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Difference between content marketing and inbound marketing

Difference between inbound marketing and content marketing

Difference between inbound marketing and content marketing

I have observed people often get confused between content marketing and inbound marketing. To the extent that they use the expressions interchangeably.

This is because in essence, they both mean the same thing, but their application and implications are different. Both are meant to generate incoming traffic to your website without using traditional advertising which is intrusive and unreliable.

You may think that explaining the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing is more scholarly and less practical, and in a sense you’re right if you think that way.

Content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing.

What is inbound marketing?

What is marketing?

Marketing means promoting products and services so that prospective customers and clients become aware of these products and services, and not just become aware, but also become inclined towards paying for them.

Traditional marketing involves advertising and promotion. You see ads on TV, or hear them on radio, or see them in newspapers and magazines.

You see ads when you watch YouTube videos and videos on social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Traditional advertising and marketing are normally one-sided. You encourage people to visit your store or your website. It’s up to them whether they want to respond to your ads.

Inbound marketing, as the name suggests, creates channels and opportunities for people to come to your store or website on their own. You don’t exhort them into becoming your customers and clients.

You create your presence on various channels where people come across your brand or your proposition and then decide to pay you a visit.

You engage them on an ongoing basis. You make it easier for them to find you, whether on social media and social networking websites, on discussion forums, video hosting websites, events like polls, contests and webinars, SEO for the targeted search terms, and also email marketing.

The basic idea is to let people bump into things that can lead them to visit your website. Every channel is created to generate inbound traffic that is voluntary.

Check out Content writing services for inbound marketing.

What is content marketing?

As I mentioned above, content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing.

Content marketing is done by creating, publishing and distributing content to make it accessible through different channels. This content is helpful, engaging and entertaining. Ideally people should want to have access to this content regularly.

Read: What is Content Marketing? Explained in detail.

Content can come into existence via blog posts, videos, infographics, social media updates, ebooks, case studies, white papers and email updates.

Difference: inbound marketing and content marketing

Inbound marketing is the result of content marketing.

You can use different routes to inbound marketing, and one of the most important routes is content marketing.

In fact, you can easily say that there is no inbound marketing without content marketing.

Should you worry about distinguishing the both?

For the sake of understanding, trying to understand both doesn’t harm, but you shouldn’t worry much about the nomenclature.

With good content marketing, inbound marketing happens naturally.

When you publish relevant content, when you use different (strategic) channels to distribute your content, you automatically start attracting targeted traffic to your website.

Content marketing also has a direct bearing on your search engine rankings. Strategic content marketing in itself is good for your SEO.

So which is better for your business, a business blog or a personal blog?

personal blog or business blogA long, long, long time ago when people started blogging, it was completely personal. Many blogging services called themselves “journals”, for example, Livejournal. People wrote about personal stuff. Yours truly had a blog on web design, and I used to manually upload the HTML pages in an “articles” folder and then manually update the index file.

Search engines like Google gladly lapped up blog posts because people created them in droves and soon blog posts began to rank higher than the website. This is because the search engines have this insatiable hunger to crawl and index and then rank as many links as they can find. The more links there are in the world, the happier the search engines are. To their great delight people observed that blogs enjoyed better search engine rankings than conventional business websites. It was not that the search engines preferred “blogs” over websites, it was just that for their algorithms, the content arranged by blogging platforms was more amenable. Because basically, what do search engines like?

  • Lots of content.
  • Constantly updated content.
  • Topical content.
  • Relevant content.
  • Socially promoted content.

All these traits were found in blogs.

This, was the inflection point where people started publishing blogs for their businesses to get better search engine rankings. They actually did. Business websites with business blogs got better rankings than business websites with no business blogs.

Now, almost every business has a blog. The question these days is not whether your business should have a blog or not, the question is, how to fare better than other blogs.

So life has come full circle. Blogging started with personal blogging, and it’s again being asked if you should have a business blog or a personal blog.

Both have their place in the world, and whether you should have a personal blog or a business blog depends on what you are trying to achieve. Are you developing a personal brand or a business brand? Does your audience want to connect with you or they don’t mind interacting with a nameless entity as long as they’re getting the information they seek?

Although it has been more than 15 years since people started blogging (in contemporary sense) – this is 2017 – it is still considered as one of the best inbound marketing tools. Have a look at the graphic below from SmartInsights:

blogging and content marketing

In more than 95% of the cases, if there is content marketing, if there is digital marketing, then a thriving blog is always there in one way or another. As you can see in the above graphic, 81% B2B marketers prefer to rely on blogs for content marketing and inbound marketing.

