We’ve written a lot on inbound marketing, specifically and indirectly, on this blog. Over the past year, there have been tons of posts created on our own views of what our inbound marketing philosophy is and how it should be implemented. I wanted to look for some of the best inbound marketing guides on the web, not only to validate some of what we believe, but also to offer a different perspective to our readers.
I did a little research on this, and one of my first steps was to look for some guides already in existence online. With more than 4 million results in Google’s index, I had no idea the topic was so popular. Ok, I had some idea, but how do you sift through and find “the best” guides? You don’t. You can’t! There is too much information out there, so the three companies and their guides I’ve highlighted in this post are by no means the end-all, be-all best guides out there. Instead, they have information that I think is pretty well-rounded and serves as excellent resources for those looking to learn more or have more data at their disposal to reference.
Marketo is a marketing automation software company, and they produce content on similar topics at their website. The guide they’ve created (mentioned above) leans heavily on the roles that SEO and PPC play with inbound marketing (even though PPC is technically not inbound, but more on that in a moment).
The Benefits of Marketo’s Guide
Overall, you will see a lot of the same underlying theories and concepts in this guide that you see in content from other leading producers, but there were a few things that caught my eye as being unique and very helpful for readers.
Strategy: I liked that there was an emphasis on strategy in the guide. SEO, social media and other components of inbound marketing (as well as the concept itself) are very new. Just like with any new practice or profession, you don’t really need to be an expert to say you are an expert. Marketo points this out in its guide, and mentions that a strategy should be the first thing you do.
Without a sound strategy, you will flounder with inbound. You will start tasks and not follow through. You will not have as much (or any) success where you might have if you were more focused. You will also become frustrated and lose faith in the power of this strategy for promotion.
Creativity: They also talk about creativity with inbound, which I like. Marketing is one of those services that is hard to pre package and sell to everyone. Marketing strategies must necessarily be modeled after the type of business and industry for which it is purposed.
I see a lot of websites, email ads or posts on social media about inbound or inbound-related concepts. They say, “you need to have a blog” and “you need to be active on social” or “you must create ebooks.” While there may be consistent components to inbound that involve these tools, the same tools will not work for everyone. Businesses have to think about how they do business and who they do it with. They have to think about niche opportunities that are available to them only because of the industry they are in. They must then leverage those opportunities to their advantage while applying concepts of inbound at the same time.
For example, many businesses should blog but it’s HOW they blog that is important. A company may leverage social media, but they need to think about how to position themselves in social media in order to be truly effective. And they cannot be averse to ignoring some of these components altogether in an inbound strategy if they aren’t going to generate revenue.
Examples: Along with their section on creativity, Marketo provides a lot of really great examples of companies who are being creative. This is another aspect of their guide that I like. That is because in most guides (even those from the thought leaders in the industry), companies ARE the experts and don’t offer outside examples or viewpoints. Two heads are better than one, and diverse opinions and examples offer users a clearer picture on how they can model their own strategies.
Following the experts: The last thing I saw in this guide that made it stand out was that Marketo suggested a whole list of people and events that would be good to attend. Here again they are showing users a window into a world of other thoughts and opinions on inbound instead of cramming their own philosophy down the reader’s throat. One might think, “hey, they are sending their potential customers elsewhere.” I would argue they are strengthening their position as an authority in the space by being unafraid to let people explore other options.
This guide has two bad things about it. First, it is heavily focused on SEO and PPC, and there didn’t seem to be a guide offered by Marketo (that I could find) that had a more holistic approach. Granted, the title does say its about SEO and PPC.
The other thing is that it includes PPC in an inbound marketing piece. Some people may disagree with me, but to my mind, PPC is not an element of inbound marketing. By nature, inbound is supposed to be marketing that draws people in because of content. Conversely, PPC is interruptive advertising and is typically presented when people aren’t looking for it or don’t want to see it at all.
Marketo doesn’t really offer a good explanation as to why PPC is included in their inbound guide either.
