It’s still early in the year, but inbound marketers everywhere are starting to emerge from their winter hibernation and consider their digital marketing best practices for the year ahead. Having looked at the New Year resolutions and the strategies we should ditch in 2018, here we take a look at the major inbound marketing trends we should be considering to achieve success and growth.
AI and automation
We’re not quite at the ‘rise of the machines’ stage just yet, but the importance and use of Artificial Intelligence and automation are set to be bigger this year, and will grow exponentially over the next decade until we can’t remember what we ever did without it.
Many inbound marketers may be quaking in their boots at the thought of their job being taken by an automaton, but just as the salesperson’s role has changed in the face of inbound marketing, the digital marketer’s role will also change, rather than become obsolete.
Some may also fear that they will never have the technological know-how to master the complicated intricacies of artificial intelligence, but they don’t have to. As mentioned in a previous blog on AI, you don’t need a deep knowledge of the tools available and those yet to come to market – you just have to get smart about it, to understand what it is, what it means, and what it can do for your inbound marketing processes and strategies.
You may already be using chatbots on your website, but AI and automation can go far beyond that, and indeed, you can see their potential in your very own HubSpot portal (if you have one), and how they can be applied to the very fundamentals of inbound marketing: Attract, Convert, Close Delight.
Natural language processing and generation can automate content creation (though this is still limited to data-driven articles such as reports, rather than creative storytelling blogs) to attract consumers, while AI can personalise landing pages to enhance the conversion path. At the Close stage, AI can also be used to gain insights from data at a level far beyond what we puny humans can manage, and can be used to improve customer experience at the Delight stage.
Contextual marketing and micro moments
A key tenet of inbound marketing is delivering the right message to the right people at the right time, but in 2018 that is going to get even more finely-tuned with contextual marketing. Using behavioural analysis, it enables and increases brand awareness and engagement by giving insights into the likes of recent searches. This enables you to create relevant content and offers and direct them towards those already qualified as promising leads, ie, consumers who have already shown an interest in what you have to offer.
It involves the collation and correct analysis of good data to create good content, and enables you to focus on specific demographics and behaviours to target potential customers with personalised content, just when they are in a purchasing frame of mind.
This can not only lead to more sales for you, but also a better customer experience, so it’s win-win.
Along the same lines, micro-moments are going to have their time to shine. Also providing the right information at the right time, this strategy enables marketers who can anticipate when consumers are going to look for immediate information on their smartphone, to provide the content that will help them to make an impulsive and on-the-spot purchase.
It’s all about providing instant, relevant information upon request, anticipating behaviour and acting fast.
Going hyper local
The online world is a big place, and ambitious companies and agencies are now able to provide their services and products to clients and customers around the globe, but it also pays to go local. An emerging trend is the need to go beyond that and become hyper-local in our inbound efforts. Facing such enormous competition online just to rank well in search, it makes sense to become that little bit more specific and targeted, because it makes you stand out from the crowd in a particular area.
Google now looks not only for the best content to offer consumers who use their search engine, they are also looking for the best context, because they want to give the most relevant results to people, based on their location.
Going hyper-local means producing relevant content (including ads and consumer citations) for a specific area, demographic or community to personalise the experience and put your business front of mind. Using localised detail such as the weather, landmarks, etc, makes that content more accessible and relevant to users.
It’s pretty much the online marketing equivalent of a singer on tour mentioning a specific place in the city they are performing in, or a product entwined in the local culture. When they say they love their pint of Guinness backstage, it’s not because they genuinely do, it’s because their Dublin audience will emotionally engage (‘Oh my God, I love Guinness too!’ / ‘He knows our national drink, he’s one of us!’ etc)
It’s an old technique, but the development of social media platforms and instant online content has made it an emerging strategy in inbound marketing.
Keyword best practices for search ranking success have been changing over the last few years, and at the moment, the buzz is around pillar content and topic clusters, but there are other techniques and approaches that will become important in 2018, if they are not already.
As well as keyword density, frequency and prominence, one such factor is keyword proximity. This relates to how close two or more keywords are to each other. Naturally enough, the closer they are, the better the ranking, as Google and the others can more easily understand their relationship.
For example, if you want to rank well for the search ‘IT support Dublin’, instead of writing ‘The IT support that helps businesses in Dublin with all their tech needs’ you should write ‘The IT support Dublin businesses use to meet all of their tech needs’.
Another factor is keyword stemming, whereby you include variations of your keywords (singular and plural, prefixes, suffixes, synonyms, combined words, etc) to extend your reach and better fulfil search engine requests. For example, use ‘oxen’ instead of ‘ox’, ‘enact’ instead of ‘act’, ‘powerful’ instead of ‘power’, include root word variations such as ‘develop’, ‘developing’ and ‘development’, and avail of the ranking for combined words as well as each individual word, such as with ‘ballpark’, ‘ball’ and ‘park’.
