January 04, 2016

Building an Inbound Marketing Plan: Goals, Strategy and Tactics

Planning and Strategizing an Inbound Marketing Plan

Before you go churning out case studies or start toiling away on Twitter — indeed, before you engage in the first inbound marketing activity — you first must determine your goals, strategy and tactics. Yep, we're talking about an inbound marketing plan. This approach will not only help you avoid the dreaded failure to launch, but it will also set you on the path to inbound marketing success. 

1. Define your goals. 

Would you rather work smarter or harder? Devising your inbound marketing strategy begins with setting SMART goals. Use this handy acronym to create goals that are:

  • Specific: Your goals should be tied to an individual, defined outcome. Skip vague language and corporate jargon. Maybe you do want to "raise brand awareness," but that's a nebulous concept, so be more specific. 
  • Measurable: The best part of inbound marketing is that it generates so much data! Identify the most relevant metrics for each goal. For example, if your goal is to increase site traffic, specify by how much. If you want to convert more visitors, define the new desired conversion rate.
  • Atttainable: While you want your goals to pose a challenge, you also need them to be attainable. Choose targets and benchmarks that you can actually attain, given current performance.
  • Realistic: Keep your team's bandwidth in mind. If your company currently blogs about once a week, it might be unrealistic to jump to daily posts. Instead, incrementally increase your activities based on your overall marketing budget, staffing and capacity. 
  • Timebound: Give yourself and your team a deadline for each goal. As you head toward that deadline, you can evaluate progress and tweak your approach if needed. That will keep you on track to meet each goal. 

Example:

Your company's website is functional and could use some freshening up; you haven't done any keyword research or updated the content in a while. You publish blogs about once a week, but don't have an editorial calendar in place. The website serves its purpose, but it could be an even better marketing tool. Your team decides that increasing overall site traffic should take top priority.  

Goal: Increase overall web traffic by 15% during Quarter 3. 

This goal is specific, and easily measurable thanks to tools like Google Analytics. Since the project is your top priority, you can devote most of your resources and bandwidth to this effort. And an entire quarter is plenty of time to make excellent strides. 

2. Commit to your strategy. 

Now that you have a few SMART goals in mind, it's time to address strategy. Think of your strategy as an explanation of how you'll achieve each goal. Usually long-term, your strategy statements will be higher level ideas that drive tactical decisions. 

Example:

Goal: Increase overall web traffic by 15% during Quarter 3. 

Strategy #1: Improve return traffic among existing customers. 

Strategy #2: Improve traffic and ranking for non-branded keywords. 

Strategy #3: Garner backlinks from relevant professional organizations' websites. 

Note that these strategies don't get into specifics like blogging and Twitter posts. Instead, they serve as guideposts that will help you decide which inbound marketing activities make the most sense. And each strategy addresses a different "pool" of potential website visitors. The first is your "low-hanging fruit," people who already know about and presumably like your company. The second is brand new traffic, likely at the awareness level of the buyer's cycle. And the last strategy includes "primed traffic," that is, people who are already in your target industry and may be aware of your brand and services. 

3. Choose your tactics.

Simply put, tactics are the daily activities that you and your marketing team complete to execute your strategy and attain your goals. They're the "deliverables" that will help you measure the success of your inbound marketing campaign. Every piece of content you publish, from a Twitter post to a case study, is a tactical item. 

The great thing about tactics is that they give you the data you need to evaluate your efforts. Let's go back to our example, which now includes relevant tactics for each strategy. Note that each tactic starts with a verb--these are all action items. 

Example:

Goal: Increase overall web traffic by 15% during Quarter 3. 

Strategy #1: Improve return traffic among existing customers. 

  • Tactic: Publish at least two blog articles per week.
  • Tactic: Promote blog articles via email newsletter to existing customers.
  • Tactic: Post articles on corporate Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ pages.
  • Tactic: Post articles on CEO's LinkedIn page and groups. 

Strategy #2: Improve traffic and ranking for non-branded keywords. 

  • Tactic: Revise the editorial calendar to incorporate targeted long-tail keywords.
  • Tactic: Update existing web content and landing pages with the appropriate long-tail keywords. 
  • Tactic: Optimize all images and video for targeted keywords.
  • Tactic: Revamp existing blog headlines and copy to include targeted long-tail keywords.

Strategy #3: Garner backlinks from relevant professional organizations' websites. 

  • Tactic: Interview at least two industry thought leaders and publish as blog articles.
  • Tactic: Invite key clients to pen guest blogs on topics relevant to their industry. 
  • Tactic: Identify at least three guest blogging opportunities for the CEO or other key employees.
  • Tactic: Publish one case study or white paper geared toward primary buyer persona

You can use your tactics to create a daily, weekly or monthly inbound marketing checklist. That way you will stay on track to complete each activity at the right time. 

Assign the appropriate metric(s) to each tactic, so that you can keep track of progress. For example, email newsletter click-through rates will give you an idea of how much return traffic you're generating. Google Analytics will illuminate trends in keyword rankings and backlink sources. If you pay attention to these metrics from the beginning, you can see what's working (and what isn't) and adjust accordingly. That sort of adaptation will help you consistently meet your goals. Free Checklist: How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign

Kristin Masters

Kristin Masters is a content marketing specialist with almost a decade's experience in SEO and social marketing. A HubSpot maven, Kristin has developed and implemented inbound marketing strategies for a variety of B2B and B2C clients. Kristin graduated from the University of Florida with an ever-useful specialization in 18th-century British literature. She teaches Bikram yoga.