Outbound Marketing: What It Is & How It Works

Outbound Marketing: What It Is & How It Works

What Is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing is the practice of proactively sharing your brand’s message with your audience. It’s often referred to as traditional marketing.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is the practice of creating content to attract potential customers already interested in your business or a related topic.

So, what’s the goal of outbound marketing?

To drive awareness, leads, and paying customers to your brand’s products or services. Outbound marketers use strategies designed to reach as much of your audience as possible.

Traditional outbound marketing spans multiple distribution channels, including:

  • TV or radio commercials
  • Billboards
  • Ad placements in magazines or podcasts
  • Direct mail
  • Cold outreach via email or unsolicited calling
  • Industry or trade events

Outbound Marketing Versus Inbound Marketing

Outbound marketing involves distributing messages directly to your audience. It largely focuses on advertising.

Inbound marketing involves creating content that draws people to you based on their interest in your published content.

These methods include helpful content like blog posts, YouTube videos, or podcasts that educate your audience and drive awareness of your product or service.

One way to think of the difference is push versus pull.

You “push” your message to your audience with outbound marketing tactics.

A pre-roll ad on YouTube is a good example of outbound marketing. Viewers didn’t ask for the ad. Rather, you paid to grab their attention with an ad even though their goal was to watch something else.

A pre-roll ad on YouTube

Inbound marketing is a “pull” strategy.

For example, you can use content marketing strategies to drive inbound traffic to your website.

Visitors read or watch content and learn more about your business and how you can solve their problem. Eventually, this type of content can drive sales or other conversions for your business.

Do you have to choose between inbound and outbound marketing?

No. The decision to use one or the other isn’t a binary choice—both methods can complement each other.

Semrush infographic showing that combining inbound and outbound marketing brings better business results

For example, you can use digital ads to promote your blog posts. You can then retarget blog post visitors with ads that promote conversion-oriented marketing assets, such as whitepapers, case studies, or webinars.

These two approaches can work together to drive better and faster business results.

You can integrate both inbound and outbound marketing strategies to develop a holistic lead generation approach that aligns with your broader business objectives.

Using SEO in Your Inbound Marketing Strategy

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a strategy that increases the organic visibility of your website content using search engines like Google.

Optimizing your content for search engines is an essential content marketing best practice. It allows you to improve the reach of the content on your website in search engines, drawing more potential customers into your sphere of influence.

Examples of an inbound marketing strategy using SEO and content marketing include:

  1. Identifying a customer pain point
  2. Publishing an optimized blog post on that topic
  3. Monitoring the performance of content in search engines
  4. Using conversion rate optimization (CRO) to drive visitors to your site with high-value content

Benefits and Challenges of Outbound Marketing

Outbound Marketing Benefits

Unlike other forms of marketing, outbound strategies usually allow you to decide exactly when, where, and how your business is presented to potential customers.

Semrush infographic listing the pros and cons of outbound marketing

Larger potential audience

Outbound marketing allows you to target a larger pool of people than inbound marketing.

You’re not limited to audiences already seeking you out. You can target new audiences who’ve never heard of you.

Expanding your reach is particularly valuable when trying to penetrate a new market, launch a new product, or introduce a new offer.

Precision Targeting

Ad targeting on platforms like Facebook lets you direct your message to a specific audience.

Many outbound marketing tactics (such as Facebook ads, direct mail, or cold email/direct message) can be precisely targeted. Audiences are targeted based on demographic information or previous interactions they’ve had with your content.

For example, you can show one ad to 21- to 25-year-olds in Ohio and a different version of the ad to 30- to 35-year-olds in Kentucky.

Creating new audience for Facebook ads

Here are a few other examples of how precise you can get with outbound marketing techniques:

  • Set up a Facebook ads campaign targeting women aged 30-40 years old
  • Send a direct mail piece to households in a specific zip code
  • Send a LinkedIn InMail message to marketing directors of technology companies based in California

Speed of Results

Outbound marketing can generate traffic or sales almost instantly with a digital ads campaign.

Generating that same traffic from search engines might take months or years.

This tactic is great if you need to hit a specific sales quota or quarterly revenue goal. You can dial outbound strategies up or down to drive more business when they need it most.

Cost Control

With most outbound marketing, you have precise control over how much you spend and when you spend it by setting caps and targeting cost per click (CPC) prices. Either by committing to an upfront price (e.g., to purchase a billboard ad placement) or with spend control for digital ads.

