Inbound Marketing Guide for Startup Companies: 2021 Edition

For startups, how you market your business can make or break your growth, and we all know that growth is very important when you run a startup business, and in some cases are even more important than profits. 

However, startup businesses must also face the reality of a limited marketing budget, as well as limited talent resources and time. This is why startup marketing is often a unique challenge, and marketers must make sure every investment and effort count by ensuring they are well-planned and well-executed. 

With that being said, inbound marketing is one of the most cost-efficient and effective marketing channels that should be considered by all startup businesses. 

In this guide, we will discuss how we can effectively use inbound marketing to grow your startup business, and starting from the beginning, let us first discuss the concept of inbound marketing. 

What Is Inbound Marketing?

There is a very common misconception that inbound marketing is essentially just SEO masked in a newer, more polished name. While there’s some truth to that, and SEO is certainly the core aspect of any inbound marketing, inbound marketing is much more than just SEO

To really understand inbound marketing and what it does, we have to first understand the issue with traditional (or outbound) marketing. 

Traditional outbound marketing efforts are mainly designed to push the promotional messages outwards to reach as many people as possible–even if they aren’t your ideal audience. 

For example, we may advertise our product on a billboard on the side of a busy highway. Probably 1,000 people are going to see this billboard every day, but only a fraction of them are going to be your ideal audience. 

The next problem with these traditional marketing efforts is that they tend to be disruptive and will interrupt what your target audience is currently doing, and people hate it when they are disrupted

For example, we might be watching a YouTube video, and then suddenly an ad is showing. In this case, there is a possibility that we’ll hate the brand being advertised (although it’s not exactly the brand’s fault, per se). 

Inbound marketing is essentially developed to tackle these issues. 

So, what is inbound marketing?

As opposed to traditional outbound marketing, inbound marketing is designed to pull your target audience (and not just random people) inwards. The audience is the one proactively looking for your information related to your brand, and so they won’t be disrupted with your promotional message. 

In practice, this is achieved via four core elements: 

  1. Valuable content that is relevant for your audience
  2. SEO to ensure as many ideal audiences as possible can find this content
  3. Social media presence to promote our content and assist our brand’s mission in becoming the top of mind brand for our target audience
  4. Promoting your content heavily with other marketing channels

However, now that we’ve successfully attracted people to consume our content, now what? Let us then discuss how inbound marketing actually works. 

How Inbound Marketing Works

Hubspot, who actually ‘invented’ the term inbound marketing back in 2006, divided inbound marketing into four different stages:

  1. Attract: Here, we are attracting strangers into website visitors by publishing and promoting high-quality blog posts, social media posts, and other types of content.
  2. Convert: Converting website visitors into leads or prospects. This is typically done by using lead magnets (more on this later) to capture the visitors’ contact information using opt-in forms
  3. Close: Convincing these leads to make the purchase, turning them into customers. We can do this by nurturing them through email marketing and other means. 
  4. Delight: Keeping existing customers happy so they will recommend your business to their friends and customers as advocates. We do this by continuously providing valuable, targeted content and keep nurturing them with various campaigns

As you can see, the basic flow of inbound marketing is fairly simple, but it has proven to be so effective for so many companies over the past decade, including for startup companies.

Below, we will discuss how we can effectively plan and execute inbound marketing for startup companies. 

Let’s get started. 

Step-By-Step Guide to Inbound Marketing for Startup

Step 1: Identify Your Target Audience

The very basic principle of inbound marketing is to create the right content to attract the right people at the right time. Thus, the first, and also most important aspect of planning an inbound marketing strategy is to identify your target audience and understand as much as you can about what information your target audience needs. You’ll need to understand their behaviors, needs, pain points, and figure out how to attract them based on these insights. 

In this stage, you should develop a buyer persona, a fictional model of your perfect target audience. The buyer persona should include at least the following details: 

  • Demographic data (gender, age, geographic location, educational/business background, etc.)
  • Psychographic data (purchase behaviors, motivations)
  • Their challenges/pain points
  • Where do they go for information (i.e. what social media networks are they on)

Here is how you can gain these insights: 

Review your social media insights

Most major social media networks provide their respective analytics tools so you can review various demographics and behavioral data. If you have a Facebook Page with an adequate amount of Fans, for example, you can go to Insights to check the demographics data of your (potential) customers. By knowing who follows your social media, you’ll get a general idea of who is interested in your startup business. 

Conduct surveys and interviews

One of the most effective ways to actually get to know your target audience is by interviewing your existing customers. 

You can also use online surveys, for example with tools like Google Forms to gain insights from your existing email list or social media followers, if you already have them. 

You should mainly figure out their pain points with these surveys. For example by asking “what is your current biggest struggle in your field?” Your objective is to understand the problems they are currently facing, so you can develop content that can answer these problems. 

