News Flash: PPC Is Inbound Marketing


What is Inbound Marketing? The Story of How PPC Became "In"

The industry is all a-buzz today with Rand Fishkin’s announcement that SEOmoz is relaunching and rebranding as simply Moz. They are distancing themselves from their history as an SEO company and positioning themselves as a provider of more general marketing tools, with a focus on “inbound marketing,” the phrase that local Boston company HubSpot and others made (relatively) famous.

I couldn’t help but notice that Rand’s blog post explaining the change included a revision of a diagram he had previously used when discussing inbound marketing. Here’s the new diagram, which distinguishes between inbound marketing and “interruption marketing”:

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing vs. Interruption Marketing (via SEOmoz)

And here’s the old diagram, from Rand’s March 2011 blog post:

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing! (via SEOmoz)

Notice anything missing? That’s right, PPC is mysteriously missing! In the new diagram, PPC is right next to SEO, at the top of the list - where I think it belongs! So what changed?

What (TF) Is Inbound Marketing, Anyway?

Earlier this year, there was a long thread at, started by our own Victor Pan, who petitioned for a PPC category on the site. Tad Chef responded by saying that “buying ads is outbound”:

Inbound Marketing Definition

Enjoy this heavy-weight tete-a-tete

Ian Howells echoed this idea, saying: “Not that I hate on paid search, but erm… the site is called PPC is paid media, which is the polar opposite.”

Martin McDonald then followed up on the topic in a post called “WTF is Inbound Marketing, Anyway?” at his blog, which drew another long chain of comments. Martin disagreed with both Tad and Ian:

Now frankly, I’m in disagreement with both of the above. PPC is absolutely a part of inbound marketing by my standards. My definition of inbound revolves around being somewhere with the answer when someone is looking for it, NOT sticking an advert for a product or service in front of their faces. That absolutely includes PPC!

This sparked another thread at, with people continuing to debate whether PPC, being a form of paid media, qualifies as inbound marketing.

Is PPC included in Inbound Marketing?

Ed Fry hops unsolicited into the fray

The answer, as Ed Fry points out, really depends on how you define inbound marketing. Is it about cost of distribution, or context?

Free vs. Paid, Interruption vs. Flow

Some people in the web marketing space have suggested that PPC shouldn’t be included in “inbound marketing” because you have to pay for placement. But we take a different view. Inbound marketing is any kind of marketing that reaches customers when they go looking for something to buy. The whole point of introducing a term like “inbound marketing” is to create a more nuanced distinction than just “free marketing” and “paid marketing.” Any marketer who manages a budget knows that no form of marketing is truly “free.” Our friends at HubSpot and the newly dubbed Moz, sell products that helps you manage and execute on inbound campaigns. They know that if they called what they’re selling – a platform for blogging and SEO – “free marketing,” it would  be a contradiction in terms. Of course, you can do inbound marketing without paying for software to help manage the process, but you’re either going to be paying someone or a team of people to do it (a blogger, a social media manager, an SEO specialist, etc.) or you’re going to be doing it yourself.  And if you’re like many of our customers, business owners, any time you spend on inbound marketing is time you can’t spend on other business activities. All those activities have a cost. That’s why “free marketing” doesn’t cut it.

It makes much more sense to think of “inbound marketing” as the opposite of “outbound marketing,” or “interruption marketing,” than as the opposite of “free marketing” (which doesn’t exist). By this definition, inbound marketing is any kind of marketing that reaches customers when they go looking for something to buy.

For example: if you own a local pizza joint and you go around stick fliers and menus under people’s windshield wipers and rubber-banding them to their doorknobs all the time, that’s outbound or interruption marketing, because you’re coming to them and getting in their face, even though you have no idea whether they want pizza or even like pizza.

But if someone in your area searches for “pizza” on their mobile phone at 5 pm, and they get an organic local listing or a mobile PPC ad from your businesses, that’s contextual. Neither option is interrupting the flow of what they’re doing. Either way, you’re giving them information they were already looking for. Because PPC, like SEO, is contextual and query-triggered, it’s inbound marketing. Clearly, Rand and the Moz team realized this sometime in the past couple of years, and that’s part of why they’re changing their position.

