Inbound marketing vs. SEO: what's the difference?

Rob White avatar
Rob White

Mar 16, 2021


Inbound Marketing vs SEO

Inbound marketing and SEO (search engine optimisation) are two activities with a high degree of overlap. You can't do good inbound marketing without SEO and thanks to Google, you can't do SEO without accidentally doing some inbound marketing best practice.

Inbound vs. SEO is a question that comes up rather a lot. And that's not surprising given how blurred the lines are. They're both important for websites and content marketing and are, to a great extent, strategies of each other. The difference between inbound and SEO is really about goals.

What's the difference between inbound marketing and SEO?

Inbound marketing is a holistic view of what content can do to generate leads and opportunities. SEO is a tactic for increasing organic search traffic by optimising content for user search queries.

If you want to increase organic traffic, you need SEO. But, if you want to use your website and your content to generate leads, you need to do some inbound marketing.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them.


Inbound marketing is a means of generating opportunities without interrupting them. It maps your digital marketing with the stages of the buying process in a way that helps you to:

  • Attract visitors to your website while they are researching their problems
  • Convert anonymous visitors into known leads as they dig deeper into their problems and seek richer information about potential solutions
  • Close customers by supporting their decision-making and capitalising on earned trust
  • Delight customers by treating them with care, then turning them into promoters of your brand

By creating content that engages and meets a user's need, they learn and qualify and develop preference naturally. You create a natural structure with appropriate calls to action and reinforce all that activity with paid search, social media, etc.

Read our Introduction to B2B Inbound Marketing here and learn all about this  powerful approach to generating leads and sales.

If this is right, your website can start generating qualified leads that are ready to take the next step towards becoming a customer. To achieve this goal with a website, you need to create content. And to make sure that content can be found by the right searcher at the right moment, you need to make sure it's optimised for search.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.


Google's various algorithm updates have made the search engine much more user-focused. This means that the more you do to meet a searcher's need and service that need in a positive and easy-to-use way, your search ranking will increase.

The step-by-step guide to SEO is as follows:

  • Perform initial keyword research
  • Align your website to keyword topics
  • Optimise your website pages thoroughly
  • Create supporting content and optimise for keywords
  • Monitor, adapt, and improve performance over time

Being at the top of the search results gets you more traffic. By meeting a specific need well, you increase the quality of that traffic. There are many SEO quick wins that can get you ranking higher. But if you want to generate high-quality traffic that generates qualified leads and opportunities, you need to make sure your content is structured to encourage the right kind of action.

Content is where inbound and SEO meet

Inbound is a strategy for generating leads through content. SEO is a tactic to facilitate that strategy by putting the content in front of the right person at the right time. Thanks to Google, what’s best for SEO is the creation of high-quality content that serves the searcher's intent.


It's a common misconception that focusing on technical SEO alone (meta tags, backlinks, website quality etc.) will naturally lead to more traffic and thus more sales. But in our experience, that isn't the case. Traffic will increase, but there's little in technical SEO that can turn a curious visitor into a customer.

Inbound marketing is a strategy that builds on the visibility of a well-optimised website and uses content to fuel the sales pipeline.

And when it comes to B2B inbound marketing, that's the end goal.

Inbound Marketing

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