If possible, however, you should contact customers or prospects that are as close as your buyer persona and conduct in-depth interviews with them. You can, for example, ask them for a 10-minute Zoom call. Be honest that you are conducting interviews to try to understand their struggles, and mention that you’ll try to help with advice if possible. In many cases, they’ll be excited about this since you are basically giving them a free consultation. 

Step 2: Develop High-Quality Content

Once you’ve figured out your ideal audience’s problems and needs, then the next step is to develop high-quality content that can answer these problems. 

In inbound marketing, your content should not focus on promoting your product or service, or your brand. Also, if your content is generic without any unique value, you simply won’t attract more people. 

We should remember that nowadays content does come in various different forms, not just textual blog posts. You can definitely publish YouTube videos, podcasts, infographics, and other forms of content as you see fit, based on your audience’s behaviors and preferences. 

Yet, text-based content is still very important with how powerful SEO is in driving website visitors, so you should still focus on consistently publishing high-quality, textual content.

With thousands of new content being published every single day, however, ensuring your content stand out from all the others is very important, and here are some key strategies you should consider to do so: 

Keyword Research

Since SEO will be the primary way to promote your content, then you should make sure your content is targeting valuable, high-volume keywords. 

The idea is to create topics around keywords that your target audience will search for, and there are three basic principles to follow: 

  1. Your target keyword should be relevant and popular for your target audience. You can measure monthly search volume to determine keyword popularity. 
  2. The target keyword must also be valuable and relevant for your business. Not all keywords that are popular with your target audience are going to be related to your product/service. 
  3. Based on your available budget and timeline, the competition for the keyword must be manageable. 

Optimize Your Headline

Your headline is what your target audience will notice first, and often will be the decisive factor whether they’ll click and consume the content–or not. 

You should optimize your headline for SEO: include your target keyword, and if you can place the keyword upfront, the better. However, focus on ensuring that your headline is attractive and clickable.

There are definitely a lot of different techniques you can try in optimizing your headlines to be more appealing, but here are some general principles you can follow: 

  • Focus on evoking emotions. If you can invoke curiosity, people are more likely to click your content. If you are familiar with the concept of clickbait, then you are essentially doing clickbait but you actually talk about what the headline says in the content. 
  • Using numbers in your headline tends to attract more readers. According to research, this is because it creates some sort of predictability for the reader about how long the content will be and that they perceive that the content will be fairly easy to read because it will be split into sections. 
  • Keep your headlines short (below 12 words long) so they are easier to digest quickly as readers browse through the search engine results. 
  • Use question-shaped headlines (i.e “Is Inbound Marketing Still Effective in 2021?”) whenever appropriate.

A great way to come up with title ideas is to take a look at your competitors’ content. Also, you can talk with your existing customers and review your previous content’s performance and check which content seems to be getting the most attention. 

There are actually various tools available to help you with headline optimizations, but you can also perform A/B testing manually, for example by sending content with two different headlines when sending out email marketing campaigns, and check which has a higher click-through rate. 

Diversify Your Content Medium

Don’t just use large blocks of text with your content, even if it’s designed as a serious, technical piece. 

Use images, infographics, charts, and even embed videos to make the content more engaging and interactive. 

The longer you can keep your audience to consume your content, the better, for two main reasons: 

  1. The longer you can keep them on your website, the more chances you’ll have to convert them into leads and customers
  2. Dwell time and bounce rate are actually SEO ranking factors. The longer your audience spent consuming your content, the higher your SERP ranking will be

So, make your content as attractive and engaging as possible, and don’t be afraid in experimenting with different mediums. 

Create In-Depth, Data-Driven Content

Above, we have discussed how generic, self-service content simply won’t cut it if you are really serious about inbound marketing. 

Generally, the longer the content, the better. The longer your content (if you can keep it attractive) will translate into your visitor spending more time on your site/platform, and as discussed, we’d want to keep them as long as possible. 

However, the longer the content, the more difficult it will be to maintain quality and engagement, and so finding the right balance is very important here. 

Make sure your content is well-researched, in-depth, and supported by data and analysis. Focus on providing value and helping your customers in solving their problems. 

Also, the more useful your content is, the more likely your readers are going to share it with their peers, which will further improve the performance of this content. 

Step 3: Promoting Your Content

No matter how good your content is, it won’t really bring any value unless someone actually consumes it. 

So, we have to remember that content promotion is just as, if not even more important than the content development process. 

While content promotion can be a pretty deep subject to discuss, and there are certainly various marketing channels you can use, here are some best practices you should consider: 

Promote to Get Backlinks

Backlinks or inbound links remain one of the most important SEO ranking factors, and when promoting your backlinks through various marketing channels, you should also focus on generating backlinks to your content.

Guest posting is still very effective if you want to generate more backlinks and traffic to your site. Outreach to relevant blogs and sites in your niche, and attempt to contribute guest posts as consistently as possible. 

t’s important to note that nowadays, the quality of the inbound link is more important than quantity. In fact, getting too many backlinks at one time—even if they are authoritative—, can get you penalized

Aim to get 3 to 5 high-quality backlinks each month.

