News Flash: PPC Is Inbound Marketing

The industry is all a-buzz today with Rand Fishkin’s announcement that SEOmoz is relaunching and rebranding as simply Moz. They are distancing themselves from their history as an SEO company and positioning themselves as a provider of more general marketing tools, with a focus on “inbound marketing,” the phrase that local Boston company HubSpot and others made (relatively) famous.

I couldn’t help but notice that Rand’s blog post explaining the change included a revision of a diagram he had previously used when discussing inbound marketing. Here’s the new diagram, which distinguishes between inbound marketing and “interruption marketing”:

What is Inbound Marketing?

And here’s the old diagram, from Rand’s March 2011 blog post:

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing

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Notice anything missing? That’s right, brainiacs, PPC is mysteriously missing! In the new diagram, PPC is right next to SEO, at the top of the list – where I think it belongs! So what changed?

What (TF) Is Inbound Marketing, Anyway?

Earlier this year, there was a long thread at, started by our own Victor Pan, who petitioned for a PPC category on the site. Tad Chef responded by saying that “buying ads is outbound”:

Inbound Marketing Definition

Ian Howells echoed this idea, saying: “Not that I hate on paid search, but erm… the site is called PPC is paid media, which is the polar opposite.”

Martin McDonald then followed up on the topic in a post called “WTF is Inbound Marketing, Anyway?” at his blog, which drew another long chain of comments. Martin disagreed with both Tad and Ian:

Now frankly, I’m in disagreement with both of the above. PPC is absolutely a part of inbound marketing by my standards. My definition of inbound revolves around being somewhere with the answer when someone is looking for it, NOT sticking an advert for a product or service in front of their faces. That absolutely includes PPC!

This sparked another thread at, with people continuing to debate whether PPC, being a form of paid media, qualifies as inbound marketing.

Is PPC included in Inbound Marketing?

The answer, as Ed Fry points out, really depends on how you define inbound marketing. Is it about cost of distribution, or context?

Free vs. Paid, Interruption vs. Flow

Some people in the web marketing space have suggested that PPC shouldn’t be included in “inbound marketing” because you have to pay for placement. But this doesn’t make any sense.

The whole point of introducing a term like “inbound marketing” is to create a more nuanced distinction than just “free marketing” and “paid marketing.” Any marketer who manages a budget knows that no form of marketing is truly “free.” HubSpot, one of the first proponents of inbound marketing, sells a product that helps you do it – how is that free? They know that if they called what they’re selling – a platform for blogging and SEO – “free marketing,” it would  be a contradiction in terms. Of course, you can do inbound marketing without HubSpot (duh), but you’re either going to be paying someone or a team of people to do it (a blogger, a social media manager, an SEO specialist, etc.) or you’re going to be doing it yourself, as the business owner, and any time you spend on inbound marketing is time you can’t spend on other business activities, so all those activities have a cost. That’s why “free marketing” doesn’t cut it.

It makes much more sense to think of “inbound marketing” as the opposite of “outbound marketing,” or “interruption marketing,” than as the opposite of “free marketing” (which doesn’t exist). By this definition, inbound marketing is any kind of marketing that reaches customers when they go looking for something to buy.

For example: if you own a local pizza joint and you go around stick fliers and menus under people’s windshield wipers and rubber-banding them to their doorknobs all the time, that’s outbound or interruption marketing, because you’re coming to them and getting in their face, even though you have no idea whether they want pizza or even like pizza.

But if someone in your area searches for “pizza” on their mobile phone at 5 pm, and they get an organic local listing or a mobile PPC ad from your businesses, that’s contextual. Neither option is interrupting the flow of what they’re doing. Either way, you’re giving them information they were already looking for. Because PPC, like SEO, is contextual and query-triggered, it’s inbound marketing. Clearly, Rand and the Moz team realized this sometime in the past couple of years, and that’s part of why they’re changing their position.

Is Paid Media Sustainable?

Hubspot has long argued that PPC is a marketing addiction. At the 2012 HubSpot user conference in Boston, Mark Roberge, a senior HubSpot executive, gave a talk where he claimed that paid search is not sustainable. Here’s a photo from that event!

is Paid Search Considered Inbound Marketing?

I won’t reiterate the irony of HubSpot being a paid product. But I will repeat that all media is paid media. SEO requires tremendous effort. Thousands of new websites are launched every day, but the first page of the search results isn’t getting any bigger. In fact, if we look at the trends in mobile search, if anything, the SERP is getting smaller! That means the competition to get on the first page of Google is getting exponentially greater all the time.

And of course Hubspot knows this. After all, we’ve even done joint webinars together on how to leverage PPC. And they spend 10’s of thousands of dollars per month on PPC advertising to generate leads in a cost effective and scalable way, according to tools like SpyFu and SEMRush:

Hubspot says Paid Search isn't inbound marketing and should be avoided yet they do a lot of paid search

So why all the anti-PPC rhetoric from HubSpot? An anonymous HubSpot executive explained to me that the public opposition to PPC in marketing materials was “just marketing rhetoric” since they found that having a villain to beat up was working for them.

And as Ian Lurie pointed out recently, SEO is a zero-sum game. There’s only room for 10 organic listings on the first page (if you’re lucky). And if someone else takes those spots, that means you can’t! If you think it’s going to be easy to compete with bigger businesses who have been doing it longer, you’re crazy. And you’re even crazier if you think SEO is free.

I’m glad that more marketers including Rand Fishkin and I realize that PPC is inbound marketing, it is sustainable, and it does work.

Are you on board yet? And if not, why not?

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