Traditional SEO vs Inbound Marketing – How to Scale your Business Fast

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The growth of inbound marketing and recent Google changes have lead to a lot of changes for SEO over the past year. When people like Rand Fishkin start to use the word “inbound marketing” over “SEO” when describing their work, it does seem like the role of SEO is rapidly changing. The expectations of what a traditional SEO campaign should entail may also change. So just why is inbound marketing starting to become so popular within the SEO community?

Traditional SEO Campign

Only 52% of Google users click on an organic search result found on page one – SlingShot SEO

Most traditional SEO campaigns consist of the following key items:

– Keyword Research / Mapping

– On-Page Optimisation (of content)

– Internal Links

– SEO Site Architecture

– Competitor Analysis

– Link Building

– and Content Strategy ?

Content strategy was often an afterthought. The priority is/was, rank 1st for high volume keywords as these equal traffic. But what if the CTR of organic listings was beginning to drop as a result of Google’s constant meddling with the search results. In this report from SlingShot SEO back in October 2011, they reported organic CTR’s were tumbling, with “Only 52% of Google users click on an organic search result found on page one”. Although those figures cannot be verified, the data pool they used was quite low and it was for a particular market segment, I have personally noticed organic keywords driving less volume to sites, even though their organic position has increased.

SEO may need to focus on how many organic keywords are driving traffic to a site, rather than being obsessed over the ranking of a small sub set of these.

How Inbound Marketing can help you grow really fast

The role of an SEO is continually expanding, the traditional SEO strategy above is starting to look a lot different in 2012. Inbound Marketing is about driving permission based traffic from a multitude of sources (image credit from this SEOMoz post):

The big shift being towards content marketing. Great content is at the center of your inbound marketing strategy. If you don’t have this, your destined to fail. But for companies who get it right, they are able to grow at rapid pace. For example:

1) I was lucky enough to interview Michael Stelzner, founder of, for Salesforce’s new #SocialSuccess site (full interview to be live next week). In that interview he shared some of his growth stats including being in the top six marketing blogs in Ad Age and one of the top two small business blogs on Technorati, along with an email list of 125,000 and Facebook group of 72,000. All of this in just over 2 years. In that interview Mike said

“So, the model that we used was really all about giving super-valuable content that we knew people would want to share via social channels”

It’s obviously not that simple, in the interview Mike goes into the different tactics he used to build Social Media Examiner into such a success, but valuable content is at the heart of a great inbound marketing strategy. I highly recommend Mike’s book Launch, it’s jam packed full of really actionable content to help grow your business.

2) Marketo: Marketo were named silicon valleys fastest growing private company last year and are the second fastest growing SaaS company of all time. They are a marketing automation company (or Revenue Performance Management), but are another great example of company putting content at the heart of their strategy. I was lucky to speak with Maria Pergolino (their director of Inbound Marketing) on inbound marketing and content strategy prior to the launch of SocialSuccess. They really know how to do great content marketing. I recommend following her on twitter.

Of course Hubspot are the classic example of inbound marketing at work, but there are a multitude of companies putting these tactics to work in order to scale both their organic visits and business fast.

What’s helping to drive the popularity of Inbound Marketing?

There have been a number of developments over the past year that has helped inbound marketing seem like an attractive option for companies, over and above a traditional SEO strategy.

1. Google Panda – Feb 2011

We have all heard the horror stories of the Google Panda update. Since the original update there have been a number of subsequent updates all aimed at sites with poor content.

2. Google Caffeine / Freshness Update

Both the Google Caffeine update and the Google Freshness update would point towards a consistent content strategy being a good tactic to adopt. Please note, this doesn’t mean “Google Loves Fresh Content”, please remove that from your thinking. For more information on that, see “Keep in Mind“.

3. Bad Link Practices

Last year saw two very public penalties for sites using questionable link practices, both J.C Penny and OverStock suffered the wrath of Google. The tide may begin to turn against anchor text driven strategies and big companies may also feel a lot more at ease with a quality content strategy over a merky link strategy.

4. Google & Bing use Social Signals

In late 2010 Google & Bing signaled they were using social signals to help rank pages. As to what degree is still not clear, however it points towards highly shareable content being useful for both social and search traffic.

