An Epic Guide to Creating an Inbound Marketing Strategy Including advice from more than 20 industry experts

This comprehensive 15,000+ word guide will help you create an inbound marketing strategy that will seriously crush the competition.

When you break it down into these twelve easy steps, creating an inbound marketing strategy is actually quite simple.

Investing the time up front to complete this initial strategy development work will help you better understand how to attract more qualified traffic, convert more leads, and efficiently close customers.

So, before you dive right in and start haphazardly attempting inbound marketing, spend some time reviewing this 12 step inbound marketing strategy development process.

This 12-Step Guide To Creating an Inbound Marketing Strategy Includes:

Before You Begin...

For easy reference, download a free copy of this Inbound Marketing Strategy Development Checklist.

How to Evaluate Your Baseline Sales & Marketing KPIs

1. Evaluating Your Baseline Sales and Marketing KPIs

Kula Graph Icon

Measuring your current baseline sales and marketing performance is the first step towards creating a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy.

Understanding how you are doing right now will help you identify key areas for improvement, and focus on the inbound marketing tactics which will provide the biggest return on investment.

So, where should you begin?

Inbound marketing is likely just one aspect of your overarching business strategy. With that said, it is important to understand how marketing contributes to your business overall.

Rather than focusing on marketing metrics like page visitors, clicks, or followers, you should base your evaluation on business metrics like leads, customers, return on investment, and revenue.

I think the best marketing metrics look at the total cost of marketing, including program spend, salaries of the team, and overhead, and relate that cost to the results you care about -- revenue and customer acquisition.

Other metrics like cost per lead, cost per follower, or cost per page view can be useful to look at within a marketing team, because they can help you make decisions about where to focus and what parts of your marketing process are broken; but most CEOs really just care about the cost and the net results, not the interim steps.

  • Mike Volpe
  • Former CMO
  • HubSpot
Mike Volpe Image

Throughout this 12 step inbound marketing strategy development process, you will notice that we'll mostly be focusing on business metrics rather than marketing type metrics. Creating a strategy that is very results-focused will help you keep your eyes on the prize—more customers, more revenue.

There are, essentially, three core areas of sales and marketing performance that are important to measure and consider as you're creating an inbound marketing strategy:

  1. Traffic attraction & conversion

    How many people are you currently attracting to your website, and how many of those people convert into leads?

  2. Sales funnel efficiency & velocity

    How effective are you at nurturing leads into paying customers? How long is your typical sales cycle?

  3. Customer acquisition & retention

    How cost effective are you at generating new customers? How long does it take for a new customers to become profitable? How often do your customers make repeat purchases?

If you can gain a clear understanding of how you are performing in each of these areas, your inbound marketing strategy will be off to a great start.

Let's begin by taking a look at how you're performing with traffic attraction and conversion.

Traffic Attraction and Conversion

To get started, HubSpot's Marketing Grader tool is an easy way to check the performance of your website from an inbound perspective.

This free assessment tool scans your website and gives it a score based on a number of criteria, including whether or not it is mobile friendly, the frequency of blog posts, the use of title tags and meta descriptions, social media integration, the number of landing pages, and other important metrics.

You can give it a try for free right now if you haven't already done so.

While HubSpot's marketing grader is definitely a good place to start, a free automated tool can only tell you so much. You will need to dive deeper into your analytics to get a real sense of how your website and inbound marketing efforts are working.

As you examine the performance of your current website and inbound marketing efforts, you should be paying attention to a number of things. Primarily, you need to understand how many people you are attracting to your content, the conversion rate of traffic into leads, and your ability to nurture those leads into paying customers.

Here are the six baseline traffic attraction and conversion metrics you should measure:

  1. How many unique website visitors are you attracting each month?

    Unique visitors refers to the number of distinct individuals requesting pages from the website during a given period, regardless of how often they visit. While solely focusing on this one metric can be misleading, it is definitely important to understand how many people are coming to your site.

    In HubSpot, you can view the sources report and select the time period you'd like to report on.

    Sources Report Screenshot

    Alternatively, if you aren't using HubSpot, you can use the Google Analytics traffic report.

  2. What's your website's traffic-to-lead conversion rate?

    A conversion is essentially when a visitor to your website takes an action that you want them to take. Depending on your business model and the goals of your website, a conversion could be signing up for an email newsletter, creating an account, making a purchase, downloading a whitepaper, or something else entirely.

    To calculate your conversion rate, you divide the total number of conversions by the number of visitors to your site. For example, a site with 1000 visitors and ten conversions has a conversion rate of 1%.

    Hubspot Dashboard Screenshot

    In HubSpot, there are a number of places you can check your conversion rate. First of all, your website conversions are reported in aggregate on the HubSpot dashboard. If you want to get a more granular report on which pages are performing best, you can refer to the sources report and/or the landing page analytics dashboard.

    If you aren't using HubSpot, you can set up conversion tracking in Google Analytics. If you haven't done so already, this post by Glen Gabe is a great place to start - A Beginners Guide to Conversion Goals in Google Analytics.

  3. What are the sources of your website traffic?

    In addition to measuring traffic and conversions, you should also understand the sources of your website traffic and leads. How are people finding you? Is there one channel that is driving the majority of traffic? Does a certain source of traffic convert into customers at a higher rate?

    These are the types of insights that a Sources Report will help you uncover.As shown in the example below, sources reports typically break down your traffic into buckets, including:

    • Organic traffic
    • Paid traffic
    • Referrals
    • Social
    • Email
    • Direct
    • Other
    Source Screenshot

    Depending on which analytics software you're using, traffic sources may be bucketed slightly differently—but these definitions are fairly common across most tools you'll encounter.

    In HubSpot, this functionality is quite literally titled the sources report. In Google Analytics, you can use the Acquisition reporting features to gain similar insights.

  4. How many opt-in email subscribers do you have?

    As an inbound marketing agency, we've encountered email lists of all shapes and sizes. Some email lists are great. Others are, unfortunately, awful. If one thing's for sure, it's that not all email lists are created equally.

    If you read the HubSpot blog, you may recall that we've written about the dangers of purchasing email lists in the past. Purchased email lists might have worked for you before, but that stuff won't cut it these days. You need to be focused on building your inbound opt-in email list.Forget about your massive list of junk leads for a moment. How many people do you have on your email list who have truly opted-in?

  5. How engaged are your email subscribers?

    Even if you have a decent sized opt-in email list, if the subscribers aren't used to hearing from you it can be hard to regain their attention.

    To determine the engagement of your email subscribers, you will want to consider the frequency of communications that are sent to the list, the deliverability of those emails, and how many people actually open and click on your call-to-action.

    Email Screenshot

    In HubSpot, you can easily review your email list performance within the email analytics dashboard. Similar reporting capabilities are available if you are using Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or most other email marketing service providers.

  6. How much revenue is being generated from inbound sources?

    The ultimate metric to gauge the of the effectiveness of your inbound marketing strategy is, simply, return on investment. Are you getting more money out of inbound marketing than you are putting in?

    Many inbound marketing software platforms, including HubSpot, now offer CRM integration. With your marketing software linked directly to your CRM, it is possible to measure the impact of each channel, campaign, and piece of content on the bottom line.As we will cover in more detail in Chapter 8: Implementing Closed-Loop Sales and Marketing Software, if you aren't using the new HubSpot CRM there are native HubSpot integrations available for a number of popular CRM platforms including Salesforce, SugarCRM, Zoho, Netsuite, Pipedrive and Base.

Let's now consider a few key metrics directly related to the performance of your sales funnel.

If you are able to understand how your sales funnel is currently performing, you can then begin to clearly articulate how inbound marketing will improve the flow of leads and customers. You can also accurately project the impact it will have on the bottom line.

While developing your inbound marketing strategy, you will want to make sure you are always measuring and explaining your plan in metrics such as leads, customers and revenue. After all, in order to implement your inbound marketing strategy, you'll likely need to seek budget approval from your CFO (and maybe even your CEO).

Here are a few of the sales funnel related KPIs you should measure and incorporate into your inbound marketing strategy:

  • How many leads are you currently working each month?
  • Where are these leads coming from?
  • What are your lead to customer conversion rates?
  • How long is your typical sales cycle?
  • How many new customers are you attracting each month?

Lastly, let's examine how efficient you are in terms of customer acquisition and retention.

  • What is your cost of customer acquisition?
  • What is the average value of a sale?
  • What is your customer lifetime value?
  • What is your customer retention rate?

Key Takeaways

  • The first step towards creating a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy is understanding how your current sales and marketing efforts are performing.
  • There are three area of sales and marketing performance that you should consider:
    1. Traffic attraction & conversion
    2. Sales funnel efficiency & velocity
    3. Customer acquisition & retention
  • Once you understand your baseline performance metrics, you can then begin to identify key areas for improvement.


3 More Educational Resources About Inbound Marketing KPIs—Our Top Picks From Around the Web

Creating Actionable Buyer Personas

2. Creating Actionable Buyer Personas

Creating detailed buyer personas is a critical step toward creating a successful inbound marketing strategy.

Well defined personas will be instrumental in helping you identify the best ways to attract targeted traffic, convert high quality leads, and effectively nurture those leads into paying customers.

What exactly is a buyer persona?

If you aren't familiar with exactly what a buyer persona is and why they are so important, here is a quick definition:

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.

When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better.

Buyer personas provide tremendous structure and insight for your company. A detailed buyer persona will help you determine where to focus your time, guide product development, and allow for alignment across the organization. As a result, you will be able to attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers to your business.

These are a few examples of Buyer Personas:

Marketing Mary - A B2B buyer of marketing software.
Operations Manager Fred - a buyer of facility maintenance equipment
B2B Buyer Software
Operations Manager Fred

As you will learn, the key to creating detailed buyer personas is asking the right questions to the right people, and presenting your findings in a helpful way.

Nick Salvatoriello, Principal Inbound Professor at HubSpot, further explains why creating buyer personas is such a crucial step in creating an inbound marketing strategy.

Before you ever start publishing or even writing website content and blog posts, you should identify exactly which target prospects you are speaking to. Selecting a target buyer persona for each piece of content is crucial to delivering valuable content and associated offers that ultimately influence lead conversions.

  • Nick Salvatoriello
  • Principal Inbound Professor
  • Hubspot
Nick Salvatoriello

A lot of beginner inbound marketers skip this step and jump right into content creation or campaign development. In fact, only 44% of marketers in a recent study by ITSMA claimed to be using buyer personas at all.

