How many times in the last 30 days have you asked ChatGPT a question?
This is something I asked a few dozen marketers on the webinar in the video above. All of the responses were large numbers, with several people saying they’d asked ChatGPT more than a hundred questions.
Think about how crazy that is! This is an app that didn’t exist 12 months ago, and now it’s become a daily part of so many of our lives. ChatGPT is the fastest-growing app in the history of the internet, reaching more than a million downloads just five days after it was released.
Almost overnight, artificial intelligence became a common topic at the family dinner table. My mom, who still doesn’t know how to print a Word doc, is using ChatGPT to create a professional resume.
Despite the massive amount of hype generative AI has been getting, I still think we’re underestimating the impact it’s going to have on inbound marketing. And it’s just one of four trends that I’m calling the four horsemen of the inbound apocalypse, that are massively disrupting how we will promote our businesses in the next 6 to 48 months:
- Increased competition for keywords
- Google’s ever-changing search engine results page
- Generative AI
- Algorithmic social media feeds
As you read down this list, you might feel like some of this is old news. And it’s true. We’ve been seeing these trends for a long time and have rolled with the punches. But when you zoom out a bit and look at all four in aggregate, there’s a story being told.
That story is that the inbound apocalypse is coming, and we need to start future-proofing our marketing strategies today to be ready.
Inbound Marketing and the Flywheel
The inbound marketing methodology uses a flywheel “to illustrate the momentum your organization can gain by focusing on and delivering exceptional customer experience.”
The buyers’ journey is divided into three stages:
A stranger with a problem is seeking a solution.
A woman just bought her first car and is shopping around for car insurance. She talks to her family, asks for recommendations on social media, and Google’s “best car insurance for a first-time driver.” Because you’re a great inbound marketer, she lands on your blog article and is one step closer to finding an answer to her question.
She’s no longer a stranger but a visitor on your website.
As our visitor reads your article, she sees several calls-to-action (CTA) for a content offer that promises to help her even more. Perhaps it’s a self-assessment to help her narrow down the type of coverage she needs or an eBook comparing the major insurance carriers.
She thinks your offer could be helpful in her search for the right car insurance, so she clicks one of the CTAs and finds herself on a landing page that describes the offer in greater detail. Now, she’s really excited because she knows she’s on the right track.
Because of the high perceived value of the offer, she’s willing to fill out a form and share her email address with you. Once she hits submit on the form, she has officially become a lead.
The value that you’ve delivered up to this point has created trust with your new lead. Now that you have her email address, you can deliver that same high value straight to her inbox.
You drop her in your “first-time driver” nurture workflow, and she begins receiving an email every few days that answers the common questions new drivers have before purchasing insurance.
At some point, you’ll have delivered so much value and built up so much trust that she purchases her insurance coverage from you and becomes a customer. Congratulations!
Hang on, your job isn’t over yet! Now that our first-time driver has become a customer, you want her to tell all of her friends about how amazing you are. And it would also be great if she renewed her policy next year too. These things only happen if you continue nurturing the relationship and delivering the same value she experienced during her shopping experience. Which, of course, you do, and she becomes a promoter of your brand.
The Spinning of the Flywheel
The more customers you attract, engage, and delight, the more promoters you will have advocating for your brand. This applies positive force to the flywheel, causing it to spin faster.
Meanwhile, the four horsemen are creating a tremendous amount of friction in your flywheel, causing it to spin more slowly.
The Four Horsemen of the Inbound Apocalypse
1. Increased Competition for Keywords
My journey with inbound marketing began in 2014. According to Statista, there were 968.9 million websites back then. Today, there are an estimated 1.8 billion websites across the internet. I’m now competing with twice as many websites for the keywords I’m trying to rank for on Google than when I started.
And it’s not just the total number of websites that have grown during this time, but the number of pages on each website, too.
In the late 90s through the early 00s, every business had a brochure website containing just a few pages. But, as the inbound marketing methodology gained popularity, the average number of pages on each website has exploded. After all, every blog article, pillar page, and landing page that we publish is another opportunity to rank on Google.
For businesses who are just starting their inbound marketing journey, you’re going up against incumbents with hundreds, if not thousands, of indexed pages and massive amounts of domain authority.
It has never been more difficult to rank on Google than it is today.
