As Theodore Levitt, the late, great Harvard Business School marketing professor, used to tell his students:
“People don't want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
— Theodore Levitt
In other words, inbound marketing isn't the goal—it's a tool. What you really want is more customers, and inbound marketing will pave the way. Here are some realistic expectations for the deliverables you'll see after one year of an inbound marketing strategy:
A Year of Progress
The first three months focused heavily on research, strategy, and setup. You laid out buyer personas, collected keywords to help with SEO, and integrated your content platforms. There were the first rumblings of content worked in at the end, but everything was so shiny and new that no solid measurables were ready to be tracked yet.
By six months, you were better established. With all of the machinery finally in place, you spent those months churning out your first inbound marketing campaigns. A heavy focus on building out content offers and nurturing traffic into leads was even starting to spark new sales activity.
Metrics at that point showed traction with organic web traffic, landing pages were starting to convert, and your CRM was collecting contacts for email drips. Things were feeling good. However, you were still waiting on the solid returns that would prove your inbound marketing strategy was helping to close deals. You wanted that quarter-inch hole.
So you stayed the course. It was definitely too early to pivot—all those leads you'd been collecting were still working their way through the buyer's journey, circling the lower sales funnel.
And now, here we are. You've spent 12 months establishing baselines for:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Web Design
- Email Marketing Automation
- Social Media Management
- Project/Campaign Management
For many companies, this is the point where you've got your full funnel churning. Your content library now spans a variety of formats and channels, and your KPI dashboard is showing performance trends (and gradual growth) at every stage of the sales process:
With all of those gears spinning and processes in place, you'll have accomplished these gains:
- Substantial content volume—for every stage of the buyer's journey
- A large influx of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)
- An established contact list (that's still growing)
- Consistent traffic and lead generation
- Continuous, ongoing lead nurturing (via email automation)
- Increased reach and authority
The exact mileage and numbers will differ for every company. Some get to this point more quickly, and others take more time. It all comes down to your unique mix of preparation, strategy, and context.
For example, your company's business niche may feature heavy market competition. Or perhaps your product/service is intended for a small, but specialized audience. If you already had a blog with active readership and a backlog of content before officially launching your inbound marketing strategy, you were already one step ahead of companies that started from scratch.
While you can't control some of these factors, others—like content creation—are firmly within your sphere of influence.
3 Dials Control Your Content Marketing Results
Content is a huge proponent of your overall inbound marketing strategy. However, the actual results your content can produce in a year of inbound content marketing depends upon three things:
- The pace of your content calendar
- The quality of the content
- How you're sharing or promoting the content
Blogs need to be useful and informative, but they don't need to be overly long and comprehensive. You'd only be able to produce so many such pieces in a month. There's something to be said for quantity—an endless bag of bite-sized value.
According to HubSpot, companies that publish 11+ blog posts each month get 2-3 times as much traffic as companies that publish 0-1 times each month. This advantage shows up whether you've got 1 employee or 200.
With 16+ blog posts each month, you'll get a whopping 3.5 times as much traffic as you would with 0-4 monthly posts.
It pays to map out a rich content calendar with frequent updates throughout the first year of your inbound marketing strategy. Fresh supplies of content will boost you in SEO algorithms and keep your audience coming back for more.
Next, you've got to figure out which content in your collection is drawing the most visitors and converting the most leads. This, more than any arbitrary standard, is a sign of quality and relevance. Your target audience is telling you with its readership that it wants more content like that. By the end of that first year, you'll finally have enough history on the books to analyze all your data and glean some valuable insights.
Interestingly, 92% of leads and 76% of views come from “old” content. If it's good, your content will stay relevant for a long time.
In order to perform, your content needs to be seen. Writing it (or filming/recording/designing it) and putting it up on a blog is not enough. Try expanding the reach of your content as you move through your first year with some of these inbound marketing strategy examples:
- Share free content downloads on social accounts
- Attach articles or landing page links to your email newsletters, workflows, and sales sequences
- Link to blogs from other relevant parts of your website
- Promote content in webinars or in the descriptive text under videos
Making your content accessible to relevant people should be your top priority. Content that's never consumed by your target audience will never realize its full value.
This article from Forbes lists many ways social media marketing benefits your content by expanding your audience. Among them are:
- More opportunities to convert
- Higher conversion rates
- Increased inbound traffic
- Better SEO
It's also a good idea to promote content like ebooks or whitepapers with paid campaigns on social media if you've got money in your budget. Organic reach has declined precipitously as social media platforms have pushed toward paid advertising in recent years. Look at the drop from 2012 to 2016:
(Source: The Manifest, published on Medium)
Promoting your content is even more advantageous on Facebook today than it was then. Adam Mosseri, Facebook's head of News Feed, says the algorithm shifted in 2018 to “make News Feed more about connecting with people and less about consuming media in isolation.” This can make it more challenging than ever to reach a broad user base through organic traffic alone.
However, you can still build organic readership if you know where to post. Make sure to join relevant groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, so that you don't need to rely upon messages showing up in catch-all news feeds to reach the eyes of the people that matter most.
PPC campaigns on Google (with links to content landing pages for lead capture) can help spread the word, too. Business Insider reports that Google drives 95% of all paid search ad clicks on mobile, so if you're going to put money into promoting content, Google certainly gives you bang for your buck.
Next Steps For Year Two
Now that your first year is over, it's time to assess your performance. What worked? What didn't? Year one will teach you valuable lessons to help refine your strategy for year two. You'll be able to set ambitious new goals for next year as your inbound marketing strategy continues to expand. You can spend time on:
- Conversion optimization
- Improving sales and marketing alignment
- Charting long-term analytics and tracking vs. historical performance (now that baselines are set)
One year into your strategy is also the perfect time to refine sales processes as leads start closing and converting into customers. Take time to make sure your sales processes are:
- Repeatable (as you scale up)
- CRM integrated
- Designed to close the sales/marketing loop
The market's always changing. What worked in the past may not be optimized for next year. For instance, HubSpot's State of Inbound revealed that video marketing (especially on YouTube and Facebook) had an enormous uptick in focus on strategic goals for 2019.
Disruptions like these rewrite the rules year in and year out, and it's safe to assume change will always define inbound marketing in one way or another. An inbound marketing strategy must be agile and informed by current trends if it's going to keep pace with the previous year's performance.
At the same time, inbound is “a marathon, not a sprint”—as the saying goes—so you won't reach the pinnacle of your strategy in just one year. 63.24% of companies using an inbound strategy see sales increase within the first 12 months, but the length of your buying cycle may vary. You've made it this far though, and the best is yet to come.
As you look forward to the future, focus on all the new ways you can continue to grow with inbound, and keep up the excellent work you've started.
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