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Unless you're a multinational corporation, chances are you have a limited marketing budget. Any small-business owner would rather have customers knocking on their door than have to spend advertising dollars trying to pull them in.

Inbound marketing is a new technique that reflects today's consumer. It's a strategy that involves getting found by customers rather than pushing messages out to them. It involves content marketing, search engine optimization, and social-media marketing.

Traditional marketing techniques, also known as outbound marketing, are becoming less effective at attracting new prospects to a business. Your customers are now smarter and more equipped with choices than ever before, and they are readily turning to online resources such as search engines, blogs and social media to choose who they do business with.

Boston-based Hubspot, which coined the term inbound marketing, has reported that 54 per cent of businesses plan to increase their inbound marketing budgets this year, as outlined in its 2011 State of Inbound Marketing report.

It's no surprise that Canadian businesses are also investing in inbound marketing best practices, including increasing involvement in corporate blogging, creating search-engine-friendly websites, and supporting active social media profiles – all of which helps reach prospects and engage customers more effectively.

Take, for example, Hamilton, Ont.-based Cupcake Diner, a mobile cupcake shop. Owner Natalie Ravoi uses a comprehensive inbound-marketing strategy involving regular updates to her website, to her Facebook fan page, and to her Twitter feed. By connecting with her customers in near real-time fashion, Ms. Ravoi uses Facebook and Twitter as her primary means of notifying customers of her cupcake van's location that day.

The strategy is a direct channel to her growing base of prospective and current customers, which currently number 1,900 Facebook fans and 836 Twitter followers.

Inbound marketing return-on-investment

Hubspot reports that inbound-marketing-generated leads cost as much as 60-per-cent less than leads generated by outbound marketing efforts, such as cold-calling, direct mail, radio, and TV advertisements.

By its very nature, inbound marketing levels the playing field for small businesses to compete on the web, without the need for expansive budgets or specialized talent.

Looking for ways to get started on your path to inbound marketing success? Here are three best practices to employ:

Create compelling content

The first step is to create compelling, interesting and useful content. Soft-selling customers with content they can use is a sure-fire way of building trust and credibility for your products and services. Content that gets consumed easily includes blog posts, video, eBooks, and white papers.

With free tools such as Wordpress for blogging, YouTube for video, and Slideshare and Docstoc to host ebooks and presentations, sharing compelling content is easier than ever.

Having trouble with content ideas? Start by creating material that addresses frequently asked questions you encounter in your day-to-day business. Next, compile industry information, surveys, and seek out guest authors and industry experts to add to the commentary.

The benefits are numerous – ranging from enhancing positive perceptions of your business by customers before they've even contacted you, to helping you reduce customer-support wait times.

Create a search engine friendly website

The second step is to ensure that your content can be found in as many ways as possible. Making it accessible to search engines such as Google is imperative, and Google's own SEO Starter Guide provides business owners with a primer on making their websites search engine friendly.

The quality and quantity of links from other websites linking back to your own is one of the ways search engines determine how a piece of content is ranked. One of the key mantras of inbound marketing is that good content gets rewarded with quality inbound links. This not only creates awareness from relevant parties and ensuing traffic to your site, it also elevates your content's search engine rankings.

Share your content via social media

The third and final step is to share content on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Use Social Media Optimization to make it easy to share content directly from your website by following easy to implement steps such as embedding Facebook's 'like' button and Twitter's 'tweet' button into your blog posts.

Setting this up isn't complicated. In fact, it's relatively simple to connect your social media profiles to update whenever you post new content on your corporate blog. This ensures that your content gets noticed by followers on different platforms simultaneously, amplifying its overall reach.

Inbound marketing ultimately offers businesses a unique value proposition – it costs less than traditional marketing methods, it offers better targeting to attract qualified leads, and most importantly, it helps you 'earn' your way to better visibility rather than having to pay for costly exposure.

Dev Basu is the president of Powered by Search, a full-service Canadian online marketing agency.

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