5. Google + Launch and Search Plus Your Work

Of course Google + was launched last year as Google stepped up’s it’s attempts to take on Facebook and Twitter in the battle of the social networks. Since then they have been constantly adding new features. The biggest of these being Search Plus Your World. The search results pages have and are changing drastically, it would seem we need to start thinking of how we can create content that solves problems or entertains so we can ensure our site is surfaced front of users.

These changes are all helping to propel a shift in how we construct SEO strategies, but …..

… Keep in Mind

There is NOTHING wrong with link strategies that are focused on driving target anchor text to your site

– Google doesn’t love “fresh” content. It loves quality content and fresh content if relevant for certain search queries. I am sick of hearing the constant mantra of “Google loves fresh content”. If your quality sucks, then having fresh content just means you suck more often.

– There is NOTHING wrong with link strategies that are focused on driving target anchor text to your site. In fact, this is still needed and in some markets is the core part of your overall strategy. Not every set of tactics will work for each market.

– Building a content strategy takes time and resources. It’s an investment and that content also needs to be promoted. Thinking through your strategy prior to content development will save you a lot of problems in the long run.

Do you feel SEO will just become part of an all round inbound marketing role? Would love to hear from you below.


About Kieran Flanagan

Online Marketer who implements both inbound and paid strategies to help companies grow internationally. Lover of content marketing, SEO, analytics, CRO and strategy. A highly motivated marketing geek high on data crack.

  • Tim Grice

    Hi Kieran, 

    Nice post! Content is massive for us at the minute, in fact in the last 12 months we have invested heavily in pulling together a social/content team to deliver the best quality content to our link builders. Yes, we still manually build links but it has to be quality and in line with the overall marketing strategy of our clients.

    I am a big ‘freshness’ fan, in fact 99% of the links we build are within fresh content, but like you say it’s about quality, you need to have a core piece of material to build that fresh content around. 

    SEO is changing and becoming a lot broader in terms of strategy, especially at an enterprise level. Small businesses can still benefit from low level SEO, and I don’t see that changing any time soon, but companies in competitive markets need to adopt a holistic strategy, figuring out what drives conversions and merging all their efforts together.

  • Anonymous

    Great comments Tim. totally agree on the small businesses still getting benefit from low level links. I think for a small business, a blog strategy can be one easy option to target long tail keywords and those which generate a little more awareness, rather than just focusing on transactional keywords (which the majority of SEO strategies are tailored towards).

    The big problem with content only strategies for link building is in the anchor text spread. It’s a lot more difficult to control the anchor text when they are acquired naturally. But a mix of tactics that drive both anchor text links and natural high value links from content/social is definitely a great approach for most businesses.

  • What’s in a name? I just see this as a rebranding exercise with those that use the new term and that called themselves SEO’s in the past simply trying to distance themselves from one trick link builders with limited skillsets solely interested in search engine positioning.

    I think the label is nonsense, and begs the question what is outbound marketing.

    And what’s ‘permission based traffic’?

    Last point, content has always been king. When did great content suddenly become popular again. Anyone with the time, budget and inclination to invest in a content strategy coupled with an understanding of how search engines function will always have repead the rewards.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Michael

    Thanks for the comment. 

    I think inbound marketing is a great term for people who have progressed to strategies that are not just focused on a bunch of keywords, but instead are focused on driving free traffic to sites and converting these into leads via lead nurturing. At the end of the day, SEO refers to Search Engine Optimisation, there are a lot of “SEO” consultants who are probably generating traffic from a bunch of mediums such as Google, Facebook, Quora, Blogs etc etc – is it right to still refer to yourself as an SEO consultant if this is the case? I don’t think so, inbound marketing is a lot better in terms of labeling what you do. 

    Outbound marketing is paid media. Permission based traffic are prospects who choose to engage with your brand, your content etc because it’s something that adds value to their job, interests etc etc.

    Also, I think Google has always said “content is king”, but that doesn’t mean it was ever seen as a priority for companies. When you could rank for high value keywords with questionable content, then why invest in it. However, something I think you are missing is the renewed importance of content is also being popularized due to things like marketing automation, which helps funnel prospects through to leads based on their engagement with your different content assets etc. Also the growth of social media and the renewed popularity of email (due in part to social) as meant companies have needed to really grow their content strategies. So in the post, I am not just talking about content for SEO, more so content for inbound marketing.

    For me, an inbound marketing consultants role and priorities will not look the same as your typical SEO consultant.