You know what's even worse?

Of those organizations that have created personas, only 15% said they are were using them effectively!

Here's the thing—the problem isn't that buyer personas themselves aren't useful, it's that marketers aren't spending enough time conducting proper research.

Adele Revella, CEO of Buyer Persona Institute, recently published an interesting infographic titled "How to Create Insightful & Actionable Buyer Personas".

As Adele discusses,

Many buyer personas lack the breadth and depth of insight that is needed to establish the persona as an authority on the decisions marketers need to make. So nothing changes.

  • Adele Revella
  • CEO
  • Buyer Persona Institute
Adele Revella

So, how do you go about creating your own buyer personas?

Inbound Certification

To get started with creating buyer personas, we suggest taking some time to complete the free HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certification.

This interactive online course will teach you about the various aspects of inbound marketing. Included in the Inbound Certification is over three hours of high quality video content that specifically teaches you how to create and use buyer personas.

As an aside, if you'd like a little more info about the course you can check out this blog post we recently published - 12 Lessons You'll Learn from Taking the Inbound Certification.

Here's How to Create Buyer Personas in Three Easy Steps

There are essentially three ways you can research your buyer personas:

  1. Consult with internal stakeholders.
  2. Leverage your sales & marketing analytics tools.
  3. Conduct interviews with real leads, customers, and even lost deals.

As you conduct persona research, you'll seek to uncover new insights—things like what triggers the buyer's engagement, their barriers to purchasing, or which criteria the buyer uses to evaluate competing solutions. The more of these research methods you use, the more detailed, valuable, and actionable your personas will be.

If you'd like some help getting started with creating Buyer Personas, you can reference this helpful list of 30+ profiling questions. These questions will help you research and define your buyer personas based on their role, company profile, goals, challenges, personal background, and shopping preferences.

Here are 21 Questions to Help You Develop Valuable Buyer Personas

When you've compiled your buyer persona research, the final step is to condense your findings down to a useful format in order to share them with your team. Luckily for you, we've made this buyer persona development template available free of charge for all Kula Partners blog subscribers.

Key Takeaways

  • Buyer Personas are a core component of every successful inbound marketing strategy.
  • The more detail you can include in your personas, the better.
  • The key to creating buyer personas is asking the right questions to the right people.
  • There are three common buyer persona research methods—conducting internal interviews, using sales and marketing analytics data, and interviewing real leads, customers, and even lost deals.


5 Educational Resources About Creating Buyer Personas — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

Mapping Your Persona's Customer Journey

3. Mapping Your Persona's Customer Journey

Once you've created detailed buyer personas, the next step toward creating a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy is to map out your persona's customer journey.

As you are likely quite familiar with, the typical sales and marketing funnel is often generalized to look something like this:

Awareness Funnel

But, in reality, the path to purchase is much less linear—and oftentimes far more complex. This is where customer journey maps come in.

So, what are customer journey maps?


Customer journey maps are an illustration or diagram of all the touchpoints with which your customers come into contact.

More detailed customer journey maps can even include your customers' thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Depending on your business model, product, or service, each of your buyer personas can have distinctly different paths to purchase. No two customer journeys are ever exactly the same.

The goal of the customer journey map is really to get a holistic view of what the customer is going through from their point of view and really what it's like for them on a personal level, that human level.

  • Kerry Bodine
  • Customer Experience Consultant
  • Co-author of "Outside In - The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business"
Kerry Bodine

Why are customer journey maps important for inbound marketing?

As you know, digital has completely transformed customers' purchasing process for just about every product and service. Yet, inbound marketing is often treated as an add-on to an existing sales and marketing model.

Adopting inbound marketing is not a progression—it's a total transformation.

Customer journey maps help highlight where your business is currently failing to meet the needs and expectations of your customers. While the marketing team is usually responsible for creating the customer journey maps, the exercise will impact the entire organization.

Customer journey maps will help your entire organization focus on developing a strategy that is built around serving the customer, rather than selfishly focusing on your own products or services.

Examples of customer journey maps:

Heart of the Customer

(Source: Heart of the Customer)

Rail Europe Customer Journey Map

Rail Europe Customer Journey Map

(Source: Adaptive Path)

eCommerce Customer Journey Map

eCommerce Customer Journey Map

Broadband Customer Journey Map

Broadband Customer Journey Map

(Source: Smashing Magazine)

How to create your own customer journey maps:

In this Moz Whiteboard Friday video, Kerry Bodine explains how to create your own customer journey maps.

Video Screenshot

As Kerry highlights, a journey map is an illustration of all of the steps that a customer goes through as they do business with you over time.

If you think of a typical marketing funnel, most customers begin their customer journey at the top-of-funnel awareness stage. At top-of-funnel, the marketing team likely controls most customer touchpoints—however, at some point in the customer's journey, they will likely communicate with other members of the organization such as sales, shipping, customer support, returns, or warranty claims.

A journey map takes all of these potential customer touch points into consideration, and gives you a holistic look at what it's like for a customer to do business with your organization.

Customer journey maps can help you identify specific events or times to trigger automated emails. These emails can encourage leads to become paying customers, help onboard new customers, encourage repeat purchases, and improve the customer's experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Customer journey maps can help organizations better understand what it is like for a customer to go through entire customer lifecycle.
  • Customer journey maps are most often created by the marketing team, but they can impact every area of the organization.
  • Visualizing all of your customer touch points can uncover untapped opportunities to apply marketing automations to improve the customer experience, drive more sales, repeat purchases, and upgrades.


4 More Educational Resources About Customer Journey Maps — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

Conducting an Inbound Marketing Competitive Analysis

4. Conducting an Inbound Marketing Competitive Analysis

There is nothing sneaky, unethical, or illegal about inbound marketing competitive research. In fact, when it comes to inbound marketing, competitive research can be an incredibly effective way to get a leg up on your competition.

Fortunately for you, there's no need to go digging through your competitor's dumpster to find out what they are up to. These days, there are all kinds of tools specifically designed to help you keep tabs on the competition.

We are going to show you how to take advantage of a number of powerful competitive research tools. These tools will help you dissect your competitor's inbound marketing strategy by analyzing their content, social media, emails, backlinks, and even paid marketing efforts.

Let's get started!

Are your competitors producing content? If so, you should go steal a few tips.

Without a doubt, you've heard that "content is king" and that you need to be publishing content frequently in order to succeed.

There is really no debating that content production is a core component of every inbound marketing strategy. But, here's the thing—there is a little more to the content marketing success formula than most so-called "experts" let on.

You can't simply publish more content more often and expect to see real results. If you actually want to be successful with content marketing, you need to be creating, publishing, and promoting the RIGHT content.

So, how can you tell the right content from the wrong content?

Figuring out which topics and forms of content are working for your competitors is actually a great place to start.

There are two ways to research your competitor's content marketing strategy—manually, or with the help of automated tools.

From a manual perspective, it's always a good idea to begin by going to each of your competitors' websites. While you're there, you can do a quick scan for a few blogging vital signs:

  • Are they blogging? If so, how frequently?
  • What are they writing about?
  • Is their content accurate, in-depth, and valuable to the reader?
  • Does their content tend to get shared on social media?
  • Who is contributing to the content?
  • Is their blog mobile friendly?

Taking things a step further, you can use automated tools like BuzzSumo to get a more data-driven perspective of your competitor's content marketing strategy.

With BuzzSumo, you can enter a topic or a specific competitor and run detailed reports which provide a ton of helpful information.

Buzzmo Screenshot

There are a number of use cases for Buzzsumo, so we will be coming back to this tool quite often.

BuzzSumo has to be the most important tool that I use for my content marketing and SEO campaigns. The ability to quickly identify what content is working well in an industry and who the major influencers are. For me, no tool comes close to providing the kind of insight that BuzzSumo gives.

Matthew Barby

To get some real data on your competitor's content marketing strategy, start by running a Content Analysis report in Buzzsumo. To do this, all you need to do is go to Buzzsumo, click on Reports, then Content Analysis, and enter your competitor's website URLs.

Buzzmo Screenshot Reports

A Buzzsumo Content Analysis will give you all kinds of awesome insight, including:

  • Average shares by network

    This will help you focus on the social networks that generate the most shares and engagement for your industry and content subject matter.

  • Average shares by content type

    This data will show you which formats of content generate the most exposure.

  • Total shares by content length

    This will give you an idea of the content length and level of detail that your personas are reading and sharing most frequently.

  • Total shares by publish date

    This will show you which days tend to be the best to publish content specifically for your industry.

  • Most shared domains by network

    This will show you which domains are publishing content that gets a ton of shares, which can often be a great opportunity for collaborative marketing and/or guest blogging.

  • Top pieces of content for the keyword you enter

    This will show you specifically which existing pieces of content pertaining to your chosen keyword have generated the most shares and links.

  • Popular topics for content related to the keyword you enter

    This will show you other pieces of content related to your keyword that have generated tons of exposure, so you can incorporate those keyword alternatives into your content strategy.

Buzzsmo Dashboard Screenshot

If you are new to Buzzsumo and you really want to dive right into the tool, this introductory tutorial and getting started guide is a great place to start. For a deeper dive on Buzzsumo's Content Analysis reporting features, you can check out this review by Wordstream CEO Larry Kim - Buzzsumo Ups The Ante In Content Analysis.

Have your competitors established a social media following?

After taking an initial look at your competitors' websites (both manually and with the help of Buzzsumo), you will have a general sense of how often their content is being shared on social media.

However, to get a full-fledged understanding of your competitors' social media presence, you will want to dive a bit deeper. Again, a mix of manual research and automated reports will come in handy.

If you haven't done so already, begin by visiting each of your competitors' websites and determining which social media channels they are active on.

Once you have found their social media profiles, you can use a few basic questions to judge their social media prowess:

  • Have they established an audience?
  • Does their audience consist of real and targeted people?
  • Do their posts get much engagement?
  • How often are they posting to various channels?
  • What types of content are they sharing?

A bit of manual research and a little intuition will give you a pretty good idea of how your competitors are doing on social media. However, you will also want to take advantage of some automated social media reporting tools.

If you have access to HubSpot, the Competitors Report will be your first place to turn. Within the Competitors tool, you can quickly and easily see how your social media stats stack up against your competition.

