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The Inbound Sales and Marketing Blog

The Vocabulary of Inbound Marketing: The Layperson’s Guide to Terms You Need to Know

by Bryant Duhon on February 4, 2016

Jargon can kill understanding. Here are common phrases in inbound marketing explained.Every industry has its shorthand and insider-speak. Inbound marketing is no exception.

We have a good, mostly lingo free explanation (we choose to think!) of inbound here on our site.

But we do find ourselves talking with clients and prospects about CTAs, downloadable assets, campaigns, smart lists, and smart CTAs and assume they know what we’re talking about. And that’s not, uh, smart on our part.

Here’s a quick guide to what all this stuff really means.

I’ll start with Inbound and then go in alphabetical order after that.


Inbound marketing focuses on creating helpful content that pulls your buyer toward your website where they can learn more about you, your expertise and knowledge, and what you sell on their own time – without being interrupted with ads or traditional marketing. By exchanging useful content for demographic information (especially email), inbound turns browsers into leads and, eventually, leads into customers. 

The goal of creating useful content is so that when the buyer looks for an answer online, you're the answer to their question in the form of a result spit out by Google (or Yahoo or Bing).

Inbound is “pull” marketing in that you create useful content as assets for download AND design your website so that it too is useful and informative for customers and potential customers. Because nearly every purchase decision begins in a search box online, a good inbound strategy will bring more people to you so that you don’t have to chase (cold call, email blasts to purchased lists, events, etc.) as much. We say “as much” because – while we know inbound is awesome – other sales strategies continue to have important roles in lead acquisition and sales.

Inbound pulls customers to you so that you don’t have to be annoying any more.



A useful piece of content, such as an ebook, that educates your customer. Anything you create and/or share to become a recognized expert in your industry. Often used as an offer on a landing page. Buyers like to download them.



Short for “Web log,” blogs are a critical piece of an inbound marketing strategy. This is where you show your personality as a company, share your industry knowledge, and provide helpful advice and tips. By doing so, you

  • Showcase your expertise
  • Establish trust with both customers and potential customers
  • Increase the likelihood of being found by search engines. Blogs should be updated at least weekly, and search engines like new content. Plus, the more pages you have on your website, the more pages you have for Google to search and then show on a search results page. 

If your view of blogs was formed 20 years ago and you think blogging is a waste of time, then you’re missing out on the most important element of a great content strategy.


Buyer 2.0

A shorthand way that we and others use to describe how people purchase products now:

  • We start and research alternatives online
  • We look for online reviews and testimonials (you look at the ratings on Amazon before you buy things, right?)
  • When partnering with a service provider or consultant, we want to see demonstrated expertise (like a great blog)
  • We’ll often complete the entire purchase decision – and make the purchase – online without ever speaking to anyone from the company


Buyer’s Journey

Per HubSpot: The buyer’s journey is the active research process a potential buyer goes through leading up to a purchase. The three stages are:

  • Awareness – I don’t know your company at all.
  • Consideration – You look great, you might fit my needs.
  • Decision – Should I purchase from you or someone else. 

These stages are idealized but are useful as you create content to guide visitors to your site from browsers to buyers.


CTAs (call to action)

Essentially, a set of words or an image that links to a landing page, submission form, or any other action you’d like a Web visitor or email recipient to take. CTAs are placed on Web pages, within emails, and within blog posts to move a visitor to take the action that you want them to take – download a whitepaper, watch a product demo video, sign up for an event . . . anything. They’re instrumental in building out the buyer’s path throughout your website. 



Campaigns begin with a content offer and use social media, great landing pages, blogs, and nurturing emails – all tracked in the HubSpot software – to create qualified leads for your sales team. Campaigns have a central theme and a target persona (see below for Persona). 



Not sure why, but marketers like to use this word to mean the actions of reading a blog, watching a video, or listening to a podcast. It’s almost always used in conjunction with “how visitors consume content.” Yes, it annoys me too – especially when I find myself saying it. 



Not only blog posts or whitepapers. Content is a catch all term that is used interchangeably to mean two things.

  • First, the delivery/format of you assets: video, ebooks, blogs, whitepapers, infographics, podcast, etc.
  • Secondly, what it is – an interview, a list, an instructional article, an essay, a cooking demonstration, a recipe.

The context of a conversation will usually help you keep these overlapping meanings straight.

In a nutshell – content is all of the stuff you can read, hear, or watch for knowledge or entertainment. Anything you can consume and, ideally, learn from. Getting your content right is a fundamental part of any inbound marketing plan’s success.



Simply means that an asset is not freely available, but is only available to members or subscribers or requires filling in a form to receive the asset. 



The word or phrase you enter into the search box and that the search engine uses to serve up the most relevant Web pages. More properly, this is evolving into keyword phrases as available information online continues to explode and as the search algorithms from Google, Bing, and Yahoo become more capable. For instance, a search for “shoes” (a short-tail keyword) will be near-useless. However, a search for the “best shoes for walking all day”(a long-tail keyword) will get you closer to the answer you really want.


Landing Page

A Web page created and designed to encourage a website visitor to trade their information for a useful asset. 


