It would be convenient to define inbound marketing with a one-size-fits-all schedule. However, with so many variables affecting the time it takes for your inbound content marketing strategy to bear fruit, there's rarely an all-purpose timeline. You can count on SEO and steady content creation to generate traffic—and eventually leads—but the rate of progress is predominantly set by your preparation, market, and strategy. Here's what you can expect in the first six months and how to use them for maximum impact.
‘Six months’ is a timeframe that’s often bounced around as the prototypical wait between launching an inbound content marketing strategy and the time when you’ll start to see results. However, it’s still important to keep expectations tame at this point. By the six month mark, you’re still in the first few waves of positive results. The long term benefits of your inbound content marketing strategy will become clear further down the road.
So, what sort of impact should you expect so far? Every business will vary, but here’s a roundup of the goals you’ve set—and accomplishments you’ve made—by the end of the first six months:
SEO Success—You’ve got traffic!
The first payoff from hard work in the initial months is an uptick in traffic. Research has shown that 85% of companies using an inbound marketing strategy increase their traffic within 7 months.
Blogging and SEO are typically the largest contributors (they make up nearly 44% of the votes for top impact). However, an active social media presence and other methods also claim substantial pieces of the pie:
An inbound content marketing strategy sets out to build awareness and grow a broad interest in the brand early on. After all, you’ve got to fill the sales funnel from the top in order to nurture leads towards a purchase.
However, you’ll continue to get incredible value out of content marketing that targets the early buyer’s journey even years down the line. 51% of respondents to a survey by the Content Marketing Institute pegged top-of-funnel content as their best source of demand generation.
(Source: Content Marketing Institute)
By the six month mark, SEO and fresh content have had time to improve your performance in search algorithms and boost your appearance in organic searches. This increase in relevant traffic could lead to more direct inquiries (by email or phone).
How long it takes to see an impact on actual sales, however, is affected by the length of your buyer's journey. Variables like the level of your marketing activity, your market, and your strategy's strength will all affect your progress rate.
Time and patience will pay off as you focus on getting the right traffic from the right people. This is the point where it’s time to:
- Expand Your Content Focus: Traffic comes from many channels, so it’s wise to diversify. Top-of-funnel content can include podcasts, news pieces, infographics, pain point blogs, and more. As leads mature in your funnel, you’ll gradually need content offers for all three of the Awareness, Consideration, and Decision stages of the purchasing process.
- Complete a Content Audit: You’ve started to amass a library of inbound content marketing assets that match up with your strategy. Review older content to make sure it’s aligned to keywords, buyer persona knowledge, and a particular point in the buyer’s journey. Also:
- Does existing content check the boxes of content quality?
- Do you have consistent CTAs, landing page links, and branding for your content?
- Can you repurpose old content for your current needs?
- Take Next Steps in Lead Nurturing: Traffic is not enough. Next, you’ll have to collect contact information from your audience to capture leads.
Convert Visitors into Contacts
Once traffic has built up at the top of your sales funnel, a portion of those visitors will be prepared to take the next steps and become leads. In fact, you’re likely already seeing new leads by the halfway point of your first year.
MIT analyzed website data from HubSpot customers and customer surveys to determine the impact of your inbound content marketing strategy over time. They found that in 6 months, companies see an average of 1.8x more visitors, and 2.69x more leads.
Lead capture often (but not always) comes from activity in the mid-to-bottom of your sales funnel. This means it’s time to develop content for leads in the ‘consideration’ stage of the buyer’s journey, such as:
- Comparison guides
- ‘Pros and cons’ blogs
Your leads will qualify themselves as they access these assets and offer their contact info on your website (perhaps in pop-up forms with CTAs). Attractive content gated behind a landing page can work wonders for lead capture.
But be careful—you don’t want to chase away prospects who are still teetering at the edge of the awareness stage. If you try to collect too much information at an early stage of your relationship with the buyer, a long contact form may turn them away.
The best landing pages make it as easy as possible for lukewarm prospects to take the plunge. Check out this eBook landing page by Velaro Live Chat, for example:
There are only four brief fields to fill out, and rather than some variation of “submit,” the bright blue button says “download now.” This reads more like access to content than an offer of personal information.
Trulia employs a different inbound content marketing strategy on its two-stage lead capture form:
The first page lures you in with an easy address field and the promise of info on your home’s value. They wait until the second step of the query, after you’re already invested, to ask you for more details:
The disclaimer at the end (that you’ll be connected with a real estate agent) sets a clear expectation about what will happen once the form is submitted. It helps to be upfront about the reason there’s a form in front of your value offer so that you don’t threaten the trust you’re building with the lead. Ultimately, your goal will be to convert them into a satisfied customer, but transparency goes a long way toward creating customer satisfaction.
Convert Contacts into Customers
As your contact collection adds up, you’ll start to monitor and nurture each lead’s progress towards sales qualification (and purchase). Content is a part of the equation, with calls to action that prompt warm leads to delve deeper into the buyer’s journey. A marketing CRM—like the free one offered by HubSpot—can also enable you to track the behavior of your contacts and engage them with intricate email workflows.
Email marketing automation takes on much of the burden of lead nurturing, so you can focus on the leads who are ready to convert. And it’s incredibly efficient—email generates $38 for every $1 spent, which is an astounding 3,800% ROI. Without question, it’s one of the most effective options available for nurturing bottom-of-the-funnel leads.
Set your workflows to follow up on downloaded content and include exciting new content in the email itself. You can differentiate the sorts of content you attach for the stage of the buying cycle the lead is in:
The first six months is still a little early to see the full impact of an inbound content marketing strategy on sales. But it is the perfect time to roll out your bottom-of-the-funnel "decision" content that will show impact at your next checkpoint. There are plenty of inbound marketing examples for content that gives prospects a compelling reason to commit to a purchase, like:
- Customer case studies
- Product/service literature
- Vendor comparisons
- In-person events
- Benchmark data
- Reviews and testimonials
Gradually, these nurtured leads will start to turn into sales. You’ll need to have a clear plan in place for passing the torch to the sales team and getting the lead in touch with a rep. Companies with mature lead generation and management practices have a 9.3% higher sales quota achievement rate, so a smooth handoff—time, channel, message consistency—is pivotal.
Evaluate 6 Months of Progress
Congratulations, you’ve made it through the first half of your opening year of your inbound content marketing strategy! After a brief reprieve for celebration (you and your team have earned it!), it’ll be time to get back to it. There’s plenty of work ahead before the full scope of your ROI is clear. Still, there’s a lot you’ve accomplished. A few deliverables to expect at this point are:
- Several months of valuable organic traffic metrics
- Significant overall traffic growth
- Increased lead capture (possibly as much as double or triple)
- More direct email or phone inquiries
- Warm, nurtured leads nearing the bottom of the funnel
- Encouraging signs of fresh sales activity
If everything is going according to plan, then you’re on the right track. But just to double check:
- Review the robust content database you’ve amassed. Is it cohesive?
- Use the trends and data you’ve compiled to determine what’s working and growing—keep it up! How has SEO been working out? What needs to change?
- Re-evaluate the buyer personas that have guided you over these six months. Are they still accurate? What have you learned about your customers since your strategy launched? Adjust the personas to reflect new knowledge for the next six months.
- Look at the whole span, but also at the last half and the most recent month (individually). Too broad a focus may drown out your current trends. Things are just starting to gain momentum, so you can’t put too much stock in the initial 90 days of setup.
- Beware of seasonal influences that skew metrics—you don’t have a full year on the books yet.
It could be a year before you have a full picture of your sales funnel and the growth that comes from your inbound content marketing strategy. HubSpot reports that 23% of prospects buy a product or service they’ve inquired about within 6 months. The other 67% may still intend to purchase, but aren’t yet ready. Keep the faith and use what you’ve learned to close those deals over the next six months.