Competitors Dashboard

If you don't have access to HubSpot, or you want to generate an even more detailed social media report, you can give Buzzsumo a try. This tool allows you to:

Buzzsumo Graph

Another really cool thing about Buzzsumo is that you can enter multiple URLs for a single report on multiple domains. This type of search enables you to do an industry-wide search to uncover the most popular content in your industry.

Are your competitors using email marketing effectively?

All things considered, email is one of the most important channels to master. As a recent eConsultancy report highlights, of all marketing channels, email marketing provides one of the highest returns on investment, second only to search engine optimization.

Channel ROI Ratings

If you haven't done so already, you should subscribe to your competitors' email list.

Subscribing to your competitors' email lists can be helpful for a number of reasons. First of all, there's no question that you share lots of database contacts with your competitors. If you are aware of the types of emails that your competitors are sending (and your prospects are receiving), it will help you get inside the mind of your prospects that much more.

Secondly, keeping an eye on your competitors' emails will undoubtedly help you understand the types of content your competitors are producing and promoting, their frequency of publication, and their overall email tone and subject matter.

Lately we've been picking up all kinds of actionable tips from our friend Jimmy Daly over at Vero.

Jimmy recently wrote a killer post titled A Beginner's Guide to Tracking Your Competitors' Email Marketing, Social Media and SEO. In the post, Jimmy suggests that you set up a folder or label in your inbox specifically for receiving competitors' emails. You can then set up a filter so these emails will just skip your inbox. When you want to review your competitors' emails, you can do so without your inbox blowing up on a daily basis.

This post also tipped us off to a nifty app called Email Insights.

Using this tool, you can create automated reports that tell you about your competitors' email frequency, subject line length, and even the time of day emails are sent.

If you are interested in giving Email Insights a try, they offer a free 30-day trial.

Do your competitors' websites have valuable backlinks?

When it comes to link building strategies, Brian Dean is one of the best in the business.

As Brian pointed out in a recent guest blog post over on the Ahrefs blog, if you can get the same backlinks that your competitors have, you're on the fast lane to the top of Google's search results. In the post, Brian outlines four exact steps to find, identify, and land competitors' backlinks.

Let's just quickly go over the Coles Notes version of Brian's process.

The first step is to create a big list of all of the sites that rank for your target keyword and related searches. Some of these sites will be your direct business competitors and some of the sites will be industry related publishers that create content about your niche. In either case, these are your competitors from a keyword ranking perspective.

To gather this list begin by doing a simple Google search for your target keywords and scan through the top 20 to 30 results. Aside from sites like wikipedia, discussion boards, or government sites, jot down all of the sites that come up in the search results. The wider the net you cast, the better. Additionally, you can also check out the "related searches" at the bottom of the Google search results page.

The next step that Brian suggests is filtering out any shady-looking websites. You want to make sure you are generating links for quality sites, not blackhat sites with questionable link profiles. Ahrefs Site Explorer is a great tool for this step.

The third step involves really digging into your competitors' sites to find their most valuable backlinks. Again, the Ahrefs tools will help you programmatically identity a site's backlinks.

In some cases, your competitors may have a business relationship with the linking site. In cases like this it could be difficult to score a backlink if you don't have an existing relationship. In other cases, your competitors may have simply submitted a guest blog post and received a high quality backlink. To do this final link sorting step properly, you may need to do some grunt work and go through their backlinks one-by-one. It may be time consuming, but the results will be worth it.

If you'd like to learn more about Brian's link building process, you can check out his post on the Ahrefs blog titled The Ultimate Guide to Reverse Engineering Your Competitors Backlinks.

How are your competitors attracting website traffic? Is it organic, paid, or a mix of both?

In all seriousness, this next step is pretty much like digital marketing magic—this will blow your mind.

If you want to figure out exactly where your competitors' website traffic is coming from, how much of it is organic vs paid, and even which specific keywords are responsible for driving the most traffic, you need to give SEMrush a try. The tool will automagically scan your competitor's website and completely dissect their sources of website traffic.

SEMrush is very simple to use. All you need to do is enter the URL of the website you'd like to analyze, and the system will essentially do everything else. Once you have entered a competitor's URL, SEMrush will instantly give you an overview of both the organic and paid search performance of the website.

Semrush Screenshot

Additionally, SEMrush will reveal the organic keywords that are driving traffic to your competitors' websites, how much traffic is coming from organic search as a whole, the total number of backlinks, the ranking of each keyword, and even changes in ranking position.

Similarly for paid advertising, you can see the keywords they are targeting, the number of keywords bringing visitors to the site via paid search, the amount of traffic generated through paid ads, and the estimated amount being invested in paid search.

The amount of competitive intelligence you can gain from one simple search in SEMrush is crazy. Even if you spend just five minutes going over a report on your competitor's domain, you are bound to find a few pieces of actionable intel.

Key Takeaways

  • Conducting a competitive analysis can be hugely helpful as you establish your inbound marketing strategy.
  • Evaluating your competitor's existing content will help you understand which content formats, subject matter, and length generated the most exposure.
  • Reverse engineering your competitor's backlinks is one of the best ways to improve your search ranking.


5 Educational Resources About Inbound Marketing Competitive Analysis — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

Setting Proper Sales and Marketing Goals

5. Setting Proper Sales and Marketing Goals

Marketing Goals Graph

In the first step of our inbound marketing strategy development process, Evaluating your baseline sales & marketing performance, we looked at several inbound marketing KPIs.

We discussed how leads, opportunities, and customers flow through your sales funnel. We identified the key customer acquisition and retention metrics, and we examined how your current inbound marketing initiatives are contributing to revenue.

Understanding this baseline performance information is an absolutely critical step toward setting proper marketing goals.

As Shanelle Mullin, Director of Marketing at Onboardly points out:

The key to setting achievable marketing goals is to spend time evaluating your current position.

  • Shanelle Mullin
  • Director of Marketing
  • Onboardly
Shanelle Mullin

We couldn't agree with Shanelle any more. You always need to know how you are doing right now in order to accurately measure your improvements over time.

So, how do you set proper marketing goals?

Just so we're clear, when we talk about marketing goals we aren't necessarily talking about increasing email opens, Twitter followers, or brand awareness.

Your marketing goals should be directly aligned with your overarching business objectives. Marketing goals need to be measured in leads, customers, and—most importantly—revenue.

As a business, what exactly are you working toward? Are you trying to increase the number of customers you attract each month? Are you trying to increase customer lifetime value? Are you trying to reduce customer acquisition costs?

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to setting goals. It depends on a number of things—from the stage of your company to the niche you target and the resources you have at your disposal. For instance, early stage companies typically focus on building reach and engagement; more mature companies that have found their product market fit focus more intensely on metrics related to growth and profitability.

Before you begin to set your marketing goals, make sure that you understand the overarching business objectives for which your organization is aiming.

Always Follow the SMART Marketing Goal Framework

Well-thought-out marketing goals always follow the SMART goal setting framework. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

This article from HubSpot goes into quite a bit of detail about setting SMART goals but, for today, let's just quickly go over each of the components.

  • Specific—Do set real numbers with real deadlines. Don't say, "I want more visitors."
  • Measurable—Do make sure that you can track your goal. Don't hide behind buzzwords like "brand engagement" or "social influence."
  • Attainable—Do work toward a goal that is challenging but possible. Don't try to take over the world in one night.
  • Realistic—Do be honest with yourself, because you know what you and your team are capable of. Don't forget any hurdles you may have to overcome.
  • Timely—Do give yourself a deadline. Don't keep pushing toward a goal you might hit "some day."

This may seem intuitive, however, it's actually very powerful when applied correctly. If you'd like to familiarize yourself with the SMART Marketing Goal framework a bit more, you can grab a free copy of HubSpot's nifty template for setting SMART marketing goals.

Set Ambitious (But Attainable) Marketing Goals

Expectations Vs Reality

Setting ambitious yet attainable goals can be tough. It's always a balancing act between shooting for the stars and identifying realistic expectations.

Set your goals too high, and you will always feel behind.

Set your goals too low, and you'll simply be selling yourself short.

So, where do you begin?

Kathryn Aragon, an award-winning copywriter, digital marketer, and editor of The Daily Egg—Crazy Egg's hugely popular conversion optimization blog—shares her thoughts on how to set marketing goals you can actually achieve:

I always start with my end goal, and work backwards. Where do I ultimately want to be? What do I want to be doing? And why does it matter? Then I evaluate the tasks and skills I'll need to reach that goal and their priority. By deciding what needs to be focused on first, second, etc., I essentially create a road map for reaching the goal I've set. I've found this approach to work for new product launches, start-up businesses, as well as personal goals. The key is to get everyone on board before you start and to clearly map out the milestones that need to be hit as we progress toward the goal.

  • Kathryn Aragon
  • Copywriter, Digital Marketer, Editor
  • The Daily Egg
Kathryn Aragon

Celebrate short term milestones on route to the finish line

Success Success

It's funny—some people think that the road to success is a linear path that consistently travels up and to the right.

But, in reality, that is very rarely the case.

When setting long term marketing goals, it is important also set supporting short term goals.

Shorter term goals (or progress milestones) will keep you motivated and focused on chugging forward toward achieving your ambitious long term goals.

One HUGE caveat about setting goals is not depending on the goal for your happiness. Instead, you should enjoy the process of getting to the goal. Last year our goal was to sell 3,333 memberships of our How To Make A $1,000 A Month Business course, and on October 30th we got there. For the next two months I felt lost and unsure what to do since I had reached the finish line. It was a great realization––I learned how to focus on processes and enjoy the experience versus just trying to get to your goal.

  • Noah Kagan
Noah Kagan

Check in on your progress on a regular basis

Calendar Image

As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day.

To ensure that you stay on track toward achieving your goals, try reviewing your progress at a set time each week.

At Kula Partners, we've been doing Monday morning progress check-ins for several months and it has transformed the way we work. Frequent check-ins help us identify when we are ahead of schedule, so we keep doing more. And, if we fall behind, we can change our plan accordingly to catch up and get back on track.

Our goal-setting process at Buffer is always in flux as we experiment, learn and change. But a few main principles help keep us on track throughout the process and make sure our goals are the right mix of workable and challenging.

Frequent check-ins and smaller goals on the way to the big goals seem to help us all stay on the same page.

