In the past, most of the advertising and marketing we've consumed—including newspaper ads, TV commercials, direct mail, and now Internet banner ads and Google ads—represent outbound marketing. They start with the advertiser who sends them out into the world in hopes of attracting customers. They cost money, and they have to be repeated frequently to be effective.
More recently, we've learned of a different approach. Inbound marketing spreads your business across the Internet through postings on social networks, links tying your content to relevant sites and followers, and blog entries that create a buzz within your own industry. Inbound marketing goes out into the world and brings customers to you.
Successful inbound marketing requires you to spend more time—but no money (if you take on the tasks yourself)—and it lives indefinitely on the Internet in the form of links, blogs postings, search results and more. As your content spreads across cyberspace, it reaches out and entices your customers to come directly to you. Brilliant!
A new book that's quickly become one of our favorite e-commerce business books is Inbound Marketing: Getting Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. This book succinctly explains how to use the power of sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube, and tools such as search engine optimization (SEO), to create a steady stream of curious customers just looking for more of what you can offer.
To find out more about inbound marketing and how you as an e-commerce retailer can take advantage of it, we went right to the source, coauthor Halligan, who was very generous in answering our questions. We hope you find his advice useful and that it brings you the results we think it will.
In reality, you don't have time not to do inbound marketing
Schepp: eBay sellers are tremendously busy, working many hours, juggling many roles. What do you say to the seller who frets she doesn't have time for "inbound marketing?"
Halligan: In reality, you don't have time not to do inbound marketing. If you want to grow your business, or prevent your competition from leapfrogging your business, you have to start building your inbound marketing presence. More and more, your customers are using search engines, blogs and social media to find what they want, and there is a first-mover advantage in building your presence in those places, so it really is important to get started now.
Schepp: There are so many different social media options. Clearly the payoff isn't the same for them all. Can you rank the sites that sellers should use, in terms of payoff for their time?
Halligan: There is no universal ranking. You need to think about the persona that you sell to, and what tools they are using the most, and then focus on those places. If you sell to businesses, LinkedIn and Twitter are pretty important. If you sell to individual consumers, probably Facebook is more important. If you have retail locations, tools like Yelp and FourSquare can be important. If you have products or brands where video can add a lot of information, then YouTube is important. There is no cookie-cutter list. It is unique to your market and customers. Ask them where they hang out!
Schepp: What's more important, creating great content or marketing that content?
Halligan: What's more important to a PB and J sandwich? Peanut butter? Or jelly? It's not possible to answer that question. You can have the best possible content, but if no one ever hears about it, no one will tell their friends or link to it, and that Web page will be a "billboard in the desert"—pretty much useless. If you market your content a ton, but it's all boring and useless, no one will link to it, and no one will share it with their friends, and you end up in the same place. Creating content, optimizing content and promoting that content all work together to help you get found.
Schepp: eBay is a great vehicle for finding potential customers. How can sellers use inbound marketing to convert browsers into buyers?
Halligan: The Convert and Analyze steps of inbound marketing are talked about less (in our book) than the Get Found step, but they are at least as important. eBay sellers should make sure they are testing different calls to action on their Web sites and analyzing which ones convert more of the visitors into buyers. There are no hard and fast rules, which is why testing and optimization using analysis is the key.
HubSpot has tools to help small and medium-sized businesses grow through inbound marketing
Schepp: eBay sellers are increasingly selling through additional channels, including their own Web sites. How can your company's Web site, HubSpot, help them increase the appeal and effectiveness of their own e-commerce sites?
Halligan: HubSpot has a number of tools that help small and medium-sized businesses of many types grow through inbound marketing. Some of our free tools include Website Grader, Twitter Grader, Facebook Grader and Blog Grader. They all provide grades of your marketing effectiveness and advice on how to improve.
Our paid product ("HubSpot") has a number of tools to help companies create more content, promote that content, optimize that content, convert more visitors into customers and analyze all of their results. We have built a complete inbound marketing software system. The best way to learn about it is to visit our site and start our free trial.
Schepp: You stress the importance of subscribing to blogs and making reading them part of your daily routine. What are the most important blogs for e-commerce sellers?
Halligan: There are two types of blogs an eBay seller should read. The first are blogs about marketing and e-commerce. I'd suggest Practical Ecommerce, Get Elastic, Marketing Pilgrim, David Meerman Scott, Chris Brogan and the HubSpot Blog.
The second type includes all the blogs that have to do with what they sell or who they sell to. If you sell Red Sox baseball cards, you should read lots of Red Sox blogs and posts in social media groups. If you sell antique dishes, you should read everything about antique dishes.
(Editor's note: To find blogs related to your industry try a Google blog search. Just enter some relevant keywords and start exploring.)
Schepp: Do you have any further advice for eBay sellers looking to boost sales through inbound marketing?
Halligan: We take all of our experience and knowledge and share it as much as possible. We wrote the Inbound Marketing book, we share lots of marketing tips on our blog and we have lots of free marketing webinars where we discuss inbound marketing best practices.