Inbound Marketing Automation

Should Marketing Automation systems add Inbound Marketing tools as standard features? Or is it better to keep those tools separate? I brought up this question in my previous blog post, and Maria Pergolino had some very good comments on which tools to use and how to integrate them for ROI reporting. That gave me enough ideas for a new post, so here it is.

What is Inbound Marketing? Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot defines inbound marketing to include search, social media and blogs. In short: any marketing activity that draws people to your website.

What is Marketing Automation? Maria Pergolino defines this as “Post-click, and Post-Conversion”. In short: any marketing activity that happens after people come to your website.

In my opinion any B2B company needs both Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation: the first to get in touch with new prospects, the second to move those leads through the funnel from suspects to sales-ready leads. I wrote more about this and about Lead Management on the blog. Because both are different steps of the same process, it seemed logical to recommend a single tool for both Marketing Automation and Inbound Marketing. But let’s take a closer look.

Why Automate Marketing?

The ultimate goal of automation is to make marketing teams more productive, by automating repetitive tasks and creating better reports. Let’s give two examples. In case of SEO, checking the search rank of your website for specific keywords is time-consuming, especially if you also want to check the rank of competitors. In case of marketing automation, manual execution of email drip campaigns is a drag. Automation systems can do this work for you, and – in additional to saving time – also improve quality.

What does a Marketing Automation system do?

In an earlier post about Lead Management I listed the following Marketing Automation features:

  • building landing pages and registration forms
  • nurturing via email and other channels
  • calculating a lead score until the prospect is sales-ready
  • collecting as much information as possible (web & data analytics)
  • tracking the source of leads and providing ROI reports

Often these features work together to automate a specific campaign, such as organizing a webinar or promoting a whitepaper. The alternative to a Marketing Automation system is a hodgepodge of specialized systems, such as email marketing and form building tools (see also Maria Pergolino’s post on the Marketo blog). There are certain features – like activity-based lead scoring – that only exist as part of comprehensive Marketing Automation systems.

So the key reasons to use a Marketing Automation system are:

  • Save time because it’s one integrated system (no copy-and-pasting between various systems, no integration effort needed)
  • Get specific features that are unique to Marketing Automation systems, like advanced lead scoring
  • Get better reports on the marketing ROI

So we should find out whether pre-built integration with Inbound Marketing systems decreases integration effort, adds unique features or provides better reports.

What does an Inbound Marketing system do?

For simplicity sake, I’ll limit myself to the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features of the Inbound Marketing systems. For a full list of Inbound Marketing features, see the previous article. These are the most important ones:

  • Keyword research: which keywords do you want to optimize your website for?
  • Link building: which sites have you asked to link back to your site?
  • Rank tracking: how does your site rank for the selected keywords?

To start with Link building tools: those are usually project management tools, so there’s little benefit in integration with a marketing automation system, other than having a single login.

Keyword Research tools provide keyword suggestions, and help you select keywords based on volume, relevance and difficulty. It is useful if you can automatically add the selected keywords to the rank tracker, rather than having to put them in a spreadsheet first.

Rank tracking is most relevant if it shows the website traffic and conversions generated by the keywords, in addition to the position in the search results. Ideally it should even show the revenue per keyword. This is only possible by integrating with Web Analytics (traffic and conversions) or Marketing Automation (traffic, conversions and revenue). So this is an important ingredient for measuring Marketing ROI.

Who is in Charge of Marketing ROI?

It would be ideal if marketing ROI can be measured in a single location. In my opinion this should be the Marketing Automation system. This is an ROI chart that Marketo’s Jon Miller presented in the ‘Secret Sauce for demand generation‘ webinar.

ROI report from marketo's secret sauce webinar

This is a high-level overview that is already very powerful. However, it would be great if you could drill-down to see which keywords are responsible for most opportunities, and which of those keywords are actively managed in an SEO campaign. Based on this information, you can fine-tune the SEO campaign. To accomplish this type of report, the Marketing Automation system needs to pull in the keywords and rank information.


I’m not sure if there is a strong case for integration of Inbound Marketing features into Marketing Automation systems. It would reduce some integration effort, it does not add any unique features, but it can definitely provide more insightful reports.

Especially if your company gets a lot of leads via organic search, it would be useful to have an ROI report for your keywords. So either this feature needs to be added to the Marketing Automation system, or the Marketing Automation system should import the required data from an existing SEO rank tracking system.

My take: over the past months many Marketing Automation vendors have developed Sales & Marketing collaboration tools. Those tools are often sold as an add-on. So maybe the next add-on module should be for Inbound Marketing: its features will paint a more complete picture of your Marketing ROI, which is worth spending some extra money on.

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9 thoughts on “Inbound Marketing Automation

  1. Kristin Hambelton (@Neolane)

    While we understand the focus on SEO for simplicity sake for this piece, we feel that many organizations generally view inbound marketing as little more than that. Inbound can’t just be an add-on module. Inbound communications – for example, inbound contact via the Web, contact center or at the point of sale – should be viewed as an important, unified element of a comprehensive cross-channel marketing strategy. By combining these inbound and outbound channels, marketers can drive more personalized, consistent, ROI-driven customer conversations at every interaction — including the ability to make more relevant, customized offers.

  2. Christopher Doran

    Jep…Nice take.

    I would also add that there’s value in arming your sales team with insight into organic search terms used to generate the lead. If they have 10 seconds to get a conversation started, the organic search term can provde invaluable in a targeted conversation

    Manticore Technology

  3. Rebekah Donaldson

    This is an interesting post. It made me think about the definition for Inbound Marketing.

    The above blurbs useful — contrasting inbound marketing, or “any marketing activity that draws people to your website” to marketing automation, or “…any marketing activity that happens after people come to your website.”

    Desired actions are part of inbound marketing too, though, IMHO.

    That is, it includes “pulling” the visitor from search result through download, demo request, sign up, or other desired action.

    So inbound marketing at least = SEO + conversion optimization. ?

    My frame of reference:

    If a company buys inbound marketing Saas, they evaluate an inbound marketing campaign’s success on the basis of initial conversions.

    If they buy marketing automation Saas, they eval. on the basis of retention, entry into sales cycle, purchases, cross-sells etc.

    So what do you think about drawing a line like this:

    Inbound marketing = everything to produce an initial conversion

    Marketing automation = everything from initial conversion through cusotmer lifetime value


  4. Arun Pradhan

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    Good post. I learn something new and difficult on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It’s always exciting you just read content material from all other freelance writers and use something of their websites.

  6. Jenna

    This blog gives us a lot of insights about inbound marketing automation. We have recently employed an Inbound Marketing Automation tool called Aritic PinPoint and these insights that you have given have helped me to learn more as I am a newbie in my team.


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