Inbound Marketing for Startups: Building a Program in Less than 2 Weeks

When I first arrived at Belly around six months ago, one of my first projects was to set up an inbound marketing program to begin acquiring merchants without the use of an outbound sales force. As a company, we are continually making improvements to this channel, leveraging advanced tracking and A/B testing alongside a continually expanding selection of advertising channels; however, the minimum viable product for this project was built in less than two weeks at the very beginning. The original objectives, tools and infrastructure used, and lessons learned should be helpful to any organization looking to build a solid, productive inbound marketing program.

Original Objectives

I was originally tasked with building a basic but fully functional inbound marketing system, comprised of some AdWords campaigns, a few disparate social and display media buys, designated landing pages, and a basic analytics infrastructure to track the cost effectiveness of the channel. In addition to generating new leads for sales, this project was designed to prove out the cost-effectiveness of driving acquisition through marketing rather than sales.

Tools, Infrastructure, and Processes

Starting with a completely blank slate, I knew that stringing together a few SaaS tools would be the quickest way to build out an inbound marketing minimum viable product.

First I wanted to focus on landing pages. The first tool I signed up for, which is one that I highly recommend, is Unbounce, an awesome company which prides itself on delivering the ability to “Build, Publish, and A/B Test Landing Pages Without IT.” Creating and constantly iterating on web pages can be tough and, even if you have engineers to help, their time is likely better spent on other projects (at least at first). Unbounce allows marketers to build templated, drag-and-drop landing pages complete with forms, videos, and social features. Marketers with some coding knowledge can do more advanced work with CSS, HTML, and Javascript, which can make your basic landing pages look more polished. Regardless, I was able to build Belly’s first landing page for advertising, using Unbounce, in less than half a day.

My next focus, before spending any money on advertising, was to build a foundational but effective analytics infrastructure to collect and provide a distillation method for data from initial inbound marketing efforts. The obvious choice for analytics was Google Analytics which, while remarkably basic for beginners, has a lot of extensible features that allow good analysts to gain insights that used to only be available in expensive software packages. The features I would recommend using from the beginning are goal tracking, custom conversion reporting, and tagged URL parameters. Goal tracking should be placed on landing page form conversions, either by using a “thank-you page” or sending events on form validation (both are equally effective, the latter is a little more difficult). A custom report should contain conversion metrics and basic inbound numbers (entrances, bounce rate, time-on-site, etc.) by channel and can be built to display to only the data you want to see, which can be prescribed using tagged URL parameters.

Another tool I found immensely helpful to the infrastructure process, while a little more advanced, was CallRail. CallRail provides call tracking, call routing, Google Analytics integration, dynamic number insertion, and more, all at a significantly cheaper price point than other VoIP tools. If nothing else, having call tracking and Google Analytics goal integration for a few dollars a month is absolutely worth it for a basic inbound marketing platform, as long as you have someone to field the calls.

The final component to my bootstrapped inbound marketing structure was the actual advertising campaigns and placements. I will need another blog post to go into more depth about the selection and evaluation of each of advertising platforms; however, my advice is to try a few different tools at the beginning and let the metrics decide the winners. I would also caution marketers not to overextend themselves by trying to manage too many disparate channels from the beginning. Select a few to try, keep those with an acceptable ROI, then ditch the rest and try a few new challengers.

Nearly every advertising targeting method comes down to one of two delineations, intent-based or demographic-based. Generally, one of these methods is going to work better than the other; however, both should be tried before that decision is made. Google AdWords is the gold-standard for intent-based marketing and is probably where you should spend your first day of campaign creation. The first few campaigns you set up should likely include a general campaign for people looking for your product (e.g. if you’re Allstate, the term “buy car insurance now” is probably a solid bet) and a campaign targeting users looking for your competitive or comparable products (e.g. people searching for “Geico alternatives” or “best car insurance comparison”). Initial campaigns should avoid extremely broad keywords and focus on those with a purchase intent or those very closely aligned to your product.

After setting up Google AdWords, the next few channels to be tested should reside within the demographically-targeted campaign camp. Facebook ads have become a popular tool for marketers recently, due to the popularity and intuitiveness of the platform. For B2B marketers looking for social/ demographic targeting, though, LinkedIn is likely a better alternative. Google’s display network offers some really easy contextual targeting based on site content and has a huge reach compared with most display networks. Google Display, Facebook, and LinkedIn also all allow you to run primarily text-based ads, which can save some time not having to develop IAB-sized images for other Ad networks.

The inbound marketing channel is ready to start running once landing pages have been built, analytics code has been installed on those landing pages, and advertising campaigns have been created and properly tagged. My recommendation is to rigorously measure the effects of these campaigns, keep budgets low, and take advantage of easy-to-use but powerful analytics tools like goal tracking within AdWords. I plan to follow-up with future blog articles about the tools and processes Belly has used to scale our inbound marketing strategy and create an effective conduit for delivering new, quality leads to our sales team; however, if the goal is to set-up a cheap, quick and effective inbound channel, then hopefully this blog was helpful.

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