How SEO Fits Into An Inbound Marketing Strategy

As I work with entrepreneurs and marketers each day, it’s common to hear many admit that they don’t really understand how SEO fits into their inbound marketing strategy. Many of them realize that SEO is important because being found online is critical to businesses, but understanding and articulating how SEO fits into a broader marketing strategy can be difficult.

Many businesses have SEO efforts that are disconnected from their marketing strategy. In worse cases, these two functions are performed by individuals or teams who do not collaborate.

For businesses using or considering inbound marketing as a holistic digital marketing strategy, it’s easy to see how SEO fits into a bigger picture.

The terms SEO and inbound marketing are not interchangeable, however, SEO is a major component of inbound marketing. The two work together toward a single goal fulfilling strategy of attracting, engaging, converting and delighting customers.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these individually and then we’ll dive into how they work together.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing combines the various aspects of digital marketing and harmonizes them into a single goal fulfilling strategy. It places high value on creating and sharing content that is designed specifically for your target customer to attract them to your brand.

Think of the various aspects of digital marketing – social media, SEO, SEM, content marketing, pay-per-click, and others. Frequently these channels are ran in silos with different metrics, by different teams and with different budgets.

Inbound marketing pulls these tactics together with unified goals and with each channel doing it’s job as part of a larger effort. You can think of it like a football team where each player has a specific focus, but together they work toward a single goal – winning the game.

Inbound marketing tactics include things like:

  • Content marketing via things like video, blogs, ebooks, and website copy
  • Social media marketing
  • Keyword analysis
  • Link building
  • Email marketing
  • Conversion path optimization
  • User experience through design and on-page and off-page optimization
  • Management of the customer journey
  • Brand advocacy programs
  • And much more

How Inbound Marketing Works

Inbound marketing works like a magnet, pulling people to your website, delivering an exceptional user experience, providing them with epic content, nurturing them through the customer journey and fostering brand advocates.

It encompasses the complete customer journey, the top, middle, and bottom of the sales funnel. From the earliest stage of being found online through a Google search, to the point of turning a customer into a brand advocate, inbound marketing uses the harmonious effort of multiple marketing tactics to create and delight customers.


At its core, SEO is all about making your website be found and ranked by search engines. In a measurable sense, the job of SEO is to increase traffic to your website, which is largely achieved through ranking higher in search results.

According to John Jantsch and Phil Singleton, authors of the book SEO for Growth , “Moving forward, SEO will be one of the first lines of defense against competitors and the most direct way to reach your customers. If you aren’t found in search, you don’t exist.”

Historically businesses could win at SEO by using tactics that tricked search engines with spammy and sometimes unethical tactics. Unfortunately this gave SEO a bad reputation and created a lot of skepticism about the industry.

However, Google has significantly advanced its algorithm with 500-600 updates per year and has raised the bar for websites. The old spammy tactics no longer work, and in some cases result in penalties that may take a website down entirely.

This evolution has brought about an entirely new SEO practice that prioritizes users over search engines. Ensuring that your website is aligned with Google best practices is continually important for SEO ranking.

How SEO Fits Into Inbound Marketing

SEO is a critical element of an inbound marketing strategy, and quite frankly, a necessity for success. Since SEO is all about making your website be found when users search online for terms that are relevant to you,it’s one of the strongest tactics that inbound marketing uses to attract website visitors.

SEO works to bring people to your website where they can consume the great content and user experience that your inbound program delivers. From there, inbound tactics like content offers, lead generation forms and email marketing take effect.

Let’s look deeper at two specific ways SEO and inbound marketing work together.

Content Feeds SEO

SEO relies on content, and content is at the heart of all inbound marketing programs. SEO can survive without inbound marketing, but not without content. Inbound marketing can’t exist without SEO.

SEO and content marketing are so tightly woven together that you simply can’t separate them any longer. Gone are the days of tricking search engine with spammy tactics. Since Google now prioritizes the user over search engines, high quality content must be a top priority of any SEO strategy because that’s what today’s users expect.

Yet creating consistent and engaging content is not easy, and most SEO’s aren’t content experts. That’s why inbound marketing is so beneficial to SEO.

Consistent and epic content creation is at the heart of an inbound marketing strategy. Common forms of content include blogs, videos, ebooks, whitepapers, case studies and testimonials, and ratings and reviews. Content is like a feeding tube of rich nutrients pouring into and nurturing SEO.

SEO Drives Site Traffic

The first step in the inbound marketing process is attracting website visitors and that’s the exact job of SEO.

Within the four phases of the inbound process: attracting, engaging, converting and delighting, SEO works within each, but has its biggest role in the attract phase.

Without site traffic, users don’t have a chance to encounter the user experience, the epic content or the optimized paths to conversion that inbound marketing creates. On-page and off-page SEO do their job to attract website visitors which is the very first step in the inbound marketing process. It enables users to start the inbound marketing flow.

How To Get Started With Inbound Marketing

If you’re new to inbound marketing, getting started can feel overwhelming. SEO in itself is a lot a understand and keep up with considering the constant evolution of the industry. Adding email marketing, content marketing, user experience optimization and other tactics can be a lot to take in. This free Checklist: How To Run An Inbound Marketing Campaign can help you get started.

About The Author

brandee johnsonBrandee Johnson is the owner and founder of LimeLight Marketing, Brandee’s vision of a boutique marketing firm is woven into the fabric of the agency. She leads the team and works closely with each client to design and deliver custom marketing strategies. Prior to LimeLight, Brandee spent 15 years working for leading brands in national and global corporations where she applied her skills in operations and sales and marketing. She has implemented and integrated a variety of marketing and IT systems including marketing automation, CRM and e-commerce platforms. Brandee’s extensive experience brings value to clients across many industries.  For more from Brandee, connect with her on LinkedIn via Brandee Johnson, follow LimeLight Marketing on Twitter via @limelight_mktg, and like LimeLight Marketing on Facebook via LimeLight Marketing.

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