Display ads are considered inbound marketing based on this definition

No Marketing Channel is Free

All marketing channels are paid media. SEO requires tremendous effort. Thousands of new websites are launched every day, but the first page of the search results isn’t getting any bigger. In fact, if we look at the trends in mobile search, if anything, the SERP is getting smaller! That means the competition to get on the first page of Google is getting exponentially greater all the time.

Ian Lurie pointed out recently, SEO is a zero-sum game. There’s only room for 10 organic listings on the first page (if you’re lucky). And if someone else takes those spots, that means you can’t!

I’m glad that more marketers including Rand Fishkin and I realize that PPC is inbound marketing, it is sustainable, and it does work. Hopefully over time more will come to the same conclusion.

Are you on board yet? And if not, why not?

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May 29, 2013

Nice post Larry. The way you define inbound marketing, I can see how PPC fits into that.I would ask though why does PPC have to be "inbound marketing?"Why can't it just be....PPC?The term "inbound marketing" is owned in the search results by Hubspot. It baffles my mind when I see SEO consultants using the term. The whole point of Hubspot is to do online marketing on your own (at a hefty cost). I'd hate to start seeing PPC experts label themselves as "inbound experts" as well. Anywho, just some food for thought. I think generic terms: online marketing, PPC, SEO, CRO are more recognized and a better way for most agencies/consultants to identify their skills. 

Elisa Gabbert
May 29, 2013

I also always associated "inbound marketing" with HubSpot. But and the rebranded Moz indicate that inbound marketing is getting more traction as a term/concept. We'll see if it sticks around!

Larry Kim
May 29, 2013

Thanks scott. I think it has to do with standing up for what I believe and know to be true - that the old delineation of "free" vs "paid" marketing channels was ridiculous for reasons articulated in the post. PPC was being lumped in with billboard advertising and all sorts of other weird things that didn't make any sense and was just confusing people. So, i am happy that Rand has set the record straight in regards to this matter.

Aaron Eisberg
Jun 04, 2013

Interesting thought Scott. I've always considered PPC inbound, but having it just be "PPC" seems to make the most sense to me.

Mary Green
May 29, 2013

I can see your point about PPC, but I'm still not convinced. Almost all other forms of inbound are providing content or education to get more followers, leads, etc. PPC is advertising, and it is interrupting my search.

Elisa Gabbert
May 29, 2013

Out of curiosity what do you think about "supporting/sponsoring events," also on the inbound side according to Moz's chart, but closer to advertising than education/content?

Larry Kim
May 29, 2013

Hi Mary! thanks for this note. I'm not sure why you think a PPC ad can't point to educational content. In PPC, you have full control over the destination URL and contents of the landing pages. It's the same in SEO how you have (some) control over how your organic listing appears and the contents of the page.

Aaron Eisberg
Jun 04, 2013


Shawn McCarthy
May 30, 2013

Thought I would help out, here.PPC is not as invasive as you think. Ads are only displayed when a search is commercial in nature in the first place.If you were searching for "Brad Pitt" you would likely not see any ads because there is obviously no commercial intent. Using Larry's example, if you search for "pizza", you will see ads but it is highly likely that there is commercial intent there. (I buy and consume pizza a lot more than I research it). In conclusion, wouldn't you want to be seen by your potential lead/customer when their intent is commercial? Wouldn't that be considered inbound since they're looking for a solution that you provide? If your strategy is purely to provide educational content then you'll have a bunch of well-educated prospects that find your competitors when they're ready to buy. 

Tim Flint
May 30, 2013

I am with Shawn. PPC done right is the furthest thing from interrupting your search. Why else would PPC advertisiers reach 10%+ click through rates on their good campaigns. It happens because the customer was searching for the ads. There are a lot of keywords where there are likely more clicks on ads then there are clicks on organic results.Overall, PPC is absolutely inbound. Inbound is about giving customers what they are looking for, not about just providing free educational resources or free entertainment. To me inbound marketing is a marketing form that is demand harvesting. While other forms of advertising such as TV, direct mail, etc. are focused on demand generation. While there is often cross-over between demand harvesting and demand generating marketing activities, generally a method of marketing is better at one, than the other. 

