Think about your own shopping habits for a moment. What do you do if you are in an unfamiliar area and what to find out what dining options are nearby? Or if you want to find the best price on a used car? Or need to find someone who repairs antique clocks?
If you are like 90 percent of Americans today, the answer is that you go online and do a search to find what you are looking for.
For business owners in most industries, the same thing is true for 90 percent of your customers. When people need what you are selling, they are going to go looking for information online. Obviously, you want such people to find you. The way to get found is through inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is the set of practices and strategies used to gain new customers in today’s consumer-driven marketplace. Unlike old-fashioned outbound marketing tactics, such as cold calling or advertising in mass media, inbound marketing looks to attract consumers when they go looking for the solutions you offer.
There are three main ways in which you can get found through inbound marketing: SEM, SEO and social media.
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing, or SEM, is the most narrowly-defined of the three. SEM refers to placing paid ads which appear whenever someone goes searching online for information related to your business. For instance, you could pay for an ad that would appear among the search engine results any time someone typed “Internet marketing Houston” as a search string. Such ads are usually pay per click (PPC); you pay for the ad only when someone clicks on the link to visit your site.
SEM is effective for many companies, and is the fastest way to attract visitors to your site. In the long run, though, it is the most expensive form of inbound marketing.
Search Engine Optimization
You can appear at the top of those same search results, without paying anything, by using search engine optimization (SEO). SEO involves creating a website that search engines naturally see as the best source of information for the search terms related to your business.
SEO is a much broader concept than SEM, as there are many things you can do to improve your “organic” search rankings. Factors influencing SEO and search engine rankings include:
- The number of other sites which link to yours (and how important or relevant those sites are considered to be).
- How closely the content on your web pages seems to match the keywords being searched for.
- How well your web pages can be “read” and understood by search engines. This includes using the proper HTML markup to tell the search engine robots what each page is about, who wrote it and what information is displayed in the various images or videos on the page.
- The amount of interaction your site inspires, including comments and human “votes” in the form of social media likes or shares.
Besides influencing SEO, social media can be a source of inbound marketing traffic in its own right. For some organizations, such online social referrals are more important than search engine traffic.
Social media includes any user-generated content or references to your company online, whether it occurs on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ or any other site which allows people to speak their minds. Some of the elements of social media include:
- People sharing links to your interesting content with their online network of friends.
- Customers following and engaging with your company’s social media profiles.
- Customer reviews or ratings of your company’s services or products.
- People asking for recommendations from their online friends.
- Influential customers persuading their followers to choose your company.
You can get more inbound social media traffic by engaging with people on the social networks and producing content that many people want to share. By using a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy to make your company more visible online, you can get found by exactly the right people at exactly the right time: when they are ready to buy.
*Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net