A high-performing inbound marketing program takes time to build. We tell our clients that the entire first year is about laying the foundation. That, very simply, is why we pair digital advertising with every inbound marketing retainer. It's also why we recommend you do the same.
Now, you might be thinking, "Why does it take so long to see results if I'm investing so much time and effort into content?" In our experience, we've found there are three key reasons:
- A content program requires time to gain traction with search algorithms: Anyone who tells you that Google will immediately reward the quality of your content with greater domain authority is lying. You need to demonstrate consistency and a strategic approach for Google to preference your content. This takes time, even if you’re creating quality content on a regular basis. We say six months if you have a sound content strategy in place.
- Building brand loyalty requires repetition: Your most loyal customers probably love you. They also likely have great things to say about you. But people who've just heard about you are entirely different. They’ve never had the chance to talk to you or see you do your magic. It takes time, authenticity, and hard work to build trust with them.
- It takes trial and error (and a bit of research) to understand and communicate effectively about what your ideal prospects care about: Inbound isn’t about selling. It’s about providing real value to real people. The difficult thing is that value exists in the eye of the beholder. So, just like it takes time and effort to develop a relationship with a new friend and learn what they care about, it will take time and effort to listen to the prospect and communicate with them in a relevant way.
The Big Panic
A big enterprise might be able to make a full year’s investment without seeing results, but for the entrepreneurs we work with things are usually a bit more urgent. Usually they needed more qualified prospects yesterday. This urgency is driven by practical stressors:
- Making a hard decision about keeping employees because they aren’t hitting budget.
- Choosing what one role to add when they really need to add 2-3 people to provide relief to their hard working team.
- Selecting what investments to make during the coming year when the least of true needs is long.
So, when you tell an entrepreneur that it will take a year for an inbound marketing program to get up and running, it's usually a non-starter. That’s when I share that we’ll be able to start driving quality leads for them within 30 days of starting a new program. They start to relax. You can relax too. Here’s how we do it.
Paid Advertising As Fuel For Your Program
Ok. So maybe you’re an entrepreneur and have the same fears I just described above. You’ve scraped together some budget to invest in inbound marketing but you need it to start returning fast. That’s where advertising comes in.
Side Note: I want to acknowledge that some purists will tell you that you shouldn't pay for advertising. They say that relying purely on a content program to drive organic traffic will generate better results. They're wrong. Investing in both is the surest way to begin driving results now, and sustain those results in the future.
Check out the diagram above. It explains our whole approach. For the first six months of a program we expect paid channels to drive the majority of traffic and leads. Then over time, with the right content strategy, a solid understanding of your audience and some good old consistency, you can flip the equation so that more traffic is driven by organic channels than by paid ones.
There are two more massive benefits to this approach:
- You can target people who are perfect for you: Social platforms have powerful targeting tools that you can leverage to get your content in front of the right people. If you have a customer email list, even better. You can provide it to ad platforms and they’ll build a lookalike list that will allow them to target people with similar traits to the people who already love you.
- You can use ads to test messaging for your content program: Ads are a form of demand generation that allows you to get in front of people rather than waiting for them to find you. As a result, it's a great place to test out some of the messages you’re hoping will gain traction on your blog to see if people actually care about them. There’s nothing like real-time feedback.
What If You Tried Advertising Before And It Didn’t Work?
Almost every entrepreneur I talk to has experimented with advertising. More often than not, their first foray had dismal results. Usually they spent a lot of money (for some that means $5,000, for others $30,000). More often that not they saw little to no return.
Does this mean that pairing inbound and digital advertising won't work? Not at all. There are two reasons that I think that digital media will work for you even if you’ve had this experience...as long as you're building an inbound program at the same time.
- Advertising something of value is different than straight up advertising your services. Most businesses start out with advertising using a bottom of the funnel offer that asks their prospects to make a purchase. Our approach is different. We use advertising to encourage someone to download a free resource in exchange for an email. This barrier for entry is much lower, and as a result, will see much better results.
- An effective follow up strategy is as important as a compelling advertising campaign. Typically, people haven't built any automated follow up when they start advertising. If you utilize it as part of an inbound marketing program, you'll be able to add people to an automated lead nurturing series, allowing you to build a deeper relationship with your business, and ultimately make a sale.
How To Get Started
It's easy to start using digital advertising to increase the performance of your inbound marketing program. We recommend following these steps:
- Identify a free resource that you can give away in exchange for an email
- Build a landing page that features the resource and the download form
- Choose which channels to focus on (for most businesses we recommend starting with LinkedIn and Facebook)
- Build ads that share the value of the resource in a compelling way
- Upload your customer list to LinkedIn and Facebook and create lookalike audiences using those lists
- Start running ads and monitor the results
- Optimize on a consistent basis
If you follow these steps, you'll start to see leads come in. Then it's time for the marketing automation and lead nurturing built into your inbound marketing program to take over.