AJ Wilcox
May 30, 2013

I'm still baffled by the onlline marketing community rallying behind the term "inbound marketing." I've been told that the reason is that 'online', 'digital', and 'Internet' marketing sounds low quality to some. Personally, I prefer 'online marketing' or 'digital marketing' as it encompasses everything I do. PPC on the Search network is definitely inbound by any definition. The Display network is not, since it's interruption marketing. I buy banner ads, and retargeting. Does that mean I can't post articles about Display network or retargeting on It all feels like a poor decision all around. I refuse to adopt a term that tries to be more general than "SEO & PPC", and yet, still excludes half of the PPC.

Larry Kim
May 30, 2013

Agreed - I happen to believe that display ads when used with remarketing is inbound marketing.But still happy to see PPC at the top of the list here.

Shawn McCarthy
May 30, 2013

Well put, Larry! I always thought of PPC as a form of inbound and am actually shocked that there's even a debate about it.Even more shocking is that the "inbound" folks of yesterday put themselves in a separate camp from the PPC folks and claimed that their thing was better. Meanwhile, back in PPC Land most of us (smart) PPC folks were building our inbound channels with PPC at the helm (where it should be), informing and supporting all the other channels. 

Phil Segal
May 30, 2013

The ironic thing is that the whole point of SEO is really to try to do what PPC allows you to do automatically: put your best message forward when relevant in order to attract a click and move the visitor through a desired conversion funnel. All the machinations of SEO are just jumping through the latest algorithmic hoops in order to accomplish that goal.Additionally, it seems to me that much of Display Advertising (and certainly Retargeting) should be considered Inbound/Digital/whatever as well. Perhaps not the giant demographically targeted media buys, but certainly a keyword contextual display ad can be just as relevant as any other type of search advertising. That's not exactly showing on top of boobs during the Super Bowl, so I'm not sure it could be classified as 'interupt marketing' to the same extent as TV. 

Elisa Gabbert
May 30, 2013

Great points.

Robert Brady
May 30, 2013

These battles over labels remind me of something my dad taught me (he's a farmer). It went something like this:Dad: What is a vegetable?Me: [some lame definition]Dad: Would you agree that all these are vegetables? Broccoli, Celery, Carrots, Potatoes, Lettuce, Peas?Me: Yes.Dad: Broccoli is a flower. Celery is the stem. Carrots are the root. Potatoes are tubors (different than the root). Lettuce is the leaf. Peas are seeds. You see, "vegetable" isn't well defined so it includes lots of things.The moral of my little story is this: Labels are most often the means of exclusion, so I'm not a big fan. And secondly, it all depends on who is doing the defining, which doesn't help.

Tim Flint
May 30, 2013

Great story. And to me it feels like we always fight about the medium, when we should be worried about the form. Is PPC, SEO, Email, right for you? I don't know until I learn about your business and your customers. As your business and your customers should dictate your marketing medium choices.

Web Marketing Specialist
May 30, 2013

Great Points Larry!  Agreed that PPC is definetely inbound marketing. It's search (keyword based )marketing plain and simple.  Getting to the top of Google's organic results costs money and so does PPC.  

Shay Wright
May 30, 2013

I like your definition of inbound marketing, and I agree with it. Inbound marketing should be considered any type of marketing that reaches customers when they're looking for something to buy. For some reason, PPC has developed a bad rap over the past few years. Some of that has probably been due to so many people focusing on SEO and moving away from PPC, but PPC is still a very legitimate and important part of inbound marketing in my opinion.

Traffic Salad
May 30, 2013

That's a great definition of inbound marketing. Pay per click advertising that provides great value and assist customers with finding the product that they are looking for can indeed be an effective marketing strategy. The thing is you can use PPC (before) to promote low quality products and this is not a good method of promotion. But if you have a great product and service, then utilizing paid advertising can definitely help raise the awareness of your product.