  • Courtney Seiter
  • Head of Content Marketing
  • Buffer
Courtney Seiter

Key Takeaways

  • Your marketing goals should always support overarching business objectives.
  • Set ambitious goals using the SMART goals framework.
  • Celebrate short term progress as you work toward long term goals.
  • Check in on progress regularly through designated weekly meetings.


5 Educational Resources About Setting Marketing Goals — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

How to Create and Refine a Winning Value Proposition

6. How to Create and Refine a Winning Value Proposition

Winning Value Prop Graph

These days, as digital marketers, we really have an endless amount of tools and tactics at our disposal. But just forget about all that stuff for now.

I want to let you in on a dirty little secret.

One of the simplest things that you can do boost your website's conversion rate, improvement the effectiveness of your lead nurturing, and ultimately close more customers actually has nothing to do with technology.

If you really want to start converting more leads and customers, you should begin by defining, testing, and refining your value proposition.

What is a value proposition?

Just in case you aren't familiar with exactly what a value proposition is, here is a quick explanation:

A value proposition is a clear sentence that tells your visitors exactly what you do, how you are different and why they should buy from you, instead of the competitor.

So, why are value propositions so important for inbound marketing?

Research shows that strong value propositions have the ability to significantly boost conversion rates. On the other hand, a weak value proposition can be the very thing that drives people away from your website.

Your value proposition ultimately determines whether a visitor will continue to read your website or immediately hit the back button.

As Peep Laja, CEO of ConversionXL points out,

The lesser known the brand, the stronger your value prop needs to be.

If there is one piece of website copy that you should be obsessed with, it's your value proposition.

  • Peep Laja
  • CEO
  • ConversionXL
Peep Laja

What makes a great value proposition?

Great value propositions—not to be confused with slogans or positioning statements—always follow a few general rules of thumb. Here are a few of the key elements that make up super effective value propositions:

  • Focus on clarity

    This is the most important element of an effective value proposition.

  • Always avoid jargon

    Industry-specific terms can make it hard for readers to understand what it is you are talking about, and often leads to confusion.

  • Highlight benefits & results

    Great value propositions communicate the benefits and/or concrete results the customer will get from purchasing/using your product or service.

  • Explain why you're different & better

    Chances are that you have several competitors, and your prospects will evaluate at least a few before they make a purchase. Tell your visitors what sets you apart from the alternatives.

  • Keep it short

    Your value proposition should take no longer than 5 seconds to read and digest.

Here are a few examples of awesome value propositions:

  1. Square - Start selling today. Take care of your business with Square.

    Square Screenshot
  2. Warby Parker - Starting at 130 CAD, including prescription lenses.

    Warby Parker Screenshot
  3. Airbnb - Rent unique places to stay from local hosts in 190+ countries.

    Airbnb Screenshot
  4. Shopify - A modern ecommerce platform built for modern entrepreneurs - like you.

    Shopify Screenshot

Here's how you can write your own winning value proposition.

First, you need to be able to identify an effective value proposition for your product or service. It's okay if you are similar to your competitors in some aspects of your offering, but you need at least one element of value that sets you apart from the pack.

Second, you need to be able to effectively articulate your value proposition. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to refine your value proposition until you can clearly articulate it in a single, clear, credible sentence.

If you don't have a value proposition today, begin by writing at least a dozen potential versions. The more iterations you can come up with, the better. Once you have a list of potential value propositions, begin to narrow down your possibilities to a smaller list of finalists.

Once you have a few potential final versions, you can test which one is the most effective at communicating the value of your product or service.

You can test your potential value propositions in PPC ads, on landing pages, in emails, or even by using sites like

A recent study conducted by Marketing Sherpa revealed some interesting data about which methods are most effective for testing value propositions.

Marketing Research Chart: Top platforms for testing value proposition

Marketing Research Chart

As you can see, survey respondents felt that testing value propositions on landing pages was the most effective method. Landing pages give marketers a tremendous amount of flexibility when it comes to testing. This allows marketers to easily identify the components of the page that generate a higher conversion rate, lower bounce rate and, ultimately, more qualified leads.

Key Takeaways

  • Your value proposition can have a big impact on your website's bounce rate.
  • Great value propositions are short, clear, free of jargon, highlight benefits, and explain why a product/service is different or better.
  • Landing pages are great for testing value propositions.


4 Educational Resources to Help You Create & Refining Your Value Proposition — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

How to Identify Opportunities for Targeted Traffic Attraction

7. How to Identify Opportunities for Targeted Traffic Attraction

When we ask marketers like you what their biggest sales and marketing challenges are, we typically get one of two responses—attracting more website traffic or converting more leads.

These days there are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways you can increase your website traffic. Some tactics for increasing site traffic are fairly easy; others require quite a bit of work.

But, when you break it down, there are three key steps to attracting more website traffic.

Step 1: Identify profitable keywords

Step 2: Create awesome content

Step 3: Continuously promote your content

In this section, we are going to quickly go over what is involved in each of these three steps.

Without further ado, let's get started.

Step 1: Identify profitable keywords

Keyword research is the most obvious place to start when it comes to increasing your website traffic. After all, ranking for the right (or wrong) keywords will ultimately make or break your website.

If you are brand new to keyword research, Chapter 5 of Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO provides some great introductory information. It includes tips and tricks about how to judge the value of a keyword, how to understand long tail keyword demand, and what the keyword difficulty score really means.

Admittedly, as you get more advanced, keyword research is as much of an art as it is a science. There's no foolproof step-by-step process to follow, and automated tools can only tell you so much. Ultimately, you will need to follow your intuition to strategically choose the keywords that are worth your focus.

Personally, I find that real world case studies can teach you a lot in cases like this.

Copyblogger's Real-World Guide to Keyword Research provides some great tips on how to choose the most profitable content topics. If you want to see how SEO thought leader Brian Clark (Founder and CEO of Copyblogger) approaches keyword research, you should definitely check this resource out.

While increasing website traffic is generally a good thing, it is also crucial to ensure that you are attracting the right type of visitors. For instance, would you rather attract 10,000 completely untargeted visitors or 5,000 highly qualified, sales ready visitors?

I think you know the answer.

Keyword Research

The argument of quality vs quantity is a recurring theme in Brian Dean's Definitive Guide to Keyword Research.

This ridiculously comprehensive, seven chapter guide to conducting keyword research is packed with actionable tips and tricks. We highly suggest taking some time to read this over in detail, and to dive into Brian's amazing catalog of online marketing resources.

As Brian highlights in the keyword research guide,

It's not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors. The usefulness of this intelligence cannot be overstated; with keyword research you can predict shifts in demand, respond to changing market conditions, and produce the products, services, and content that web searchers are actively seeking. In the history of marketing, there has never been such a low barrier to entry in understanding the motivations of consumers in virtually any niche.

  • Brian Dean
Brian Dean

Step 2: Create awesome content

As you know, content creation is a big component of the inbound marketing methodology. Content is the magnet that attracts qualified buyers to your site, and convinces them to fill out a form and give you their contact information.

Inbound Funnel Chart

Once you have identified your target keywords, you will have a good sense of the topics of content that you need to create.

But here's the catch—if you actually want to attract more website traffic, you can't just pump out 300 word half-assed blog posts. You've got to do your research, and publish only the best content.

Content is vital and anything less than your best work isn't good enough.

  • Derek Halpern
  • Founder & CEO
  • Social Triggers
Derek Halpern

We completely agree with Derek's advice—you need to deliver content that will be truly valuable to your readers if you want to cut through all of the noise.

So, you are probably wondering how to create truly amazing, valuable, actionable content.

Brian Dean taught us a few ways to create awesome content that will rank for any keyword.

First, you can give an "Expanded List Post" a try. This is similar to a standard list post, but it takes the best content from other existing posts and brings it all together for a longer, more comprehensive, and actionable one-stop post.

If you'd like, you can watch a video of Brian explaining the expanded list post strategy.

The "Skyscraper Technique" is another similar content-creation technique that Brian suggests. Similar to the expanded list approach, the goal of a skyscraper post is to provide additional detail and more actionable advice than any other resource that is currently available.

In general, no matter which technique you are trying, if you want your content to stand out from the rest of the regurgitated junk on the web you will need to make sure you are publishing content that is more detailed, is better researched, and provides more value than what is already available.

This extends far beyond blog posts.

While blog posts and whitepapers tend to be the most popular forms of content that inbound marketers employ, there are literally dozens of other forms of content to choose from.

Here are just a few of the various types of content you should consider incorporating into your inbound marketing strategy:

  • Infographics
  • Memes
  • Videos
  • Interactive content
  • Guides
  • Book Reviews
  • Opinion Posts
  • Product Reviews
  • Interviews
  • How-to articles
  • Lists
  • Link Pages
  • Ebooks
  • Cost / ROI Calculators
  • Case Studies
  • Podcast
  • Research and original data
  • Long form content - skyscraper

In this super helpful post, 15 Types of Content That Will Drive You More Traffic, Neil Patel sheds some light on how to select the best format for your content.

I encourage you to think of content not in terms of types but ideas. The form that the content takes is secondary. The idea is primary. First, develop your idea. Then, determine what it's going to look like. The variety of content is endless. Heck, you may even want to invent your own type of content.

  • Neil Patel
Neil Patel

Step 3: Promote the sh*t out of your content

If I Built It Image

Content promotion is the step that most inbound marketers are failing at.

You have probably been led to believe that if you publish great content, they will come.

If only it was that easy.

If you're like most other content marketers, you probably publish a new blog post, Tweet the link, and post it on LinkedIn. Then… nothing.

1,000 views or so over the first few days, and that's it. Dead on delivery.

Super successful bloggers—including Brian and Derek—spend a ton of time promoting their content.

In fact, if you've been fooled by the misleading "publish great content and they will come" advice, you'd probably be shocked learn about their content marketing strategies.

Rather than spending all their time continuously pumping out more and more content, they do things very differently.

Derek suggests that you should spend only 20% of your time creating content, and 80% of your time promoting it.

If you spend time writing a piece of content, and that content only gets 1,000 readers, chances are there are one million other people in the world who can benefit from what you wrote.

Why, then, would you spend more time creating content when you already have something that your ideal customers can benefit from?

It's smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you've already created as opposed to creating more.

Or, in other words, create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.

  • Derek Halpern
  • Founder & CEO
  • Social Triggers
Derek Halpern

This 80/20 rule is quite a divergence for most inbound marketers who spend little to no time promoting their content.

You are probably wondering how on earth you could possibly spend so much time promoting your content.

