The Inbound Marketing and SEO Relationship (Simplified)

by Dustin J. Hall | 4 MIN READ


Not a week goes by that I don't get asked, "You provide inbound marketing services, eh? Isn't that basically SEO?"

Surely a question this common must mean that the answer is not easily accessible or understandable to those asking, right?

Regardless of the cause, it's well worth the effort to straighten out the SEO and inbound marketing relationship in the simplest terms possible. That's what this article is all about.

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 interact with each other within a more comprehensive digital marketing strategy.

Why the Inbound & SEO Confusion Exists

One reason many people get inbound marketing and SEO confused is because SEO companies and inbound marketing agencies often offer services that tout the same benefits: drive more traffic & generate more leads.

Another possible reason the SEO and inbound marketing confusion exists stems from agencies and contractors falling short in accurately describing the impact and scope of their offerings.

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!

Role of SEO in the Inbound Marketing Methodology

For all intensive purposes, SEO is one of the most powerful weapons within the inbound marketing 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 elements

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 strategy

I know, I know, SEO can still play in a role in other facets such as email, smart content and calls-to-action but most everyone would agree that the primary components where SEO has the most impact 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 - both seeking to deliver traffic and lead growth for the company engaging in these methodologies.

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Originally published July 10, 2014. Updated January 24, 2018.