Randall Magwood
May 30, 2013

The part about SEO and how the SERP's are getting "smaller" surprised me. But when you broke it down and showed how competition is getting rampant... it made me think about my SEO strategy, and just start ranking high for Yahoo and Bing.

Pedro Pereira
May 31, 2013

I believe that Inbound marketing includes all the platforms in the digital marketing....Great article btw :)

Jun 01, 2013

I love the fact that SEOmoz is revamping their business. I think it is for the best and their Inbound Marketing strategieswill become beneficial to bloggers and marketers. This was a great read. Thanks again!    

Petr Macek
Jun 02, 2013

I fully agree with this article, I also think that display network ads when targeted carefully should belong under inbound marketing, when someone reads about dog food and I present them with dog food offer in a banner I am more less providing an answer/solution to their needs, right? The same goes with remarketing ads, they (when set up correctly) also react to someone's need (with time delay). Nothing is black or white but carefully implemented display network ads should be part of inbound, right?

Ward Greunke
Jun 06, 2013

One distinction that might help is the fact that PPC is an expense while content is an asset.  As soon as you turn off PPC, the traffic stops but good content can continue to drive traffic long after the originator has left the company.

Elisa Gabbert
Jun 06, 2013

@Ward, content is an expense too so I'm not sure how that distinction works? People who are doing PPC right are getting ROI from it -- yes it's an expense, but they're bringing in more than they're spending.

Touch Point
Jun 26, 2013

I also think it's kinda funny how we all think we have to give everything special names (i.e. Inbound Marketing).  But regardless, it is important.  And PPC should be a part of it, especially for new websites that are trying to get some initial traffic flowing.

Alex Romero
Jul 04, 2013

Hi Larry, That's an excellent point...I had never thought about it that way. I do think inbound marketing is for a slightly more patient soul than outbound marketing platform. The one thing that can have a short-term effect is if you write something clever in a blog article that hits the front page of one of the social bookmarking sites. From time to time one of our articles hits the front page of digg and on those days we go from an average of about 1000 visitors/day to 16,000 that particular day. Although those 16,000 aren't all well qualified for the type of business we are in, there are a decent percentage that are and we get a decent short-term bump from it.

Academic Ads
Jul 16, 2013

Isn't inbound marketing just a shiny catch phrase for quality content marketing that has pull and entices the end user?

Aug 02, 2013

Trade Shows is inbound.  They come to your booth.  

William Steward
Aug 20, 2013

Totally agree with you on this, that PPC can be part of an inbound marketing strategy. Whether you are investing money to generate more links (via distributing infographics that take a week to make, producing guest posts, buying links or using whatever white/black hat techniques you see fit) and rank higher in organic search results, or buying higher positions via Adwords, you're spending money on effectively displaying more prominently in search results. PPC in search results is very different to most outbound marketing, so far as you are putting a relevant ad in front of people when they are looking for you, rather than shoving a banner in front of everyone, whether they are interested or not.It's a debate that will rage on though, but largely one of semantics. If you can generate positive ROI on your Adwords ads, does it really matter whether you lump it in with part of your "inbound" or "outbound" marketing strategy? Most companies will always use elements of both, and with any definition like this, there's always going to be certain methods which tread the line between the two. It's not black and white.

Sean Rasmussen
Aug 30, 2013

Hi Larry,PPC is inbound IMO. Whether or not it's interruption depends if it's forced infront of you as a pop-up banner or simply an adwords listing.It's interesting that SEOMoz rebrands themselves as Moz. Clever move. The term SEO will merge into another term soon and we will just call it Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing, or whatever suits the market place and keeps Google happy.Interesting article. Keep up the great work! 

Windscreen Replacement London
Oct 03, 2013

PPC is not being inbound is confusing for some, I can understand it,from obvious point most folks would put it as inbound, and th epoint someone made that because even though you can point to ads to educational content, do the figures add upas we all know tightly orhanised landing page based around keyword convert better.