Lead Nurturing

Nurturing uses a sequence of emails to deliver progressively more valuable and finely-tuned information to a lead to move them toward making a decision to purchase from you. Lead nurturing begins when someone visits a landing page, fills in a form and clicks the submit button, and receives an asset. Based on the asset, a series of supplemental emails will be delivered to the lead over time. How the lead responds to the emails – opens them, downloads additional information, visits additional pages on your website – determines how quickly or if the lead becomes a qualified lead and ready to be handed to a salesperson. 


Lead Scoring

Assigning points based on a combination of visits to your website, email opens, clicks, asset downloads, and other Web-based activities that automatically creates scores to segment visitors as they move from unknowns, to potential leads, to leads, to customers. 



The useful marketing item (ebook, whitepaper, video, online demonstration, discount – this could be anything) that you want someone to have in exchange for their basic information – name, email address, company name, etc. 



A fictitious person and story based upon you ideal customer. We use them to craft campaigns and guide content, assets, websites, . . . everything involved in an inbound campaign. Personas are created through interviewing your customers; finding the common pain points, interests, and points of view; and then creating a story that will then guide marketing campaigns designed to reach this audience. 


Progressive Profiling

No one wants to fill out 15 fields in a form to receive an ebook. With progressive profiling, the first time someone interacts with your Web form, they’ll be asked for first name, last name, email address, and (maybe) company name. When they visit again and interact with another form, we already know their name and company, so different fields will appear – company size, number of employees, industry, phone number, etc. As a visitor completes more forms, we keep asking for additional demographic information until we have all of their information. This translates to less data entry for your sales reps (in fact, your sales reps SHOULD NEVER fill in forms for their prospects because it totally screws up – that’s the technical term – the ability of HubSpot to track that prospect through their buying journey).


Responsive Website

Designing a website so that it can be used as easily on a mobile device – phone or tablet – as it can on a laptop or PC. The website will detect what device it’s being viewed on and automatically adjust to deliver the best experience for the user. This isn’t only the ability to read the website, but also to use the website too – scroll, comment, use the navigation menu, etc. Because Google penalizes websites that aren’t mobile-friendly in search results, ALL website design will eventually become responsive design. 

Curious about your website (you should be)? Google has a free tool to analyze how mobile-friendly your site is. Click here to check your site.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Structuring and creating content in such a way that it’s search engine friendly. The most important piece of SEO is writing useful content for your customers – write for people, not machines. But, there are basic techniques to use:

  • Keywords
  • Metadata descriptions
  • Using alt-text for all images
  • Linking to relevant pages externally and internally
  • Creating a sitemap and submitting to all search engines
  • Using easy-to-understand URLs – youcompany.com/copiers instead of www.yourcompany.com/3491357^$*^copy-machines-buy-now*%*&)*64

Note that we are not a full-fledged SEO service. In-depth SEO optimization requires dedicated resources and skills – there is an entire industry devoted to devising strategies and providing software and services designed to increase the chances of having your website appear in a search result.


Smart CTA

If you have three assets and a lead has downloaded one of them, when they visit your site next, a smart CTA will show them the second asset. Already downloaded two of the three assets? That’s right, they see the final one. If they’ve downloaded all of the assets, you can then show a “contact us to get started” form, for example. 


Smart List

A dynamic list created when someone submits a form on your website. For example, a visitor becomes a lead by downloading “How to Understand Copiers.” They are then added to a smart list within a campaign based on that asset and then nurtured. Common smart lists are for leads and qualified leads. Once a lead has a high enough score, that lead becomes “qualified” and moves from the “lead” smart list to the “qualified” smart list. 


Social Media

This isn’t playing around on Facebook. It’s using various social channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) to simultaneously distribute your content to share your expertise and to interact with customers, potential customers, and others to share your personality and be helpful online. It’s about answering questions people ask online. It’s about sharing other people’s social posts because the information is too good NOT to share. 


Social Media Engagement

Don’t use your social channels to blast out what YOU do, what YOU sell, how smart YOU are. You do want to share out your good work – blogs, ebooks, etc. MORE importantly, you want to share other people’s work and building a discussion around it. Engagement is “talking” to your customers online – whether that’s a 140 character tweet thanking someone for sharing your blog post or becoming a customer or having an online conversation on LinkedIn or Facebook. Engagement, done well, makes your company more human – and develops trust over time. 



It’s not a tactic. Inbound encompasses more than just a set of marketing things to do, it’s a company-level, big picture view of how you want to grow your business. 


Thank you Page

After someone completes a form and clicks submit, a thank you page appears with information about the offer – as well as a secondary offer. 



We buy from people we trust. When you find a mechanic you trust, do you shop around after that or continue taking your car back to his shop? If you don’t think trust is important, think about how and where you shop. Then think about how your customers view your business.

I wrote an article using the importance of trust as a starting point. Read it here: How Customer Personas Can Help Build Trust and Brand Loyalty.


Curious about another word or phrase that I didn’t cover here, let me know in the comments section below. Continue your inbound education by reading our free ebook; click on the green box below.

Questions about Lead Gen and Inbound? Download our Inbound Marketing eBook here.

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Inbound Sales, HubSpot, Resources