That means it’s easier to stay within a set budget.

Measurable Return on Investment

Calculating the return on investment (ROI) for an outbound marketing campaign is straightforward: Divide your net gain by your cost of investment and multiply that by 100.

Return on investment (ROI) formula

And the data on ROI for outbound marketing is quite compelling. According to Google, pay-per-click (PPC) ads earn $2 for every $1 spent (100% ROI).

While tracking ROI is easy for channels like digital ads and direct mail, there isn’t an equivalent measurement for channels that focus on brand awareness like billboards or TV ads.

Outbound Marketing Challenges

Ad resistance and avoidance

People have a natural resistance to being sold to and are therefore resistant to ads.

Because of this, many people—perhaps even most people—tune out the thousands of advertisements they see and hear every day. Tools like ad blockers take this one step further by removing ads from their visibility altogether.


When targeting a high-value audience, you compete with many other brands, which increases costs.

For example, if you’re running a Google Ads campaign and are targeting a highly competitive keyword, you could be paying up to $50 per click. Or more!

The same is true with Facebook ads. During the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping season, the marketplace is flooded with advertisements, which usually drives up your cost for people to see your ads.


Digital ad platforms can be hard to master.

Running an ad on platforms like Google Ads or Instagram is relatively easy. Still, the science of optimizing for the best results is a discipline that some professionals spend years learning.

Plus, the platforms are constantly changing. You’ll want to stay up to date with current trends and best practices to compete with other brands using those platforms.

When to Use Outbound Marketing

The key to effective outbound marketing is using it at the right time and place within your overall marketing strategy.

Outbound marketing can be especially powerful when combined with inbound marketing.

For example, a single ad can’t fully educate a potential customer on your solution. But it can highlight a pain point and drive traffic to a blog post with more details.

Not all companies can afford to invest in outbound marketing.

Before adding it to your mix, let’s look at things to consider.

Dedicated Resources and Budget

Outbound marketing is pay-to-play—you have to spend money to get results. This is in contrast to inbound marketing, where the results can compound over time.

That said, it’s important to have a dedicated budget before you decide to engage in outbound marketing. Because you’re able to control costs, you can earmark specific funds without overspending.

Complex Products and Buying Cycles

Marketers often use outbound marketing strategies to help sell big-ticket items or complex products and services that require a longer buying cycle.

Enterprise software is a classic example.

Because prospective customers take longer to consider their purchase, you might need to increase the number of touchpoints to build brand awareness or affinity.

New Marketing Channels

Outbound marketing helps to diversify your overall strategy.

Adding marketing channels like billboards, TV ads, X ads (formerly Twitter ads), and PPC ads are different ways to reach new people.

Semrush’s Traffic Analytics tool can help you uncover new digital outbound marketing channels to reach a new segment of your audience.

Traffic Analytics tool

For instance, if your primary marketing channel runs through X, you might try running Google Ads to reach people who aren’t on X.

Market Expansion

Outbound marketing can be a powerful tool for building awareness in new markets or locations.

Say you run a successful health club.

Now you’re planning to open a new location in another city.

That’s market expansion.

How do you get new people to try your health club if they don’t know it exists?

Outbound marketing is a great way to build awareness.

You could try a strategy with these kinds of marketing:

  • Pre-launch: Raise awareness with television, radio, and digital ads
  • Launch: Grand opening event and public relations campaign
  • Post-launch: Sales outreach and promotional offers

Target Audiences for Outbound Marketing

Successful outbound marketing starts with targeting the right people. You’ll struggle to communicate with them if you don’t know who they are.

Target marketing involves identifying customer attributes and interests, then segmenting them into groups like:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Job title
  • Sports fans
  • Reading enthusiasts

Then you can use data to gain more insight.

For example, you can use the Traffic Analytics report to learn what visitors are looking at on your website.

In Semrush, find “Competitive Research” in the left-hand navigation and click “Traffic Analytics.”

“Traffic Analytics” selected from the Semrush menu

Type in the URL of your website. Click “Analyze.”

"chewy.com," "petfinder.com," "bhg.com" and "petco.com" entered into Traffic Analytics search bar

From the “Traffic Analytics” page, click on the “Audience Overview” tab.

“Audience Overview” tab selected from the upper menu

Here, you’ll find a detailed report that outlines demographics, socioeconomic data, and even behavioral insights about your website visitors.

