Inbound Marketing vs. SEO: An Inside Look at How They Work Together

According to HubSpot, inbound marketing is used to "turn strangers into customers and promoters of your business." It's built around attracting strangers with your blog, social media, and keywords, then converting those visitors with forms, calls to action, and landing pages.
09/26/2016 01:04 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2017

According to HubSpot, inbound marketing is used to "turn strangers into customers and promoters of your business." It's built around attracting strangers with your blog, social media, and keywords, then converting those visitors with forms, calls to action, and landing pages. Then, those visitors become leads, which you work to close using workflows involving email and customer relationship management (CRM). At this point, you have customers, which you work to turn into promoters with social monitoring, smart content, and surveys. Those promoters in turn bring more strangers to your business to start the cycle again.

Rather than using marketing efforts to fight for customer attention, this approach focuses on bring customers to your business, primarily by creating and sharing content specifically targeted at your ideal customers.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is, according to Moz, a "marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results." It includes both the creative and technical aspects necessary to drive traffic and improve rankings - everything from keywords on your page, to the code structure of your pages, and the way other websites link to you.

How Inbound Marketing and SEO are Different

Both disciplines focus on bringing customers to a business, but the methods vary. SEO can be considered a subset of inbound marketing, since search engine visibility helps bring strangers to your website, providing a chance to convert them to into customers. Beyond improving your ranking, it's still about getting more eyes on your website and reaching potential customers. Ultimately, they focus on different stages of the sales funnel. SEO is based on attracting, while inbound marketing handles convincing the customer to convert. When the two are done well, they join forces to create an effective sales strategy.

I recently had the chance to speak with Mattan Danino of WEBITMD.com. He has a background in Digital Marketing campaigns, business consulting, and growth hacking that's helped scale eCommerce brands, in addition to a number of lead generation initiatives for major brands. His digital marketing agency handles both SEO and inbound marketing campaigns for a spectrum of clients so his knowledge and expertise across industry verticals is worth sharing.

LW:
Given the differences between SEO and inbound marketing, how do you measure ROI for each? Which do you feel is more effective?

MD: My approach for measuring ROI involves analyzing the return from a data pool of SEO and inbound marketing combined. Far too many SEO agencies focus entirely on ranking as a performance gauging metric, and inbound marketers tend to treat SEO as a benchwarmer. When it comes to measuring metrics for effectiveness, ranking is important, but so is sustainable traffic and the nurturing of that traffic into what a business deems as a conversion. It's really about SEO with Inbound Marketing as opposed to SEO vs. Inbound Marketing. They really do go hand in hand.

LW: How do you ensure your inbound marketing is SEO friendly?

MD: Knowing how every component of SEO impacts an inbound marketing strategy is critical. To really get the most for our clients we focus on three main components: technical SEO, content, and user experience.

A sound technical foundation is vital for the search engines to crawl your website. Taking a multitude of factors into consideration and ensuring they are all buttoned up sets a foundation that allows a brand to leverage the most out of their content and inbound strategy.

As for content, putting out good SEO friendly text requires an understanding of how search behavior and Google's algorithms impact your efforts. Google's Machine-learning artificial intelligence called RankBrain is a big factor to take into consideration. Your content should be well-written, entertaining, and original yet also combine consumer emotional queues and branding into the copy. That is what Google ultimately wants to serve to its users.

Moving on to user experience, this term is passed around but seldom gets maximized. Remember, Google's goal is to provide searchers with the best answers and solutions to their needs, and it uses machine learning, AI, and emotional chords to cast its judgment. If you have a high bounce rate, Google will know that. To provide a positive experience for search traffic, the user experience must be stellar, and this means it must have relevant, informative content and a healthy internal linking strategy that allows users to find what they are looking for in as few clicks as possible. There is also a healthy harmony between creative design and content for SEO, both are important.

LW: What's the biggest lesson you've learned as your agency has transitioned to offering both SEO and inbound marketing services? Is there any advice you'd offer to potential clients who are trying to decide which one to invest in?

MD: I learned how SEO and inbound marketing truly leverage one another. WEBITMD's goal is to make big clients even bigger, and if their goals synch up with our hybrid approach to digital marketing, we will encourage them to use both.

Keep in mind that not all clients require both though. Devising the ideal digital marketing mix, including SEO, paid search, social media and inbound marketing, is truly the formula for success. Remember that inbound marketing is simply a methodology which has technology components attached to it. The technology in and of itself provides little standalone value. Inbound platforms need to be fueled with content, automation workflows, and the nurturing of prospects all the way through the sales funnel. What results at the end of that process are the true fruits of your labor.

For those considering SEO and inbound marketing my advice would be to have a clear understanding of what your goals are, prepare the components/resources you'll need to be effective, and keep in mind the long-term vision of success. Also recognize your current marketing strengths and weaknesses and supplement those gaps in your skillset with a good resource in-house or an agency.

So which do you choose? Or is it a choice at all...

Which is better for your website? Both. Without SEO, you'll struggle to get the right kind of traffic, forcing you to rely on paid advertising and word of mouth. But, without inbound marketing, your SEO efforts wouldn't pay off as well, if at all. It's the inbound marketing efforts that help you build customer trust. Focusing solely on inbound marketing makes your awesome content difficult to impossible to find, but SEO alone may mean customers leave your website because it doesn't meet their needs, regardless of how well it ranks. To succeed in today's business climate, you must have a customer-centric focus, which means having strategies for both SEO and inbound marketing.