by Adobe Experience Cloud Team
When you’re trying to grow your business, one of the things you need most is qualified leads. Inbound marketing strategies are among the best ways to drive those leads.
You’ve probably heard about inbound marketing, which can be a highly effective tactic for modern marketers — when leveraged correctly. There are countless ideas and approaches out there, but you need ones that really work.
The right inbound marketing strategies can breathe new life into your campaigns and help generate business. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about inbound marketing, with 20 strategies to get started today.
Specifically, this post will cover:
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing
Inbound content marketing strategies
Email strategies for inbound marketing
Inbound marketing strategies for social media
Other inbound marketing strategies
How to start improving your inbound marketing strategies
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a set of practices that allows customers to initiate engagement with brands that provide the resources they’re looking for and help maintain customer relationships by providing ongoing value.
HubSpot coined the term in the early 2000s, and its practice has grown in popularity along with the rise of social media. The big idea is that rather than interrupt a person’s life with a sales pitch, marketers can provide accessible information to help consumers find what they’re looking for while doing their own research.
Inbound marketing shines the spotlight on the customer instead of the business. And this customer-centric approach turns out to be more efficient. Instead of going out and gathering leads at the top of the funnel, you attract customers who are serious about buying. Then you provide value at each stage of the customer journey. That’s why the stages of inbound marketing are similar to the stages of the buyer’s journey — though not the same.
The original inbound marketing funnel included four stages:
However, the funnel has recently been reimagined as a flywheel, showing just how much inbound marketing can help nourish an ongoing relationship with a strong customer base, with one customer-centric stage feeding into another.
Each stage includes different inbound marketing strategies:
Attract (strangers) with SEO, ads, videos, blogs, social media, and content.
Engage (prospects) with lead nurturing, email marketing, conversation bots, and automated marketing.
Delight (customers) with smart content, email marketing, conversations inbox, attribution reporting, and automated marketing.
Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing
The difference between inbound and outbound marketing boils down to who initiates engagement. While outbound marketers go out to find customers, inbound marketers know how to get customers to come to them.
Outbound marketing uses direct promotion such as targeted display ads, radio spots, cold calls, cold emails, or paid search and social. It strives to reach as many people as possible. Inbound, on the other hand, provides information for consumers to find on their own. It strives to reach the right people at the right time.
For example, inbound marketing can provide free content in videos, blog articles, eBooks, guides, websites, and podcasts. Inbound marketing also includes tools that make this content easy to find, like personalized emails, conversation marketing tools, and SEO-optimized websites.
Some say that inbound marketing is better for B2B and outbound is better for B2C, but it really depends on how much information your customers need and the complexity of their buying journey. These days, all types of customers like to do online research before buying anything.
Another difference between the two approaches is that traditional outbound marketing typically has a higher acquisition cost than inbound. Still, many companies use these two strategies together. Outbound methods can start a conversation, and inbound methods can keep the conversation going.
1. Perfect your personas
Personas are especially important for inbound marketing. To attract the right customers, you need to know who they are. And it’s important to note that while keywords and SEO are a big part of inbound marketing, the algorithm is not your customer. The goal is to provide value to real humans — that means it’s all about connection and creating great relationships. And algorithms today are advanced enough to recognize when that is or isn’t happening.
A user persona lists the important information for each type of buyer who is looking for your content. That info can tell you how to craft and situate your marketing. In fact, recent statistics highlight the connection between personas and accessible content.
To create and perfect user personas, start with some basic research. Tools for collecting information include:
Sales team interviews
Customer support logs
Find out how and why people are using your products or services. Look for their pain points. Understand the scenarios that lead them to search for information and the factors that prompt their buying decisions. Once you’ve collected the data, look for patterns. When users have important things in common, create a persona with the complete profile.
Just be sure not to make up fictional narratives for these personas. To ensure they are useful, keep them grounded in real data. Once your personas are perfected, you’ll be ready to create content that’s relevant to the people you studied — and then make it accessible to them.
