them, customers will just move on and your conversion percentages will take a beating.

Find that balance between pushy and pushover and make it work for you.

Step #3- Keep them coming back

The hard part is done. You’ve optimized your site, you’ve developed captivating content, you’ve converted a lead into a sale. You’re done now, right? Wrong. If you’ve ever taken any sort of business course, you’ve likely heard that it costs five times as much to bring in a new customer as it does to retain one. Whether or not this statement holds any validity in today’s digital marketplace is immaterial, turning a one-time customer into a returning customer is always a good thing.

Don’t be afraid to have personality

Develop a persona for your brand. Social media is making brands more transparent by the day, and developing a unique voice will not only draw consumers in, but it will keep them coming back. 78% of small businesses attract new customers through social media, while 61% of consumers say they feel better about a company that delivers custom content and are also more likely to buy from that company.

In a sense, it’s like picking friends. While having that one boring, one-dimensional friend can have its advantages, many people tend to gravitate towards people with personality. Your brand shouldn’t be any different.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Inbound marketing is nothing without measurement. Everything you’ve done up until this point will be all for naught if you don’t know why, or even if, it works.

The good thing about the digital age is that there are a plethora of analytical tools available to gauge every measurable statistic imaginable. Website analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Clicky can show you how visitors find your site, how long they stay there and what causes them to leave.

Finding out what customers like and what they don’t allows you to tweak your approach in order to provide them with the most enjoyable experience possible and this helps ensure that they come back for future purchases.

Now, you may be sitting there thinking, “Alright, maybe I need some help.” Implementing these steps takes a lot longer than reading (and writing) this blog post did and maybe you just don’t have the time. Maybe you started running Google Analytics on your site and you have absolutely no idea what you’re looking at. Maybe you started building links and you saw your search rankings drop instead of rise.

That’s where digital marketing firms like Command Partners come in. In 2012, 62% of companies outsourced their content marketing, so you’re certainly not alone in reaching out.

Our team of SEO experts can help optimize your website to ensure you’re getting first-page search results while our social media gurus can create branded social media accounts and drive engagement with your followers, helping increase the traffic coming to your site.