Kevan Lee over at Buffer wrote a killer post titled "How Content Promotion Works for Blogs Big and Small: Our 11 Favorite Content Distribution Strategies."

In this super actionable post, Kevan breaks down 11 different content promotion strategies that you can use to boost your website traffic. Here is a quick overview of the strategies that Kevan outlines:

  1. Send to your email list

  2. Share on social media

  3. Syndication

  4. Send an outreach email

  5. Mention an influencer

  6. Submit to a content community

  7. Connect with a mentoring/peer group

  8. Make it easy for your readers to share

  9. Focus on the places that get the best results

  10. Paid ads and remarketing

  11. Repurposing

Key Takeaways

  • Before you start creating content, you need to take the time to conduct keyword research. Each piece of content that you create should strategically target a specific keyword.
  • Despite what you may have been lead to believe, you can't just publish "great content" and expect to get an influx of traffic and leads.
  • If you want to increase you site traffic you need to be focused on creating link-worthy content that is more in-depth, more up to date, more actionable, and better designed.
  • Rather than spending all your time pumping more out content, focus on spending some of your time promoting your existing content. You can always find new readers for your existing content. Some experts even suggest following the 80/20 rule of content promotion.
  • Backlinks don't happen by coincidence - strategically reach out to relevant people in your niche and ask them to link to your content.


5 More Educational Resources on Website Traffic Attraction — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

How to Optimize Your Website for Conversions

8. How to Optimize Your Website for Conversions

Simply put, a conversion is when a visitor to your website completes an action that you want them to take. It could be signing up for an email newsletter, downloading a whitepaper, making an ecommerce purchase, following you on Twitter, downloading your app, or any number of other desired actions.

As you can imagine, every company, business model, and website has unique conversion objectives. Whatever it is you want your visitor to do, this action is what you are going to measure and look to optimize for.

Why is optimizing your website for conversions so important?

Conversions (or leads) are the lifeblood of inbound marketing. It's simple—If you can boost the number of high quality inbound leads you're generating, you will in turn create more sales opportunities and ultimately close more customers.

Consider the following example: Which is more important? More traffic or more conversions?

If your website is currently attracting 5,000 monthly unique visitors and converting only 1.8% of those visitors into leads, that means 98.2% of people represent a lost opportunity.

In this case, would you rather double your website traffic or reduce the percentage of lost opportunities to just 96%?

Site Performance Chart

As you can see, a slight improvement in your site's conversion rate can actually generate more additional leads than a massive increase in traffic. This is why conversion rate optimization is so important and lucrative.

So, how do you boost your conversion rate?

Regardless of your conversion goal, there are a number of proven optimization techniques that you can use to boost your conversion rate:

  1. Conversion rate optimization

    A structured and systematic way of improving your website's conversion rate through ongoing iteration and statistical testing.

  2. Conversion-centered web design

    The use of visual and psychological elements to focus a website visitor's attention on completing one specific conversion.

  3. Conversion-focused copywriting

    The use of certain words and phrases to encourage immediate action and boost website conversions.

  4. Contextual marketing

    The practice of optimizing your website to present the most applicable content and calls-to-action, to the right personas, at exactly the right times.

Let's examine each of these conversion rate optimization (CRO) methods in a bit more detail.

CRO Method #1—Data-driven conversion rate optimization

Phone Image

Conversion Rate Optimization is the practice of continually improving your website or landing page's ability to convert visitors into leads or customers. This is done through statistical testing and continuous iterations to a page's content and design. Conversion rate optimization is all about making your marketing more successful.

In recent years, both the cost of split testing software and the ease of use of the platforms themselves have become much more accessible. You no longer need a PhD and a small fortune to run conversion tests on your website.

With the help of an affordable conversion rate optimization software tool like Visual Website Optimizer, you can quickly and easily test landing pages, websites, and eCommerce pages with little to no help from IT.

What exactly does split-testing software allow you to do?

If you are savvy enough to be reading this, you are likely at least somewhat familiar with the idea of A/B testing. But, just to clarify, if you had two possible calls-to-action and you wanted to figure out which version converted the best, you could run an A/B test. Half of your visitors would see version A and half would see version B. After the test concluded, you could tally the results and see which version performed best.

If you would like a crash course on split-testing, you should check out this amazing guide from Conversion Rate Experts: Split-testing 101: A quick-start guide to conversion rate optimization. This whitepaper does a great job of explaining CRO and outlining dozens of different types of tests you can run on your website.

A/B testing is super powerful, but it does have its limitations as you can only test two variables against each other at one time.

Multivariate testing takes A/B testing a step further by allowing you to essentially run multiple A/B tests simultaneously. With some CRO software tools you can only run simple A/B tests, but there are a few available (including Visual Website Optimizer) which now allow you to run more sophisticated multivariate tests.

As highlighted in these case studies from Visual Website Optimizer, in multivariate testing you select different elements on your website or landing page (such as headlines, images, or buttons). Different versions of selected elements are created and combined. Then, you split your traffic among those combinations to analyze which one gets maximum conversion rates or sales. The winningest combination of the website's parts is later chosen to be permanently implemented.

CRO Method #2—Conversion-centered design

In a nutshell, the practice of conversion-centred design (CCD) involves using visual cues and psychological triggers to focus a page viewer's attention on completing one specific action.

If you want to educate yourself on CCD, we suggest that you read / watch / listen to anything from Oli Gardner, Co-founder of Unbounce.

Here are a few suggestions:

Landing Page Graph Image

As Gardner recently explained in a guest article on the HubSpot blog, "Landing pages sit at the heart of CCD. A landing page is a standalone page that uses congruent design—working toward a single collective purpose—to usher your visitors toward the finish line, be it the collection of personal data or education about your product/service before passing the baton to the next phase of your conversion funnel."

Research has shown that there are a number of visual cues and psychological triggers which can be used to boost landing page conversion rates. As Gardner explains, these researched-backed landing page elements make up the seven principles of CCD.

Here are the 7 Principles of Conversion-Centred Design—Along With a Helpful Example

  1. Encapsulation

    This technique guides the viewer's eyes toward your call-to-action by using a nifty little design trick. Essentially, you create a tunnel or window which focuses attention on your call-to-action.

  2. Contrast and Color

    You may have read that green buttons always convert best (or maybe orange buttons… or maybe blue buttons…). In reality, no button color is always best. You simply need to think about contrast and color. Make sure your call-to-action really stands out on your page.

  3. Directional Cues

    Using directional cues (such as arrows) helps direct viewer attention toward a desired area. Try incorporating arrows on your landing pages which point at your form or call-to-action. Doing so will tell your visitors where they should be focusing as they scan the page.

  4. White Space

    You don't want your landing pages to be too busy, design-wise. The proper use of whitespace will give your design some room to breathe, and will give more visual prominence to the most important elements of the page.

  5. Urgency and Scarcity

    These psychological motivators have been used in sales and marketing for decades. Limited time and limited supply offers are commonplace both on and offline to motivate potential customers to act immediately.

  6. Try before you buy

    Trials, samples, and demos are common ways to build trust with potential customers before they commit to buy your product. Offering your customers a way to try before they buy instills a sense of confidence in your product.

  7. Social proof

    Including elements of social proof on your landing pages is a surefire way to establish authenticity and believability. Research frequently proves that social proof has a big impact on conversions and sales.

To help you visualize how each of the seven principles of CCD might be applied in real life, we included two screenshots (below) of a standard whitepaper landing page. The first shows the page without the seven elements of CCD; the second shows the same page slightly altered to include each of the seven principles of CCD.

Before: Before
After: After

The example shown above is an excerpt from another fantastic post from Oli Gardner - 36 Creative Landing Page Design Examples – A Showcase and Conversion Critique.

Research has shown that certain words and phrases can influence a website's ability to convert nameless visitors into qualified leads. Similar to conversion-centered design, the goal of conversion-focused copywriting is to use strategic words, phrases, and copywriting techniques to encourage readers to complete a desired action.

CRO Method #3—Conversion-focused copywriting

As you start writing copy for your conversion paths, you should take some time to learn about The 5 Most Persuasive Words in the English Language.

Spoiler Alert:

The five most persuasive words include You, Free, Because, Instantly, and New.

When used effectively, these words can significantly improve the conversion performance of your website, landing pages, and email campaigns.

Of course, you will need to use more than just these five words to communicate effectively.

While there are tons of helpful lists of high-converting words out there, we always find ourselves going back to this epic blog post from Kevan Lee over at Buffer: The Big List of 189 Words That Convert: Write Copy That Gets Your Customer's Attention Every Time.

Lastly, here are three things to keep in mind as you write conversion-focused web copy:

  1. Commit to writing killer headlines

    You can write the most amazing, earth shattering piece of content in the word—but, if your headline sucks, it's quite likely that no one will actually read your piece.

    Sorry. It's true. If you want to write content that attracts visitors and converts leads, you need to commit to writing killer headlines.

    Joanna Wiebe from CopyHackers has written all kinds of awesome posts about how to write attention-grabbing headlines that convert like crazy. In particular, this post titled 5 Criteria for Writing Powerful Headlines is really helpful. Here is the five-point checklist Joanna suggests copywriters use for writing powerful headlines:

    • Does your headline match the visitor expectations?
    • Does your headline grab visitors' attention… in a non-scuzzy way?
    • Does your headline clearly communicated in easy-to-understand language?
    • Does your headline get to the visitor's point?
    • Does your headline highlight something valuable or beneficial for your prospect?
  2. Always aim to simplify your copy.

    You don't need to write a lot of copy or use fancy words to convince people to buy from you. In fact, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication when it comes to copywriting.

    If you want to learn how to write simple yet insanely awesome copy, look no further than Neil Patel. He seriously has the balance of simplicity and insight down pat. In this post, he reveals all of his trade secrets.

  3. Realize that people don't read, they scan.

    The average visitor only stays on a page for ten to 20 seconds. You don't have much time to capture and hold their attention, so you need to be strategic about how you structure your copy.

    Using subheads and bold text throughout your pages makes it easier for visitors to scan your copy. You can also use bullets, numbered lists, photos, and whitespace to break up your long-form content and make it easier to scan.

CRO Method #4—Contextual Marketing

Contextual marketing is an online marketing model in which people are served targeted content based on terms they've search for, their recent browsing behavior, or their stage in the sales cycle.

