Optimization glossary

Inbound marketing

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a marketing methodology that is designed to draw visitors and potential customers in, rather than outwardly pushing a brand, product or service onto prospects in the hope of lead generation or customers.

In terms of digital marketing, this means using a combination of marketing channels – most commonly content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media – in creative ways to attract people’s attention. The aim of a successful inbound marketing campaign is to increase reach and drive quality traffic, engagement and conversions using ‘earned’ and ‘owned’ media.

Inbound marketing software provider HubSpot coined the phrase ‘inbound marketing’ back in 2006. HubSpot defines inbound marketing as the process of attracting, converting, closing and delighting customers. Through using various types of content at different stages of the buying cycle, the ‘inbound methodology’ is “the best way to turn strangers into customers and promoters of your business.

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

The clue to understanding the differences between inbound and outbound marketing is in the name. Inbound marketing focuses on drawing potential customers in, while outbound marketing is about outwardly pushing a business’ offering. Inbound marketing is about earning attention, while outbound typically involves buying it.

Inbound marketing: owned and earned media

Inbound marketing uses owned and earned media to engage potential customers in creative ways.

  • Owned media are those channels that a business has control over. For example, your website, blog, brand social media profiles, product landing pages and YouTube channel. You choose what to publish, how to publish it, and when.
  • Earned media is the coverage you earn as a result your hard work. Offline, this includes traditional coverage in newspapers and magazines. Online, it includes coverage on news sites often gained through digital PR, but also mentions on social media, use of a campaign hashtag, conversations in online forums, and online reviews. You have less control over earned media, but it should be a reward for the work you’ve put into your inbound marketing campaign.

Outbound marketing: paid media

On the other hand, outbound marketing is more readily associated with paid media. This could be traditional offline advertising, PPC and display advertising or paid emails.

Paid media also encompasses social media advertising, for example, Facebook advertising or boosted Twitter posts.

Although typically associated with outbound marketing, it’s worth noting that social media advertising is often an effective way to boost the performance of inbound marketing campaigns. Advertising on Facebook, for example, allows you to promote your content and campaign to your target audience, no matter how niche it might be.

Benefits of inbound marketing

Reach the right audience in the right place to generate quality traffic

By focusing your inbound marketing strategy on reaching the right audiences in the right places, you can attract your target customers in order to meet your digital marketing objectives. This is the alternative to spending money attracting traffic from people who are unlikely to ever convert.

Increase trust

Inbound marketing is all about giving potential customers the information they are looking for – even if they don’t know it – in a creative and engaging way. It’s not about pushing unwanted sales at every opportunity. By using inbound marketing as a way to present your brand as a useful and reliable resource, the hope is they’ll come to you when the time to purchase does arise.

Protect from over-reliance on one channel

By pursuing quality traffic from a variety of sources – organic search, social media referrals, referrals from other websites talking about your amazing work – you reduce the reliance on one channel alone, and therefore the associated risk.



Measuring the impact of inbound marketing in a way that demonstrates understandable ROI has always been a tricky one. The key is to be clear from the beginning.

It may be that you can’t track the number of leads generated as a direct result of your campaign, but you can track how many downloads your resource has had, the average duration people watched your video for, how many new social media followers you gained, etc.

When you’re planning your campaign, be clear about what it is you’re trying to achieve and measure that appropriately and honestly. That way, everyone’s expectations are set – and therefore, are more likely to be met.

Long-term strategy

Successful inbound marketing campaigns don’t happen overnight. They take time to plan, implement and refine. It can be labor-intensive too – you might need content creators, designers, developers, outreach specialists, social media marketers and a campaign manager to even get the thing off the ground. That said, if you put your time and effort into the right evergreen campaign, you should have something that continues to provide value for the foreseeable future.

Examples of inbound marketing

  • Content hubs offering how-to video guides, blogs, case studies, webinars, white papers and related product information
  • User-generated content and social media marketing campaigns, such as photography competitions or review collation
  • Interactive online content pieces created in partnership with related businesses to increase digital PR and promotional opportunities
  • Creating quality content for your target audience via blogging on your company website

The importance of analysis and refinement

If there’s one thing you remember about inbound marketing, it’s the importance of tracking performance and refining your approach accordingly. This is where testing comes in too – discover which messaging, types of valuable content, imagery, calls to action, etc., work best for your target audience and ensure you implement these on a permanent basis, or in your next campaign.