The Difference Between Inbound and Content Marketing Explained


My company, CarverTC, is an inbound marketing company. People often ask, "what's the difference between inbound and content marketing? Don't you do content marketing?" Yes, in fact, we do content marketing, but the terms inbound marketing and content marketing are not interchangeable. Content marketing is a component of inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is so much more than content marketing. Inbound marketing is a set of tools, technologies, and processes that work together to generate traffic to your website, and from that traffic leads, that you will eventually convert into customers. Stated another way, inbound marketing is the way you make your website earn money for you. But, in my opinion, inbound marketing is the best, and most accessible process-driven methodology that can consistently help you sell your products and services online. In this article, I'll break down the simple, essential components of inbound marketing, and why you need them. 

What is Content Marketing

Content marketing means different things to different marketing teams. In the broadest sense, content marketing is using content to market products and services. Content can be designed for online use, such as blog posts, infographics, videos, and SlideShares. Content can also be designed for offline brochures, and print media. When most people say content marketing, they're thinking of content that's created for online use to drive website traffic for marketing. Sometimes it goes a little further extending into downloadable content offers such as whitepapers or ebooks. 

Many inbound marketing agencies, ours included, do content marketing projects for their clients. We create great content that's optimized for SEO, targeted to the correct audience, visually compelling, and highly shareable. That content then gets plugged into an inbound marketing process. To have the best success attracting visitors, converting those visitors to leads, and nurturing them through the funnel to become customers, content must be part of a larger inbound marketing process. Content alone can generate traffic, but it can't capture leads, or move leads down your sales funnel qualifying them, and eventually turn them into paying customers. That's what inbound marketing does. 

What is Inbound Marketing?

I'll say it again, inbound marketing is a set of tools, technologies, and processes that work together to drive traffic to a website, capture leads, and work to convert those leads into customers. Content is an essential part of that. Your content is what drives traffic to your blog, social sites, or other pages. The difference is in the tools, technologies, and process. To work well, inbound marketing requires much more than content. It also requires the following:

  • Contact capture. To capture contacts, either by tracking visitors to your website, or by capturing contact information in website forms, or both.

  • Content offer delivery. To deliver special content offers like ebooks, whitepapers, step-by-step guides, or even discount coupons from your website or blog to capture contact information with those forms.

  • Calls-to-action. Images, buttons, that are integrated with your website, blog, and are even embedded into blog posts that visitors can click on to get one of your content offers.

  • Landing pages. Nice looking, well organized, SEO optimized web pages that visitors are directed to once they click a call-to-action so that they can learn more about, and sign up for your content offers.

  • Contact management (CRM) integration. A place to store, access, and share contact information once it's captured.

  • Email marketing integration. Content is used to build awareness and make visitors aware of content offers, but converting those leads to customers is often better handled through email. Email marketing integration is a must so that you can stay in touch with visitors who have opted in to your content offers, or subscribed to your blog. It's lets you stay in touch with them and move them down the sale funnel to, hopefully, turn them into a customer.

  • Marketing automation. Those email follow ups can be very time consuming. Strong marketing automation tools that let you create workflows, and send personalized emails from templates can help marketing and sales team maintain engagement and move more leads down the funnel.

  • Social publishing. This goes without saying. If you're publishing content, you need a tool to help get that content onto your social channels at the right time to the right audience.

Great inbound marketing tools have strong extras like the following:

  • On-page SEO optimization tools for your web pages and content.

  • Keyword discovery and optimization tools.

  • Social monitoring ranging from keyword to brand monitoring capabilities to make sure you stay on top of mentions of interest.

  • Analytics to show you how your website and content are performing.

Download our free ebook: The Essential Guide to Creating Buyer Personas and use our templates, resources, tips, and process to make your inbound awesome! 

The Difference is the Inbound Process and the Results

In the following graphic you can see the major steps required to create a campaign using the inbound process. 

These steps aren't presented in detail. The amount of work, and time each step takes varies based on a number for different factors. Each step and how long it takes is a topic for another time. The key point to understand is that, even though inbound marketing is complex, and involves a lot of work, the results are worth it. The following graphic shows why:


The inbound process helps itself achieve success. Buy using researched keywords that your targeted personas used, your brand will rank better for those keywords. More people searching for your products and services will find your content, and respond to your content offers. Inbound marketing tools and technologies, such as marketing automation can help ensure leads are acted upon quickly and appropriately. It can also automate simple, but time consuming follow up tasks, that must take place for leads at the top of the funnel. That gives your sales people more time to spend turning opportunities into sales at the bottom of the funnel.


No matter if you call what you do digital marketing, social media marketing, or content marketing, content is essential to the inbound marketing process. However, content alone can't drive traffic, capture leads, and turn leads into customers the way and inbound marketing does. In the end, that is your goal. Inbound marketing provides a repeatable process that generates consistent results. Inbound marketing tools and technologies facilitate the steps in the process, and help your digital marketing team save time, and do everything better.

Over to you

What are the strengths and weaknesses in your inbound marketing process? Let me know in the comments.