2. Clarify goals
Setting clear goals can help focus your inbound marketing efforts, measure progress, and keep your team motivated. Inbound marketers recommend using the SMART acronym:
Specific. Avoid generalities like “drive more traffic.”
Measurable. Use metrics like clickthrough rate (CTR) and return on investment (ROI).
Attainable. Think realistically about what your team can accomplish.
Relevant. Tie the goal to business objectives.
Time-bound. Set a date or dates for each phase of progress.
Startups might be especially interested in setting a goal for visits. Site visits can tell you how much traffic your inbound marketing is generating. As you get more advanced, you can set goals related to the size and quality of your contact list. If you have plenty of visits and contacts but you’re not closing sales, set a goal for turning leads into customers.
To attract the right customers, you need to know who they are. And it’s important to note that while keywords and SEO are a big part of inbound marketing, the algorithm is not your customer. The goal is to provide value to real humans — that means it’s all about connection and creating great relationships.
Inbound content marketing strategies
Content marketing is often confused with inbound marketing. They are intertwined closely but not exactly the same thing. Content marketing focuses on creating targeted content such as blogs, podcasts, webinars, and videos. Content is the lifeblood of a good inbound marketing campaign, but it can be promoted in outbound campaigns too.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 69% of the most successful B2B companies have a documented content marketing strategy.
Adobe recommends these steps for creating a strong content marketing strategy:
Define your content’s mission.
Set goals for your digital marketing.
Brainstorm content themes.
Decide where to host or distribute content.
Define your content formats.
Build a content calendar.
Test, learn, adjust, and repeat.
As you build your marketing content library, you need to know what kind of content will reach your target audience. Some of the top formats in 2022 were videos, blogs, and infographics.
Video typically has the highest ROI of any content format — and when used on landing pages, it can improve conversions by 86%. Videos can also be effective on social media channels like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
3. Guest posting on other sites
Guest posting is a great way to open new channels of inbound traffic. It’s also an excellent long-term strategy because even old blog posts continue to show up in searches and bring in new leads.
The great news is that many publications are looking to maintain or increase the amount of guest content they publish.
Here are a few tips for getting started:
Create quality content. Editors won’t publish just anything — 85% of those surveyed said their main reason for accepting and publishing content is to share new insights with their readers. The best strategy for getting your article accepted — and getting the audience’s attention — is to provide quality content. Avoid stating the obvious or recycling information that’s already out there. Use success stories and personal insights from your team. Offer new angles or information not already widely used by your customer base.
Set goals. Align the post with your own company’s goals. That might be driving traffic to relevant pages, improving SEO, increasing subscribers, building brand and product or service awareness, or something else.
Find and evaluate opportunities. Use resources like SparkToro, where you can discover who and what your audience is talking about, or Moz’s open Link Explorer, where you can see how audiences are responding to a domain. Search for listings that include phrases such as “contribute to our blog.”
4. Optimize your own site for organic search
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a great inbound marketing strategy because consumers and B2B buyers use Google more than ever to answer their questions at every stage of the funnel — including the closing stages. SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads have a 1.7% close rate.
SEO in 2023 isn’t all about content, but it almost is. If the site is in good technical order and functioning properly, competitive SEO content will win rankings and drive new leads to your site.
Competitive content can earn a brand authority and trust — and eventually sales — by being there for the audience every step of the way.
Keywords can be helpful for organizing and prioritizing content, and they make your content findable. But to win over the algorithm and potential customers, you need to play the long game. Focus on quality over quantity. Even Google recommends focusing on the EAT acronym:
There are countless ways to improve your SEO strategy, but here are a few steps to get started:
Perform a technical audit.
Find resources and tools to do it yourself or hire an agency.
Figure out what questions each persona is asking at each stage of the buying journey.
Start creating content to provide the best UX for those needs.
5. Give away free content downloads
Gated content is a great inbound marketing strategy because it generates qualified leads. Users just need to provide their information to get a free download. This information can then help you understand your customers and continue offering relevant content. There needs to be a strong incentive for someone to give their information, so the content you deliver needs to have real value.
