How to Build a Smart Inbound Marketing Strategy

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Marketers the world over know how important inbound marketing has become over the last few years. Cold calling and purchasing leads just doesn’t cut it anymore, at least, not in the ecommerce world or its sister industries. But before we delve into how to build a rock solid inbound marketing strategy, first let’s discuss how to put together a savvy overall marketing plan.

Marketing is about as important to small businesses (or any size business really) as water is to grass. That is, if you don’t water the grass, it simply will not grow. It’s the same with your business. You may break even or make a small profit, but if you don’t market your business, it just won’t grow.

What do you need for a decent marketing plan? Three things: a budget, resources, and reporting measures. What else? If you’re serious about marketing, which I hope you are, you’ll also need to hire a loyal marketing professional.

Read on and get the scoop on how to focus your marketing efforts in the inbound realm.

In & Out of Inbound Marketing

The best thing about inbound marketing is that there are many, many ways to go about it. From email marketing to content curation, SEO (search engine optimization) to social media marketing, there are so many ways to pursue inbound marketing that the list could literally go on forever.

Now, that may seem a bit overwhelming to you, but don’t worry! Just because there are a zillion ways to market your business from an inbound standpoint doesn’t mean you should try to tackle every single one of them.

So, take a deep breath, and start thinking about what kind of inbound marketing tactics will work best for your business.

To help you in your quest for business growth and success, the following steps will give you a hand in mapping out and implementing the best possible inbound marketing plan for your business.

Build a Marketing Foundation

  1. Create a keyword list. You don’t necessarily have to use something like the Google AdWords Keyword Planner to do this, however, it is certainly recommended that you use some kind of keyword tool to gain additional insight into which keywords and phrases related to your business give you the most ‘SEO juice.’ Start by sitting down and brainstorming. Use logic. You know your business and what it does inside and out, so develop your keyword list first by thinking along those lines.
  2. Figure out EXACTLY who your buyers are. Knowing who your buyers and potential customers are is the first step toward marketing to them. Can you imagine trying to sell web design services using cat memes? But a cat food manufacturer might see drastically different results with the same concept. At the end of the day, it’s about knowing how your target market feels, thinks, and operates. You need to know what makes them tick. Try creating a buyer persona, i.e., a fictional character that represents your ideal customer.
  3. Identify your marketing goals. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they set up an inbound marketing strategy is that they forget to set goals. How is this possible? Well, when you’re new to the game, it might make sense that you just want to ‘see what happens’ with your strategy and evaluate it from there. But how will you evaluate what works and what doesn’t if you don’t set specific, measurable goals? It’s about figuring out where you’re at and consistently making sure you’re moving forward.
  4. Narrow down a content strategy. Don’t just give this step lip service. Do your research, and decide which types of content will best serve what you and your business have to offer. If your brand name is popular online, you might want to tackle the many popular social media platforms out there to gain traction. But if your potential customers are more apt to respond to an email than like a Facebook post, start by writing templates and testing versions.
  5. Develop a company blog. Here’s where all the parts start to come together. Take that keyword list you developed back at step 1, keep your target market in mind, along with your goals and content strategy (steps 2-4), and start writing. If you’re not a wordsmith (hey, some people just aren’t!) contract the work out to a web author, preferably someone who already has an online following and is familiar with your industry.

You might be thinking, “I get steps 1-4, but why do I need a blog? What if I’d rather just update social media pages instead of writing an actual article?” That’s a good question. But consider this: you can tell people you’re an expert in your industry, or you can show them.

Trust me; showing them is much more effective.

A blog is not just a space where words live. It’s a place where people go to get to know your company, a space where you can show off your insider industry expertise and prove yourself worthy of those potential customers who do come across it.

Well-written blogs help your website rank higher in search engine results. Blog articles give you something real, that you own, to share on social media. Blogs are one of the core concepts of all online content.

What do you think? Have you created a stellar inbound marketing strategy that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter and start a conversation!

Image courtesy of Flickr user Stefan Erschwendner.

Do It Yourself Web Design Done Right

 

Building a website on your own can be a daunting task to say the least. Many people have tried, and, where some Do it Yourself Webfind success through hard work and perseverance, others fail in the face of confusion and web jargon. Terms like SEO, CMS, HTML, web domains and hosting services can make green small business owners and other do-it-yourselfers red in the face before they’ve even thought about launching.

Well, rest easy, because we’re here to simplifying things as much as we can. DIY web design isn’t nearly as difficult as it used to be in years past. Why’s that?

It’s simple. These days, you need only do a little research, find yourself a trustworthy free website builder, and viola! You’ll be well on your way to designing your own website before you know it.

The best part? You won’t have to spend one red cent!

Why Build a Website From Scratch?

Ultimately, the reason for building a website will vary greatly from person to person. Some people simply want a public place to house their blog articles or pictures, while some are looking to launch an entire ecommerce web store.

There are DIYers out there who just want to make it easy for people to RSVP to their life event (think wedding, golden birthday, etc.), and some are merely looking to create an online portfolio of their work.

Needless to say, the amount of work you will need to put into building your website in the beginning will depend heavily on the reason you have decided to build it in the first place.

But regardless of what exactly you intend to do with your website once it’s built, here are the hard facts about how to do it right.