What are the similarities between a personal blog and a business blog?

  • Both personal and business blog are used to regularly communicate to your customers and clients.
  • Updates are arranged in a chronological manner with the latest update appearing at the top.
  • Content is arranged sorted by date in descending order.
  • Personal business blogs are theme-oriented.
  • Both personal blogs and business blogs are good for SEO.
  • A personal blog as well as a business blog can be developed into a platform with a huge audience that can be used to convey important messages or introduce new products and services.
  • Personal blogs and business blogs can be used to publish important content that does not fit into the main template of your website.
  • Communities can be created around personal blogs as well as business blogs.

What are the differences between a personal blog and a business blog?

  • As the name suggests, a personal blog may be used to promote a personal brand and business blog can be used to promote a business.
  • A personal blog can be more informal. You can write about your personal experiences, your personal opinions, your personal tastes and whatever catches your fancy (while sticking to the main theme of your blog). On a business blog there is less scope to be informal because your business blog does not represent an individual: it represents an entire organization. You have to be careful when you publish content or your business blog because it reflects on the entire company.
  • There is more engagement through a personal blog because your visitors personally know who is publishing the blog posts and what’s the basic philosophy of the person behind the blog.
  • Personal blog can be totally personal where you try to explain why your cat leaves and comes randomly and sometimes makes weird faces. A personal blog can also be a business blog, for example this blog where, although I write in a personal style (mostly in the first person) all the time I write about my business. I don’t talk of my political beliefs here; I talk about content writing and content marketing.
  • People normally stay away from controversial topics on their businesses blog because they don’t want to offend the customers and clients. On your personal blog, if you want, you can piss people off. But then again, if you use your personal blog to promote your business, you have to exercise discretion (if you want to, that is).


If you want to decide immediately without much data, research and experimentation, then a personal blog works better than a business blog merely because blogging is meant to be personal. It’s, mostly, a linear collection of thoughts, opinions, rants, or nuggets of wisdom around a particular topic, in a conversational, personal tone. This is the key…conversational, personal tone. This tone is more human, more personal, and ultimately, more approachable. There are many big companies that, although, have business blogs, for example Google and Facebook, they also encourage their employees to maintain their personal blogs.

But then again, in the end, what matters is, what sort of audience you are catering to.

How to measure the success of your content

Measuring-success-of-your-contentMany people wonder how to measure the success of their content, especially when they have to spend money and time on getting content for their website or blog.

Just like any other aspect of your life, success can be measured in terms of tangible returns. The success of your content is not as esoteric and vague as it is made out to be by some content writers and content marketers. Solid results can be obtained from your content and the metrics of success can be as clearly defined as in any other marketing field, or for that matter, even better.

Whenever you need to measure the success of an event or an effort, you need “before” and “after” data. If you haven’t yet started your content marketing and you haven’t yet started publishing content on your website or blog, you must make note of your current situation. Gather data on

  1. How much traffic you are getting from search engines
  2. How much traffic you are getting from social media and social networking websites
  3. How much traffic you are getting from your email marketing campaigns
  4. How many people are subscribing to your email updates on a daily basis
  5. What is the engagement level on your website (how many people leave comments on your blog posts and online forums)
  6. How much time people are currently spending on your website
  7. How many back links you have got
  8. How much you are part of conversations happening on other websites and blogs
  9. How your primary and secondary keywords are performing right now
  10. How many business queries you are getting on a daily or weekly basis
  11. How much business you are generating currently

The list can have more attributes but this can give you a fair idea of the data that you should make note of before beginning to publish regular content on your website or blog and initiate your content marketing strategy.

Unless due to some fluke or unless you have got a ton of money to spend on marketing, your content won’t give you success in a few days or even a few weeks. You will have to observe the performance of your content for a few months before you can see the signs of success.

What are the signs?

Content marketing is very scientific whether one realizes it or not. The sort of content that you publish on your website or blog is going to decide how success manifests.

Depending on what sort of content you use in your content marketing strategy you may experience more traffic from search engines, more people talking about your brand on websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, more people clicking the links in your email marketing campaigns, more people linking back to your website or individual webpages, more people spending more time on your website and eventually, more people doing business with you.

The greatest measure of success of your content is that people begin to trust you. They begin to recognize you. People trust you if through your content, you deliver value and they perceived the value of your content.

After publishing content and using the available channels to distribute your content you will need to revisit the 11 metrics mentioned above and see if they have improved or not.

