The growth of inbound marketing reflects a change in attitude in the marketing world, one that has been driven by the growth of the Net. Just as the rise of Google and other search engines created an entirely new set of rules for businesses over the past 15 years, new technologies – especially social sharing sites like Facebook and Twitter – have resulted in a changing paradigm online. This was confirmed last week when SEO company SEOMoz announced a reboot with a new, SEO-free name, Moz. But this change offers opportunities, especially for small businesses.
Time Goes By, and Marketing Moves Forward
Online marketing pioneers learned in the early 2000s that search engine information was important in the fight to convert curious consumers into happy customers. The earliest search engines (like Yahoo and Lycos) incorporated categories in which businesses could list themselves. These directories weren’t particularly easy to use, but they still helped consumers find what they wanted. Looking for sports equipment sellers in the old days meant searching directories based on your city, finding link networks, and looking for contact information and prices.
Fast forward to the modern internet marketing scene, when directories are not the first place users look. Instead, search engines use their own secure algorithms to deliver suitable query results on the fly. Looking for sports equipment these days means that the search engine will likely use a cookie or account information to find the nearest sports stores, and then filter through hundreds of thousands of different pages with relevant terms, each ranked according to different standards. Google’s algorithm alone uses hundreds of unique criteria to determine which sites rank more highly than others.
At the same time, users’ “brain bandwidth” for online interactions has narrowed. Customers have learned to ignore the online deluge of banner ads and emails, as well as other traditional outbound techniques like phone marketers. And users have also become accustomed to being able to find information online immediately. Inbound marketing is a set of practices that respond to these changes.
What The Shift Means For Business
What this means is that inbound marketing techniques are replacing some SEO practices used to improve search result rankings in the past. Old techniques included link buying from overseas link farms, keyword stuffing on web pages and non-newsworthy press releases. Today, inbound marketing focuses on engaging with customers to create an ongoing relationship and the opportunity for future purchases. Priorities now focus on:
- Videos, blogs, news articles, and infographics. Basically any form of original content added to a site. The focus is on original, relevant and helpful content, added regularly.
- Social media engagement, such as Facebook or Twitter, that amplify brand awareness by word-of-mouth.
- Mobile-friendly sites, which can be found anytime and anywhere.
- Emphasis on website design, especially user experience. A website interface needs to be intuitive and easy to navigate, or consumers will quickly move on to the next search engine result.
- An influential presence in one’s niche, by adding valuable assets to a website and conveying a sense of expertise in the field.
This is good news for consumers because it means that companies can no longer game the system simply by stuffing their pages with keywords. For businesses, inbound marketing raises the bar a few notches. It means that investments in SEO services over the past few years are quickly becoming obsolete. But it also provides new opportunities to compete in the market online. Companies need to work smarter, not necessarily harder. Focusing on good quality, useful content and customer engagement requires creativity, consistency and an understanding of the particular market.
A Balancing Act
While some of the old rules of SEO are dead, the basic tasks of understanding and analyzing traffic, choosing keywords and benchmarking remain important. Search engines are still responsible for the vast majority of link redirection worldwide and neglecting the prerequisites of search engine optimization is a mistake companies cannot afford to make. A solid approach to marketing balances the requirements of search engines with the opportunity to connect with real, human customers.