Matthew White
Nov 13, 2013

Great graphic on drawing the distinctions between interruption vs inbound!

Vinny Polston
Dec 06, 2013

Hey Larry,Really great write-up! I really like the interruption marketing vs inbound marketing infographic. Have you read into what Marcus Sheridan talks about on the sales lion? Maybe worth taking a look at.Thanks again!-Vinny Polston, the Big Brand Examiner

Joel Black
Dec 24, 2013

We are switching our entire marketing strategy to inbound in 2014. I think PPC is in the middle, but if used correctly such as remarketing, can be an inbound strategy. We use Wordstream to manage PPC by the way. We also wrote a supporting article about inbound marketing here

Jan 15, 2014

Thanks to all for sharing this valuable information 

Abhijit Gupta
Feb 07, 2014

Fantastic post!!!Thanks for sharing a perfect write-up here you have mentioned some of the best tips for getting inbound links in a real way and to get appreciated by search engine too.

Wilson Tiong
Feb 23, 2014

Great post!I love all the tips for getting legal inbound links to our site. This is the best way to get quality backlink.

Mar 18, 2014

Oh it's kind of funny to read this article after almost a year! It's now easy to decide wheter it was correct or not. Inbound marketing has evolved and Larry wasn't wrong in his statements here. The best thing of inbound marketing trend is that a lot of useful tools were invented, which allow to not only perform inbound marketing actions but also combine to this strategy social media or social signals.

May 07, 2014

Hi Larry, I know it been a while since you wrote this article and I discovered it late.It makes great sense to consider Inbound marketing as contextual as opposed to free and against that backdrop it makes a great deal of sense to call PPC an 'inbound' marketing. We could possible then also call 'Remarketing' as Inbound, since it serves ads to only those particular people who have expressed interest in our category/product a little earlier? That being what it is, I would really love to hear your views on whether and how outbound and inbound marketing are linked, and if you think they are, how they should work together. I cannot really agee with the Pizza example. How many people we know, would really search for 'pizza' on a search engine? I know, I wouldn't. I would pick up and call a Pizza Hut, Dominoes or whatever. Why? They have top of my mind recall at the mention of the word 'pizza' - maybe due to their 'outbound' efforts.  Is it then that the concept of 'Inbound Marketing' is only applicable to certain types of businesses? Outbound is still effective, if costly, isn't it? It would be really interesting to hear your opinions.    

May 15, 2014

This thing with PPC is that it can be very niche specific, in terms of ROI and conversions. Many of our clients are using PPC and not finding they are getting the ROI they desire compared to organic SEO. In other niches clients are getting fantastic results. Demographics play a huge part, and we've almost nailed the deomographic ad blind metric in our part of the world. I agree it's important can work gangbusters in certain markets, but not all.

Dec 23, 2014

I really lked this article. It helped me undertand better the difference between inbound and outbound marketing.

The images displayed make it so easy to understand and see the many components of a great inbound marketing practice.

Talking about PPC, the statement that "No Marketing Channel Is Free" just answer perfectly the question whether PPC shoud be considered Inbound or Outbound. Inbound is my conclusion.=D

Great Blog! Keep it up!

Jonathan Proaño

Apr 01, 2015


Did you change your mind about inbound marketing after years or you are thinking in the same way? If inbound marketing is a way of doing PPC, why there is a need for such term like in-bound?
Actually I really wonder about your thoughts on my article I just wrote.

inboundie - inbound marketing blog

tyler malin
May 06, 2015

The changes over at Moz appeared to have worked out for them :) I have always believed that PPC is the best way to drill into assumptions about audience that end up informing SEO, keyword strategy and ultimately content and all inbound. It is the quickest way, for a new market entrant, to get real audience engaged and test.

Nov 02, 2015

Awesome Post !!! Thanks for sharing......!!!

Jul 26, 2017

Thanks for sharing!

Elit SEO
Nov 07, 2017

May be This is part of my series on Building a Sales and Marketing Machine

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