  1. Has your search engine traffic increased?
  2. Has traffic from social media and social networking websites increased?
  3. Are you getting more clicks from your email marketing campaigns?
  4. Are greater number of people subscribing to your email campaigns?
  5. Has engagement on your website or blog increased and its quality improved?
  6. Are people spending more time on your website?
  7. Compared to the time when you had just started your content marketing, has the number of back links to your website or blog increased?
  8. Are more conversations taking place about your website or your brand on other websites and blogs?
  9. Has search engine traffic for your primary and secondary keywords (keywords that you are using in your content) increased?
  10. Are you getting more business queries on daily and weekly basis?
  11. Has your overall business increased ever since you started content marketing?

I would say, if the answers to even 2-3 questions above are yes, it can give you enough data to measure the success of your content.

Combine content marketing, social media and SEO for inbound marketing

Inbound marketing graphic

Inbound marketing is a balanced mix of content marketing, social media marketing and SEO. In fact, these are not standalone activities. Every effective content marketing strategy incorporates social media as well as SEO.

When I work on a client project, this is how I prioritise these three aspects of inbound marketing on the Internet:

  1. Content marketing
  2. Social media marketing
  3. SEO

Although most of my clients contact me to improve their SEO on my priority list it is the last aspect of content writing I pay attention to. Does it mean I don’t think it is important? Of course SEO is important and I would never ignore it. It’s just that, I would prefer SEO to happen automatically rather than making an effort for it. I will explain below how. But first…

Content marketing is the most important aspect of inbound marketing

This is because unless you have quality content and unless you know how to market it and then actually market it, nothing much can be achieved. Inbound marketing means people coming to your website or blog on their own after, either having interacted with you on one of the social media or social networking websites, or having come across your content either on your own website or blog, or somewhere else. But whenever they come across you, they come across you via your content.

And it doesn’t just stop at them coming to your website, in fact, the real action starts when people are on your website. It is on your website that you have to convince them into doing business with you. This is where your content plays the most important part. If your content doesn’t convince them, everything goes to waste. If your content is below par, your social media strategy as well as SEO are going to fail. This is why, at the beginning of your inbound marketing campaign, the first thing you need to take care of is content marketing.

Content marketing automatically takes care of social media and SEO

Yes, for the sake of talking to clients one has to talk about content marketing, social media marketing and SEO as separate plans of action whereas they are not. They are all a part of your inbound marketing strategy fuelled by your content marketing strategy. Content marketing means

  1. Writing/producing high-quality content on your website/blog and elsewhere.
  2. Distributing that content using various channels available to you including social media and social networking websites and email marketing.
  3. Search engine optimizations so that people can easily find your content on search engines for the right keywords and search terms.
  4. Constantly analysing the effect of your content using web analytics tools like Google Analytics.
  5. Tweaking your marketing effort according to the results obtained from the web analytics tools

So why do I say that content marketing automatically takes care of social media and SEO?


Assumption that you are going to take all the right steps. What are these right steps?

  1. You use the right language to write your content – the language used by your prospective customers and clients. If you do that, you are automatically search engine optimising your content and hence, in the process, improving your search engine rankings.
  2. Strategically promote your content on social media and social networking websites. You know that in order to promote your content you need a responsive audience. How do you get a responsive audience? By engaging them with not just high-quality content, but also responding to them whenever they reach out to you. If you do this on an ongoing basis, you are handling your social media well.
  3. You are using the right words at the right places while creating content. If you’re going to address the problems and concerns of your prospective customers and clients you are going to use the appropriate expressions while creating titles. You will also use the keywords and search terms people normally use while trying to find your sort of products and services in your headlines and sub-headlines. If possible, you will also use these search terms and keywords in your bulleted points and the hypertext links.

If you properly take care of your content marketing, you are automatically taking care of the other aspects of content marketing like content writing and content production, content distribution, social media marketing and SEO. All these lead to a solid inbound marketing strategy that can totally transform your conversion rate.

Image source

Inbound marketing with content writing

Content writing and inbound marketing are interrelated. Not much explanation is needed for the former term, but the latter may require some explaining. Inbound marketing is the opposite of outbound marketing (you may also call it conventional marketing).

Everything boils down to conversations

We live in an interconnected world. This connection is not through businesses, companies and organizations, it is through the people. Of course these people use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or blogging to share their thoughts and opinions, but at the crux of everything that goes on, it is the people-centric conversations that make up the world these days. Most of the reading, writing, communication and interaction happens online. Even opinion-making is happening online to a great extent. Even the politicians are taking people seriously these days due to the way people have been empowered by accessible publishing tools and information dissemination services.