Social Media Promotion

With most people nowadays are active on social media, it would only make sense to promote your content on social media, even if you are a B2B startup. 

There are two different aspects of content promotion in social media: organic and paid. 

Organic, is when you grow your own social media followers—and thus, your organic reach—, so when you share your content in your social media profiles, you’ll reach a lot of people. 

Paid, as the name suggests, is when you invest in social media advertising. For example, you can use Facebook’s Boost Post feature to promote content published on your Facebook Page.

Paid options will guarantee faster results, but obviously, they will be more expensive than organic options. It’s important to find the right balance here, and don’t forget you can also work with influencers and ask them to help promote your content.  

Email Marketing

Promote your content to your email list. Content promotion via email is not only powerful in the lead generation stage, but also in lead nurturing and in optimizing customer retention. 

Step 4: Technical SEO Optimizations

Besides getting more backlinks, 

SEO by itself is a pretty broad subject, and you might want to check out our previous guide on SEO here. 

However, here are some key areas to focus on when optimizing the technical aspect of your content and website: 

  • Make sure your page is mobile-responsive
  • Optimize your page speed. Use Google PageSpeed Insights to assess the site’s performance, and make it’s well-optimized
  • Optimize your content for the target keywords, but use the keywords naturally. Focus on providing value to your human readers, and make sure it’s natural to read
  • Make sure the content is free of grammatical errors, and ensure it is well structured
  • Optimize your headlines and META description. Use target keywords naturally when you can
  • Perform structured data (schema.org) when applicable. This will allow your site to be viable for rich snippets. You might want to check this guide on how to implement structured data markup.
  • Optimize the website’s interface (navigation menus, layout, etc.) to ensure your visitor can get the best possible experience—to maximize dwell time—. 

Remember that technical SEO optimization is not a one-off thing, but a continuous process. Test everything regularly, and test on as many different devices as possible, and don’t hesitate to readjust and reoptimize when needed. 

Step 5: Optimizing Your Lead Magnet

Now that we’ve got high-quality and optimized content, now what? 

The next step is to ensure our readers convert: from visitors into leads, from leads into customers, and from customers into advocates.

We generate these conversions through lead magnets

Lead magnets are, essentially, offering something valuable (a magnet) for free. The audience can get this offer by submitting their contact information, effectively converting them into leads

There are various forms of lead magnets you can use, but there are only two principles to follow: 

  1. It has to be related to what you sell and related to the content they are currently consuming
  2. It has to be perceived as valuable by your target audience

The most basic form of lead magnet is more in-depth content related to the content they are currently consuming. For example, if the content is about SEO, then the lead magnet can be an ebook covering a more in-depth discussion about SEO. 

You can check out this huge list by Optinmonster on 69 lead magnet ideas you can try. 

Step 6: Monitoring and Evaluation

SEO as the core of inbound marketing is a long-term game, so it’s very important to establish a system where we can audit and monitor our SEO performance so we can make adjustments when it’s due, and maintain consistency in our strategy.

We can use various tools from the free Google Analytics to premium tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to monitor SEO-related metrics on our website. However, it’s more important to know what metrics we should monitor. 

In general, we should monitor: 

  • Technical side
    • Site indexation
    • Page Speed (you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights for this)
    • Mobile-responsiveness
    • Title tags and meta descriptions on all pages, and whether they are properly optimized
    • Alt text on images
  • Content aspect
    • Whether your content is free of grammatical and spelling errors.
    • Check the relevance of the information, and whether there’s more up-to-date data so you can update your content.
    • Proper internal linking structure
    • Whether the content has fulfilled the intended objective/catering to a specific search intent
  • Performance metrics
    • Traffic from organic search
    • Referral traffic
    • Pages that have relatively low/no traffic
    • Improvements/negative changes in rankings
    • Backlinks profile and its growth
    • Best performing and least performing content
    • Content conversion rate

Don’t hesitate to make the necessary adjustments based on these metrics, and attempt to continuously improve your strategy. Dedicate time to update existing content according to their performance. 

Conclusion

Above, we’ve learned all you need to know about how to use inbound marketing to grow your startup business, and we’ve also discussed a step-by-step guide on implementing inbound marketing. 

It’s important, however, to remember that although inbound marketing is definitely effective, it is a long-term game. You will need to invest at least 6 to 12 months before you see significant results from your inbound marketing campaign. Once it is well established, however, you will get a sustainable source of traffic and prospects that can generate revenue for years to come. 

Inbound marketing is ultimately about consistency both in the quality of your content and quantity in publication. Also, there’s the factor of growing your backlinks profile while maintaining quality. 

In short, treat inbound marketing for your startup company as a marathon, and not a sprint. Attempt to stay consistent until you’ve reached the finish line where you’ll get a sustainable source of organic traffic, leads, and ultimately, customers. 

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