The RIGHT Way to Build Your Own Website

  • First things first. Start thinking about your domain name (the URL you want to use for your site). Depending on which website builder you choose to use (there are many out there) you may not have to worry about a domain name until a bit later in the process. But be careful! Some domains are more expensive than others. Note: this should be the only part of the process you will have to pay for.
  • If you’re smart and you’re looking for an attractive but relatively simple website, you should look around to find a web builder that provides free hosting services. They’re out there, and they’re great. Just imagine, working with only one company for all your different website needs. Sounds too good to be true—except, it’s not!
  • Now we get down to the good stuff: web design. This is where many DIYers tend to get a bit frustrated, and understandably so. If you’re looking at it from a freelance writer’s standpoint, for example, designing a website may seem akin to translating a book into a language you’ve never heard of. Picking colors and shapes is no problem, but making that come to life online? Um. Help. PLEASE. Make sure you find a website builder with a good selection of unique and beautiful web design templates that you can choose from. That way, you can pick one that suits you perfectly.
  • I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it,” right? WRONG! Not in terms of your website editor. When it comes to editing your own website, the easier the better—TRUST ME. Choose a website editor that’s simple to use and gets you the results you want.
  • Whether you’re familiar with reputable SEO practices or not, finding a website builder that incorporates the latest web technology while also helping you implement appropriate SEO tactics with your website is a must-have in today’s day and age.

Consider Your Audience

Another important thing to consider with DIY website building is whether you want a site that reads like an infographic (one long page that provides all the information up front) or whether you’d rather build a site that has multiple pages dedicated to different features.

Obviously, you’ll need to ask yourself whether what you’re building your site for requires more than one page. An ecommerce website, for example, would never be able to get away with only one page to house the content, products, blog, and everything else that comes with that.

But, you’ll also need to consider the customer, your friends or relatives, or your potential clients: whoever your target audience is who you want to visit your site. Will they want to read one long text-filled page of information in order to figure out who you are?

Or, would they rather see images that relate your brand’s story? Perhaps a little of column A AND a little of column B will work best for you. However, you’ll never know until you get started.

Image courtesy of Flickr user SEOPlanter.

The Dark Side of SEO

It seems the confusion over acceptable SEO (search engine optimization) practices continues to rage on. The battlefield is the Internet, and the prisoners of war are the writers, marketers and publishers who are trying to produce high quality content and figure out the best way to deliver that to the people (we KNOW you’re out there, somewhere!) who want to read it.

But, thanks to Google’s many and ongoing algorithm updates, it’s not going to get any easier any time soon. So, we hunker down, do our homework, decipher the latest bits of SEO advice and continue moving forward, the best we know how.

One of the latest points of contention over what’s acceptable and not acceptable as far as SEO best practices has to do with article directories (also known as content farms or syndication sites, though one does not necessarily imply the other).

Here, we will discuss why article directories and syndication sites have grown to acquire a pretty bad reputation in the world of SEO, and whether or not you’ll suffer when and if you decide to use one.

Article Directories and Link Building

Once upon a time, the SEO industry was a place where you could write up one little article (about 400 words), include a link back to your website, submit that article to any number of article directories, and sit back and wait and hope that others will find the article and then publish it on their own sites for content. Well, to put it bluntly (and most SEO know-hows already know this) those days are gone. Long gone.

Because of duplicate content filters and link penalties from Google, most web developers have given up on article directories, and that’s for good reason.

However, there’s something to be said for the article directories that are still around, soliciting fresh content, as well as the syndication sites who continue to republish content, some of which really IS good.

As with many things complex, the devil lies in the details. First off, all article directories are not syndication sites, however, all syndication sites ARE article directories.

Once you wrap your head around that, you can start to realize this: all article directories are certainly not created equal.

Separate and NOT Equal

Just like any other website, company, or software, article directories and syndication sites can be really good, or they can be really bad. Most fall somewhere in between.

The point here is that when you look at HUGE (and arguably successful) article directories like Ezine Articles, you might think to yourself, “How could publishing an article here result in me receiving a penalty from Google?” Well, it can, and let me explain just how.

It’s not that uploading one unique article to one article directory will necessarily earn you a negative ding. But rather, uploading the SAME article to MANY different places will certainly earn you a bad reputation (duplicate content), just like if you syndicated the same article to many different websites (also duplicate content) in order to spread that content with a link back to your company all over the web.

That is how BAD link building works, and Google will penalize your website for it.

So, make sure you pay attention to the quality of the article directories and syndication sites you’re interested in working with. Those who are spraying spammy content all over the web are the ones who are giving everyone else a bad name. However, there ARE reputable sites out there who publish high quality content. Business2Community is one of them (and I happen to contribute to it).

Just keep in mind that most are a mixed bag, as that is the nature with sites that are eager for content and so, must be low with their standards.

Black vs. White Hat SEO

Syndicating your content over the web is a big time double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to get your name out there, as well as your website’s name, and you want links out there over the web that point back to your site to help you gain traffic. That’s all perfectly understandable.

But—BEWARE of unethical SEO practices, logically dubbed “black hat SEO.” These types of practices will bring you nothing but frustration in the long run, likely earning you a dreaded Google penalty for your website (like I mentioned earlier).

Staying away from black hat SEO means staying away from syndication sites that will syndicate your content in places it doesn’t belong, as well as you posting your own content in places it doesn’t belong. If you’re writing about small business advice, you shouldn’t be posting to sites about gardening (for example).

One way to get around the negative duplicate content ding, while still syndicating your high quality content to get your name out there is to use the canonical tag.

While the canonical tag is designed in many ways for e-commerce sites who MUST have duplicate content on their sites for high usability, it can also be used for syndicated content. Once you add a canonical tag to your content, that page will not be indexed, and thus, it fixes the issue of Google finding the duplicate content and penalizing you for it.

In addition, this will help the page with the original content gain higher ranking, which, in reality, is the way it should be. Image courtesy of Flickr user del mich.

Kelly Lucia is a first-hand contributor at ChamberofCommerce.com and PostsbyGhost.com. When she’s not writing high-quality content in the form of blog articles and strategic website copy, she can be found working on SEO projects for large-scale Chicago clients, composing clever tweets and Facebook status updates, and even proofreading part-time for local advertising agencies.