July 8, 2014 | Holly Yalove

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing—What's the Difference?

inbound marketing vs outbound marketingThe term "inbound marketing" emerged in 2005, coined by HubSpot's Brian Halligan, and the value of inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing has been continually proven in the years since.

Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that draw visitors in, as compared to outbound marketing, which requires going out to prospects with interruptive tactics such as cold-calls and spam.

While many marketers are now familiar with inbound marketing, many business owners and sales executives accustomed to traditional marketing methods are still trying to understand how it works.

In this post, I'll review some typical inbound and outbound marketing activities, and then expand on why inbound marketing is the ideal method for sales and marketing professionals who want to get the best bang for their buck!

Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing activities such as TV advertisements, direct paper mailers, magazine advertisements, and billboards are often costly and difficult to measure for effectiveness. According research by Nielson, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.

These statistics make inbound marketing more attractive, especially for the many businesses that don't have the dollars to risk on large outbound campaigns. Cold-calls, unwanted drop-bys, and spammy emails can annoy prospects instead of endearing them, and often result in marketing dollars flushed away.

This is not to say outbound marketing doesn't have a place in your marketing strategy; we've all have seen an unforgettable commercial that made us think about a brand over and over (the Old Spice Superbowl ad comes to mind for me) but that type of campaign isn't in everyone's budgets.

Inbound Marketing Activites & Tools

Your Website

sales funnelWith inbound marketing, your website acts as the hub of your marketing, and your prospective customers' attention is grabbed through interesting and engaging content.

Experienced inbound marketers use this essential tool to its full potential, and know the value of an effective website that is not only visually appealing, but works on mobile devices and has the elements necessary to convert visitors into leads, and leads into customers.

We have several blog posts that expand on this topic: 3 Necessary Elements of Effective Website Design, How Inbound Marketing Can Revamp Your Website, and What Should A Website Cost?.


Blogging for business today is critical to inbound marketing success. On average, businesses that blog 3 to 6 times per month get more than double the number of customer leads than those who don’t blog regularly.

Blog posts that answer your prospects' questions and help solve their problems give them a reason to visit your website. Fresh and consistent content provided on a company's blog will make it more likely to be found via search engines, and quality content will keep visitors coming back and sharing with friends and colleagues.

More on the subject of blogging is available on our blog, for example: Why Should I Blog for My Business?, 5 Blogging Mistakes to Avoid in 2014, and 7 Business Blog Best Practices You Need to Follow.

Calls-to-Action and Landing Pages

Once a visitor is drawn to your website, the key to converting leads is eye-catching calls-to-action with offers that will be attractive to your ideal buyer persona.

Make sure your calls-to-action are not just the bottom-of-the-funnel "contact us." The majority of website visitors are not yet ready to buy, but are willing to give a bit of contact information via an online form to receive downloadable content which offers education or insights. Lead-capturing landing pages provide a method to continue nurturing leads who have made contact, making future sales more likely.

Learn more about calls-to-action and landing pages in these posts: Anatomy of a Call to Action [Infographic] and Killer Landing Pages.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Keywords

Getting great rankings for your industry keywords and phrases is tied directly to blogging, content marketing, and social media efforts. Gone are the days of mysterious and complicated tactics and "link farms" - the key to getting found today is the right website platform and content that has value for your visitors.

For more SEO tips, see our newest ebook, Warren Buffett's Wisdom is Good for Your SEO, or these blog posts: SEO Tips for Writing Your Home Page Content and 5 Basic Keyword Questions Answered.

Email Marketing

Targeted, personalized email marketing is an important step in an effective inbound marketing strategy. According to Pew Research, email is still one of the top Internet activities along with search engine use.

The inbound email marketing approach includes offering education, tips, and advice in order to establish trust and nurture subscribers into leads, customers, or brand ambassadors. Inbound email marketing is NOT sending the same exact email blast to all contacts, and it also does not typically involve purchasing email lists of total strangers.

Inbound email marketing should be focused on sending desirable and relevant content and information to those who have willingly provided your company with contact information. Unless you want "unsubscribes," avoid being spammy or focused only on your company's products and services. Prospects today want to know what's in it for them—they don't owe you their attention.

Social Media Marketing

Inbound marketing uses social media to draw in new visitors and engage with existing customers. Actively engaging with existing customers on social media strengthens your relationship with them and keeps your brand top of mind.

Effective social media marketers are not "1-2-3 all about me"; they follow the cocktail party rule of sharing and engaging with others just as much or more than they talk about their services. The perfect ratio has been cited as 50/50 or 80/20, depending on your definition of the activities encompassed by those percentages. The bottom line is, if you aren't a "giver" on social media, your marketing will be much more outbound-y than inbound-y.

If you want to know more about Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing, check out our Art of Inbound SlideShare:


Start building your next inbound marketing campaign today with our free ebook:

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Holly Yalove

Holly Yalove

As VIEO’s chief strategist and one of our principals, Holly Yalove serves as the head digital and inbound marketing strategy for our clients. She has used her extensive management, sales, and marketing experience to dramatically increase our digital marketing business, helping us become the well-rounded agency we are today.

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