Inbound marketing: the ultimate guide to attract clients online

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

In this step-by-step inbound marketing guide, you will learn how inbound marketing methodology works and how you can use it to grow your business online by crafting high converting sales and lead generation funnels.

I’ll show you bulletproof inbound marketing examples to increase traffic and convert visitors into high qualified leads.

You will be able to craft a successful multichannel digital marketing strategy to attract customers on a consistent basis and smash the competition by moving their audience onto your platforms.

In addition, I’ll teach you how to shift your funnel-based marketing model to the modern flywheel-based marketing model.

Table of contents

  1. Difference between inbound and outbound marketing;

  2. How to craft an inbound marketing strategy;

  3. Examples of attracting inbound marketing strategies;

  4. Marketing funnel vs inbound marketing flywheel.


Who invented inbound marketing?

The term “inbound marketing” was first mentioned in 2005 by the co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan.

In a 2007 interview, Brian Halligan revealed what inbound marketing means and why it represents the reason why HubSpot came to life: a full-stack inbound marketing software for marketing, sales and customer service, with a completely free CRM (Customer Relationship Management) at its core.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a process enabling businesses to attract customers on a consistent basis by pulling the demand through relevant content and meaningful experiences.

The Inbound Methodology builds tailored connections with potential buyers and provides solutions to problems that they already have.

The Inbound Methodology
The Inbound Methodology is an inbound marketing process invented by HubSpot to convert visitors into customers and increase their retention. It is formed by 4 phases: attraction, conversion, closing and delighting.

Inbound marketing is founded on all those activities meant to attract and retain consumers like:

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization);

  • Personalized UX (User Experience);

  • Blogging;

  • Vlogging;

  • Storytelling;

  • Content marketing;

  • Influencer marketing;

  • Social media.

What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing is represented by interruptive marketing activities meant to reach potential buyers.

Outbound vs inbound marketing
Outbound marketing is characterized by intrusive and interruptive forms of marketing, like: cold calls, cold emails, interruptive ads and so on. Inbound marketing has a customer-centric approach and aims at SEO (Search Engine Optimization), blogging and attraction.

While inbound marketing is customer-centric, outbound marketing is marketer-centric and it starts from the company towards its audience. It includes traditional and digital forms of marketing, like:

  • TV commercials;

  • Radio ads;

  • Print advertisements (newspaper ads, magazine ads, flyers, brochures, catalogs...);

  • Trade shows;

  • Cold-calling (outbound sales calls);

  • Cold emails (spam);

  • Online intrusive and interruptive advertising (Facebook Ads, Google Ads, video ads and so on).

Is outbound marketing dead?

Outbound marketing is not dead and it can still be effective when done correctly. The best strategy starts with an inbound marketing approach and supports it with outbound marketing activities.

Keep reading and discover how to do it right.


Your objective is to create a marketing system that automatically generates profit over time. It means you need to put in place an ecosystem that attracts visitors and locks them in.

It’s not a stealing if consumers want to stay in your ecosystem by their own will, right?

We can modernize and substitute the traditional Inbound Methodology with a flywheel and divide an inbound marketing strategy into a loop composed of three phases:

  • Attraction;

  • Engagement;

  • Delighting.

The Inbound Marketing Flywheel
The Inbound Marketing Flywheel by HubSpot.

Determine your target audience

An inbound marketing strategy consists of creating a system to attract visitors, but you don’t want to attract just anyone.

You want to focus your budget and assets only on potential buyers. In other words, you want to tailor this strategy for the people who are more inclined to buy your product or service.

In technical jargon, these people are called prospects or, according to HubSpot, buyer personas.

A useful resource I give you to cover this topic is my full guide on market segmentation which you can use to identify the most profitable niche for your business.

With this clear, the only way to attract prospects is to feed them with valuable and relevant content.

Download my free buyer persona worksheet and craft the perfect elevator pitch in 4 easy steps!

Determine if the prospect has a problem you can solve

According to Internet Live Stats, 5.5 billion searches are done on Google every day in 2020. In other words, Google processes over 63,000 search queries per second.

Users are constantly seeking content, whatever it is: entertainment, services, products, reviews, knowledge (e-learning, information...), videos, comparisons, tutorials and so on.

They do it, because they constantly have problems to solve.

Can your company solve their problems?

If you can’t solve their problems, you shouldn’t waste time and money trying to communicate with them. You should attract and engage with prospects who have a problem synced with what your company offers or who may need help for the foreseeable future.

How can you create the right content for the right audience?

Understand the role of consumers in the purchasing process

Let’s say you are The Electric Toy Company and want to monetize Doug dug. The majority of people who play this video game are children (users), but they are not the actual buyers.

Children don’t have access to money and they need their parents to make a purchase.

In this example, The Electric Toy Company wants to target children with its marketing efforts and leverage them into squeezing money out of their parents (buyers).

Understanding the role of consumers during the purchasing process is fundamental to craft the best inbound marketing strategy.

Roles of consumers in a purchasing process
Roles of consumers in a purchasing process: users, buyers, deciders, influencers, intermediaries.

Even if buyers are the ones who actually pay for your products or services, it doesn’t mean you should always target them with your inbound marketing strategy.

Understand where your prospect is in the decision making process

Another fundamental aspect of an inbound marketing strategy is personalization. There are many ways to personalize content and the higher the degree, the higher the costs.

What’s the bare minimum degree of personalization for your content?

The answer is strictly related to the buyer's readiness or, in other words, where the prospect is in the decision making process. The image below represents the different stages of buyer’s readiness according to Marketing and management of Kotler and Keller:

  • Unaware;

  • Aware;

  • Informed;

  • Interested;

  • Willing to buy;

  • Already bought.