2. Ever-changing Search Engine Results Pages
Google’s in the advertising business and only makes money from its search engine when a visitor clicks on one of the ads displayed at the top of the results page. Therefore, they’re incentivized to optimize these pages for ad clicks, not for driving traffic to your organic listing.
Just look at how much Google’s search engine results page has changed over the years:
Okay, throwback! Do you remember when Google looked like this?
Back in 2010, it was painfully obvious what was and was not an ad. The yellow background and “Sponsored Link” label made the ads pop off the page.
When you fast forward to 2014, things start to get a bit more ambiguous. The yellow background is gone, which makes the ads blend in more with the organic results. The only identifier is a small yellow square that says “Ad.” Just two letters!
Today, ads on Google are even harder to distinguish from organic listings. In this screenshot, the only difference between the Amica ad and Allstate’s organic listing is the subtle black text that says “Sponsored.”
This is a deliberate choice to increase the amount of clicks on ads, which means less organic search traffic to your website.
Google’s not just deemphasizing ads. They’re actively working to decrease the number of clicks on the organic results. They want visitors to stay on Google unless an ad has been clicked. Visitors can’t be monetized if they’ve navigated away from the search engine and onto your website.
If you created the definitive guide to how much car insurance costs in 2014 and the search engine gods blessed you with the top spot on Google, you would be getting thousands of visitors to your website each day.
But today, you don’t have to click through to QuoteWizard’s website to see how much car insurance costs. Google just gives you the answer in a featured snippet.
If the featured snippet doesn’t answer the visitor’s question, maybe it’s because they didn’t ask the right one. With Google’s “People also ask” results, they’re able to refine their question without any additional steps. And again, their answer is given on the results page.
3. Generative AI
The impact of the first two horsemen of the inbound apocalypse has been less organic search traffic to your website. With the increased competition for keywords, it’s harder than ever to rank on Google. And if you do rank, Google is sending less traffic to your website. Both of these problems have been made a whole lot worse with the release of ChatGPT.
The appeal of inbound marketing is that it’s inexpensive compared to outbound activities like paid advertising and cold calling. You were only limited by how much content you could create.
With generative AI, not even that is an obstacle anymore. In seconds, you can have a 2,000-word poem on the heartbreak of the New England Patriots 2007 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants written in the style of Edgar Allen Poe.
Massive amounts of AI-generated content are flooding the internet, making the competition for your coveted keywords even fiercer.
At the same time, user behavior is rapidly changing. Circling back to the question I asked at the beginning of this article, how many times in the last 30 days have you asked ChatGPT a question? Hundreds?
Millions of people are turning to ChatGPT to ask the questions they would have previously asked Google. And why? At least part of it is how easy it is to get an answer. You no longer have to sift through dozens of search results looking for it. And while Google has made a significant effort to answer questions on-page, it doesn’t come close to the power of ChatGPT.
And so, not only has generative AI led to an increase in competition for keywords on Google, they’ve captured some of that traffic for themselves. That means there’s less to go around.
4. Algorithmic Social Media Feeds
Organic search has been the largest source of traffic for most websites and is responsible for up to 51% of all website traffic. Still, as inbound marketers, we’ve enjoyed attracting additional website visitors by posting on social media. Heck, entire businesses were built around Facebook pages. In the not-so-distant past, the getting was good.
Then, just like Google, social media platforms matured and began optimizing for ad clicks.
This started with the shift away from chronologic feeds to algorithmic ones. Users are shown the content that the platform wants them to see, the stuff that will keep them on the page for longer. This opened up the ability for these platforms to treat businesses and regular users differently.
It happened first on Facebook. Overnight, the algorithm changed, and businesses saw their organic reach plummet. Many of those businesses that relied on Facebook didn’t survive. And now, most social platforms are doing some version of the same thing.
More recently, we’ve seen a massive reduction in organic reach for posts containing links. Again, just like we saw with Google, these platforms don’t want the user to navigate away from their site unless they’ve clicked on an ad.
As marketers, we tried gaming the system, and this is why you saw “link in the comments” in every social post. For a time, we could hide the link in there and still get good organic reach. But the platforms caught on, and now they’ll throttle your traffic if your post contains a comment by the same author that contains a link.
Publishing More Blog Articles Won’t Help You
For years, your inbound success was predicated on creating high-value educational content to drive organic search traffic to your website.
If you wanted to speed up the results you were getting from inbound, all you had to do was increase the number of blog articles you were publishing each month. If you were publishing four, go up to eight. If you were doing eight, do sixteen.
If you did your keyword research, created good content that answers your customers’ questions, and optimized it for search, you could expect to rank on Google, and everything else was expected to fall into place.
Back in 2007, that wasn’t such a hard thing to do. Today, we’re working in a much different environment. Our flywheel isn’t spinning as fast, and publishing more often isn’t going to reduce that friction.
The days of publishing a blog article to your website, enjoying a good amount of organic search traffic, and using social media as a megaphone to amplify the content further are coming to a close. The inbound marketing apocalypse is coming.
At Growth Spurt, we believe that the future of inbound marketing is publishing on-platform. In this world, the goal isn’t to drive traffic back to your website. Instead, we’re building communities on the platforms themselves.
Yes, that means having less control. Yes, that means building on rented land. But we were already building on rented land when we relied on Google for the majority of our web traffic.
If we place a few bets on the table by investing in more than one channel, it reduces our exposure if something significantly changes on one platform.
The Best Inbound Marketing Channels in 2024
So, what channels should you be on? That depends a lot on your audience and resources. Here are the six channels we believe in the most:
LinkedIn is the best B2B marketing channel on the planet. With over 930 million users, LinkedIn offers unparalleled access to decision-makers at the companies you want to do business with.
To grow an audience and establish yourself as a trusted authority, you should be publishing one post per day, commenting on other posts up to 20 times per day, and publishing one article per week on LinkedIn.
ShinyDocs is Killing it on LinkedIn
Shinydocs is a B2B software company offering solutions to help organizations manage their documents, data, and information effectively. They have an excellent presence on LinkedIn and have amassed a following of over 8,000 at the time of writing.
Shinydocs publishes on their company page daily, with a mix of product updates, company news, and thought leadership. The content is always engaging and interesting to those in the space.
Shinydocs CEO Jason Cassidy is also active on LinkedIn, posting a mix of personal updates, thought leadership, and commentary on things happening in the news that relate to the document management industry.
But what really sets Jason apart from the pack is how active he is in the comments. He comments on dozens of posts every day and replies to every comment on his own posts. This has allowed him to build meaningful connections with his followers and establish a community on the platform.
YouTube is a juggernaut that can’t be ignored. In fact, it’s the second largest search engine after Google.
Video is a great way to demonstrate your expertise, and it’s harder to do well, which means there’s less competition than there is for blogging.
You can get so much mileage out of your videos by embedding them in your blog posts and cross-promoting them across your other social media channels.
Orvis is Doing YouTube Right
Orvis is an outdoor equipment and apparel company that describes itself as “a fly-fishing and wingshooting brand, inspired by nature, driven by curiosity, and fulfilled by adventure.”
For anyone interested in fly fishing, their YouTube channel is an invaluable resource. It has experts sharing tips and how-to’s, answering questions, demonstrating products, and more.
Check out this channel description:
The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing is all about learning the fundamentals of fly fishing for all species, in all waters. Its purpose is simple: to demystify fly fishing, make it fun and clearly demonstrate it is both accessible and affordable to anglers. The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing is the new source for helping educate fly fishers around the world. Author and well known celebrity angler Tom Rosenbauer hosts the series and helps anglers of all ages to clearly understand the basics of fly fishing – no matter where they live. This series will provide viewers with all the necessary tools to get started – essentially the 101 of fly fishing. Best of all, it is easy and enjoyable to watch!
Why do we love Orvis’ YouTube channel? For the same reason their 80k subscribers do – it’s not about selling a product or service; it’s about sharing their valuable knowledge and expertise with the people who buy their products. If you want to learn anything about fly fishing, this channel will teach you. It’s attracting audiences both from the Orvis brand and beyond.
If you search “how to fly fish” on Google, the first listing is “Fly Fishing Basics | How to Get Started” from Orvis’ channel. That means this channel is also attracting people who are interested in fly fishing but have never heard of Orvis. That’s a powerful thing!
Also, note some of the YouTube best practices they’re using – attractive thumbnails, easy-to-understand video titles, video descriptions, and regular posting cadence – just to name a few.
Since first being introduced to the market in 2016, TikTok has grown to over 1 billion monthly active users worldwide. But, it’s not just that there are lots of users that make TikTok an attractive marketing platform for businesses. It’s also its unique format and engaging style that sets the bar for how users want to engage with your brand.
TikTok is all about short videos set to music, making it interactive and enjoyable for users. This allows businesses to creatively showcase their products, services, and messaging, making it a more fun experience for customers to connect with them.
What sets TikTok apart is its viral video nature, where even accounts with a small following can generate millions of views for an exceptional video. This organic reach potential makes it stand out among other social media platforms.
Tiffany Rice is Driving Serious Web Traffic from TikTok
Tiffany Rice is a spirit medium located in the suburbs of Boston. For most of her career, the majority of her clients were from her local area, but she had goals of attracting a broader audience.
Tiffany saw an opportunity in TikTok to grow an international audience and began experimenting with it. She invested the time to really understand how the algorithm worked and what kinds of content worked and didn’t work.
Tiffany’s hard work paid off when she had a video showcasing her supernatural abilities go viral, amassing over a million views! This caused a spike in her website traffic and an immediate surge in orders for telephone readings.
Now, she’s regularly producing videos that reach over a million views, and her website is attracting paying customers from all over the world.
4. Instagram Reels
2.35 billion people interact with Reels every month! Instagram is prioritizing Reels more than ever, and now is the perfect time for you to explore this medium. While it shares some similarities with TikTok, it’s important to note that the content you create for TikTok might not seamlessly transition to Reels due to subtle platform nuances. However, the benefits of incorporating Instagram Reels into your marketing strategy are undeniable.
Reels offer the potential to reach a wider audience. Instagram’s extensive user base, coupled with the platform’s algorithm favoring Reels content, allows your brand to tap into a larger demographic. This expanded reach presents a golden opportunity to connect with new customers and engage with a diverse audience you might not reach through other channels.
Reels can be a potent tool for driving traffic. The captivating short-form videos can pique viewers’ curiosity and encourage them to explore your profile, visit your website, or take action on your call-to-action.
Brand awareness is another key benefit of leveraging Instagram Reels. Consistently creating and sharing engaging Reels can help reinforce your brand identity and personality, making your business more memorable to viewers. As these bite-sized videos circulate and gain traction, they contribute to a lasting imprint in the minds of your audience.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of hashtags on Instagram Reels. Incorporating relevant and trending hashtags can boost the discoverability of your content, helping it surface on the Explore page and potentially reaching an even wider audience.
Netflix Has the Best Instagram Reels
Netflix, the video streaming giant, obviously knows content – and they’ve found a way to extend their brand using Instagram Reels. With so much visual content on display, Netflix utilizes the power of Reels to showcase new movie/show launches, behind-the-scenes videos, trailers, and sneak peeks.
As a once subscriber to the original Netflix DVD delivery service, I loved this example – long live the red envelope.
There are a lot of benefits that podcasting can bring to your organization and marketing plan, including brand building, expanding reach, content development for social media and your website, and more. Plus, they can be done on little to no budget, depending on your goals.
Podcasts are a great way to share information about new products, company information, general industry-related information, or other creative ideas.
Podcasts help you create fans and community.
Metadata.io is Using Podcasts to Connect With Their Audience
Demand Gen U is one of our favorites. This podcast was created by the fine folks at metadata.io. Despite having great software that promises to “make every marketing dollar work harder and get you a seat at the revenue table.”, the Demand Gen U podcast is “all about helping you become a better marketer.”
See the subtle shift there? Just like in our YouTube example where Orvis isn’t using it to pitch their brand directly, they are sharing expertise to create more fly fishing enthusiasts. Here, metadata.io is approaching its podcast in a similar way.
If writing a blog article is at one end of the inbound maturity spectrum, having a thriving community is on the other. It’s the end game of a successful inbound strategy. There are loads of community management platforms and tools out there, but many professional communities choose Slack for its ease of use, price, and the fact so many of us already use it.
There are Slack communities dedicated to almost any concept you can think of, including the problems your company solves. You should be in them or, even better, create your own.
Businesses are creating Slack channels to build relationships with their customers and foster relationships between their customers.
Pavilion is Our Favorite Slack Community
Pavillion is a Slack community for go-to-market executives and their teams built on Slack. With over 10,000 members all over the world, Pavilion has quickly grown to a vibrant community with conversations, education, events, networking, and more happening daily.
