What follows is my recent thinking behind the term 'inbound marketing'. If you need a definition, the folks at Hubspot describe it as follows:
"Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be."
And in the words of Google:
"The key to creating a great website is to create the best possible experience for your audience with original and high quality content. If people find your site useful and unique, they may come back again or link to your content on their own websites. This can help attract more people to your site over time."
This paragraph puzzles me a lot.
Why? Because the entire concept of inbound marketing rests on it. The thinking is:
Create great content > Get Links > Better Links = Better Rankings > More Traffic > More Business > More Success.
On paper this should be a relatively easy thing to do but in practice it's incredibly hard. Why?
Because you need to out-quality your competitors.
And you need to understand that quality content, doesn't mean actually mean quality content.
My Story - The Art of Out Quality-ing
I'd like to think that the posts I've written on here over the last year and a half would be considered quality content. Most of them aren't life altering treaties but on the whole I would say that they provide something of value. You can see Google's list of what goes into making content valuable here.
Let's see. My content:
It's useful and informative. It's credible. It's unique content and it's engaging.
I actually put quite a bit of time and effort in creating some original. The one item that it's probably doesn't qualify for in Google's grand checklist is that it's more valuable and useful that other sites.
Of course it isn't. Why would it be?
The issue is that fundamentally as a one-man marketing machine I don't have the time or resources to compete with other major players in the industry. Some marketing companies invest millions into content creation and promotion. This brings with it the ability to create more content, more quickly, and in turn gain more links, more quickly. So they dominate the rankings for search terms in Google.
Even if I became the next Shakespeare, my website is fundamentally not powerful enough to rank for a search term which could attract viewers.
But this is where the issue of inbound marketing becomes apparent. I *should* be able to create the best blog post on the planet, sit back and watch the links and traffic roll in.
But that won't happen. Until I've got some traffic and links how would anyone ever come across me? It's like opening a store in the middle of nowhere and expecting customers to visit purely because you stock the best products without doing any form of advertising.
The answer up till now has been to promote your content via social media. A tweet here, a Facebook post there. It should all be good. Unfortunately not.
With the algorithmic changes which have transformed Facebook over the last few years (and the recent announcement that Twitter plans to follow suit with a filtering algorithm of their own) it's become harder and harder to actively get your content in front of relevant eyes.
Unless you have deep pockets of course. Which I don't.
So the budget based alternatives include good old outreach; finding influencers and so forth who can sound their trumpets to the online world to show you how good you really are.
But then it's isn't really inbound marketing in my view. It's marketing. And this was wonderfully summarised in this recent post from Raven Tools blog.
And that's if your content is any good...
Quality don't mean Quality
As I've said the content I think the content I produce isn't half bad. But what does Google think? Unfortunately words like 'quality' and 'value' are subjective adjectives.
Like great painters one persons interpretation of a canvas could proclaim it's revolutionary. The other person thinks it's crap. But in Google's eyes...
Well, Google doesn't have eyes. It can't tell you what's quality or not. It can only go on the mechanical interactions that its search engines and traffic have with your web page. Things like bounce rates or acquisition of links can influence how valuable something is and therefore where it should rank in Google.
But it doesn't mean it's any good.
Take recent, almost-to-burst-into-the-mainstream 'celebrity' Alfie Dayes, who with his rather awkward, off the wall vlogs has gained an audience of almost 3 million YouTube subscribers. After launching his own book, he's now overnight sitting at the top of Amazon's book chart, with even the Telegraph writing a piece about 'Who on earth is Alfie Dayes?'
The book (and the vlogging culture adored by tweens across the world) was rather brilliantly ripped apart by this article from Vice.com. One of the points I picked up on was the quality of the book, as well as the quality of his videos just isn't that high quality.
It's banal, and like the name of his book a little bit pointless. It'll probably go the way of the Crazy Frog, or Harry Potter and the Mysterious Ticking Noise. Remember them? It's not even that valuable. It's provides a quick laugh but quickly loses it's appeal.
But again I'm not a machine and instead of assessing quality, or value what Google is really seems to be assessing is popularity.
Maybe Google should reword it's guidelines. Because a piece of software cannot yet perceive quality, or the value that a piece of content can create, it should maybe should focus on creating popularity.
So the solutions?
Whatever you do, don't imagine that inbound marketing with a 'build it and they will come outlook' is going to bring you much success unless it's tied into a much larger set of marketing tactics.