09 Mar 2012

SEO Inbound Marketing & Outbound Marketing: Which are you?

Usually, outbound and inbound marketing are conflated with traditional and Internet marketing. I’ll be honest with you guys, when I think of traditional marketing, I think of Mad Men: art deco building, fancy suits, slicked back hair and expensive cigars. Now, when I think of Internet marketers, I think of jeans, polos with company logos and computer geekery. However, traditional marketing and Internet marketing is not the important distinction. The real division, the one that Seth Godin and Clue Train Manifesto evangelized is the one between outbound marketing and inbound marketing.

Generally speaking, outbound marketing is promoting a product through promotions such as TV, print and radio, as well as public relations. Also broadly speaking, inbound marketing is thought of as “earning your way” into the customers good graces. I believe that traditional marketing and Internet marketing are just the tools by which we use to build either an outbound marketing strategy or inbound marketing strategy. Think of it like this: it is not in any way impossible to have a traditional marketing campaign that is also an inbound marketing campaign. Also, the line between traditional marketing methods and Internet marketing methods are no longer mutually exclusive: QR code print campaigns and TV commercials blended with social campaigns are two examples of integrated marketing strategies.


Interruption & Permission Marketing

One of the main selling points of inbound marketing is that it does not try to add to the noise. According to a Media Matters article, “Our Rising Ad Dosage: It’s Not as Oppressive as Some Think“, a normal adult has potential daily exposure to about 600-625 ads in any given form. Out of that number, 272 of these exposures come from major traditional media. This was written in 2007, before DVR.

Louis Story, in his article in the New York Times titled, “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad” discussed some of the excesses of “interruption marketing.” According to Story, “Supermarket eggs have been stamped with the names of CBS television shows. Subway turnstiles bear messages from GEICO auto insurance. Chinese food cartons promote Continental Airways. US Airways is selling ads on motion sickness bags.” Personally, I think seeing an ad on a vomit bag would make my day. Story goes on to quote Linda Kaplan Thaler, Chief Executive at the Kaplan Thaler Group, an ad agency, states, “We never know where the consumer is going to be at any point in time, so we have to find a way to be everywhere.”

So there you have it, interruption marketing: big companies with big budget competing to stand out above the noise.

Permission marketing is defined as,

…the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

In a later publication, Godin goes on to state that,

In order to get permission, you make a promise. You say, “I will do x, y and z, I hope you will give me permission by listening.” And then, this is the hard part, that’s all you do. You don’t assume you can do more. You don’t sell the list or rent the list or demand more attention. You can promise a newsletter and talk to me for years, you can promise a daily RSS feed and talk to me every three minutes, you can promise a sales pitch every …You don’t assume that just because you’re running for President or coming to the end of the quarter or launching a new product that you have the right to break the deal. You don’t.


Inbound Marketing/Permission Marketing In Organic Search

Seth Godin published the book Permission Marketing on May 6, 1999. Our company was also founded in 1999. That was the late end of the Internet stone age, and SEO is very different now than it was during those times. However, all of these deep philosophical marketing theories play in the background of assumptions we have about marketing and lead generation itself, and these assumptions lead us to make real marketing decisions every day, generally speaking, and as part of our SEO strategy.

I feel that SEO is fundamentally premised on the “permission marketing” theory. Searchers are looking to satisfy a query, looking to be sold, and you want to be the first result for that perfect query. So often though, sites fall into the SEO version of “interruption marketing.”


Permission Marketing In SEO

Proper keyword targeting: So many website owners wrongly assume that a certain high volume phrase will bring them more conversions. All too often, website owners see that more traffic does not necessarily translate into more conversions. The whole magic of search engines is that they connect people who are looking for you online using keywords to your site. The key is to identify who those people are for organic search traffic sources and what keywords they are using. Although there is a large menu of choice regarding keyword tools you can use to this end, one of the best ways is to do some good old fashioned testing with a paid search campaign.

Improving usability: So often, web site owners neglect the overall usability of their site and focus exclusively on off-page strategy. This is not ideal and there may be an opportunity cost for your business. Remember, according to permission marketing, you are making an agreement with visitors, that if they grant you permission to make your pitch by landing on your site, they will find what they need. If they cannot find what they are looking for, you would have broken the agreement and they will leave. The real art of online marketing is blending site usability with optimization to serve both users and search engines. Here are several important things to keep in mind to this end:

  • Audit your own site for usability beyond your home page. Many business owners only pay attention the home page, which in some cases is not even their most powerful page in search engines. Make sure to take a look at landing pages beyond your home page.
  • Is there a section or directory of your site that has an exceptionally high bounce rate relative to your site average?
  • Look at the templates for your back pages. Is there a clear call to action on every landing page? You’d be surprised how many lead generation sites do not have a clear call to action on their subpages. Also, honestly, if you have a lead gen site that represents a large proportion of your revenue, doing some multivariate or split testings is probably a very wise investment to tune up your landing pages, to get them optimized.
  • Is navigation on your site instantly obvious? Navigation is a huge pain point for many eCommerce sites. Some site with faceted navigation have really bad performance and some with sidebar categories or drop down menus wrestle with how to present categories most efficiently to get visitors to convert. There is no one cure to this but it is a key usability issue to get resolved in pursuit of getting more converting visitors.

Using Social Media to Keep Visitors In Conversion Funnel: Content marketing using social media is one of the purest manifestations of inbound marketing in the Internet marketing space, in my opinion. A well-executed content marketing campaign can yield lots of value in terms of building edgerank, social indicators for search engines and even link development. It is much easier said than done. One of the biggest detractors for people toward doing social media optimization, especially if you’re a non-branded site, is that it takes some time to see a real community develop around your profiles. In a world where we are used to the instant data satisfaction which Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter provide, this may seem like a tough pill to swallow. However, contrary to this popular sentiment, it is not valid to say because social media does not provide instantly visible ROI, that it does not provide measurable results over time. Social media optimization and marketing is currently experiencing huge change and is becoming more open to businesses every day. Online businesses must now stand up and take notice.


Interruption Marketing In SEO

Although the primary focus of this article was to explore permission marketing in the SEO space, I could not help wonder thinking about what it would mean to be engaged in interruption marketing in our humble industry. I would love for you guys to weigh in. If good usability, social and well-targeted keyword optimization is permission marketing, what do you guys think is interruption marketing?