Why an inbound strategy is better than an SEO strategy

Written by
Luke Marthinusen

Inbound is complicated and expensive

An inbound campaign is definitely not the least expensive option out there, there are lots of moving parts. It takes a healthy dose of skilled digital practitioners required to get it right.

In response to the inbound campaign proposal, our client asked how much an SEO retainer would cost. Their logic - if we are at the top of Google when our potential clients search for 'fleet management' - their given industry - the enquiries would come in. Below I cover my logic - and reply to our client - as to why this was a bad idea.

SEO vanity metrics

Vanity metrics such as ranking 1st or 2nd on Google are no longer important. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying being 1st of 2nd on Google for your given industry title is not going to help tremendously. However, to get there could take years of work and getting there is not a given, and neither are the results once you're on top. Google now works more on intent than keyword rankings.

Intent based search results

I live and work between Cape Town and Johannesburg, so I regularly check in on our company rankings in the SERPs for things like 'digital agency' and 'HubSpot South Africa' from both cities, and I get different results depending on which city I'm in at the time. Google works on intent, so if you search for a 'digital agency' from Cape Town, Google is more than likely going to serve you digital agencies based in Cape Town. Google assumes you want to find a digital agency close to you.

As for my client optimising their search strategy for 'fleet management' in an attempt to try to appear on top of all search results in all major cities in South Africa - this is just too ambiguous for Google.

The power of intent

A few nights ago I was impressed by the level of intelligence behind Google's intent based search. I was watching a Netflix documentary on CrossFit (don't ask...). I Google'd some of the major competitors to find out their age (they're all in their twenties by the way...) and viewed two of their Wikipedia pages. By the third athlete I searched, Google autocomplete was predicting who I was searching for after just two keystrokes. Scary in a way, but so indicative of how intent is now driving Google search.

If you want the right traffic on your site, you need to build content that answers questions your potential clients are asking - this is why 'intent' is so important on Google. Google will serve your website more to users that are researching 'fleet management', and variants of search phrases around 'fleet management' if the totality of your website content trends towards authority on the subject.

Examples of potential content that could answer users' questions: 1. How do modern fleet tracking systems work? 2. Who are the best fleet management companies in South Africa? 3. Company X vs Company Y 4. Is fleet management software worth the cost?

If you build your website up as a leader of information and opinion around fleet management, relevant users will visit and spend time on your website.

SEO can't win alone

SEO as a stand-alone service is going to struggle to get results. Relevant content is a far stronger option. So create content and target your content to influencer and decision-maker personas in your industry. Track who downloads your content, reads your emails, build more content for them, and you will see your traffic go up. Knowing who is engaging your content with inbound software like HubSpot allows you to create more relevant and persona targeted content. Amazingly, more traffic to your website signals to Google that your site is relevant to your given industry. Now guess what happens as a by-product of that success - your Google search engine rankings go up!

I stood by our inbound proposal we sent to our client, and declined to give her an SEO-only retainer quote, even though SEO is a significant part of all our inbound retainers.

An inbound campaign will achieve great SEO for her. Focusing on metadata, on-page keyword density and backlinks will not.

Wrapping up

You might be able to find an agency that will do an SEO project for you. But long term you'll end up with poor results, potentially high traffic, but relatively few relevant leads. You'll end up looking for another provider to help your marketing efforts, and count the opportunity cost.

We've seen the inbound methodology work, again and again, using our favourite technology to make inbound work: HubSpot.

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