This article was originally posted on Medium.
Do you want a simple Inbound Marketing plan?
Why not learn a perfect plan first before paying a dime for help?
In this post I’m going to pour out the same plan I’ve told countless clients while they were insisting on just an SEO campaign. I’m going to show you how simple it really is to craft a bullet proof Inbound Marketing plan that almost any business can do on almost any budget and how SEO is really just one part of the process.
I’ll follow this outline in this order which is important if you want it to work correctly:
- Brand Messaging
- Developing Personas
- Analysis, Research & Goal Setting
- Getting Traffic
- SEO & How It Fits
- Content Marketing
- Social Networking
It all starts with your offering.
Good branding should be done at the offering level. Let’s take your offering and wrap it in a message that people can understand.
The key to good brand messaging is to keep it simple, stupid.
There are 2 rules to branding;
Be clear, not clever.
Be different, not better.
You’ll never be the best so get off of it. And what the hell am I buying from you? Honestly. Just tell me. Don’t beat around the bush or try to woo me.
Be ruthlessly clear and different in every way you can. No one should be able to out you, you. How about you buy this weight loss pill, it’s the best and it’s shaped like a diamond! No go? Ok, how about you buy this weight loss pill, it’s the only one that normalizes irregular hormones so you’ll burn fat safely. I just made that up. Don’t buy weight loss pills, silly.
To make an elephant statue from a single block of marble you simply cut away what isn’t the elephant. So in your branding, cut away what doesn’t matter and leave only what truly does.
Now you need personas.
So what is a persona and how does it work?
A persona is a marketing concept for a grouping of people in your target audience that share the same marketing characteristics. For instance, a large portion of your audience may be C level executives at large corporations that have a pain point of financial trust, or middle managers at ad agencies that need creative help.
You need someone you’re pretending to tell your story to. Behind that persona is real people who we’ll be talking directly to later.
When you’re defining your personas I recommend naming them something memorable. For example; Jaded Jessica the ad agency middle manager who’s jaded because they don’t have a creative solution to offer their clients. Or Timid Tim, the CEO of a major corporation who needs a financial planner he can fully trust.
Grab this worksheet and fill it out for each different persona you might sell to. This is what it looks like:
Personas can be as simple or as complex as your offering and the pain points it addresses.
How many personas should you have?
I recommend no less than 3 personas.
If you have 3, then those are your 3 customers. That’s it. Think about them when you do anything for your business. How will it help them specifically?
Why 3? It’s a good number.
For real though, if you just have two you’ll notice through an 80/20 analysis that one means more than the other and you’ll end up focusing on one persona.
What happens if that persona no longer needs what you have?
If you’ve diversified your personas then you’ll always have someone who can use what you have.
Analysis, Research & Goal Setting
Let’s setup analytics on your site.
Which analytics platform should you use?
Just make sure it can track goals and specific events. We’ll call these conversions throughout the site.
Let’s say that again: Conversions
Set them up on your site so you can track progress on what works and what doesn’t. I recommend monitoring contact form submissions, purchase links, download links, anything of value. These are all conversions.
Setup some landing pages on your site, at least one for each persona. Whether you’re using WordPress, SquareSpace, or some other CMS, you should be able to create landing pages on your site. If not, or if you just don’t want the technical hassle, do your self a favor and get an Unbounceaccount. You can create lot’s of amazing landing pages and get super nerdy with ‘em.
Once you’ve created said landing pages you need to have contact forms on them and set conversion metrics (e.g. goals) in your analytics platform. The contact form not only offers opportunities for your sales pipeline, but it should also subscribe new users to a lead nurturing program. Lead nurturing is just pedantic jargon for an email marketing campaign. Setup a MailChimpaccount and nag up to 2,000 people monthly with your emails for free,dude.
If you need a more involved platform there are marketing automation tools such as HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, Eloqua and I’m sure many more to follow. Most of these don’t just do email, but landing pages, conversion forms, CTAs, analytics, blogs, CMSs, the whole nine yards.
I recommend taking your product or service offering and writing your best sales pitch into a simple ebook or PDF document that’ll sit behind your contact form. When I say sales pitch I really just mean if you could only get one customer and you had to give them everything in order to get that one sale, give it to them. Don’t schmooze them with silly gimmicks. I mean sell to them like you sell to a bored teenager in today’s Netflix, DVR, Twitter, ad-less, 1 second load-time impatiensphere.
Your PDF should speak to the persona by answering each one of their major pain points, or contentions about your product/service/industry.
Finally, it should offer a gentle nudge in the right direction, a CTA if you will. (CTA = Call To Action)
Buy Some Traffic
Now that we’ve got our personas targeted with landing pages and answers to their problems, let’s bring in some people who fit those personas.
Trust me, you don’t want to invest 6-9 months and tens of thousands of dollars in genius content creation and social network back-and-forth, link building efforts, etc. only to find out the keywords you targeted don’t convert.
