This relatively simple step-by-step inbound content plan will work for most small and medium-sized companies. While the schedule is weekly, it could very well be monthly. It's flexible to fit most time and budget constraints.
Inbound marketing aims to get qualified prospects in the door so you can start wooing them. Inbound marketing uses content as an attractor. When successful, the content captures some contact information from prospects and then nurtures them until they eventually become customers. This simple inbound content plan can be significantly expanded, but I've tried to include the most important bits in a way that is straightforward and easy to understand.
Summary: The simple inbound content process
This is essentially what I am about to tell you to do:
The plan in a nutshell
Philosophy: You have to give something to get something
A good inbound content initiative will create a connection between you and your prospect. Ideally, you will get the prospect's name and email address to be able to further the conversation (nurturing). The main success metric of this inbound process is obtaining the contact information of qualified prospects. Later, we'll gather more information to serve them better to augment the data set, but for now, just the name and email will do because...well, we have to start somewhere.
The process described below will walk you through the steps needed to obtain a prospect's contact information by offering something of value in return for people's contact information (and a solemn promise to keep it safe).
It's a three-step process
It's a three-step process. Some will say (rightly) that it has more steps. But I'm not here to confuse you more than need be.
First, you attract prospects with short-form content. This content is excellent but doesn't quite provide all the details they need to solve their problem.
To ultimately satisfy themselves, they must perform the second step: download the longer-form content (an e-book in this case). To get that, they must provide their name and email.
The name and email will then be added to a very selective email list in which they will only receive helpful emails that continue to solve their problems and build the relationship further.
Moving prospects down the funnel
The image below was borrowed from Hubspot.
At the top, prospects are just browsing the web, trying to find a solution. You entice them with your awesome content. Your content is so good they give you their information, making them leads.
Now they're further down the funnel. Then you help them along some more, they give you more information about themselves voluntarily - now they're marketing qualified leads... etc...
Eventually, they buy from you.
Ready to Get Started?
Basic Content Plan Ingredients List
Long-form content - an e-book that solves persona's problem.
Short-form content: Blog posts
Short-form sponsored content: LinkedIn
Social media messages (you can do less if you want)
Define your target persona
Don't skip this step - even if you want to.
Modern marketing combines the art of content creation with the power of data science. To do this, decide who you are targeting by creating an archetypal persona.
Creating a persona to target with your marketing
An archetypal persona is a representation of the "ideal" person your marketing will target. The key is not to start with the product or service, but instead to focus on your audience.
Really get to know your sub-audience. Are they left-handed dog walkers who enjoy tweezing angry cats? How about middle-aged marketing executives trapped in a sea of gray cubicles regretting last night's questionable sushi?
Whoever they are, persona research and documentation will focus your efforts and keep your tiny team on a mission. Typically you'll describe at least the following attributes about the "perfect" prospect:
- Name (made up; we like funny names)
- Job Title
- Company Size
- LinkedIn Groups They Belong To
- The problem they're experiencing
- The solution represented by your content
Once you've created the target persona, you'll begin to understand, and maybe even empathize, the person for which your content will eventually solve a problem. Here is an example of a simple persona for an entrepreneur starting a venture-backed business - we'll call him "Eddie Entrepreneur". We even provided a lovely image below with an angelic glow about him:
Content piece one: 5-7 page e-book
Create a five to seven-page e-book that will be behind an information wall requesting basic information about the person downloading the content. Here is a good article on how to do it. Typically you'll be asking for an email address, as well as first and last name.
You're trying to solve a problem for the prospect. In this case, we're trying to solve "Eddie's" problem. Specifically:
- He has a software startup.
- He has very little money and no time.
- He can't afford to hire an in-house marketing team.
- He needs to dominate searches against his competitors in search results.
- He needs the best possible reviews as early as possible.
Knowing the above, we might come up with a few e-book ideas. For example:
- How to Attract Great Reviews Even Before Your Software Launches
- Positioning Your Software Startup for Early Search Engine Dominance
- How to Make Your Software Company Look Better Online
Content piece two: 5 blogs posts
Blog posts must satisfy the following criteria:
Tease e-book content
They must summarize content found in the e-book to which the blog post is designed to support. In other words, if an e-book is about How to Make Your Software Company Look Better Online, then the blog posts might be entitled:
- Five Sites Every App Startup Should Be Listed On
- How Startups Look Bigger Than They Are Online
- Why People Download Inferior Apps Instead of Yours
- The Trick to Getting Good Reviews for Your New App
- Winning the Online Brand War for App Developers
The blog post headlines must beg to be clicked. The most important part of a blog post is the headline. Really. The worst way to pick a headline is to use your gut feeling as to what a great headline is. Instead, use data if you can. Upworthy creates 25 versions of headlines before using A/B testing to pick one!
Once someone clicks the awesome headline you A/B tested the heck out of, you'll find they will arrive at your blog post. Do they stay? I hope so. This is called "dwell time". “Dwell time” is how much time elapses between someone clicking a search result and then returning to Google or Bing. In other words, they don't "bounce" back after viewing your content immediately. You need them to read, at least a little bit, to get some context. Ideally, though, your blog posts are designed to get people to click the CTA embedded in them. That's most of the reason you are putting time into this whole exercise, right?
The CTA (Call to Action)
I hate to beat it into you, but I must. It's my job. The biggest reason you are creating content is to increase the size and quality of your email list so you can nurture leads in the medium and long term. So, to recap:
- Create blog posts to drive traffic to the e-book.
- The e-book drives email sign-ups.
- The email sign-ups are used for a newsletter or similar campaign.
Most people aren't ready to buy when they come to your site. This method helps ensure you're top of mind when they finally are because you're so darned helpful!
Here is an example of what a CTA might look like for the e-book:
Where does the CTA lead when they click?
The CTA leads to a landing page. Not your home page. A special page was made just for your offer. There are many articles about how to create a landing page.
There is a secondary reason for all this content, too: it drives SEO. The more high-quality content you have, the more traffic your site will have (generally). Which is pretty cool.
Content piece three: LinkedIn (Sponsored)
The LinkedIn post will be designed specifically to target Eddie. You might notice the criteria you chose for Eddie the Entrepreneur's persona match the criteria LinkedIn ad targeting provides. Coincidence? I think not. More on this later.
Criteria for LinkedIn sponsored content
Here are the basic criteria for a LinkedIn sponsored content article.
- Thumbnail image size: 1.91:1 ratio (1200x627px) displayed on mobile.
- Title must be 70 characters max. to avoid truncation.
- Introductory Text: 150 characters or less, including the landing page URL
- Image must be more than 200px in width.
- Manual image upload max weight: 5MB
- Recommended PPI (pixels per inch) is 72.
- Manual image upload supported types: JPG, GIF, PNG
- Animated GIFs are not accepted.
- Characters count toward introductory text limitation.
- All embedded URLs must have the "http://" "or https://" prefix.
Don't forget to embed a call-to-action in each post!
This is really important. The blog posts and LinkedIn-sponsored posts must have a call to action (CTA) embedded near the top and at the bottom of each post. The CTAs must be in-line, meaning they are part of the content of the post. The CTAs are the main reason we are creating this content - remember, we want people to click on the CTA to access the long-form e-book. In doing so, you capture their email address and name for further targeted marketing.
Content piece four: Five tweets for each of the six posts (30)
Once you have the e-book and the six supporting short-form content pieces, you're ready to create social media messages. There are three forms of social media being used in this campaign (but you could use more). The three we are targeting are:
You'll need to create five tweets for each of the posts. There are a total of six posts, so that's a total of 30 tweets. Why so many? Because different messages and hashtags attract different people. For example, here is an example of a tweet promoting the blog post "Five Sites Every App Startup Should Be Listed On":
Five Sites Every App Startup Should Be Listed On. Where should your new app company be listed? Here are five of the best.
