Inbound Marketing & SEO: Their Relationship Simplified

by Dustin J. Hall | MIN READ


Not a week goes by that I don't get asked, "Inbound marketing, eh? Isn't that like SEO?" A question this common must mean that the answer is not easily accessible (or understandable), right?

So, I woke up this morning and felt determined to set this thing straight. At the very least, create an article I can refer people to upon asking.

If you or your company leverages digital marketing to any degree, understanding the relationship between inbound marketing and SEO is important to running succesful campaigns and even selecting the right agencies. For business owners and marketers, it's especially important to understand how these two digital forces not combat each other, but rather compliment each other within a more comprehensive digital marketing methodology.

Without further ado, I present to you the simplified relationship between inbound marketing & SEO.

First, a Glance at Why This Confusion Exists

One reason many people get inbound marketing and SEO confused is because SEO companies and inbound marketing agencies often, mistakenly, tout the same benefits: Drive more traffic & gain more leads.

Another possible reason the SEO/inbound marketing confusion exists stems from inbound agencies falling short on the true impact and scope their offering. Perhaps the agency is newer, inexperienced or even unaware of their full service offering and it's benefits. Either way, they are unknowingly tossing themselves into a sea of sameness by matching (and thus combating) results gained from SEO companies.

While there are differences in the depth and consistency of results gained between the two, the purpose of this particular article is to simply explain their relationship. And gosh darn it, I'm sticking to it!

SEO's Role in the Inbound Marketing Methodology

For all intensive purposes, SEO is a powerful weapon within the inbound armory. Inbound marketing consists of a broad range of digital activities and strategies, many of which require acute knowledge of SEO best practices. Without a sound understanding of SEO, even some of the sweetest inbound campaigns can quickly turn sour since so much of inbound's success hinges on content.

Here's a quick look at the general inbound marketing methodology and it's primary features:

inbound marketing seo

Now, here's a look at where SEO fits within that same inbound methodology. Notice how much it plays a role in many of the strategies below.

inbound marketing seo

I know, I know, SEO can still play in a role in other facets such as email, smart content and calls-to-action but I think we as inbound marketers can all agree the primary components are listed above. 


SEO and inbound marketing are not the same thing. Nor are they opposing forces. They compliment each other in a harmonious, symbiotic fashion that seeks to deliver similar results for their client. In my opinion, the best possible outcomes consist of inbound marketing services run by an agency with ample SEO experience. 

What's your take on the relationship between SEO and inbound marketing?


Originally published July 10, 2014. Updated February 7, 2017.