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Inbound Marketing Trends and Challenges for Small Businesses in 2021 and Beyond

Posted by
clock-iconOctober 24, 2020

Inbound marketing is all about drawing in potential customers through the use of highly valuable content. As opposed to outbound marketing that interrupts people in other places online, inbound marketing seeks to establish relationships and solve customers' problems within a business's website.

Small businesses often find inbound marketing a challenge because of the need to compete with big websites online. Sometimes, no matter how great the content they create, these are overshadowed by giant brands that are already enjoying overwhelming visibility on the internet.

Paying attention to and taking advantage of the hottest trends in inbound marketing for small businesses can help counteract that. Additionally, carefully analyzing the challenges involved and coming up with smart solutions will help start-ups and SMEs to enjoy the benefits of inbound marketing and steal some of the limelight from the big brands.

What are the challenges faced by inbound marketers?

Let's first take a look at the inbound marketing challenges that small businesses face. Only by knowing what they are and coming up with the right solutions will a business be able to form the right foundations for their website and future marketing efforts.

Challenge 1: Lack of a good strategy

A clear and properly developed inbound marketing strategy is required for success. A business needs to understand that huge gains won't be achieved overnight or even in a few weeks. After all, inbound marketing is a mix of content marketing, attracting leads, building relationships, and addressing pain points. All of these need a laser focus, steady effort, and long-term planning.

Most marketers, however, will excitedly jump into the fray without forming a cohesive master plan. Then when results are below expectations, efforts will peter off and frustration sets in. It then becomes a downward spiral and, most often, the whole endeavor will be considered a waste of time and money.

How to come up with a good strategy?

Here are some useful tips that will assist in the creation of a well-defined inbound strategy:

  • Come up with in-depth buyer personas - Aim to thoroughly understand who your target audience is to achieve that crucial laser focus. Know their backgrounds, demographics, and identifiers. Only by understanding how they behave and what makes them tick can you come up with effective marketing strategies.
  • Clearly identify the buyers' journey - How do your potential customers reach your website? Which pages do they most often land on? What are the pages that they linger most in? How do they behave in your online shop? Is the purchasing process smooth or are people abandoning their carts? Look into customer feedback and complaints as well. The answers to all these questions will help you analyze what improvements to make and even identify other advertising avenues to exploit.
  • Have a long-term vision - Patience is key. Results may not appear right away so it is important to think ahead and pave a path towards long-term gains that are as problem-free as possible. Have contingency plans as well.
  • Build a smooth funnel - Having a clear buyers' persona in mind and by properly identifying their journey within your website will be a big help in this. Remove as many, if not all, possible pain points to ensure that stellar customer experience.

Challenge 2: Not enough resources

Another main deterrent to executing an excellent inbound marketing campaign is a lack of resources (time, people, and finances). The big brands can afford to splurge on their content marketing and other inbound strategies, but what about the small businesses?

How to mitigate the lack of resources?

Despite the fact that most small and medium businesses do not have large marketing departments nor seemingly endless capital to spend on advertising agencies, all hope is not lost.

  • Make sure the inbound marketing strategy is solid. This cannot be emphasized enough. Even if you don't have a large marketing team, a well-thought-out strategy will help you pull through. Since the foundation is good, all methods that will be deployed moving forward will be aligned to your goals. Energy and finance wastage will be minimized.
  • Capitalize on staff talent rather than on numbers. Deploy intelligent and highly organized people to do your inbound marketing. Even if there won't be many of them, their quick wits and adaptability can make up for the lack of staff.
  • Outsource to professionals. If you really need more people to handle the workload, consider outsourcing to experts who have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field. Be it in content marketing, funnel building, or website design - your lead inbound marketers can use the help of outsourced professionals to get things done.

Challenge 3: User engagement is lackluster

As mentioned above, inbound marketing is all about creating engaging content and ensuring a smooth customer experience on your business website. Unfortunately, many fail in the engagement department.

Poor user engagement can be the result of various factors, which include a weak content marketing strategy, the lack of calls to action, haphazard funnel and lead generation setups, ineffective website design, a slow website, and substandard mobile optimization.

All of these can lead to higher bounce rates (more people leaving your website immediately after they've visited), which totally wastes those new leads or sales that your business could have gathered.

How to boost user engagement on your business website?

Keeping visitors engaged and staying longer on your website can be achieved through:

  • Targeted content marketing tactics - delivering content that your audience truly crave and appreciate is one of the best ways to fix the engagement issues. This shouldn't be too hard to accomplish either once you have done a great job at studying your buyer personas. By addressing your target customers' needs, questions, and struggles - conversion rates are bound to soar.
  • Intelligent use of calls to action - make your funnels more effective by having CTAs in the right places. According to this list of statistics, anchor text CTAs increased HubSpot's conversion rates by a whopping 121%. Button CTAs, meanwhile, boosted a company's click-through rates by 40%. Placing a call to action below the fold is also more ideal than placing it at the top of a page. These data show exactly how CTAs, when used right, can improve your leads and sales.
  • Effective and conversational brand voice - to build a better relationship with visitors, conventional brand voices have now become the norm. Customers want that personal connection instead of being treated as just a statistical number.
  • Clean website design and smooth navigation - this is yet another crucial matter in digital marketing as a whole and inbound marketing in particular. When people come across a cluttered website or one with a convoluted navigation menu, they really don't want to deal with that. They'll just leave and find another easier-to-understand website.
  • Mobile-first approach - The power of smartphones is far-reaching. Take advantage of that by designing a website that is fully optimized for mobile browsing.
  • Fast page speeds - 2 seconds is the Google recommended page load time. More than that and your search engine optimization and marketing efforts will suffer. There are hundreds of other similar websites out there and people these days just can't be bothered with slow sites.

What are the emerging trends in inbound marketing?

Figuring out the challenges inbound marketers face and identifying the right solutions is just half the battle. Once again, small businesses should also maintain a vision for the future. For this reason, it makes sense to know more about the emerging trends in the field. For 2021 and beyond, here are the important things to keep an eye on.

Interactive Content and Content Clusters

Based on this Content and Buyer's Journey Benchmark Report, "Interactive content, such as apps, assessments, calculators, configurators, and quizzes generate conversions moderately or very well 70% of the time, compared to just 36% for passive content." It is no surprise then that interactive content is on the rise and will continue to appear on more websites in the near future.

In the midst of website visitors' shortening attention and the sheer number of competing content out there, any content that actively engages the participation of your prospects will give you the upper hand. If these are personalized and created with a detailed buyer persona in mind, then so much better.

On top of that, content clusters that are optimized for search engines is another emerging trend in the inbound sales and marketing landscape. Not only do these help the search engine bots understand your website better, but the clusters can also improve the organization of your site, which in turn leads to smoother navigation. Whichever you look at it, content clusters are a trend that will cement itself as the norm in the coming years.

Chatbots/Artificial Intelligence

Personalization and interactivity are given so much emphasis, yet why is it that chatbots and the use of artificial intelligence on websites are gaining momentum as well? Shouldn't businesses employ more real people to achieve more personalized dealings with customers online?

In an ideal world where the lack of staff is not a problem, that would have been the case. But small businesses do not have the unlimited capacity to form an inbound marketing and customer service team who can stay awake 24/7 and serve clients from various timezones. That is why chatbots and AI have emerged to pick up the slack.

Thankfully, through the continuous development of machine learning technologies, AI chatbots are now more intelligent and more human-sounding. They can be seamlessly integrated into funnels and used at various points throughout the buyer's journey. They can at least handle low-level engagement issues so that a business can handle the more complicated things in a less frazzled manner.

Voice Search and Video Marketing

Voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Ok Google have grown in popularity over the years. They have also changed the way people search for things online, which makes website optimizations for voice search worth looking into. In fact, many online marketers are adding voice search snippets for their blog posts these days. The need for more conversational content is also bolstered by this trend.

As for video marketing, this is not something that has just recently surfaced but is still included in this list because it will surely accelerate in the years to come. Looking at the infographic created by FinancesOnline below, YouTube has the lion share of content distribution at 45% and Facebook video is closely in third place with 41%.

Voice and video content are the future and inbound marketers who haven't taken notice yet should really do so now.


Micro-influencers are making huge waves in the digital marketing scene. This phenomenon ties back to the people's need for more personal connections with the businesses they spend money on.

Small businesses can now promote brand awareness in a more cost-effective manner. You don't necessarily have to spend so much advertising money on big-name celebrities. Partnering with micro-influencers, YouTube celebrities, or Instagram stars can give you more value for your budget. They may not be known to millions of people worldwide, but their few hundreds or thousands of loyal followers can be just the highly targeted pool of prospects your business needs.

Of course, choosing the right micro-influencers to work with, those who are super aligned with your brand is the key to success.

Social Media Preferences

Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are some of today's most popular social media platforms. Many inbound marketers are, for sure, on here already. But other online hangout places are emerging and becoming popular. Few examples are TikTok, Caffeine, and Lasso.

Exploring these platforms in your upcoming social media marketing strategies is worth your while. You don't have to dump all your efforts here for now but it pays to be aware of them. Who knows, you might just discover new opportunities in these places. One thing is constant in the marketing world and that is the ever-changing of preferences!

Mobile Inbound Marketing

It's all about the user experience - reaching your target customers through the medium they are most comfortable using. As such, a mobile-friendly approach in web design and content creation is fast becoming the norm.

Key Takeaways

Inbound marketing can be challenging, sure. But the difficulties also present opportunities to shine better than your competition in 2021 and beyond. By understanding these roadblocks and coming up with smart and effective solutions for them, your business can spread your brand's message and engage more leads in a more productive manner. And by keeping a pulse on the emerging trends, you will be poised to take advantage of new tools and strategies to capture your audience's attention and keep them engaged.

It is time to rise to the challenge, plan for the future, and enjoy the benefits that inbound marketing can bring to your business.