The Problem With Inbound Marketing No One Wants to Talk About

Inbound Marketing. It’s a catchy phrase. It borrows from the concept of inbound and outbound sales but attributes the same ideas to marketing.

The Inbound marketing strategy has become the foundation of many digital marketing agencies and departments. But, with all the bold claims of its effectiveness, does it actually do what it says it does?​

Why Pure Inbound Fails Most Websites

Before we can really get into the problems of pure Inbound Marketing, we need to define exactly what it is.

According to HubSpot, "​Inbound marketing is about using marketing to bring potential customers to you, rather than having your marketing efforts fight for their attention."

That sounds fantastic. It’s hard to argue with. It’s groundbreaking! Or is it?

How exactly does Inbound Marketing work to bring in these potential customers?

The Beginning of the Catch-22

The prime driver of the Inbound methodology is content, though they claim it's different than content marketing because ​Inbound's scope is larger. I must be too dumb to understand since HubSpot basically claims if a piece of content is or includes something like an interactive tool, it’s Inbound and not content marketing.

That’s seems like a lot of wordplay to me.​

catch 22

Chicken or the egg -content or the strangers?

Content is content.

Anyway, to lure in potential customers you need content. Not just any content, but prime Grade A well-researched and well-written targeted content. That sure sounds expensive!

It’s difficult to disagree with the idea that quality content is going to do better than low-quality content as far as with paid traffic, SEO, and conversions are concerned. But remember, this content isn’t just a piece of the Inbound pie, it’s the crust and the filling.

To me, the idea of buying a domain, setting it up on hosting, ​writing or paying for amazing content, and letting it sit there to DIAF seems terrible. It sounds like building a 5-star resort on the dark side of the moon and not telling anyone about it.

If you don’t promote your content (like say, strategically putting it in front of people who have a high likelihood to be interested in it, say, like those searching for related keywords in Google [AdWords], or in front of people using apps that are related to your business on their phone [display ads]), how are they going to find it?

There's always SEO

​But, how do even the whitest of white hat SEOs get their SEO on? Through outreach, which is jamming your content in front of people that had no idea it ever existed.

So here we are. We need content to lure in customers without using outbound methods, but we need people to actually read this content to realize how good it is so they can link to it and share it with their audience, friends, colleagues, etc.

How the heck are we going to do that?

Inbound to the Rescue?

HubSpot lists four main ways to "Attract" readers to your site.

  • blogging​
  • SEO
  • pages
  • social publishing

Blogging is basically what we just discussed. Write a bunch, or pay someone to write a bunch, of awesome content with loads of keywords in it. This is a mix of content marketing and on-page SEO.

While this does seem very Inbound only, the idea of if you write it they will come ​is just pure ignorance. If you don’t believe me, set up a blog on a new domain and build zero links and see what happens.

SEO ​is a combination of what you do on your site, on-page SEO, and off your site, off-page SEO.

While you can optimize your headings ​and content to include relevant keywords and tinker with your site’s conversion optimization, you’re only going to get so far with on-page only. HubSpot mentions building links, but aside from social networks and some gray hat methods like profile links on high domain authority sites, you’re most likely going to have to resort to outreach, which even includes the word out in it. 

Cold emailing and calling others with websites who have not asked to be emailed or called is not writing awesome content and letting people come to you. It’s very much outbound oriented.​

Pages ​again sounds like content from the description on the HubSpot website. Maybe it has to more with conversion optimization than SEO, but conversion optimization doesn’t help bring people in, it only helps with those already visiting. And, if it’s more about SEO than this is just a repeat of blogging and SEO.

Social Publishing ​is basically Inbound’s way to try and break out of the whole catch-22 of creating content to lure in customers but not having any customers actually read your content.

But again, does this really work? Where are you publishing this content? On Facebook? On Twitter?​

​Sure, you can set up a Facebook page for your website. But, it won’t have any followers, so sharing your content on there will be useless. And, even if you managed to acquire a ton of followers without paying for them, when you share something on your Facebook page, only around 1-2% of your followers actually see it if you don't pay Facebook to promote it.

The same goes with Twitter and other social networks. You need followers or no one will see what you share, and even if you have followers, only a small fraction will see what you share unless you pay for ads, which is an Inbound no-no.

So, now we are basically at –

  1. Create high-quality expensive content that is optimized for both the search engines and conversions​
  2. Build low-quality links since we don't want to do any outbound marketing
  3. Share your content on social networks where no one will see it

To be fair, you could always post links to your content on a site like Reddit, but it better be pure gold and contain absolutely no self promotion or the Reddit gods will toss lightning bolts your way.

HubSpot is Huge. Surely This Works!

They sure are huge. They’re a top 300 site in the US according to Alexa.com and top 400 site according to Ahrefs.com give or take depending on what day you check.​

But want to know a dirty little secret?

HubSpot doesn't rely on their own Inbound methodology. 

HubSpot paid traffic

See that red circle? That’s how many paid keywords Ahrefs has picked up pointing to a HubSpot.com page. That’s pure pay-per-click advertising, not Inbound.

​The second you spend money on paid traffic for a site you can no longer claim all your success came from Inbound marketing. You have no way of knowing if someone found your site through your paid traffic (yes they can see an ad, not click, then search for your site later and never click on an ad, thus making it difficult to attribute to paid traffic though that’s where they originally found you), or if they found it upon someone’s recommendation that found your site through paid traffic.

Oh, and they were also known for having an extremely aggressive outbound sales staff pitching their products back in 2012. I’m not sure how aggressive they are today, but that’s definitely not following the Inbound Marketing model they preach.​

Why is Inbound Promoted So Much?

Many people get duped into thinking Inbound is some amazing strategy, and in a way, it is. But, it’s amazing in a much different way than they think.

If you follow the system you don’t magically rank your sites.

So, if it’s not a great strategy that will help you rank your sites, what is it?

Remember all that content mentioned before? Here's where it really comes into play.

It’s a way to create and sell SEO as a product with quantifiable deliverables as opposed to a service that no one outside the business really understands.

Try selling an SEO service to an accountant.

First, it’s an acronym, so you end up explaining what it means. Then, you have to try and justify the up front expense without delivering anything solid. And forget about explaining that a lot of the work happens off of their website.

In their defense, it does sound sketchy.

Would you give money to someone to do work you can’t see that may or may not improve one aspect of your business, and though you pay now you might have to wait for six months to see any improvements? Oh, and it’s difficult to directly relate the improvement with the work you did.​

It sounds like voodoo.

But, tell them they get:

  • 10 pieces of amazing (expensive) content every month
  • 5 pages of their website optimized for Google's search algorithm
  • new and old content posted on their social accounts 

That's much easier for them to understand. You don’t even need to get results because you already let them know it’s going to take 3 -6 months to see some results.​

Now, SEO does take time to kick in, but with Inbound, even if their website traffic never increases, they still received something for their money: all that content.

And now it all makes sense.

Content isn’t only easier to sell than voodoo, it has a nice markup as well.

So what exactly is the purpose on Inbound Marketing in my very humble opinion?

It’s a way for HubSpot to sell their marketing software to agencies selling content.

Where Does This Leave Us?

I’m not entirely sure.

If you’re an individual then understanding what Inbound really is might help you get back to the basics of SEO – write or buy decent content and build links to it.

If you’re a big agency, maybe you don’t actually care about improving your clients' online presence. Instead, you milk them for 6-12 months while putting most of your resources into sales so you can constantly replace the clients you lose - a.k.a., churn and burn.

Or, maybe you do care about your clients and you realize that trying to convince them to pay you to build a mini-golf course in the middle of the dessert where no one will see it might not be in their best interest.

Regardless of who you are and what your goals are, just try to remember that SEO and digital marketing aren’t about joining a cult. They’re are keeping up with the changes in the industry and getting results.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Inbound in the comment box below!

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