But the investment can pay off in big ways — 81% of B2B companies said the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their buying decision.
Here are some tips for getting started:
Create original long-form content — whether that’s an eBook, guide, webinar, or other type.
Segment your content for different audiences.
Tailor your content to the buyer’s journey.
Build a landing page.
Use metrics to evaluate and adjust.
6. Make sure your content is mobile-friendly
Mobile phones are used for a huge amount of the web traffic you want to capture. Google has found that 50% of B2B search queries are made on smartphones — but not all content is mobile-friendly. And for every one-second delay in mobile page load times, conversions can drop by 20%.
Here are a few ways to make sure your inbound marketing campaigns will shine on mobile devices:
Use responsive web design (RWD). RWD is a technique that allows websites to display on all devices, adapt to different screen sizes, and respond to user behavior, such as switching from portrait to landscape view, all with a single HTML code and URL.
Use space wisely. You really don’t have a lot of space to work with. Too much content will be so small that it’s unreadable or will require too much scrolling.
Get to the point. Smartphone users are looking for quick answers.
You can test your website without using various devices. Just open your website in Google Chrome. Then:
Press Ctrl + Shift + I to open Chrome DevTools.
Press Ctrl + Shift + M to toggle the device toolbar.
View your page from a mobile, tablet, or desktop perspective.
7. Practice and test headlines
Headlines can make or break the success of your inbound marketing content. A headline is far more than a title. This handful of words is usually the first thing that people see when searching online, so the headline might be your only chance to convince new leads to click and keep reading. Traffic could vary up to 500% because of your headlines.
Headlines that attract inbound traffic are:
Promising. You might think of the headline as a promise that you’re making to consumers — if they read, watch, or listen to this content, what problem will it help them solve or what value will it add to their business? In other words, headlines help answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Be sure the headline makes a promise you can keep. Clickbait doesn’t generate leads.
Specific. Good headlines don’t simply indicate the general topic. Use keywords connected to the unique insight or angle that you’re offering.
Tailored. Just like the rest of your content, headlines should be tailored to audience segments and stages of the buyer journey.
It’s worth the time you might spend writing, rewriting, and testing headlines. Do some research on the type of headlines that get the most traction for your target platform and audience.
One useful analysis of 10 million B2B articles shared on LinkedIn has some compelling insights:
The phrase “how to” gets the most shares.
Mentions of trending topics generate engagement.
Emotional and tribal language works on Facebook, while an informational or aspirational tone is better on LinkedIn.
List posts beginning with 5 and 10 get a lot of shares, especially when they help people.
The best length for a headline is 7 to 12 words.
8. Write the best long-form content on the web
Long-form content is an effective inbound marketing strategy for a lot of reasons. Admittedly, you won’t be able to churn it out and share it as easily. It takes a greater investment of time, energy, thought, and money. But the benefits are many. Long-form content can earn you:
Trust. It’s one of the best ways to establish authority. When consumers find the detailed, high-quality information they need in an eBook or guide, for example, they begin to see the provider of that information as a reliable expert. Building this kind of relationship with customers is really what inbound marketing is all about.
Views. Longer articles actually perform better on social media. That’s probably because they are more likely to have the depth and insight that audiences find worth sharing.
Qualified leads. Long-form content can motivate people to sign up for a mailing list. With targeted content, you can attract the exact category of leads you’re looking for. You’ll know they are interested in the types of products or services you offer when they actively seek out the relevant information.
Connections. Producing this content can be an exciting networking opportunity. You can seek out collaborators and reviewers to improve content quality and build professional relationships and connections with a larger audience.
Boosted SERP ranking. Longer text allows for a higher quantity and quality of keyword use. Plus, it takes longer to read. That longer dwell time can positively influence rankings.
Higher conversion rates. One controlled study tested content in two formats and found that the long-form version performed better, including a 30% higher conversion rate.
Long-form content takes a greater investment of time, energy, thought, and money. But the benefits to doing it are many.
The appeal of long-form content might be obvious at this point. It’s growing in popularity for good reasons, but that means you have some competition. As content becomes more widely available in your industry, you need to produce the best long-form material out there. But don’t be intimidated. Here are a few steps for getting started:
Identify the needs of your audience. Inbound marketing is all about the customer. No one will be interested unless it solves a problem for them in a tangible way.
Identify your expertise. Consider what makes your product or service unique. Whatever that is, it means that you have insights that no one else does. Whether you produce the content internally or outsource the work, take advantage of your team’s knowledge base.
Decide on the form and distribution method. Possibilities include eBooks, articles, videos, webinars, case studies, ultimate guides, reports, and tutorials.
Create a landing page. Whether gated or ungated, you’ll need a dedicated page to host the content and collect data.
Make a plan. Outline the content you plan to produce and get it on a schedule.
Set goals. Tie the content to your business objectives and choose the metrics that will help you evaluate and make adjustments.
9. Write the most helpful bite-sized content on the web
Everyone likes to complain about the increasingly microscopic attention spans of digital media consumers. But a bite-sized inbound marketing strategy is not just about shiny, attention-grabbing communication. Bite-sized content makes a lot of sense for modern mediums of marketing. And it’s been shown that meaningful learning can happen in small doses.
Mercedes Ortiz calls these new systems a “bite-sized economy.” Short snippets can form strong streams of information and have a much wider reach. Bite-sized content can include memes, gifs, push notifications, infographics, social posts, social videos, emails, and short blog posts.
Here are a few tips for making effective bite-sized content:
Use it to give a preview, snapshot, or behind-the-scenes look at a larger piece of content or event.
Respond to trending topics, seasons, holidays, or events.
Plan content to appear in a series — for example, of social posts — that can tell a longer story.
Include a CTA — ask the audience to share or comment.
Use eye-catching quotes or numbers.
Use images, videos, gifs, and emojis.
10. Refresh old, outdated content
Refreshing old content is an important inbound marketing strategy because even if it’s been around a while, that content is still out there and available in search results. To keep your brand relevant, you want to make sure your material is updated.
Refreshing content might sound like a chore — but when you make a plan, it will be easy to implement and get better results. This kind of upkeep is also a great idea because you don’t have to start from scratch to stay on a production schedule. In addition to being repurposed, existing assets can inspire new connections and fresh ideas.
To identify what’s worth revisiting, look for content that is evergreen and has performed well. What are the topics that get attention and still apply? Another strategy is to do keyword research. Use Google Search Console or Google Analytics to find articles within striking distance of the top ranking — and give them another boost by adding to, updating, or polishing them. Then put these into the production pipeline and get them on a schedule.
The bigger challenge might be knowing exactly how to refresh the content. Here are a few ideas:
Review keywords as there might be changes or gaps in how well these posts apply to your current strategy.
Update any posts that use keyword stuffing and try more natural language.
Optimize for SEO by adding a meta title and description with the right keywords.
Optimize content for search intent.
Email strategies for inbound marketing
Email might sound like an outbound strategy, but it’s actually an incredibly effective inbound marketing tool. Although an email is something you send out, you can use it to reach consumers who have chosen to be contacted, and it can be used to send information rather than promotions. It is a fantastic tool for lead nurturing and has the highest ROI of any marketing strategy — an incredible average of 4,400%.
11. Build your email list with opt-in forms
Opt-in forms are the difference between spam email and a smart inbound marketing strategy. The benefit of using an opt-in form is not only that you know your recipients want to be contacted but also that you can customize and segment your email lists with questions about what kind of information someone wants to receive.
Here are some strategies for success with opt-in forms:
Craft a trustworthy privacy statement. Use a casual but professional tone.
Provide a worthy incentive. It can be a one-time content offer, subscription, or perks.
Use a “double opt-in” to confirm interest. This means that the subscriber receives an email with a button to confirm their subscription. This added step confirms a higher level of interest and allows you to establish a relationship with the receiver.
12. Launch an email course
An email course is a great inbound marketing strategy because it allows you to establish a relationship with customers in a different way than a one-time, long-form content download might do. It is a highly targeted and personalized form of email.
A short course can serve as a preview or a free trial to get customers interested in other paid services. It helps to start with an established list of subscribers, but a course offering can help you grow your list. Create several different courses for different audience segments and allow them to select their interests in a sign-up form.
Content: As much as people like to be educated, the real motivator to sign up for a course and give out their information is that they have a problem they want to solve. Before you develop a course, understand what your customers want to accomplish and what is standing in their way. Do keyword research to see what questions are being asked. Consult sales and service teams to understand pain points.
Structure: An email course should stay on the shorter side. It could be 5 to 7 consecutive days, or it could be a weekly series over 3 or 4 weeks. Each lesson should be numbered and titled in the subject line of the email.
Design: Start with the end goal in mind — what your audience needs to be able to do or a specific call to action — and work backward. What are the steps they need to take to get there? Each step can be a separate lesson. End each lesson with a preview of the next.
13. Use email automation for effective drip campaigns
Email automation is a good inbound strategy because it allows you to focus on customers based on their behavior and nurture leads. A drip campaign just means that multiple emails can be sent on a schedule, usually based on a customer action that triggers it. Drip campaigns get 80% higher open rates than single-send emails and three times higher open rates.
An email can be triggered for different actions:
The key to using drip campaigns effectively is to understand your customers. Automation works better with analytics. When you understand audience segments and customer journeys, you can set up drip campaigns that help your customers feel understood and appreciated.
14. Personalize those emails
Let’s face it. We all know when we’re getting spammed. But an email that you signed up to receive or that is tailored to you is more likely to capture your interest. Personalized emails allow customers to interact with you on their terms, and they get results.
They also deliver results. Emails with personalized subject lines have an open rate that’s more than 20% higher than those with generic or static subject lines, and personalized messages have been shown to produce a 139% increase in click rate compared to static one-time sends. What’s more, according to a recent report, the revenue generated from personalized emails is 5.7 times higher than non-personalized emails.
To get started, do some basic audience segmentation. Identify demographics like age, location, and gender. Then talk to your sales and service teams, read reviews, and survey customers to understand pain points. Once you understand customer motivations, create personas. Segment your lists and craft emails for each persona.
Inbound marketing strategies for social media
Inbound marketing is all about ensuring that your customers can find you — and these days, the place to be found is on social media. The majority of buyers do research via social media, and in 2023, social media is a more important marketing channel than ever.
15. Work with influencers
Influencer marketing is an important inbound marketing strategy because it gives you access to an audience that is primed for your message. You benefit from their reputation and the trust their audience has for them. Marketing professionals invested more and more in influencer marketing in 2022, and 81% of marketers that tried influencer marketing say that it’s effective.
Influencers are not just celebrities. An influencer is anyone with a following in a certain area who can talk with credibility about that subject. They can be employee advocates, brand partners, and thought leaders. They can also be micro-influencers, or people with a large or medium-sized following who are paid to try products and talk about them.
According to a 2020 survey, Instagram and YouTube are the most important platforms for influencer marketing. Here’s a list of tools that can help you find and understand an influencer’s reach, SERP ranking, domain authority, page views, and social engagement:
Moz open Link Explorer
A great way to use influencer marketing is through partnerships. Propose the creation of a new project or event that utilizes both sets of skills and talents.
16. Use video on social media
Using videos on social media is a great inbound marketing strategy because people spend so much time browsing social media, and their feeds are tailored to their interests. In fact, 55% of people surveyed watch videos daily.
One advantage to this inbound marketing strategy is that content can be created and shared quickly and easily. You can even create quality videos on your phone, and there are many accessible multimedia editing tools.
Some ideas for content include:
It’s a good idea to use emotion and storytelling in your videos. Even traditional ads are turning to short-form storytelling that feels more like entertainment than promotion. Effective videos include a call to action, such as subscribing, joining a community, or commenting.