It’s better to spend a couple thousand dollars and a month or so to find outspecifically which keywords will bring you sales. You should run ads to get enough clicks so that you close a few conversions from your site. Then track down the source of those conversions in your analytics and focus all efforts on those few keywords, ad-copy variations, etc.
Go back to your landing page solution and run some A/B tests on design variations. If you’re not using something sweet like HubSpot or Unbounce then sign up for Optimizely and generate multiple versions of your landing pages without knowing jack about code.
Optimize your ad campaigns by bringing them from either broad to phrase, or phrase to exact match if you’re getting plenty of traffic, or the other way around if you’re not getting enough traffic. Also, run a negative keywords query report to find any BS keywords you need to exclude from showing your ad. This’ll drop your average CPC. There are lot’s of other things you can do to optimize your AdWords campaigns as well including:
Lowering your ad position to decrease CPC. This one is often overlooked as people tend to think you should be #1 but it can cost 10x more to be there for not 10x more clicks.
Launch a remarketing campaign and install the script on your site to bring back visitors who may have forgotten about you.
Optimize your landing pages from an SEO perspective in order to increase your Quality Score and lower CPC. We’ll get into a little more SEO stuff shortly. ;)
Now you’re probably wondering “Jeremiah, you just recommended buying ads, but I thought this article was about Inbound Marketing!” Well spank you for asking helpy helperton! The type of ads I’m recommending are only on search engines and only after people have searched for keywords that are directly relevant to your business. This means they’re ultimately Inbound.
SEO — How It Fits
There’s really no voodoo to SEO anymore.
Back in the day I’d tweak a few title tags and watch my clients roll in cash.
Not really, but it used to be a lot easier than it is now. Now you have to be totally legitimate if you want to win. There’s no quick and easy way, but there are shortcuts. I’ll get into some of those in a bit.
SEO nowadays is pretty much made up of three major buckets, each representing a different weight to the search engines:
Onsite Technical = ~25% of the search algorithms but if your site isn’t crawlable or accessible to the engines then it should be 100% of your concern. No amount of further optimization or marketing will save you from your site being completely inaccessible to the engines. Stroll over toWooRank and give your site a quick once-over. They’ll list a few major technical issues on your site and a few ways to address them. This should never be a replacement for a quality technical site audit from a company likemine. ;) But it’s a great place to check for free and quickly.
Onsite Content & Usability =~25% of the search algorithms look at content for relevance meaning anything from text and blog articles to videos, images, ebooks, web apps, etc. We’ll dive into the world of content momentarily. The delivery of that content is increasingly important. Search engines can see how people use your website and determine whether or not your users are having a good experience. Engines will reward those sites with good usability with high rankings. Think Amazon or Wikipedia.
Offsite Everything Else =~50%+ of the remaining search algorithm and that + means it’s increasing. If you think about it, the first half of the equation; onsite technical, content and usability can all be easily controlled and manipulated. But building inbound links from relevant trusted domains and getting original followers to share and mention your brand on the various social networks is much harder to manipulate. That’s why it’s so important to the algorithms. The best part about this difficult element is that if you build the best content you can find, they will link and share it.
Invest In The Best Content You Can Find
When I say the best content you can find I’m putting an emphasis on “find”. In the end, we’re going to create good content that people on social networks will be happy to share, search engines will be happy to promote and your target personas will find.
People will “bubble up” whatever they’re interested in and they find valuable on social networks. That’s exactly what Google wants too. They want to know what we’re talking about and what we like.
Now that we know our target personas, what keywords those personas are using to drive sales due to our ad campaigns, we know our landing pages convert into leads, and our site is well optimized for search, it’s time to start building some content to bring traffic in from organic and social sources.
Where should you start building quality content?
I recommend looking at your sales process first. What are some of the questions everyone seems to ask about your offering or industry? Chances are there are more people that have those same questions. You should answer them with a blog article.
Then when someone asks that question online in the form of a search query (which more people are doing now than ever before proven byHummingbird’s Conversational Search) odds are they’ll find your post.
There are so many opportunities to write about your offering. For starters, get a stranger who truly doesn’t care about your business to critique it for you. Write down everything that comes to mind, you’ll find a list of blog articles.
There’s definitely a science to writing effective headlines and you should start your blog articles there. Why? They make a promise the article needs to keep. You’ll find it easier to stay on track with a good headline leading you, and readers will be more likely to look for that promise to be fulfilled by reading your post.
Write a long list of headlines and consider each of those a new blog article. Then come up with ways to argue against some of the headlines you’ve started, or maybe dive deeper into specific elements of each article with a new article.
The goal here is to completely cover every area of your business with information unique to you and answering the problems of your personas.
