Shannon is Mention’s Content & PR Manager, where she crafts words, creates strategies, and recruits loyal advocates. She’s based in New York. Get in touch with her at @ShannnonB.
Inbound marketing is the practice of sharing any type of content in an attempt to bring people closer to your brand.
Getting started on an inbound marketing strategy can feel like throwing spaghetti against the wall at times, and that’s how it should feel at first. However, after the first few tosses, you should start measuring and iterating to determine the type of content that resonates with your audience, and the most effective distribution channels for reaching them.
As with any marketing practice, results matter. Content takes a ton of time to produce and distribute; your company needs to know that it’s worth the time and resources. You also need to know what results you’re seeking in order to know what to measure, how. Here are the four things you should know about the role of analytics in your inbound marketing strategy.
1. Your goals should be driven by people first, numbers later
We all want measurable, easily defined growth, and it’s easy to pick a number out of thin air for whatever metric you’re measuring and push yourself or your marketing department to get there. But inbound marketing is about people more than it is numbers.
With an inbound strategy, you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish: Attract potential customers to your brand and build relationships, and continuously add value in hopes they later convert them into customers. But how?
Rather than immediately focusing on the numbers, you should first be asking:
- What’s your end game? (sales, upgrades, signups, brand awareness, referrals)
- After your first point of contact, what do you want your audience to do next? (share, click, contact, buy)
- What’s in it for them? (what value are you providing?)
To answer these questions (and to build the most mutually beneficial relationship), you’ll need to know more about who these potential customers are, such as:
- What your audience members’ interests are
- Where they find information
- What they need from you / what problem you can solve for them
- What type of messages and appeals resonate with them
With media monitoring and social listening, you can monitor key terms to discover who’s talking about the problem your brand is solving, and where these conversations are taking place. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a beginner’s guide to keyword research from Hubspot.
For current customers, this can be accomplished by analyzing data collected during the onboarding process.
For example, at Mention, we went into our database and identified who our most active users are, defined by job title. Although this isn’t the most precise metric, as many of us have responsibilities that reach beyond our job titles, it gave us a general snapshot of who is using our product.
Among those who provided their title, we found that our most active customers work within a marketing role, the next being executives, then community (we were expecting CM to be the lead), then other, followed by IT, which was particularly surprising.
This helped us identify the most helpful use cases for our customers. We then developed these use cases into a series of blog posts for making the most of Mention based on different customers’ specific needs. We’ve also incorporated the posts into our in-app messages via Intercom based on customers’ roles.
2. What you analyze is determined by KPIs
Answering the questions above will give you the meat of your inbound strategy and help you to set quantitative goals, measured by key performance indicators, or KPIs. If you’re just getting started, your goals may look like something like this:
- Increase blog visits by 20%
- Increase newsletter sign ups by 10%
- Increase monthly sales by 20%
- Reduce churn by 5%
- Reduce cost per lead by 13%
The KPIs are the terms bolded. Your goals are the rate at which you aim to change each KPI.
Just doing a basic Google search, you’ll find that the industry standard number of KPIs for an inbound marketing strategy is between five and ten. We focus on about eight.
However, all KPIs are tied closely together — the number of visitors to your blog is going to effect the number of comments or subscribers you get, and visa versa. Similarly, there’s a close relationship between support tickets and churn. Your best bet is to have a holistic and cohesive strategy that aims to improve on each of your KPIs simultaneously.
3. Your tactics are based on goals & metrics, give each a trial period
Obvious, right? You may be surprised how easy it is to lose sight of your goals for the trendy new tactic, tool, or distribution channel. It’s a good practice to test new approaches, but before spending too much time on anything always ask: will this help me reach a specific inbound goal?
Using the goals example above, your tactics may look something like this:
- Place 3 guest posts per month on relevant, high-traffic blogs
- Publish 2 high-value, high-quality original blog posts per week
- Distribute each piece of content to at least 2 high-traffic channels
- Revamp FAQ to be more helpful
- Update website copy to be more clear
Another good rule of thumb is to limit the time you spend on each activity before seeing results as to not waste resources. This limit is going to be different for each industry, and even on a company-by-company basis.
For us, if a specific tactic is not performing, we’ll stop acting on it after 2-3 weeks. As a result, we’ve found that GrowthHackers.com and Twitter are effective distribution channels for us, and that some of the publications we’ve written for have resulted in greater brand awareness than others, so that’s where we’ve placed our focus moving forward.
4. The devil’s in the detail: Look at every step of the inbound funnel
So you know what you’re measuring for, what your goals are, and how you plan on reaching them. Now you’ll determine how to measure your results. Your metrics are tied directly to your KPIs, but they go beyond just the surface results.
Let’s say your goal is to increase visits to your blog. In order to determine which posts performed best, you need to look beyond just volume of visits.
- What was different about the top-performing headlines?
- Which post kept visitors on the page longest? Or saw the most clicks to the pricing page?
- Which saw the most comments, or social shares?
- Where did the traffic come from?
Perhaps you use email newsletters to distribute your content. It’s a best practice to A/B test different subject lines to determine which will perform best. The same can be done with blog posts. With tools like Optimizely, you can test different copy on your site among visitors to see what performs best.
It all comes down to thinking through what actions you want your audience to perform and measuring how each piece of content and every tool you’re using drives those actions.
Groove took a really interesting approach to measuring the ROI of their blog by assigning specific value to subscribers as they relate to signups. By analyzing the actions of blog subscribers vs. non-subscribers on the site, they found that subscribers become paid users at a rate that’s roughly 50% greater than non-subscribers. In other words, for Groove, a subscriber is worth more than 3.6 times the value of a non-subscribing website visitor.
Truth is, analytics don’t have to be as complicated as they’re made out to be. By determining the five to ten metrics that matter the most to your brand and continuously keeping an eye on them, you’ll be able to make important decisions quickly, and establish an inbound strategy that produces the results that you want.
If you’re just getting started, some analytical tools to explore include:
- Google Analytics (free). Check out Buffer’s ultimate guide.
- GoSquared (starting at $10/month)
- KISSmetrics (for the fancier of us, tracking conversions, starting at $179/month)
- Geckoboard (starting at $17/month)
Want more of the dirty details? Ask your questions in the comments below!
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