6 stages of buyer's readiness
6 stages of buyer's readiness according to Marketing and management of Kotler and Keller.

Some people are unaware of your product or service, some are aware, some are informed, some are interested, some desire it and some intend to buy.

It’s very difficult to produce a piece of content where you raise awareness, desire and willingness to buy, all together!

This process doesn’t work if you sell commodities, though. In this case, consumers will make their decision just based on price.

You must tailor the communication and channel of your content strategy according to each stage of the buyer journey.

For example, to raise awareness you can start a marketing campaign with social influencers. You can partner with them to create a valuable piece of content where they promote your product or service in a non-disruptive or interruptive way.

Their followers will discover your brand and become aware of your product/service.

A call to action in a blog post can move users from the informed stage to the interested stage. You want to create blog posts to attract visitors from search engines, like Google.

Users search for keywords to find out possible solutions to their problem. If your blog post is relevant and matches their intent, it will show up in the search results and users will click on it.

Then, if they understand you are capable of solving their problem, you can use call to actions to move them to the next stage.

For instance, if you are reading this blog post because you want to learn how to craft a bulletproof inbound marketing strategy, well then guess what? I’m a digital marketer who sells consultancy services.

So, here you have the choice to learn and build the strategy by yourself or schedule a 1-hour consultancy with me and solve the problem in a blink.

Recapping this step, you need to personalize your content distribution channels and communication according to the buyer’s readiness:

  • If your prospect is in the awareness stage, it means they have a problem they want to solve, but haven't decided upon a solution or searched for a possible vendor. The marketing team should keep nurturing these prospects till they move forward in the buyer journey. Sales reps shouldn’t pitch them, but if they do, salespeople must have an extremely light touch;

  • If your prospect is in the consideration stage, it means they are aware of the problem and are willing to spend time and effort to find a possible solution. They are actively seeking content that helps them understand what it takes (in terms of commitment) to achieve a resolution;

  • If your prospect is in the decision stage, it means they have thoroughly researched their problem and potential solutions. They are selecting vendors, so this is the time for the sales rep to step in.


Inbound marketing tools
Inbound marketing tools to attract, engage and delight customers.

When and why you should start a blog… or shouldn’t

One of the most popular inbound marketing strategies is to start a blog and leverage SEO to funnel users from search engines.

Entrepreneurs usually get excited about this topic, because they think if they publish a ton of content about their product or service, visitors will start flowing!

But they have no idea what it takes to succeed!

In fact, the majority of them don’t know blogging best practices and waste loads of money on content that no one will ever see.

In this article, I will not explain how to write and optimize a blog post, but I will teach you what types of blogging strategy your business needs.

Do you really need a blog?

You run a business and its ultimate goal is to make money.

Are you able to make money with a blog?

According to Worldometers, about 7.5 million blog posts are published every day in 2020. It means that you must be ready to compete with fists and fangs to appear in the search results.

Consider that only 7% of users visit the second page of the search results (Google Survey by Moz, 2019) and only 0.78% of them click on something from the second page (Google CTR Statistics by Backlinko, 2019).

It means you only win when your blog post appears in the first SERP (Search Engine Results Pages).

If you don’t receive enough traffic, it’s impossible to monetize your blogging efforts and drive ROI (Return On Investment).

In addition, when you do content marketing (in this case, blogging), you literally compete with anyone who publishes content on the web.

While in the pre-Internet era the most important factor was space (just think of an advertorial on a magazine for example), now the most valuable element is the attention of your users.

Space vs attention in content marketing
The challenge of content marketing is to create value for potential buyers and attract their attention by outclassing other content creators.

You don’t compete to get more real estate, because you can publish whatever you want online. You are competing to get users’ attention: this is the most precious asset for a content marketer.

People are continuously consuming content, but they only have a limited amount of time in their days.

Another important factor to consider before you start a blog is the long term results.

According to a study conducted by Ahrefs in 2020, it takes at least 650 days to rank in the top 10 of the SERP.

How long does it take to rank in Google?
Average age of the page (# of days) in Google top 10. The age is calculated from the date when Ahrefs crawlers first saw the page. But since they crawled the web at a pretty staggering speed, the actual age of the page should be very close, if not identical, to their records. Source: How long does it take to rank in Google? by Ahrefs.

How long it takes to get actual SEO results depends on many different factors, one of them being the degree of content competition in your industry.

In the same study, Ahrefs shows that it is actually possible to rank in the top ten of the SERP in less than a year, but the percentage of success is low.

Youngest pages in the top ten of the SERP
Percentage of pages less than one year old in Google top 10 results. Source: How long does it take to rank in Google? by Ahrefs.

Here is a list of factors to consider before you start a blog:

  1. Pick a niche with low competition, but high traffic potential. If your blog doesn’t get traffic, it is impossible to monetize in the future. In this phase, use these free tools: Google Trends (to compare trends between keywords), Exploding Topics (to see trends between topics) and Ubersuggest (to see the competition and traffic potential of each keyword);

  2. Prepare to invest a lot of money in good content creators (copywriters, designers and so on) capable of publishing something unique, extensive (at least 3,000 words) and optimized for search engines;

  3. Prepare to invest in web design to get a high performing UX (User Experience). If your content is good, but the user experience sucks, visitors bounce back and your blogging efforts are useless. To optimize your user experience, use this freemium tool, HotJar: with heatmaps, recordings and many other features, it allows you to improve the efficiency of your design;

  4. Prepare to invest in on-page and off-page SEO activities;