Part of this content process can actually take us back to our PDF we created before. Maybe by now we have all kinds of interesting info we can add to it. Beef that page count up and pitch it on your landing pages and ads as “37 Pages On Home Energy Savings” for example.
One of my favorite ideas is after you feel your blog has exhausted a topic, take all the articles on that topic and reformat them into a big sexy PDF document. Now pitch this to your email subscribers with a new landing page built specifically for this document and topic.
Hang Out With People On Social Networks
Don’t go try to lock down every damn social network, spreading yourself thin. Odds are your target users are only in a couple places. If it’s Twitter, then go to Twitter. If it’s LinkedIn, go to LinkedIn. You may not know for sure at first, try them all until you do know. But at some point, you’ll realize there’s one or maybe two social networks that really bring you the most quality traffic, sales, influence, content shares, etc. Maybe you get content shares on Twitter, but sales on FaceBook. Tweak your strategy to reflect this reality.
Ultimately, the best way to choose the one or two social networks you really need to be on is to find out which ones you like the most. It’s not rocket surgery.
If you like Twitter more than any other network odds are you’ll participate on Twitter more than any other network. If you really don’t care then survey some people that fit your personas and ask them what social networks they look at most for business related stuff. Keep in mind, just because I use FaceBook 32 times a day doesn’t mean I want to see SEO solutions there. I keep it personal on FaceBook and Twitter is more business for me.
Now that you’ve found your target network(s), what’s next?
I can’t tell you how many clients I work with that don’t have their Twitter bio filled out, or they’re using the default background and theme colors. Twitter literally gives you an inbound link in your bio, just type in your URL and it links it. It may not be an SEO friendly direct link, but it makes it easier for your followers to jump over to your site.
Jab Jab Jab
Take it from Vaynerchuk; jab jab jab right hook.
A right hook in boxing is often the finishing move, but it’s made up of a series of well placed and timed jabs beforehand. If you just go in throwing right hooks you leave yourself open for a simple takedown from your opponent. The same is true in social networks. If you stumble in like a cocain charged sales junky hocking your shit at everyone they’ll make you look so stupid your brand will be tarnished and you’ll lose followers.
Say fun human stuff, be a normal person, link to something silly then share something important that you want to promote. Chit chat chit and then ask for help.
Think about it like this; you walk into a Starbucks and without making eye contact with your barista or even saying “hi” you just place your order. Sure you’ll probably get your order and be happy with it (if you even know what happiness is you antisocial dick.)
But what if instead you looked right at her and said “Hey there! How’s your day going so far?”, you’ll get a response and after 10 seconds of totally innocent banter you ask “What do you recommend?”. Sure you may know what you want to order already, but take a step outside your little comfort zone and find you might enjoy something different. The best part is the next time you come to this place, she’ll probably remember you.
That’s how social networks operate. They give you a chance to get outside your comfort zone, talk to real humans like a real human, learn something, share something, and grow with your community.
If a blog is a place for a business to let it’s proverbial hair down, then a social network is a porch for you to sit on with a beer and holler at your neighbors that stroll by.
Now your strategy can’t be all jabs. At some point you’re going to have to land a right hook.
Jabs are short, simple and repetitive, light impact. Right hooks are long, fully invested and should be well thought out and crafted before executed.
This is where you start to push your own blog articles, videos, ebooks, guides, web apps, calculators, tools, landing pages, etc. You answer people’s questions in short form on social networks and back up your answers with links to long form answers on your blog.
One of my role models Tim Ferriss is very good at delivering strong right hooks when he needs them. He has his audience so enraptured by what he says that when he asks for something we chomp at the bit to help him out.
For example; Tim will promote a book he truly likes and believes in on his own site where he gets a kickback of all sales. He’ll promote a startup that he’s invested in by recommending it to people who are looking to learn French for example.
An interesting thing to note here is that he’s helping himself by helping others more.
Once you deliver that right hook and give someone a link to one of your pieces of content or ask them to do something for you, switch back to jabs. Don’t bludgeon the shit out of your personas with right hook after right hook or they’ll delete you.
Every time you post a new blog article, carefully construct your right hook. Think about social proofs, psychological triggers, promises you can make with the least amount of words, etc.
Now you’ve gone through the entire process of building an Inbound Marketing campaign.
Remember that landing page we created a while back? Well now it needs to be optimized a bit more to see if we can get more conversions from all this traffic we’re bringing in.
But once you’ve optimized your landing pages, you notice they don’t fully match your site anymore. Time for a quick UI redesign on your site.
But through the site redesign process a few technical issues have cropped up that need SEO attention.
While looking at your analytics for SEO indicators of performance you notice some interesting new search queries you haven’t seen before. This leads you to create some new content ideas!
Now you have more to share with your audience of followers who are all sliding down your funnel.
You’ll realize about Inbound Marketing that it’s a cycle that needs attention on an ongoing basis, and you’ve built the foundation. Just rinse and repeat.