From recommending products and services to working with other members, there’s a ton of business that flows through this Slack channel.
How to Be Successful in These Channels
1. Understand what works on each platform
Every channel has its own characteristics, audience preferences, and trends. What works on TikTok doesn’t necessarily work on Instagram Reels, so a one-size-fits-all approach just isn’t going to cut it.
You have to stand out to be successful, and that requires understanding the channel really well and tailoring your content strategy accordingly.
2. Be real
Show up as your authentic self. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re silly, let that freak flag fly. If you’re serious, that’s okay too. But let your true self shine in the content you create. People can tell when you’re faking it, and they want to see who you are, even if that can be scary and make you feel vulnerable.
3. Foster community
Build a loyal following by fostering a sense of community among your audience. Get your audience engaging with each other and building relationships around your content. Realize that the goal isn’t just driving traffic back to your website but engaging your audience where they are.
Your Next Step Depends on Your Starting Point
The best path forward is going to be different for established companies who have been killing it at inbound marketing for years compared to startups or companies who are just starting their inbound journey. The reason is domain authority.
If you’ve been blogging, have hundreds or even thousands of indexed pages, and enjoy high domain authority, you won’t feel the impact of the four horsemen immediately. But if you’re just getting started with inbound, you’re going to struggle to unseat your competition at the top of Google. I’m not saying it’s impossible; it’s just not worth the time and money. For startups, blogging isn’t the biggest bang for your buck anymore.
If you’re already killing it at inbound:
1. Keep blogging and adhere to SEO best practices.
I’d never recommend someone to stop doing what works. If you’re finding success with blogging, keep going while the getting is good.
2. Master generative AI
Take advantage of the domain authority that you’ve built up over your years of doing inbound well and use generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, to create even more content that ranks on Google. Make it impossible for new entrants in your space to compete.
3. Experiment with 1-2 new channels
The traffic you’re getting from Google won’t last forever. Be ready for the inbound apocalypse by experimenting with 1-2 new marketing channels that your audience exists on and that you think you could be good at. Then, get really good at them.
4. Gradually expand to other channels
For most businesses, it would be a mistake to try to implement a bunch of new channels at the same time. Every channel is different, and it takes time to understand what works and doesn’t work on each one.
That’s why we recommend starting with 1-2, and only when you master one do you move on to a new one. Continue gradually expanding to new channels until it stops making sense, either because you don’t have the resources to do it well or you’ve conquered all the best channels for your business.
5. Change your blogging strategy when it stops yielding results
Stay vigilant, my friends. Continue monitoring the results you’re getting from your blog closely. If you reach a point where it stops yielding appropriate results, switch up your strategy. This could mean stopping blogging entirely or writing with a different goal in mind.
If you’re new to inbound marketing:
1. Adopt 2-3 channels and become proficient in them
Peter Caputa, CEO of Databox, said it best in a recent LinkedIn post:
“Unless you have a really big budget or a high domain authority, your content marketing strategy should not just be “publish more,” and it should not be dependent on getting ranked. That’s especially true if you’re simply sitting down and writing content based on your own expertise or what you’re reading. It’s really, really, really true if you are just reading what’s already online and trying to write a better version of content that exists already.”
Instead, we recommend businesses who are new to inbound marketing find 2-3 channels their audiences are on and get really good at them. Skip blogging altogether, or do it for reasons other than ranking on Google.
2.Master generative AI
Even though your content strategy isn’t centered on blogging, you can and should still use generative AI to scale your efforts. Leverage ChatGPT to create outlines for your podcast episodes and scripts for your TikTok videos. Use Dall-E to make original images for your YouTube thumbnails.
Using generative AI well does take some skill, so dedicate the time now to get really good at it. The tools will get easier to use, but now is the time to enjoy the first movers advantage.
3.Gradually expand to other channels
Just like the advice we gave to businesses who have experience with inbound, don’t try to do it all at once. Pick 2-3 channels at first and only move on to the next one after you’ve mastered a couple. This will prevent you from spreading your team too thin and increase the likelihood of your success.
The inbound apocalypse isn’t upon us yet, but it is coming.
Now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand. We have to acknowledge the impact the four horsemen are having on our inbound marketing results and update our playbooks before it’s too late.
Writing more blog articles isn’t going to save us. We need to adopt new goals, channels, tools, and tactics to thrive in this hostile new environment.
Let’s get it!