HubSpot — Inbound Marketing Kit
We have to mention HubSpot here because let’s face it, they are one of the driving forces behind inbound marketing online. They have also produced some pretty great content around the subject. When I looked for an inbound marketing guide from them, though, I had a mixed bag of disappointment, frustration and delight.
The Benefits of HubSpot’s Guide (err…approach)
So, HubSpot has the “Inbound Marketing Kit” as opposed to a “guide.” This has a glossary of terms, their State of Inbound Marketing Report as well as an interactive video on actually doing inbound marketing. It is also important to note that HubSpot has several inbound marketing guides that are tailored for specific organizations such as NPOs and large corporations. In this regard, they do a good job of avoiding the one-size-fits-all guide approach.
Holistic approach: The thing I like about the video is that it provides a very holistic approach to inbound. HubSpot always gives a bunch of great stats, and they touch on all the different elements of inbound and how they can be leveraged and/or integrated with one another.
Informative: The glossary was very informative and has tons of definitions. Granted, they are HubSpot’s definitions to relatively new concepts on the Internet in general, but if you are new to inbound, you can get a good reference guide on what the heck everyone is talking about.
Actionable data: HubSpot’s State of Inbound Marketing Report is great for making decisions on where to focus your time with inbound. If you are a data hound, it’s the perfect document to show you exactly where you should be placing the most effort.
With inbound marketing, collecting and analyzing data are particularly important tasks. The mere fact that you can collect so much data from online marketing makes it much easier to understand what is working for you and what is a waste of time and money.
I don’t really like to knock HubSpot because they do what they do very well, and they are very thorough with their data. There were, however, a few things that annoyed me with their approach to making this guide.
Video was in Flash: Ahhhh! I can’t comprehend why people are still using this technology. Adobe is huge and well-ingrained, so I get it. It’s hard to stop using what was once so ubiquitous. In some websites I’ve built, I’ve reluctantly had to use Flash for some elements. But when you are making a core piece of content for your viewers to see, it should not be displayed in a proprietary technology. When I went to see the video, I was unable to view it because my player was out of date. Had the video been on YouTube or Vimeo or any other way that didn’t include using Flash, things would have been fine.
Lack of actionable strategies: Since I couldn’t see the video that was there as the guide, my only go-to docs were the glossary and the (lengthy) State of Inbound Marketing Report. Neither of these documents provide any kind of actionable strategy information. They are mostly bare-bones definitions and data.
Impact Branding and Design — A Beginners’ Guide to Inbound Marketing
I haven’t heard a lot about this company, but I saw that they had a beginners’ guide to inbound. In my experience, it’s good to give less well-known things a try once in a while, and this time I was pleasantly surprised.
The Benefits of Impact’s Guide
Simple: A lot of guides are good, but they can easily go off on a tangent and talk about theory and philosophy behind their concepts. That’s all great stuff, but sometimes (and especially if you are a beginner in a time crunch), you just want to know what to do.
Impact’s guide does that. They tell you exactly what you need, where to get it and what to do with it. Of course, they include some basic stats at the beginning of their guide, but for the most part, it dives right into what should be happening at your desk instead of theories on consumer buying habits.
Well-rounded: Another thing I liked about this particular guide was that it adequately hit on key points of inbound marketing without being too detailed about any one concept or task. They start off with what business-related things someone would need to get started with inbound, what tangible tools they would need, how to implement those tools and then how to convert leads to sales.
At the end, they wrap up with how to measure your activities, which is always a crucial component. An added tidbit that you don’t always see in some guides is a section about the website, which is central to any inbound marketing campaign.We are trying to drive people to a website so they can perform some action or see our brand.
Really the only thing I didn’t like about this guide was that it relied heavily on HubSpot’s data and general stature in the inbound industry. The company was mentioned a number of times, and there weren’t many other outside resources for people to follow up on.
I think it’s good to provide more perspectives than just one, and to definitely use more examples than just a single, leading company. HubSpot does what it does very well, but there are also a lot of other companies that are doing inbound well, too.
Are there any inbound marketing guides that you have found useful? Please share in the comments below!