If you are using HubSpot, you can take advantage of a number of advanced personalization and smart content features. HubSpot allows you to personalize content on your website for first-time visitors or any unknown visitor based on:

  • Country

    Alter pricing or languages based on a visitor's location.

  • Device Type

    Display different content for visitors on mobile, tablet, or desktop.

  • Referral Source

    Show visitors smart content based on how they found your site.

Additionally, once a lead has converted on your website, you can use Personalization based on their List Membership or Lifecycle Stage.

But, you don't necessarily need sophisticated software to apply the basic principles of contextual marketing.

From a low-tech perspective, you can improve the context of your calls-to-action by aligning the offer with on-page content and considering your buyer persona's goals, stage in the sales cycle, purchasing criteria, and so on.

Why understanding contextual marketing is so important for inbound marketing

Well-thought-out, sales-focused websites have numerous conversion paths targeting visitors in each stage of the sales funnel. As visitors and leads come back to your site, you can use increasingly sales-focused content offers to nurture them through the sales funnel and ultimately turn them into paying customers.

At the bare minimum, you should offer at least one point of conversion for each stage of the standard buyer's journey: awareness, consideration, and evaluation.

The Buyer's Journey is the active research process your personas go through leading up to making a purchase—and specific content is more relevant to your personas at different stages of that journey. This is where the "context" piece comes in: It's not enough to just create content for your personas. You have to make sure that content is relevant to what they're interested in and hoping to learn more about.

  • Rachel Goodman Moore
  • Certification Program Manager
  • Hubspot Academy
Rachel Goodman Moore

Rachel's advice is spot on. If you can align your on-page calls-to-action with the prospect's interests and level of sales readiness, you will not only benefit from higher conversion rates—you will be providing your visitors with a much better user experience.

Let's quickly break down the three stages of the standard sales funnel and highlight the different types of content subject matter that work best at each stage.

Top of Funnel

At the top of funnel—or the "awareness" stage—you should aim to educate your potential prospects about topics related to your product or service. At this stage of the funnel, the goal is to attract targeted website visitors, grow your social media following, and increase your inbound email subscriber list.

Ideal types of content for the top of funnel, include:

  • eBooks
  • Tip sheets
  • Educational whitepapers
  • How-to videos
  • Educational webinars
  • How-to blog posts
  • Overview reports
  • Online articles
  • Infographics
  • FAQ pages
  • Resources pages
  • Social media
  • Guest blog posts

Middle of Funnel

As prospects progress to the middle of funnel—or the "evaluation" stage—they begin to evaluate your product or services against other competitors and even alternative solutions. Middle-of-funnel content begins to address the issues impacting leads at a deeper level, and gradually pulls them toward solutions evaluation. Content in this stage makes a connection between top-of-funnel educational resources and information about brand specific products and services.

Ideal types of content for the middle of funnel include:

  • Email marketing
  • Buying guides
  • Consultations
  • Product demos
  • Webinars
  • Speaking engagements
  • Case studies
  • In-depth blog posts
  • Data sheets
  • Product comparisons
  • Detailed pricing information
  • ROI calculators
  • Testimonials

Bottom of Funnel

Once a prospect has conducted middle-of-funnel research, they've reached "purchase', or bottom-of-funnel stage. Content at this stage should help prospects overcome any final objections and empower them to make an educated purchase decision.

Ideal types of content for the bottom of funnel include:

  • Free trials
  • Deep dive product demos
  • Follow-up consultations
  • Customized estimates
  • In-depth blog posts or articles
  • Input from current customers / advocates
  • Testimonials
  • Coupons / offers

Key Takeaways

  • Conversion rate optimization aims to creates more opportunity from your existing website traffic by increasing the percentage of site visitors that are converted to leads.
  • There are a number of factors that contribute to your website's conversion rate—copywriting, design, perceived value of the offer, page load speed, mobile friendliness, and so on.
  • Conversion rate optimization relies on statistical testing to measure certain page elements' effect on conversions.
  • Conversion-centered design employs visual design elements to focus the viewer's attention on specific areas of the page, in turn boosting conversions.
  • Conversion-focused copywriting uses proven writing principles and action verbs to encourage readers to take a specific conversion action.
  • Contextual marketing draws on visitors' recent browsing behaviour, customer lifecycle stage, and interests to deliver the calls-to-action that are personalized for each viewer.


5 More Educational Resources About Conversion Rate Optimization — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

How & Why You Should Implement Closed-loop Sales & Marketing Tools

9. How & Why You Should Implement Closed-loop Sales & Marketing Tools

Closed Loop Marketing Cycle Chart

You know the old saying, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I just don't know which half"?

Well, these days, that saying no longer applies.

With the help of powerful marketing analytics software like HubSpot, you can measure the impact of every marketing tactic and channel with amazing accuracy.

Furthermore, when you "close the loop" by integrating your marketing analytics software with your CRM sales data, marketing becomes just as much of a mathematical equation as it is an art.

It's a beautiful thing.

What does "closed-loop" really mean?

Closed-loop refers to the feedback interconnection between two or more systems, such that the information flows in a cycle.

That is pretty jargony, so let's simplify.

When it comes to inbound marketing, closed-loop reporting means that sales results are reported back to marketing. By doing so, marketing is able to measure their results based on metrics like customers and revenue rather than simply impressions and clicks.

Why is closed-loop reporting so critical?

With closed-loop reporting, marketers are able to pinpoint exactly which tactics and channels are producing a return on investment, and focus their efforts on high-value tasks. When you know which of your marketing efforts are resulting in customers and revenue, you can then figure out which half of your advertising budget is being wasted.

How Closed-Loop Marketing Works

The easiest way to close the loop is to make your website the central hub for all your marketing activities. Organic search, social media marketing, email marketing, referral links, paid search, and even offline campaigns should get filtered to your website. Once someone visits your website, you'll be able to start tracking their activity.

As complicated as it may seem, closed-loop marketing can easily be explained in these four steps:

Step 1: Visitor arrives on your site, and a cookie is set on his/her referral source

When someone comes to your website, their referral source should always be recorded. For instance, if someone clicks on a link in a Tweet and visits your website for the first time, their referral source will be recorded as Twitter.

Step 2: Visitor browses your website & cookie tracks the visitor's actions

With a cookie set, as the visitor continues to view your website, all of their actions will be tracked. For instance, you will be able to see which pages they have viewed, links they have clicked, and other actions they've taken.

Step 3: Visitor converts into a lead by completing & submitting a lead-capture form

When the visitor eventually fills out a form on your website, the system will pair their submission information with their previous browsing behaviour. At this point, you will have a rich profile of the inbound lead. Depending on the required fields on the forms they filled out, you might have their first and last name, email, phone number, and company name.

Step 4: Lead becomes a customer &original source is credited

Once an inbound lead has converted on a form and they appear to be qualified, it's time for sales to step up and close the deal. Once that lead does in fact become a customer, HubSpot will credit the original source (Twitter, in this case) as the original lead source.

Benefits of Closed-Loop reporting

If you'd like a deep dive explanation of how closed-loop reporting and lead attribution works, you can check out this blog post from Pamela Vaughan, Manager of Content Optimization & Growth, HubSpot. In the post, Pamela hits on a number of great points, including the numerous benefits of closed-loop reporting:

Closed-loop marketing enables you to achieve alignment between sales and marketing and define the operations between the two departments. Other benefits of the integration between your marketing software and CRM solutions include the ability to implement sales assignment rules, lead scoring systems, lead nurturing campaigns, custom lead scoring, and monetary goal setting.

  • Pamela Vaughan
  • Manager of Content Optimization & Growth
  • Hubspot
Pamela Vaughan

Requirements for Closed-Loop Reporting

In order to enable closed-loop reporting, you will need to integrate your CRM platform with your inbound marketing software.

This can be done in a number of ways.

If you are using HubSpot's new free CRM platform in addition to their marketing platform, everything has already been taken care of for you. Those two systems are integrated right out of the box.

But, you don't necessarily need to be using HubSpot's CRM in order to take advantage of closed-loop reporting.

Closed-Loop Reporting HubSpot offers native integrations for a number of popular CRM platforms, including Salesforce, SugarCRM, Zoho, Netsuite, Pipedrive, and Base. Of these integrations, the HubSpot and Salesforce integration tends to be the most robust and full-featured. Regardless, each of these native HubSpot integrations is built and fully supported by the HubSpot Support Team, so you shouldn't have any trouble.

Key Takeaways

  • Closed-loop analytics involves connecting your marketing and sales systems, so revenue can be accurately attributed back to its source.
  • Organizations that fail to "close the loop" suffer from unsynchronized data and antiquated systems.
  • Closed-loop marketing enables a strong results-driven relationship between sales and marketing.


3 Educational Resources about Closed-loop Marketing — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

How to Align Sales and Marketing

10. How to Align Sales and Marketing

Sales and Marketing Superheroes

For better or worse, the topic of sales and marketing alignment has just about been blogged to death. It seems like every sales and marketing consultant has put their two cents' worth into this discussion.

We approach this subject somewhat reluctantly, but we recognize that any inbound marketing strategy development discussion would be incomplete without a nod to the fusion of sales and marketing.

After all, one of the most important factors in creating a scalable, repeatable revenue machine is sales and marketing alignment. Research shows that well-aligned teams close a higher percentage of leads, hit their quotas more consistently, retain more customers, and grow their revenues significantly more quickly.

The key to aligning sales and marketing is to agree upon a mutual service level agreement.

Those organizations who've already adopted inbound marketing understand the importance of sales and marketing alignment. If you want to be truly successful with inbound marketing, you will need to align your sales and marketing teams around one common goal—revenue generation.

Aligning your sales and marketing teams around the shared goal of revenue generation is really just one aspect of a sales and marketing service level agreement (SLA).

In a recent interview, Mark Roberge, Chief Revenue Officer of HubSpot's Sales Division, explained the purpose of a sales and marketing SLA:

The Sales and Marketing SLA is essentially a contract between the two departments that defines common terms and aligns goals.

For Marketing, this means defining how a lead needs to be qualified before it is ready to be handed to Sales, and the number of such qualified leads Marketing needs to generate each month.

For Sales, the SLA describes how quickly sales reps must attempt to contact a new lead from Marketing, and how many times each sales rep must contact that lead.

  • Mark Roberge
  • Chief Revenue Officer, Sales Division
  • Hubspot
Mark Roberge

While a sales and marketing SLA can certainly be helpful for any revenue-oriented organization, it is particularly important for those organizations who continue to increase the percentage of leads originating from inbound marketing.