Remember, tweets are a max of 140 characters not counting the @replies.
Here is a great guide to creating great tweets.
Next: Schedule blog posts - one per weekday
Once the e-book and six articles are ready, place them in your CRM (customer relationship software). Most companies use WordPress (we use HubSpot).
The beauty of scheduling online content is you can get a lot of it done well in advance. For example, you can create all of the July content in June. That way you schedule the blog posts as well as the social media (mentioned later) and then essentially forget about it (sort of).
Schedule the first post on Monday, the second on Tuesday, etc. You've created five, so you should have one for each day of the week. This is a great way to do it because your content weeks get a "theme."
Next: Schedule the tweets
We use HubSpot for our CRM at Reputation X. It enables us to do quite a few cool things. One is to schedule social media. Other solutions work very well for scheduling social media, too. The best ones are probably HootSuite and Buffer. Below is an image of what the HubSpot Social Publishing view looks like.
Scheduling social media is pretty similar across platforms. I won't get into the specifics of each platform, but I will say there should be a schedule. Due to the nature of Twitter, it gets a lot of repetition. Other channels don't.
Tweet one of the messages each day. Make sure each is unique and contains different hashtags. Repeat the five tweets the following week. Once per weekday, with other different hashtags. Do the same for two more weeks. This way you use the same five tweets repeatedly but with different hashtags to connect different similar interests. Schedule these in advance, of course, so you only have to set it up once.
Share the blog post on LinkedIn. When you post it, HubSpot will do this for you. Post to LinkedIn only once.
Same rules as LinkedIn. Of course, there are many tweaks you could make for each platform, and they're worth doing, but this guide is supposed to be simple.
Note: Here is a good article on social media scheduling.
Paid promotion: LinkedIn sponsored post
One of the articles you created was for LinkedIn specifically. This is a sponsored post. You have to pay to play, but you can target Eddie very specifically. When you set up the targeting for the post, you will see options like those below:
You should have the following items from the Eddie persona readily available:
- Job Title
- Company Size
- LinkedIn Groups
Consider: Other types of online content
There are more kinds of online content to support your downloadable long-form content than just blog posts. Here are a few ideas:
|Summaries of Books||Image Pin Boards|
|How-To Guides||News (Company)|
This plan should get you started. Do the above once a week if you can, or at least once per month.
Once you're off and running, you can add to it, tweak it, and delve into analytics, CRO (conversion rate optimization), SEO (search engine optimization), influencer outreach, clickbait headlines, and much more. But at least you'll be started!
What are the steps to an inbound marketing plan?
1. Attract prospects with short-form content. 2. Get prospects to download longer-form content but request their email. 3. Use the prospect's email to send helpful emails and nurture the relationship.
What are the ingredients of a basic content marketing plan?
1. Target personas. 2. Long-form content targeted to personas 3. Short-form content like blog posts. 4. Short-form sponsored content. 5. Social media messaging and sharing.
What are some of the criteria for blog posts?
Tease e-book content. Headlines must be clicky. They must be engaging enough to avoid bounces. Include a compelling Call to Action. Provide SEO value.
What are the basic criteria for LinkedIn sponsored content articles?
Thumbnail image size: 1.91:1 ratio (1200x627px) displayed on mobile. The title must be 70 characters max. to avoid truncation. Introductory Text: 150 characters or less, including the landing page URL. Embed a call-to-action in each post.
What are some other types of online content to support downloadable long-form content?
Opinion posts. White papers. Videos. Cartoons. Illustrations. Lists. Surveys. Resources. Quotes. Polls. Summaries of books. Image pinboards. Tool reviews. Giveaways. Webinars. How-to guides. Glossaries. Press releases. Slides. Newsletters. Case studies.
Helpful Resource: The Anatomy of a Search Result Page and How to Rank
About the author
Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning online reputation management agency. He has over 15 years of experience with SEO, Wikipedia editing, review management, and online reputation strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics.