Imagine that you arrived at your local movie theater this weekend to see a show and the options featured were “The Final Destination,” “Inglorious Basterds,” and “District 9.”

If none of those movies sound familiar to you from recent buzz, that’s because they topped the box office charts in 2009—the year Brian Halligan and I released the first edition of Inbound Marketing: How To Get Found Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since the 1st edition of Inbound Marketing came out. It’s even harder to believe that we didn’t create the 2nd edition sooner. (In our defense, we’ve been busy building HubSpot, which keeps us pretty busy. And that was before HubSpot filed to go public).

But, I’m thrilled to announce that today marks the release of the 2nd edition of Inbound Marketing.

A lot has changed in the world of inbound marketing in the past 5 years. For one thing, the adoption of the term itself. Here’s how search traffic for the term has grown since 2009.


The origins of “inbound marketing”

Some of you might be wondering: Why come up with the term “inbound marketing” anyways? Didn’t the world have enough marketing terms already? Was a new term necessary?

I have wondered that a lot—back then, and even now. When we first coined the term inbound marketing (this was 8 years ago, three years before we published the first book), we were looking for a way to describe the set of marketing activities that we considered organic and empathetic.

The activities themselves existed long before we ever came along. Savvy marketers had being doing SEO, social media, blogging—all the things that were the opposite of pushing messages out to people that they didn’t want.

But as it turns out, there really wasn’t a term to capture that collection of activities. So we made one up and start calling those activities “inbound marketing.” (If I had liked acronyms, we might have called it something like “Human Centric Marketing.”)

I’m biased, but I think giving this approach a name has helped spread an idea that is worth spreading.

The five biggest changes since 2009

But that was then. In the (admittedly adapted) words of Ferris Bueller: “Marketing moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in awhile, you could miss it.”

From new social networks to publishing channels, there are more opportunities today than ever to meaningfully attract and engage your customers.

It’s easy for any of us to sit back and pat ourselves on the back for the tactics and techniques that worked for us five years ago, but that’s a mistake. What worked for your website or social media channels five years ago may no longer be effective today. Now more than ever, companies need to always be measuring and optimizing what works in their marketing efforts.

 Below are the five biggest changes in inbound marketing since 2009, and how to adapt your strategies to make the most of them.

1. Facebook is bigger, but trickier for marketers

Facebook has a staggering 839 million daily active users (as of June 2014), which is great news for marketers. The bad news is that it’s getting progressively harder to reach Facebook’s audience organically. Ogilvy analyzed more than 100 brand pages and observed organic reach for content published on brand Facebook changes dipping from 49% to just 6% between October 2013 and February 2014.

Facebook Organic-Reach-Chart

Does this mean you should forego Facebook altogether? Certainly not: the potential the Facebook audience represents is simply too great.

Instead, experiment with the type and timing of content that breaks through the clutter for your audience. The macro trend of diminishing organic reach should inform your strategy, but not discourage you from the importance of Facebook as a channel. As a marketer, I would double down on visual content for Facebook and invest heavily in measuring what works and what doesn’t: a potential audience of more than one billion people worldwide is worth the time and effort.

2. Marketers grapple with Google+

If a cat has nine lives, Google+ has had ten. Truly, it’s hard to think of a social network whose death has been more exaggerated or whose success has been more prematurely lauded. Regardless of Google+’s overall adoption as a social network, I wouldn’t ignore it. Why? Hint: It has something to do with the characters before the “+” (namely, the G-O-O-G-L-E).

When we wrote the first book, Google+ didn’t even exist, but since the network launched in 2011, there have already been a significant number of ups and downs in its reach, impact, and reputation.

When it comes to Google+, I recommend taking advantage of low-hanging fruit by creating a Google+ business page and connecting it to your local page (Google Maps listing) to augment your organization’s SEO value. Photos and text currently get the most “+1s” on Google+:

media popular on google+

But a recent feature update allows businesses to import Google+ videos to YouTube, which may lead to an increase in the quality and quantity of video engagement on your business page.

3. SEO continues to evolve

Marketers watch Google’s search algorithm like the rest of us watch the weather. The latest algorithm change, Hummingbird, is most well-known for having infused higher importance on comprehensive questions and associated context (versus solving for individual words), while the roll-out of “in-depth articles” has created a brand new category of content results that goes well beyond click-bait.

Though SEO has changed considerably over the last five years, my recommendation for businesses as it relates to search remains the same. Don’t solve for search engine algorithms; solve for humans instead. The way to make Google happy, and get improved rankings is to figure out how to make searchers happy (hint: high quality, relevant content + a great user experience).

Back then, I wrote about the perils of “black hat” SEO tactics that try to trick Google’s algorithms. I argued that they could be dangerous. Now, they’re not just dangerous — they can be potentially toxic and deadly. They’re definitely misguided.

My advice then is the same as it is now: Avoid tricks. They’re just not worth it. Instead of spending calories trying to outsmart the Google algorithm, spend that same energy working with it and delivering value to the end user. That’s a sustainable strategy.

On a related note, I think one of the most underappreciated skills in SEO is design. The reason is simple: Great design makes humans happy.

4. Talent is getting harder and harder to find

Everybody is shifting more resources to inbound marketing, so demand has been skyrocketing. But supply is not growing fast enough.

In 2013, IDC predicted that half of marketing hires would be technical in nature. But as my friend Scott Brinker @chiefmartec) is very quick to point out on his blog, that prediction assumes that supply matches demand, which is simply not the case. What Brinker calls “the triple threat” (individuals with marketing, management, and technical skills) has become a rare and valuable find.

This is exceptional news for inbound marketers: effective ones can write their own ticket to work in roles and projects that truly interest them. But for businesses looking to radically shift their approach, the people they need to help power that transformation are in high demand and short supply.

The massive proliferation of marketing technology across every industry segment, geography, and company size has fundamentally transformed how companies value marketing talent. In addition to creating huge opportunities for talented marketers, it’s also created room for a new kind of marketing agency.

Specifically, companies used to hire agencies to create their ads and to run their public relations strategy. Now, more companies than ever are looking to agencies to help fill their existing skills gap, developing and delivering marketing technology solutions ranging from web redesign to content creation to marketing automation management to marketing and sales SLAs.

Whether you’re an agency or a marketer, the market today rewards people who fit the DARC profile:

  • Digital natives
  • with Analytical chops
  • strong web Reach, and
  • Content creation skills

If your skill set doesn’t match those criteria, it’s time to update your resume. If your job profiles don’t actively seek and reward people based on those core requirements; it’s time to update your marketer wish lists.

By the way, this inefficiency in the market (great teams not being able to find the great marketers that are out there) is partly why the community exists. (It’s free). It has 34,000 members already, and some of the best content and people on inbound marketing that you’ll find anywhere. You should check it out.

5. Visual content continues to grow in popularity

Marketers have always known that a picture is worth a thousand words, but now there are social networks predicated solely on this notion. The visual trend is impossible to ignore.

visual content infographic

When we wrote the first edition of the book, Pinterest and Instagram hadn’t even launched yet (both companies launched their official products in 2010). Now, with Pinterest growing in importance for both engagement and search, Instagram as part of the Facebook portfolio, and SlideShare a critical component of LinkedIn’s content strategy, social networks are upping the ante on photo and video content, and brands and businesses must follow suit.

Five years ago, publishing content on the web was a surefire way to attract and engage your customers. Now, the popularity of inbound marketing combined with dwindling consumer attention spans means you can no longer just create content and hope it resonates with your customer, you need to be significantly more remarkable than your competitors in your efforts to educate, inspire, or entertain your customers.

One of the best ways to stand out from the pack is with highly visual and aesthetically pleasing content, both of which are rewarded handily on channels like Pinterest and Instagram.

The biggest misconception about visual content is that is has to be expensive: Canva, Visage, your iPhone, and even PowerPoint can all be great levers for creating inexpensive but beautiful visual content, so there’s no excuse not to experiment with more photo or video in your marketing efforts.

The new world of inbound marketing

The last five years have flown by, and the adoption of inbound marketing has been humbling to watch unfold. So, what’s next?

Frankly, I don’t know. But five years from now, whatever we end up calling this enlightened form of marketing, I fully expect that those marketers will win out in the long term over those that are continuing to blast people with messages they didn’t ask for.

Oh, and in the meantime, if you or a friend are just getting started with inbound marketing, I recommend the 2nd edition of inbound marketing (yes, I’m biased). You can buy it in paperback or Kindle at If you don’t find it useful, I’ll personally refund you the $20.

If you don’t have time to read the book, glance through the slidedeck below. It’s a summary of some of the ideas in the book, presented in a visual style (see point 5 above).

What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in your time in marketing, and what do you see on the horizon? I’d love to hear your insights in the comments. And if you have any questions about the book, the slide deck or inbound marketing in general, I’ll be hopping into answer.

Image credit: oskay

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Written by Dharmesh Shah

Dharmesh Shah is founder/CTO of HubSpot and co-author of the book “Inbound Marketing,” which was just released in its 2nd edition.

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  • Since you coined the term, Dharmesh, I’d love to hear your thoughts on where the line should be drawn between “Inbound Marketing” and “blast[ing] people with messages they didn’t ask for.” At face value it may seem like the distinction is clear, but it actually muddles pretty quickly. And while most discussions of this nature center on broad marketing strategies, I’m more curious about specific tactics.

    Would you classify click bait headlines as outbound marketing since the content in the articles is, in fact, full of messages the visitors didn’t ask for?

    How would you classify articles with self-promotion subtly incorporated into otherwise informative content?

    On a basic level, this article has 3 links that direct readers to purchase your books that bring you revenue. On a deeper level, this article also includes a slide deck that promotes your book, references to HubSpot that help with branding, a link to your community, and overall a reinforcement of the term “inbound marketing,” which certainly benefits you and HubSpot.

    Would you classify this article as inbound marketing or outbound marketing?

    • If I may… inbound is attraction marketing. Outbound is interruptive marketing. Opposites.

      I see the promotional aspects of Dharmesh’s post as well. Those who are interested will proceed. Those who aren’t won’t.

    • Great questions, and fair arguments to make.

      I think Randy captured it pretty well.

      I think what makes something “inbound” (vs. not) is not about whether it benefits you, but whether it *also* benefits others, on average.

      Spam is clearly not inbound, because it mostly benefits the spammer, and very rarely the spamee.

      I’m biased, but I’d classify this article as “inbound”, because though it contains elements of promotion — it (hopefully) creates value for those reading it, and most people reading the article, or the embedded slide deck are not feeling misled.

      One thing to remember is that inbound marketing is still, at its core, *marketing*. Whether it builds brands, drive sales or just builds trust, there’s still some element of promotion involved — whether direct or indirect.

      But, as I said, I’m biased. I could be wrong. 🙂

      • Dharmesh, I think your response further muddies the water. The deeper I dig into the core meaning of “inbound marketing,” the more ambiguous the term becomes.

        Marketing that “benefits others, on average” isn’t exclusive to “inbound” methods. Any “outbound” marketing tactic can just as much accomplish this. TV commercials, trade show booths, even cold calls can all benefit others, on average. The problem is that marketers have gotten lazy and, thus, given these “outbound” methods a bad name.

        You said you’d label this article as “‘inbound’ because…it (hopefully) creates value for those reading it, and most people reading the article, or the embedded slide deck are not feeling misled.” But creating value for an audience and not misleading them also isn’t specific to “inbound” marketing.

        A high signal to noise ratio isn’t “inbound” marketing, it’s just good marketing.

        P.S. I originally tried including links to a couple relevant articles I wrote, but the comment wasn’t getting approved. Must be too promotional? XD

        If you’re willing to consider a different perspective, the first post offers a more in-depth view on this topic, and the second shows how cold calls can absolutely benefit others. I’ll tweet the links at you.

        • Cerasis

          Jason, from my perspective (Adam here), it seems to me you are thinking to strictly about vocabulary words. In business, you do what it takes to achieve your mission. If you find it’s a mix of cold calls and inbound marketing, then you should do that. I don’t think anyone says that traditional sales tactics and marketing tactics are dead, but that you have to analyze what will work the best for your company.

          I have found through our content from the cold call/sales process, we now have “currency” to GIVE to the recipient of that cold call or email. Our sales people are LEADING with value that lives in the content. It is blog information for quick best practices, it’s a webinar for more in depth and high touch points to our company, it’s a white paper they download with a few qualifying questions, it’s a video that tells a story that is relevant to the user because of “what interest you boxes” and more.

          Personally, as marketers/sales people, we shouldn’t try so hard to necessarily define to the granular level what is marketing and sales and the various ways we gain revenue for our companies/selves, but rather get out there and get to doing/testing/failing/learning. It’s paralysis by analysis at some point. Just get out there and DO after you’ve built a strategy to DO. Along the journey, if you pay attention to the data, you will craft a continuous effort of improvement that will get you to your destination.

          • “Personally, as marketers/sales people, we shouldn’t try so hard to
            necessarily define to the granular level what is marketing and sales and
            the various ways we gain revenue for our companies/selves.”

            said, Adam. Ironically enough, that’s exactly why I challenge the term
            “inbound marketing” in the first place. In the grand scheme of things,
            my articles and blog posts can’t hold a candle to the amount of effort
            HubSpot has put into “defining to the granular level” what “inbound
            marketing” is.

            Why would HubSpot put in so much effort? Because
            whether or not you believe it, vocabulary words are important. There’s a
            huge potential to build one’s own authority in the eyes of others by
            successfully coining a term.

            Think of how many people wanting to
            learn about “inbound marketing” will turn to HubSpot since its founders
            coined the term, its founders wrote a book on the term, HubSpot owns the
            term in SERPs, and one of its founders helped create an online
            community based on the term. HubSpot has bent over backwards to promote
            the term so it would be adopted by the online marketing community. The
            goal is that when you hear “inbound” you think “HubSpot.”

            is certainly important if you’re strategic and able to successfully build your
            brand around a term you’ve coined. Marketers who can pull this off are
            smart (or maybe marketers are just the most susceptible to marketing?).

            So what’s my beef?

            The term adds no value to the marketing community.

            In this article Dharmesh says, “Savvy marketers had being doing SEO, social media, blogging—all
            the things that were the opposite of pushing messages out to people that
            they didn’t want.
            But as it turns out, there really wasn’t a term to capture that collection of activities.”

            of all, there was (and still is) a term that captures SEO, social
            media, and blogging: online marketing. Second, SEO, social media, and
            blogging all require pushing out unwanted messages. How do you improve
            rankings in SERPs? You get links. How do you get links? You offer
            valuable content on your website that others will link to. How do you
            get people to find out about your valuable content? You push it out to
            them. You cold email influencers, you pitch your work to get syndicated
            by publishers, you tweet articles to followers (many of whom could care
            less), you blast your email list (many of whom could care less), etc. I
            may subscribe to an email list, but that doesn’t necessarily mean every
            email I receive is valuable to me.

            “Get out there and get to doing/testing/failing/learning.”

            Totally agree with you on this, Adam. I’m actually the only person at my place of work who holds this opinion on “inbound
            marketing.” And as much fun as it’d be to derail an entire meeting with
            a debate, I don’t make a fuss when they reference the term. I’d rather
            be doing/testing/failing/learning at work and leave the debates for
            online. XD

          • Cerasis

            Very well said, Jason! I love and respect that hustle mentality of doing what it takes, with the tools available, to achieve your results! Vocubulary is important, but I agree, the focus needs to be on results!

  • Jim Ward

    Always love to read your stuff! Reading Inbound Marketing, implementing and having you speak at our event ( I think in 2008) allowed us to never feel the recession.
    All the best Dharmesh…

    • Very kind of you to share your experience. Stories like yours are *why* we do what we do. Cheers.

  • Point #4 is the biggest one to make. While there are literally a huge number of people out there who call themselves ‘inbound marketers’ and talk about how they’re all about social marketing – I’ve struggled to find any who have actual practical knowledge about what they’re talking about. Far too few marketers try and break beyond the whole “images get more engagement” fluff to figure out how to work with digital experiences, run loyalty programmes and the like.

    How long till we have actual full time courses based around digital, or at least a subject that revolves around digital marketing? One that of course, is also live updated. 😉

    • Wahiba Chair

      Totally agree with you there, Avtar! The lack of standards and accreditation make it especially challenging to assess a potential candidate’s credibility/expertise, but you could always ask for work samples. We find that helps.

  • Great article. Look forward to seeing how the next five years change how we market ourselves.

    • Wahiba Chair

      Who knows what will happen!

  • What I believe that the most important thing in an inbound marketing strategy is to knowing your customer from tip to toe. When you know your customer and where he hangs out, consume content and share his/her voice, you will be able to reach them swiftly. Content and community plays an important role today. Email lists are still very important but building a community around a brand is much more important than anything. The people who continuously talks to your brand and around your brand.

    Thanks @dharmeshs:disqus for putting up such an inspiring post here.

    • Wahiba Chair

      Totally – that should be at the HEART of all of your marketing efforts!

  • Hey Dharmesh — the Google trends chart has a “forecast” checkbox. You could tick that to plot future customer growth for HubSpot. Tell your CFO she now owes me a beer. 🙂

    Seriously, congrats on all the well-deserved success. This is also an encouraging tale for other entrepreneurs who should coin their own terms to help carve a niche in their markets and give a handle to the concepts they want to promulgate. Thanks for paving the way for others as well!

    • Thanks for the kind words, dude.

      I have an article brewing in my head about the whole “category creation” thing. We’ve learned a lot in the past 8 years.

  • Wahiba Chair

    Hi Dharmesh, I enjoyed your summary and picked up the book on Kindle!

    Without giving too much away of the book (if applicable), I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the “future” of inbound in a content saturated world.

    Do you think after a “tipping point” marketers will start writing less (and less regularly) and making what they write gain more reach through search and social promotional tactics. Or ?


  • Enjoyed the read. Good luck with the book launch!

    I have a question: it seems obvious that marketers, or their employers, need to have a presence on multiple social networks. But most everyone’s resources are limited. What do you recommend as a guide for deciding whether to invest heavily in 1-2 networks or going wider with a lighter touch across many more networks?

  • Congratulations on the new book Dharmesh! Being in the industry for 8 years now, I have seen many of these changes take place and adjusted strategies over time as well. Marketing for people instead of an algorithm just makes so much more sense and I am glad we are at this point in time. I also was happy to read about the the rewards for marketers that meet the DARC profile (which I do). I always keep in mind that the biggest winners are my clients and the rewards and results they get from working with me. It sure is great to have industry experts be so available. THANK YOU!

  • Thanks Dharmesh, really enjoyed looking at the changes from this perspective, and particularly liked you’re reference to the importance of design in making humans happy.

  • Jana Ulmanova

    i really love your blog, because there is always a very good information and perfekt knowledge! please visit Google top 10 !

  • Dharmesh,

    I think it was your success to create a new “category” and branded it instead of following other catchy buzz. Inbound marketing has no meaning if you did not promote it like that.