Roberge explains, "If the two departments are managed as separate silos, the system fails. For companies to achieve growth and become leaders in their industries, it is critical that these two group be properly integrated".

So, how do you create a sales and marketing SLA that will properly align your teams?

No technology, training, or management technique will magically create a harmonious relationship between sales and marketing. If you want these two teams to collaborate and align around one common goal, you'll need to make a conscious decision to bring the two teams together.

As a common team, you will need to agree upon things like: how you qualify leads, who is responsible for various aspects of business development process, and how you will measure performance.

Here are the 5 must-have components of an effective sales and marketing SLA:

  1. Alignment around one shared goal

    Most sales organizations are driven by a quota—‚a numerical goal that is directly tied back to the sales team's compensation and job security. Similarly, with inbound marketing, the marketing team should be held accountable for a number.

    Marketing's quota could be measured in leads, marketing qualified leads, a percentage of revenue, or whatever metric makes sense for your organization's goals.

    By signing up for a number, each team will be more inclined to hold each other accountable for generating results. There will be a mutual understanding of the pressure of hitting quota month after month.

  2. Clearly defined lead generation terms

    The challenge of balancing lead quality and lead quantity has long contributed to the rift between sales and marketing departments. As marketing scrambles to reach aggressive lead generation targets, lead quality is sacrificed for quantity. Sales becomes frustrated by the flood of low-quality leads and the whole system breaks down.

    Clearing defining the terms that you use to measure your business development process is a critical component of any effective sales and marketing SLA. For instance, you will need to define exactly which criteria must be met in order for a lead to become marketing qualified, to become sales qualified, and to be marked as a sales opportunity.

    Here are the standard criteria that HubSpot suggests for managing lead lifecycle stages:

    Lead Standard Criteria
  3. A clear process for handing off leads between sales and marketing

    With a steady flow of sales qualified inbound leads coming in, you'll want to make sure you have the proper people and processes in place to close that business. What will trigger the handoff from Marketing to Sales? A high lead score? A certain number of conversions? Page views? Demo requests?

    Conversely, you will need to determine when stale, unqualified, or unresponsive leads should be passed from sales back to marketing for automated lead nurturing.

  4. Open and transparent reporting

    As much as possible, open your sales and marketing reporting dashboards to your entire team. Let the marketing team see how sales is trending, and vice versa. Doing so will help create a results-driven culture.

  5. Frequent progress check-ins and clear communication

    Once your sales and marketing SLA is in place, it's important to hold regular working sessions where both the sales and marketing teams can report on their progress (or lack thereof). To begin, try a cadence of one monthly recap/kick off meeting and one mid-month check-in. These sessions will give you a set time to review the quality of inbound leads that are being generated, recap the most common questions and objections that leads are posing, and discuss ways to improve the inbound lead generation and qualification process.

Key Takeaways

  • The key to aligning sales and marketing is to agree upon a mutual SLA.
  • Your sales and marketing teams should be aligned around the shared goal of revenue generation.
  • Clearly define your lead lifecycle stages to ensure lead are being passed between sales and marketing appropriately.
  • Make your sales and marketing performance data available to everyone in the company.
How to Build an Inbound Marketing Team

11. How to Build an Inbound Marketing Team

Have you ever noticed that some companies just seem to be able to constantly pump out amazing content?

You'd think that companies like Buffer, eConsultancy, and HubSpot would all have massive teams of writers given the frequency and quality of content they are producing.

That's actually not the case.

The secret is that each of these companies has established a tight knit, well defined team for content creation and inbound marketing.

So, how do you go about creating your own powerhouse team of inbound marketers?

In this next section, we are going to show you what it will really take to turn your company into an inbound marketing machine.

We will highlight each of the skills required to be successful with inbound marketing. We will show you examples of different inbound marketing team structures for startups, mid-sized companies, and enterprise organizations. Lastly, we will leave you with some resources to help you recruit, interview, and hire the best marketing team possible.

What types of skills are required for inbound marketing?

There is really no one perfect team structure template to follow for building an inbound marketing team or department. Each and every organization will have different content production requirements, unique competitive factors, and fluctuating internal resources.

As Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute points out,

Content marketing success can happen differently in every company of every size. Match the roles needed with the skill sets you have and outsource what you need.

  • Joe Pulizzi
  • Founder
  • Content Marketing Institute
Joe Pulizzi

Sounds simple enough, right?

First things first—you'll need to think about the skills you have on your team today and identify any gaps.

Let's jump right in and go over some of the core skills that you'll want to have on your inbound marketing team:

  • Writing

    This one probably comes as no surprise. Inbound marketing requires a lot of writing. As an inbound marketer, you will be writing everything from short form website page copy and email nurturing campaigns to long form blog posts and whitepapers.

  • Web Design

    Aside from taking care of the obvious design tasks like producing PDFs for content offers, designing landing pages, and creating email templates, having a web designer on your team will be hugely helpful. Design can really be the X factor that brings your content to life through the use of compelling charts, infographics, and imagery.

  • Web Development

    While many of the ongoing aspects of inbound marketing won't necessarily require a developer's assistance on a daily basis, you will undoubtedly run into situations where you'll need some technical chops. Developers will come in handy when you want to integrate business systems, create bespoke web design, or build custom functionality.

  • Data Analysis

    At the end of the day, inbound marketing all comes down to the numbers. You will definitely need someone on your team who can dive deep into the metrics, dashboards, forecasts, industry whitepapers, and keyword research.

  • Inbound Strategy

    From a high level, the role of a strategist is to align the inbound marketing strategy with overarching business objectives. Strategists need to have a good understanding of the target audience and industry competitors so they can generate well informed strategies, refine tactics, and generate new ideas.

  • Software Expertise

    Marketing is becoming a deeply technical trade. If you are going to build your entire strategy based around a certain sales and marketing software stack, you ought to have someone who knows what's going on under the hood, so to speak.

  • Project Management

    Once you get your inbound marketing strategy up and running, you will quickly come to realize the importance of project management. With so many moving pieces involved, you need to have someone who is in charge of keeping projects on time, on budget, and on spec.

Chris Lake, Director of Content at Econsultancy, offers some more thoughts into the roles and responsibilities of a killer content team. As you will notice, many of the 16 roles that Chris highlights overlap with the core skill sets we've just gone over. If your team is rather small, you will need to find multi-skilled team members who can handle many of these roles.

Content Marketing Team Matrix

What is the typical size & structure of an inbound marketing team?

Most content marketing teams are small. In fact, a recent study by Kapost revealed that 41% of content marketing teams have between two and five people. While the average inbound marketing team still remains rather small, it should be noted that the same research also indicates that most organizations plan to grow their content marketing team by one to three members this year.

Back in September, during the INBOUND 2014 conference, Mike gave a presentation titled "How to Structure a Marketing Team of Any Size". The room was packed with hundreds of marketing leaders and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance.

At one point during the presentation, Mike progressed to a slide that depicted how to structure the modern marketing team. Just about everyone in the room took out their phone to take a picture of the slide.

If action speaks louder than words, people were screaming for advice on this topic.

Here is an excerpt of what Mike had to say,

When it comes time to adding headcount to your team, marketing leaders want to know which specialties they should hire for—and, more importantly, in what order they should hire them.

The question of who to hire next requires you to first take a look at your current team. Try placing each member of your team into the first three stages in the inbound marketing methodology: attract, convert, close. Here's an idea of which roles belong where:

  • Attract: Your content writers, designers, SEO specialists, and social media managers.
  • Convert: Everyone involved in conversion optimization, including landing pages, calls-to-action, lead scoring, and nurturing.
  • Close: Your sales enablement marketers helping the sales team close opportunities.

Once you've categorized each person, you'll have a better idea of which parts of the funnel you have been prioritizing when hiring. Next, compare your current team distribution to how you should organize a team of your size.

Mike's advice on how to structure your team's headcount, roles, and responsibilities based on the three stages of the inbound methodology really struck a chord.

Here is the slide from Mike's INBOUND presentation that everyone took a photo of:

Organization by Team Size

No matter how small your marketing team is, build your "attract" team first and fastest. The long-term payoff of content is enormous. I promise you'll kick yourself later if you aren't investing in content now, for the same reasons you'd kick yourself for not contributing to your retirement fund until you're 40.

  • Mike Volpe
  • Former CMO
  • Hubspot
Mike Volpe

When you think about it—traditionally, most organizations have hired and structured their sales and marketing teams in the exact opposite manner. In the old model, organizations would hire a bunch of business development and salespeople to focus on the bottom-of-funnel. For every ten or 20 salespeople, you might hire one full-time marketer.

I think we can all agree that just about everything in sales and marketing has changed dramatically over the past several years, and team structure ought to follow suit.

Mike's advice about organizing your marketing team by stages of the inbound methodology is the best idea we've come across. It's pretty hard to argue with Mike—after all, HubSpot's year-over-year growth has been soaring ever since the company's inception in 2006.

Hubspot Customer Growth

As an aside—if you'd like to learn more about HubSpot's success and some lessons they've learned along the way, I suggest that you take a few minutes to read this revealing post written by Lars Lofgren, Director of Growth, KISSmetrics.

The post, titled "How HubSpot Approaches Inbound Marketing, Culture and Sales", is packed with behind-the-scenes knowledge bombs about HubSpot's success. The post discusses the story of HubSpot, the forces behind its growth, how they run marketing, and even how they operate the company.

So, how do you build your dream inbound marketing team?

When organizations are considering adopting inbound marketing, one of the most important questions they must ask is whether or not they have the in-house skills and resources to execute the various components of a contemporary marketing plan.

In the end, you will need to decide whether you should recruit, hire, and train an in-house team, hire an inbound marketing agency, or go with a hybrid in-house + agency strategy.

This decision really all comes down to one thing: return on investment.

If you have in-house marketing employees in place, do they have the proper skill set for inbound marketing? Do they have any idle time to take on new initiatives?

If you'd like some help figuring out which hiring model makes the most sense for your situation, you can grab yourself a free copy of the whitepaper How to Determine if You Need an Inbound Marketing Agency to Help with Your Inbound Marketing.

Key Takeaways

  • Inbound marketing is a team sport; you'll need to draw on a wide range of skills to implement and run a comprehensive strategy.
  • Consider the pros and cons of hiring in-house employees vs hiring an agency.
  • Research shows that the typical inbound marketing team is three to five people in size.
  • Invest in a top-of-funnel content creation team first, then begin to hire for business development and sales as you grow your traffic and qualified leads.


5 Educational Resources About Sales and Marketing Alignment — Our Top Picks From Around the Web

How to Create a Dynamic Budget for Inbound Marketing

12. How to Create a Dynamic Budget for Inbound Marketing

Ideas are Useless. Execution is Everything.

No matter how great your proposed inbound marketing strategy might be, it is useless until you gain the executive buy-in and budget approval to actually get it implemented.

As they say—ideas are useless. Execution is everything.

The State of Inbound 2014 Report highlights that spending money is one of marketing's most important jobs.

Whether it's licensing technology, sourcing and distributing content, procuring development resources, or commissioning specialty skills like SEO and video production, spending wisely is a prerequisite for marketing success.

But for many marketers, securing funds can feel like a Catch-22: If budget contributes to results, then how do you get budget before you are able to demonstrate success?

While this situation can certainly be tricky, it's a hurdle you must overcome.

So, how do you create an inbound marketing budget that will cover all the bases AND actually get approved?

First of all—before you go and spend a lot of time creating a detailed inbound marketing strategy specifically for your organization—you'll likely want to begin by presenting the initial vision and the potential return on investment of inbound marketing to your executive team.

This type of initial pitch will give you a platform to share the industry research, explain your vision for inbound marketing, and get an initial gut check from your management team. This is also a good time to discuss overarching business objectives that may impact future marketing efforts.

If you need some data to support your pitch to invest in inbound marketing, you can check out this helpful post by HubSpot's Erik Devaney—The Data You Need to Make a Compelling Case for Inbound Marketing. The post contains over a dozen research findings that outline the business case for investing in inbound marketing, and the amazing return on investment it can provide.

Begin by estimating your ballpark marketing budget based on your company size.

In terms of exactly how much money you should be seeking for an inbound marketing budget, as you can imagine, it really depends…

The amount of money you should invest in inbound marketing depends on things like your organization's business model, the level of competition in your category, your past success with inbound marketing,and your organization's growth goals.

To get a general sense of the ballpark level of investment that may be appropriate for your organization, you can calculate an approximate marketing budget as a percentage of your company's revenue.

A recent Gartner survey showed that, on average, US companies spend 2.5% of their revenue on digital marketing activities. And these efforts are only 25% of the full marketing spend.

So, based on the average of 2.5%, if your company generates $5 million in revenue you should be spending no less than $125,000 on digital marketing. As your marketing budget becomes more focused on inbound initiatives, it could begin to shift into the $250,000 - $500,000 range.

Annual Revenue Inbound Marketing Budget—2.5% of Revenue Inbound Marketing Budget—4% of Revenue Inbound Marketing Budget—8% of Revenue
$2,000,000 $50,000 / year $80,000 / year $160,000 / year
$5,000,000 $125,000 / year $200,000 / year $400,000 / year
$10,000,000 $250,000 / year $400,000 / year $800,000 / year
$100,000,000 $2,500,000 / year $4,000,000 / year $8,000,000 / year

In order to gain final budget approval, you'll likely need to present a detailed plan including the line-by-line dollar estimates for the various aspects of your proposed inbound marketing strategy. While every inbound marketing strategy requires a unique mix of tactics and different level of investment, there are a number of foreseeable line items that you can work into your budget.

Budget Consideration #1 – Inbound Sales & Marketing Software

If you are making a serious investment in inbound marketing, you'll definitely want to have the best software tool available—in our opinion, that is HubSpot.

HubSpot offers a package for $200/month, but pretty much every established organization starts out with the $800/month Pro package. At the Pro level, you will have access to all of the core inbound marketing tools and enough contacts to comfortably get started.

Here is HubSpot's 2014 pricing:

Hubspot Pricing

HubSpot's inbound sales and marketing platform is amazingly powerful and full-featured.

Within HubSpot, you can manage all of your email marketing, social media publishing and monitoring, web analytics, landing pages, content management, blog, and much more.

In addition to all of the amazing inbound marketing features, as of September 2015 all HubSpot customers now also have access to HubSpot's slick new CRM system at no additional charge.

Outside of HubSpot, there are a number of other software tools that you may want to consider including in your inbound marketing budget:

  • Sidekick—HubSpot's Sales Acceleration Add-on (trust me, you want this).
  • GoToWebinar —This is our webinar software platform of choice because it's super dependable and integrates natively with HubSpot.
  • oLark—This live chat software is very customizable, priced well and integrates with HubSpot.
  • Visual Website Optimizer—We use this tool for conversion rate optimization on the majority of our websites.
  • Hootsuite—This is a nice addition to HubSpot's Social Inbox features.
  • BuzzSumo—This tool is super useful for B2C businesses in popular categories.
  • SEMRush—An amazingly powerful competitive research tool.

Monthly inbound marketing software budget

» $800 - $3,000 for HubSpot (depending on the number of contacts you have) + any additional speciality tools you require.

Budget Consideration #2—Initial Setup Task Including Website Iterations & Inbound Marketing Integration

To get started with inbound marketing, there is inevitably a series of design, development, content creation, and software integration tasks required. Calls-to-action will need to be incorporated into your website, conversion paths (including landing pages, thank you pages, autoresponder emails and workflows) will need to be created, your inbound marketing software of choice will need to be set up on your website, and so on.

Depending on where you're starting from, it may be possible to make some small iterations to your existing website and incorporate inbound marketing. Other circumstances require a new conversion-centred website to be developed from the ground up.

On the low end, you'll want to set aside no less than $7,500 to cover these "getting started" setup and integration tasks. If you think you may need to significantly update or even completely redesign your website, you can expect to spend in the range of $15,000 - $40,000 or more depending on the level of software integration and overall project complexity.

One time "getting started with inbound" budget

» $7,500 and up depending on the state of your existing website and the amount of net new content required.

Budget Consideration #3—Ongoing Content Creation & Promotion

Whether you're going to keep your content creation and promotion in-house or you're going to hire an agency, you'll want to dedicate a significant portion of your inbound marketing budget to ongoing content creation and promotion.

In terms of estimating the staffing requirements for your content creation efforts, there are a few things to consider:

  • Frequency

    How much content will you publish each week? You should aim to be publishing no fewer than two blog posts/week and increasing your frequency to five or more posts per week as your strategy gains traction.

  • Complexity

    How complex will your blog's subject matter be? Will the content be highly technical and require a lot of research, or will it be fairly easy to write?

  • Length

    How much detail will you provide in your blog posts? We suggest that the more competitive the subject matter is, the more detail you provide.

  • Format

    Aside from writing blog posts, your content creation budget should include time for designers and developers to create things like interactive cost calculators, new landing page templates, emails, PDFs and so on.

Taking the frequency, complexity, length, and format of your proposed content creation plans into account will help you determine how much effort will be required to support your proposed plan.

At the low end, if you are posting two blog posts each week and it takes you four hours to research, write, edit, and post a blog, you'll need to commit to 32 hours per month.

Doing some rough math like this can quickly reveal the sheer amount of effort required to execute your proposed strategy. Don't fool yourself by underestimating the amount of time that it will take to launch and grow your inbound marketing strategy.

Understaffing your inbound marketing strategy will leave you overwhelmed and constantly behind schedule.

Monthly content creation budget

» $3,500 - $10,000 depending on your growth goals and level of competition in your industry.

Budget Consideration #4—Ongoing Iterations, Testing & Optimization

The final inbound marketing budget line item that we'd like to highlight is ongoing iterations, testing, and optimization work. After your strategy has been launched, you'll need to have a budget for things like conversion rate optimization, tweaking landing pages, designing new email templates, and adding new features and functionality to your website.

Monthly flexible working budget

» $2,000 - $5,000

Budget Consideration #5—Staffing Your Inbound Marketing Strategy (In-House vs Outsourced)

When organizations adopt inbound marketing, one of the biggest budget considerations is whether or not they have the in-house skills and resources to execute the various components of a contemporary marketing plan. Unless you have an extra marketing department that happens to be looking for work, the question becomes whether to recruit, hire, and train an in-house inbound marketing team, hire an inbound marketing agency, or go with a hybrid in-house + agency strategy.

At the end of the day, this decision comes down to one thing: return on investment.

If you have in-house marketing employees in place, do they have the proper skill set for inbound marketing? Do they have any idle time to take on new initiatives?

If you are on the fence between establishing an internal team or hiring an agency, you may want to check out this HubSpot blog post—How to Determine if You Need an Agency to Help with Your Inbound Marketing.

Annual internal staffing costs

» Approximately $65,000+ per internal hire.

Annual agency budget

» A $5,000/month services retainer is equivalent to hiring one internal person at a salary of $65,000.

Key Takeaways

  • On average, North American companies spend 2.5% of revenue on digital marketing.
  • Your inbo und marketing budget should include budget for inbound marketing software, initial setup & integration, ongoing content creation & promotion, budget to hire awesome people to execute your strategy, and some flexible working budget.
  • Hiring a full-service inbound marketing agency can often be more effective than hiring a small internal team with a relatively narrow skillset.


5 Educational Resources About Sales and Marketing Alignment — Our Top Picks From Around the Web


Now that you're an Inbound Marketing pro, what's next?

If your strategy (or lack thereof) was holding you back, you now have the knowledge and tools you need to create a comprehensive, results-focused inbound marketing strategy.

You know about each of the twelve components that go into creating a well-thought-out strategy, why each piece is so important, and how to get started with developing your own competition-crushing inbound marketing strategy.

Here are a couple of things to remember as you venture off into the wild world of inbound marketing:

  • Invest the upfront time to create an initial inbound marketing strategy, but keep in mind that your strategy will immediately evolve once it is launched. "No plan survives contact with the enemy."
  • Buyer Personas are at the core of every successful inbound marketing strategy. Whatever you do, don't skip this step!
  • Rather than relying on opinions or guesses, use data to your advantage as much as possible. "In God we trust, all others must bring data."
  • If you want to generate more inbound leads, focus on improving your conversion rate instead of solely trying to attract more and more website traffic. Solve for conversions.
  • Get into the habit of obsessing over your key performance indicators and reporting on your team's progress. "What gets measured, gets managed."

Good luck with your inbound marketing strategy, and please let us know if you have any questions. We are always here to help!


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