Other inbound marketing strategies
Several other inbound marketing strategies are known to work for the right business and audience scenarios. You can determine if these are right for you based on your needs.
17. Start a podcast
Podcasting is a great inbound marketing strategy because podcasts are increasingly popular, and hosting a podcast gives you access to an audience share that you might not reach through video or written content. Many people use podcasts to stay educated and up-to-date in their field, so they appreciate sources that provide useful information.
Here are some tips for getting started:
Produce quality content. Go back to the pain points of your target audience and consider what kind of information they need. Interviews with other experts are the best way to bring in fresh insight and relevant content. They’re also more engaging than listening to just one person talking.
Invest in a quality microphone. A microphone is really the most important piece of production equipment, and you can get one designed for podcasting at a reasonable price.
Plan and schedule. Come up with and commit to a production and content schedule.
Learn how to use simple editing software. There are many free options available as well as more advanced tools.
Choose a hosting platform. Buzzsprout is commonly recommended.
Make a landing page. The podcast should be tied to your website with a dedicated page.
More than a single strategy, inbound marketing is a philosophy about how to approach customers.
18. Launch a loyalty program
A loyalty program is an important form of inbound marketing because it’s all about customer service and creating great customer relationships. Plus, current customers are worth the investment. It costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain one, and existing customers spend significantly more than new ones.
Customers are loyal to brands that show they understand them and provide a great experience. For that reason, loyalty programs are not just about rewards and discounts. They should be designed around delighting customers. Every customer interaction is an opportunity.
As you design a loyalty program, think about your customers’ needs and values. What motivates them at a superficial and a deeper level? The benefits of loyalty programs include free trials, memberships, access to events, subscriptions, charitable donations, and other perks.
Here are some tips for creating a successful program:
Make your program accessible with a mobile device.
Create multiple touchpoints and channels with consistent branding and synced data.
Tie the program to physical experiences such as events or in-store activations.
Connect rewards to reviews and ratings.
Beware of making it too hard to earn rewards, and don’t ask customers to pay a fee.
19. Use remarketing to nurture inbound visitors
Remarketing is reaching out to customers who showed interest but didn’t complete a purchase or who have dropped off in activity, and it’s a great inbound marketing strategy because it responds to customer behavior and tailors marketing to customer interests. A classic example that you’ve surely seen is an abandoned shopping cart email.
The hardest and most important part of remarketing is understanding customer intent, which involves following the clues available to you through individual interactions. It can be like solving a good mystery on a huge scale. The best way to do that is with analytic tools that can help you track customer journeys.
The value of analytics to remarketing is evident in a variety of ways. It helps you to understand your customer — not just who they are and what they do, but the context in which their decisions are made. This gives you the insight you need to provide real value. Analytics also offers you the ability to notice those moments when conversion falters and then to act quickly and automatically to respond.
20. Monitor and refine your inbound marketing strategies
As you put inbound marketing practices into motion, the key to success will be to monitor and refine. If you set clear goals from the start and tie some key metrics to each campaign, you will be able to understand how well it’s going and make adjustments.
It’s important to experiment with email marketing. Use social media to interact with customers and get feedback. Do A/B testing and update personas as needed. If something isn’t working, try a new type of content or a new channel.
Use these metrics for feedback:
Landing page performance
Start improving your inbound marketing strategies
More than a single strategy, inbound marketing is a philosophy about how to approach customers. The most important factor is how well you shine the light on customers by serving them and creating a great experience, and there are countless ways to do that. When your marketing practices are strategically designed to help customers find what they are looking for, customers will appreciate that value, and your bottom line will reflect their satisfaction.
To get started with inbound marketing, you only need to choose a few strategies from this list. You can bookmark the page and come back to it once you’re ready to try another one.
All the possibilities can be overwhelming. Adobe Campaign can help you organize and manage your inbound marketing strategy so you can start seeing results faster.
Watch this demo video to learn more.