As a business you need to participate in these conversations in a constructive manner. Once you become a part, inbound marketing begins to manifest. When people come across you for the first time they’re not bothered about what a great service you provide and what a magical product you have got to sell. They want to know you as an individual. They want to know how they are going to benefit from you if they allow you to post messages on their timelines. Whether they follow you on Twitter, add you as a friend on Facebook or like your Facebook page, it basically means allowing you to share your messages with them. Among friends, colleagues, family and prospective mates they don’t want to experience your business overtures.

So how do you become a part of a conversation that doesn’t involve your business but still makes people aware of your business?

Through targeted content writing. Actually, since I provide content writing services I am speaking about this particular medium, but when it comes to sharing content you can share any format such as video, audio, photographs and images, presentations and animations. Multiple channels can bring multiple inbound marketing opportunities.

Persistent content writing helps you build a vibrant platform that facilitates inbound marketing. You share your expertise. You provide answers to all the questions your prospective customers and clients may have. You talk about topical issues in the context of your business and show that you are interested in people’s day-to-day lives.

The ideal situation is that by the time a person is ready to do business with you he or she is fully aware of what you stand for and what is the value of the product or service that you provide. Through methodical content writing you can achieve that. People again and again come to your website whenever they seek useful information.

In inbound marketing it’s not necessary that people straightaway click your links. They can come across your information on other people’s profiles and timelines. They can find your content among search engine results. Your guest blog posts and articles on other blogs and websites can highlight your links. One of your articles, videos or images can go viral and this can make people aware of your website.

Why inbound marketing, supported by content writing, is more effective?

This graphic explains the basic concept of inbound marketing vis-a-vis content writing:

In the beginning, people are strangers. Neither you know them, nor they know you. Then they start coming across your content. They start finding what you have written useful and interesting. Regular content writing makes you familiar to them. They start visiting your website again and again, you encourage them to sign up for your e-mail updates and they become your leads. As you constantly keep in touch with them via quality content writing, they are bound to purchase from you as and when the need arises. And if you keep them happy after they have purchased from you, they become your friends, they start promoting your product or service without you having to tell them to do so. This is the power of inbound marketing.

Here are a few reasons why inbound content marketing is more effective:

  • People don’t want to block you: You must be aware of the fact how people constantly try to block out advertisements and promotional materials. On the Internet there are pop-up blockers. There are also some online services that allow you to access the content without accompanying ads. Many TV services these days allow you to fast-forward advertisements or at least pause them while they are being telecast so that you can fast-forward them after a couple of minutes (we do this at our household all the time). This doesn’t happen with inbound content marketing because people access your content at their own discretion, at their own convenience and according to their own preference. There is no inherent resistance as you see in the case of conventional marketing.
  • It easily scales: Content based inbound marketing is easily scalable and this characteristic can be of great use when people are accessing your content via multiple devices and channels. So the same blog post can be read on a computer, on a laptop, on a tablet and also on a smart phone without much inconvenience.
  • It suits every budget: The great thing about inbound marketing with content writing is there is no entry barrier. You can initiate your inbound marketing strategy by publishing just a single paragraph on your website or blog. From day one you can start uploading slides, videos and text. Even a single 20-minute advertisement on television may cost you a year’s worth of content production and distribution.
  • It doesn’t have recurring costs: Once you have created high-value content it is always there. The inbound traffic that that content generates is free of cost once it starts attracting traffic. For instance, if your blog post or article is able to get good rankings on search engines, the traffic that comes from there is practically free. Agreed, you needed to pay your content writer or had to spend a few hours creating that high-quality content, but after that it gives you free traffic forever. Just imagine having to pay for every click for the 2000 clicks that your recent blog post generated.
  • It is more targeted: With inbound content marketing you’re not throwing darts in the darkness. You know exactly what you are doing. For instance, if I am writing something on content writing and content marketing, I am pretty sure that people interested in these topics will be reading it. I also know that many among these people one day will become my clients. This sort of precision is not available in conventional marketing.
  • It is inclusive: Inbound marketing via content writing (or whatever sort of content publishing you may find fit for your own business) is inclusive and engaging. Rather than talking to people, you talk with them. You engage them in conversations. You get there feedback and then create the subsequent content accordingly. You take their questions and concerns seriously and then try to provide as many answers as possible on the website and blog itself.