We recently published a guest blog from vickyecommerce, appropriately enough, on the importance of guest blogging in your inbound marketing strategy, and it looks like this year will see this approach rise in popularity again.
As Neil Patel mentions in a recent article, guest blogging on other inbound marketing agency or company sites really works, because when you guest post on industry expert sites, you bring relevant traffic back to your own website, boost your own authority and credibility, and bring your business in front of the eyes of a larger audience at the same time.
With so much material demanded from content creators just for a business or agency to keep up, they are usually more than happy to be approached with the offer of some free articles, and you get to reach a different, but still relevant, audience. There is, however, a right way and a wrong way to go about this approach, so I recommend reading our blog on this subject.
It is also a good idea to be open to using guest bloggers on your own site and to do a bit of influencer outreach. Not only will it give your overworked writers a breather, it will also show that you are in enough of a position of authority that thought leaders are happy to share their views and advice on your platform.
The stats are in, and a study of a million blog posts shows that longer content is proving more successful at attracting and engaging people online. Specifically, organic blogs of between 2,250 and 2,500 words are the most successful. (Let’s take a quick look at the word count for this blog – yes, happy days). Those short but sweet posts, or those mammoth thought-pieces that go on for hours will no longer cut it: you need to find a happy medium.
Consumers now want in-depth insights, with helpful material that outlines an issue and offers solutions or new information, so go that bit further and show your authority on the topic at hand and the services you have expertise in.
Content creators across the globe may again be heard groaning at the thought of having to go further with their blogs, but keeping the same pace of output and writing more to make blogs longer, is just not viable. There needs to be a trade-off, so instead of writing a blog per day, for example, consider focusing on two longer posts per week. If done well, they will serve you better than five short posts that bring in little traffic.
It may mean combining two related topics into one comprehensive piece (for example, the 10 things you should be doing to make your blogs work, plus the 10 things you should not be doing), but whatever you do, make it interesting, and worth investing time in, for both the author and the reader.
Getting rid of forms
As mentioned at the start, we already covered the strategies you should drop in 2018 in a recent blog, but it is worth noting that this year will also see the gradual decline of forms on landing pages. Yes, those trusty gated content forms that have served us so well for many years are going past their use by date, and are no longer doing what they should.
The reason is consumer behaviour, which has changed dramatically since forms became the accepted way to generate and qualify leads. The fact of the matter is that, in an age of instant gratification, consumers no longer want to have to fill out forms in order to get something of value. It’s a case of ‘Give me what I want, and give it to me now’.
Think about it for a minute: If you search for information online and are presented with a website that offers what you are looking for, but then find that in order to get it, you need to enter your name, email address, phone number or role, chances are you will say ‘No, you’re alright, thanks’, leave that site, and go to the next search result to see if you can get the information there without having to jump through the proverbial online hoops.
The word ‘free’ has, over the past decade or so, seemingly lost its meaning when it comes to digital marketing, and consumers want us to give it back. Sure, you don’t have to hand over your cold, hard cash for the information you want, but having to give up your personal information, or your time while you wait for a reply or to get a download, means that you do have to give something in return, so that does not mean it is ‘free’.
More immediate offers and engagement is what is called for, which is why many successful companies and agencies are starting to use chatbots to answer immediate questions on the spot. Consumers don’t want to wait to be given an answer, or to get an email or call from your team. The reason they are searching online is because they want information now.
It’s time to give it to them.
The right use of personal data
That reluctance to exchange personal information in return for a download, or to talk to your team, is indicative of a sea change in the way consumers see the value and importance of their privacy and protection of their personal data, and this will very soon be addressed in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), coming into effect in May.
This legislation will extend the consumer’s rights regarding their personal data and has wide-ranging connotations. Any organisation or agency that holds the personal data of EU citizens (and that will include British citizens, despite Brexit) will need to put robust measures in place to protect that data, and be able to securely remove it, or share it upon request, with an individual.
Not only that, it will also require digital marketing entities to rethink their inbound strategies when it comes to what they see as consent (the agreement to be marketed to), legitimate interest (the reason for being marketed to) and profiling (using your demographic and behaviour data to determine marketing strategies).
You will need to be completely transparent with consumers regarding how and why you use their personal data, and how you protect it.
If you don’t put measures in place to have a compliant data governance and marketing strategy in place, you will face business-crippling fines, so if you are going to do anything different this year, it should definitely be this.
The inbound marketing industry is in a state of constant flux, and just as the strategies and techniques we used in the past have become outdated and in need of reappraisal, some of the above will no doubt, in time, be replaced by new and better techniques and tools. For now, though, these are the developments and trends you really need to be implementing into your lead generation and conversion strategies if you want to not just keep up with the competition, but stand out from the crowd.
Find out how we can help you create a winning inbound marketing strategy for a higher ROI and continued success by booking a call with us: