Inbound Marketing: misunderstandings, facts and strategy

When Bas asked us bloggers what we like the most about State of Search (the predecessor of State of Digital). At first, my answer was: Because of the outstanding quality of its posts.

But after, when I gave myself more time to reflect about that question, I gave him this answer:

I love how we may not agree in some few things, but I love how every voice and opinion is welcome and accepted in State of Search.

One of those things us bloggers do not agree is Inbound Marketing (right, Barry?). And I know that many of you, dear readers, have instinctively wrinkled your nose when you read those two words.

Why writing a post about Inbound Marketing now? Well, because most of the time I see it torn down over the base of what I consider misunderstandings of its concepts, especially the one for which Inbound Marketing is a new definition of SEO.

The irony, I must say, is that those misunderstandings are especially powered by SEO “inbound Marketers”, who affirm that Search Engine Optimization has changed and should call itself: Inbound Marketing.

phrase state of search

A premise: this is my take about Inbound Marketing and about why it is not a buzzword and why it is a strategy and not a tactic, and I am not referring to any other definition existing of Inbound Marketing, for instance the Hubspot or SEOmoz ones.

And I will use Inbound Marketing because it is a known term, but if you don’t like it, you can change it with Internet Marketing or even Donald Duck! It is not the name what matters, but the concepts that name represents.

Rather than offering a nice academic definition, which would maybe delight a Marketing professor but wouldn’t help the understanding of what Inbound Marketing is, I prefer to use something more visual:

Inbound Marketing Venn

As it is evident with this Venn, Inbound Marketing is that Internet Marketing strategy, which is based on the synergy of SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing and Analytics.

This means that SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing and Analytics are not synonymous with Inbound Marketing, but they are essential to its existence.

It is incorrect, therefore, to say that the New SEO is Inbound Marketing. SEO is the SEO: period, full stop, no reply is possible.

Cool, first misunderstanding solved.

The Venn is quite clear even for understanding how each of these disciplines has a value of its own, how it can naturally interact with one or more of the others and, finally, how all can contribute to a common strategy, which is – again – what I define as Inbound Marketing.

Many facets of SEO, for example those typically technical, quite always don’t need the intervention of other disciplines.
However, there are other aspects of SEO, where it has a natural closer relationship with them.

SEO + Analytics

Think of the figure now so often cited of the data scientists.

  • Google Analytics
  • Logs’ analysis,
  • Part of what is called Social Analytics
  • What can be included in to the conceptual cauldron of Big Data.

These, and much more, are those aspects where SEO and Analytics work together.

SEO + Social Media

In Spain, where I live, all the actions that see the collaboration between SEO and Social Media are classified under the name of SEOcial.

It is now quite obvious that SEO can have nothing but excellent results from an effective synergy with Social Media, not only because the success in Social Media has an interesting degree of correlation with rankings (and if the social network is Google Plus that is more than obvious), but also because Social Media is right now the best tool an SEO has available to create those relationships, which can ultimately lead to a successful link building campaign.

Finally, we should not forget that exist Social areas where SEO can offer a substantial contribution, such as the optimization of the social profiles themselves or the social networks’ internal search optimisation; take, as an example, how SEO can help in multiplying the success of a business Pinterest account.

SEO + Content Marketing

These two disciplines are cooperating since the beginning of the web and their relationship has most often been ‘abused’ by the all the SEO myths that have occurred over the years (keyword density anyone?).

Now, however, Content Marketing is essential for the success of any serious SEO Strategy, because the better is its quality the easier are outreach and link building for SEO (and we should not forget Panda and Penguin).

Content Marketers, however, have everything to gain with a proper collaboration with SEOs too.
For example, it is SEO what can tell them what is the thesaurus of words and concepts and queries the targeted audience use.

I could go on in the description of all the other possible combinations of SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing and Analytics, which make up the complex world of Internet Marketing, but I think everyone can easily cite at least one tactic in which these disciplines work together.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing, as I said before, is the product of the combined action of all these four disciplines.

Caution! If these four disciplines are all present in the digital marketing plan of a business company, but they work separately neither have a common strategy and common objectives, then we cannot say that that business company is doing Inbound Marketing.

It is precisely because of this lack of a common strategy and a real synergy between the different disciplines, that very often a business company fails to obtain that plus they expect from their ‘inbound marketing’ effort. Because, the result of a real Inbound Strategy is always greater than the sum of the positive results achieved by SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing and Analytics alone.

Inbound Marketing, then, is a strategy, not a tactic.

Tactics are the SEO, Content, Social and Analytics actions, with which the Inbound Strategy develops itself.

Somehow, it is the same sophistication of the actual Internet Marketing that requires the existence of Inbound Marketing and the figure of the Inbound Strategist.

Why canan SEO strategist not be also an Inbound Strategist? Consider what’s under the SEO definition today (and I am surely forgetting something):

  • Technical SEO;
  • Keyword Analysis;
  • Outreach and Link Building;
  • Video SEO;
  • Images Optimization;
  • SEOcial;
  • Local Search;
  • News Search;
  • ASO;
  • Structured Data;
  • Authorship;
  • Knowledge Graph;
  • Website Performance Optimization;
  • International SEO.

An SEO strategist has neither the time nor the knowledge to be able to commit the most of his work and simultaneously managing the Content Marketing, Social Media and Analytics areas.

The same is true of content strategists, social media strategists and senior analysts.

The Inbound Marketing Area

Here, then, what it should be – in my opinion – the organization of any department of Inbound Marketing:

Inbound Marketing Department

The Inbound Strategist independently develops the Inbound Strategy, after having taken into account the inputs of the strategists of the various disciplines, and delegates to the latter the execution of the tactical actions corresponding to them, while coordinates their “synchronicity” as to create that synergy, which is essential for obtaining the common objectives.

SEO, Social Media, Content and Analytics strategist, then, elaborate their corresponding strategies, taking into account the coexistence and compatibility of their own strategies and the Inbound one.

Of course, this is an ideal model and not all the companies have in-house the human resources, the knowledge and / or the budget to create such complex Inbound Marketing department.

In that case, especially in the case of small and medium sized companies, it is possible to try grouping functions and, apparently contradicting myself, to decide that a ‘lower’ Strategist assumes also the Inbound Strategist functions. Or it would the case to contract the services of a Inbound Strategist Consultant or of an Inbound Marketing Agency.

That model, however, in my opinion should be the one the agencies, which declare to offer Inbound Marketing services, follow.
For this reason, those SEO agencies who have not within them the representative figures of all those four areas do not offer Inbound Marketing in the strict sense, but SEO: advanced, content-oriented, call it what you want, but always SEO.

Nor Inbound Agencies are those, which, despite of offering services in all the typical areas of Inbound Marketing, do not provide the figure of the Inbound Strategist such as I have described it above.


SEO is not Inbound Marketing, but it is an essential element of it.

And SEOs are Inbound Marketers when they collaborate with other professionals from other areas of Internet Marketing to develop a common Inbound Marketing strategy; but remain essentially SEOs, as they always were.

In short, SEO and Inbound Marketing are not mutually exclusive; the opposite: they need each other.

And Inbound Marketing does not negate the value of SEO, indeed! It exalts it.

So why all these discussion (right, Barry?).

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About Gianluca Fiorelli

Gianluca Fiorelli is an SEO and Web Marketing Strategist, who operates in the Italian, Spanish and English speaking countries market. He also works regularly as independent consultant with bigger international SEO agencies.

93 thoughts on “Inbound Marketing: misunderstandings, facts and strategy

  1. Hi Gianluca,

    As you mentioned me by name it would be rude of me not to comment. 🙂

    What you basically do here in your post is construct a very detailed straw man argument. You say you want to address misconceptions about what ‘inbound marketing’ means, and then you rapidly proceed to say that your definition of inbound marketing is, well, your own definition, and not the same as the financially motivated hypephrase bandied by the likes of Hubspot and SEOmoz.

    You even state that you “will use Inbound Marketing because it is a known term, but if you don’t like it, you can change it with Internet Marketing or even Donald Duck! It is not the name what matters, but the concepts that name represents.”

    Which basically makes everything else you say afterwards meaningless, because it has stopped being about ‘inbound marketing’, and has become about ‘what Gianluca calls inbound marketing but which may be vastly different to what anyone else calls it’.

    Your subsequent elaboration is faultless, but it’s not inbound marketing. Your blog post has ceased to be about inbound marketing, and has instead become about ‘Gianluca’s explanation of the future of SEO’. And that is a very different topic indeed.

    It is precisely because of the importance of what we call things that epistemology and semantics are such vital aspects of any philosophical debate. We need to define what we mean when we use a phrase to indicate a specific concept, or any argument about that concept becomes meaningless.

    So, if you’ll forgive me, I’d love to argue about ‘inbound marketing’ – but we need to make sure we’re talking about the same ‘inbound marketing’ when we do so. 🙂


    1. Ah, my dear Barry (you know how much I like you, don’t you?).
      I wrote all those things (“I don’t care the name, call it ‘Donald” Duck’ if you prefer”, “It’s my vision, not SEOmoz or Hubspot”), exactly to avoid talking about things that – IMHO – really aren’t the most interesting thing Inbound Marketing may mean.
      Let’s say that my Inbound Marketing vision is what – again in my own personal opinion – marketers of any kind of discipline should start applying for the best of its sites.

  2. Gianluca- The strategy you describe is sound, of course. But I’m one of those that doesn’t respond well to the term, not being very fond of buzz-words. I think your article could have as easily been entitled “SEO: misunderstandings, facts and strategy”. The term “inbound marketing” raises the hair on the back of my neck, much like references to TBPR as a metric.
    There is very little agreement among practitioners regarding the functions that should even fall within an SEO’s area of responsibility. Some say linkbuilding is a separate thing, some say content management or social media are their own gig.
    Personally, I consider any aspect of optimization of the overall performance and effectiveness of a client’s online presence to be part of my responsibility. But I don’t do linkbuilding, much like a builder might choose to not do his own concrete foundations. Whether one chooses to call the foundation a part of the builder’s function is an individual choice. But if a fellow isn’t proficient in foundation design and construction, he’ll bring in a subcontractor that is.
    I also don’t do my own KW research, simply because I find it mind-numbingly boring. But KW research is certainly the foundation of any optimization effort.
    As I said, the strategy you describe of achieving synergy between all efforts is essential, and I support it wholeheartedly. But I don’t think it’s any more “inbound marketing” than what the MOZ claims it to be.

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  4. @gfiorelli1 Great post. I think you’re really heading in the right direction in terms of the modern definition of inbound marketing. @Barry Adams and @Doc Sheldon seem to be hung up on semantics, which is really just a waste of time. A builder who outsources his foundation work is still a builder and, regardless, we’re metaphorically talking about “building” not the builder. I like the way you structured your ideal inbound team, but I do agree with @seohimanshu about email marketing and I would also add a channel for Customer Retention as happy, loyal customers definitely generate new leads. Cheers!

  5. Hi Gianluca, great article as always!

    What I am not so sure about, is, if “Inbound Marketing” HAS always to be/happen online. I think Inbound Marketing is even much bigger. If a company creates offline content, distributes it and achieves a user reaction (like filling out a form, or sending something back), branding or a lead it is clearly “inbound marketing” (called direct marketing) in my eyes.

    In the Customer Service Area “Inbound” is everything that enters from the outside. So in terms of Marketing i would say everything what causes an action in the “outside” and results in an reaction in the “inside” could be called Inbound Marketing, right? Why only limit it to online? Wouldn’t “Online Inbound Marketing” be more correct?

    Now, if you take QR codes in offline magazines for example, it’s offline content that might cause an offline/online action done by the user and resulting in an “Inbound” visit. Isn’t that also Inbound Marketing, and shouldn’t there be more decision makers be included into the process? What about the Display/Media Strategists? Affiliate Marketers?

    Again, looking foward to read your next article!

    Have a nice weekend!

    All the best,


  6. It is fact that Inbound Marketing Strategy is not an one man task. It requires a complete Team Work. The team you have shown are mandatory, but I would like to add few more. Because it is very difficult to convert a lead to a real customer until and unless the delivery model and the internal work process to support the end to end solutions work synchronously. Once the lead gets converted to a customer then the success story needs to be published properly into the Web Site. It will definitely give confidence to the new viewers. This is a Cyclical process and probably the new definition of the Next Generation Marketing.

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