“Demographics” and “Socioeconomics” widgets of Traffic Analytics report

In any of the three sections (“Demographics,” “Socioeconomics,” or “Behavior”), you can click “View full report” for detailed information about the people visiting your website.

Pro tip: Expand your research by analyzing your competitors’ website traffic. Type their URL into Traffic Analytics. 

You can use this information to build a basic report. Going one step further, you can segment your target audience into smaller groups.

Analyze Any Company’s Online Performance

with the Traffic Analytics Tool

ADS illustration

Outbound Marketing Channels

After segmenting your target audience, select appropriate channels to bring your marketing campaigns to life.

Using the Traffic Analytics report data, you can see what other sites and social media channels your target audience uses most frequently.

That will help you determine the ideal channels to target.

From the “Traffic Analytics” report, click the “Audience Overview” tab.

“Audience Overview” tab selected from the upper menu

Then click “View full report” under the “Behavior” widget.

“View full report” button highlighted under the “Behavior” widget

That will open the “Behavior” tab of the “One2Target” report.

“Behavior” tab of the “One2Target” report for "chewy.com"

Under the “Interests” section, you’ll see some of your target audience’s preferred activities and hobbies. It may include things like newspapers or magazines.

“Interests” section of the “One2Target” report for "chewy.com"

Using this information, you can begin to understand the best channels to reach your potential customers.

For example, you may find that they like newspapers and YouTube.

You can test your outbound marketing strategy by creating paid ad campaigns for those two channels.

Or better yet, you could use the Semrush Advertising Research tool for outbound campaigns.

Uncover Your Competitors’ Search Ads

with the Advertising Research Tool

ADS illustration

Key Performance Indicators for Outbound Marketing

You must track and analyze your numbers to see what’s most effective and where to allocate your budget.

Let’s look at some important key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure.

General KPIs

There are three high-level metrics you’ll measure for almost any outbound marketing campaign.

  • Return on Investment: Addressed earlier in “Measurable Return on Investment.” It’s usually expressed as a whole number (“2”) or a percentage of the amount spent (200%).
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): The total cost of the campaign divided by the number of new customers acquired. Expressed as a dollar amount (“$150”).
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): The total dollar value of a customer over the life of their relationship with your business. It represents how much you expect a customer to spend with your company on average.

Performance KPIs

Performance KPIs allow you to dig into your campaign’s specifics and determine if certain things are working better than others. For example, whether one version of an ad is outperforming another.

  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): The total amount of revenue generated by a digital ad campaign divided by the amount of money spent to run the ads. It doesn’t include additional costs to plan or set up the campaign.
  • Cost Per Mille (CPM): The average cost to show your ad 1,000 times
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): The total number of clicks on your ads divided by the total number of impressions (how many times the ad was shown)
  • Conversion Rate: The total number of conversions (leads that turned into sales) divided by the total number of impressions
  • Response Rate: The number of people who engage with your messaging (typically via call, web visit, or mail reply) is a leading indicator of relevance
  • Cost Per Response: This metric allows you to compare acquisition costs against projections and other channels

Frequently Asked Questions About Outbound Marketing

Is Outbound Marketing Outdated?

No. Businesses of all sizes and from every industry use outbound marketing for brand awareness and direct response every day.

While many companies now use inbound or content marketing strategies, that doesn’t mean outbound marketing is no longer relevant or effective.

What Are Some Examples of Outbound Marketing Channels?

Advertising (TV ads, radio ads, social media ads, and print ads), direct mail, cold email outreach, cold calling, SMS marketing, display ads, and trade shows are all examples of outbound marketing channels.

When Should You Use Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing is particularly valuable when you want to reach new audiences or try new channels. If this is your goal, it’s recommended you combine outbound and inbound marketing strategies to increase the impact of both.

For example, you might use search ads to drive traffic to a targeted landing page. From there, you can nurture leads from the page.

What Are Some Outbound Marketing Tools?

Digital ad channels like Facebook and Google are commonly used to run ad campaigns. Customer relationship management software like HubSpot and Salesforce combine email marketing and customer tracking. Platforms like RingCentral, Gong, and AirCall can help organize cold calling.


Semrush is a powerful tool for outbound marketing research and campaign implementation.

Get started with Traffic Analytics to explore competitor website stats, discover growth points, and refine your targeting and messaging.


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