inbound marketing

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a strategy that focuses on attracting customers, or leads, via company-created internet content, thereby having potential customers come to the organization rather than marketers vying for their attention.

This type of marketing makes it easier for customers, who are already actively looking for goods or services on the internet, to find what an organization offers. The term was coined by HubSpot in 2005.

How does inbound marketing work?

Inbound marketing targets customers through online platforms such as blogs, social media and search engines. This marketing strategy is intended to create content that shows up in these places to drive organic traffic, as opposed to paid advertising-driven traffic, to an organization's website.

A main way in which traffic is generated is through inbound links, a search engine optimization (SEO) practice that directs users to a webpage from internal sources. These links maximize the visibility of content on search engines and other websites by boosting that content's ranking in search results.

Examples of inbound marketing content and tactics include the following:

  • Blog posts.
  • Photos.
  • Infographics.
  • Videos.
  • Podcasts.
  • Presentations.
  • E-books.
  • Whitepapers.
  • E-newsletters.
  • E-zines.
  • Webinars.
  • SEO.
  • Social media marketing.

Benefits of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing offers organization the following benefits:

  • Lower advertising costs. Inbound marketing can save organizations money because they depend less on interruptive outbound marketing techniques -- such as cold-calling, cold-emailing, direct mail, or TV and radio advertisements -- to procure leads. Most platforms that help share content, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and various blogging websites, are free to use and sign up for, which further offsets costs.
  • Small businesses can compete. Inbound marketing is cheaper to execute, so smaller businesses can compete with bigger companies for leads on the internet. SEO strategies can replace some advertising spending because it makes content more visible on search engines and other customer-facing channels.
  • Word-of-mouth advertising. Inbound marketing content is promoted by companies on social media, so it often spreads through word-of-mouth and has a long-term effect on prospects by reaching them on multiple social channels. Older pieces of content can attract more leads over time as the social media reach increases, giving an organization fresh leads without spending time or effort on creating a new piece of content.
  • Customer feedback. Feedback is easily obtained through leads leaving comments or initiating conversations on social media. Organizations can use this feedback to improve their products, services and content marketing strategies.

Challenges of inbound marketing

Despite its benefits, inbound marketing can challenge organizations in the following ways:

  • Limited audience. The disadvantage of inbound marketing is that only the prospects that have chosen to view the message are reached, therefore limiting a campaign's audience. The wealth of various kinds of inbound marketing content might overwhelm a prospect and cause an organization's content to get lost in the shuffle.
  • Less control. Organizations have less control over what a potential lead sees because web visitors can look on the organization's website and miss an opt-in offer the organization is trying to target them with.
  • Difficulty determining ROI. It takes longer to determine ROI because prospects that come in might not be sales-ready at the time and will need additional nurturing to become customers.
  • Negative comments. The two-way communication aspect can also backfire, with the spread of negative comments or bad reviews of an organization, product or service.

Editor's note: This article was written by Tim Ehrens in 2014. TechTarget editors revised it to improve the reader experience.

This was last updated in May 2023

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