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Three principles of internet marketing

I’ve put in some time lately talking about what internet marketing is not. I thought I’d take a crack what internet marketing is, for a change. Internet marketing’s driven by three principles that are often in tension:

Note that I didn’t say The three principles of internet marketing. These are principles of internet marketing. But I’m sure you’ll come up with others.


I’ve got a different take on discoverability than most. Yes, it’s about being found. But it’s not about people finding your site. It’s about people finding the first breadcrumb trail pointing to your site. That’s what separates discoverability from visibility (see the next principle).

People have to find you, first and foremost. If they can’t, you’re wearing a tux in an empty room. You have potential customers out there. They’re looking for value. Maybe they want to buy from you, or hire you, right now. Maybe they just need an answer, or some advice. If you provide it, they remember you.

But, they gotta find you, before they find you. That’s discoverability. It’s like some kind of Dr. Who time loop thingy where he goes back in time to tell himself what he’s supposed to do, so that he’ll know what to do, so that he goes back in time…

Never mind.

Discoverability is your presence, projected across the web: On Facebook, Twitter, search engines and whatever else folks come up with. It’s also folks’ experiences with your brand, and how they pass along/amplify their feelings after those interactions.

Kenneth Cole probably wants this bit of discoverability back

Kenneth Cole probably wants this bit of discoverability back

Discoverability comes from:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Pay per click (PPC)
  • Social media
  • Content marketing
  • Great messaging
  • A community that loves you

Build a path to your door, and you’ve got discoverability.

A lot of folks assume this is 100% of internet marketing. It’s not – read on…


What folks do when they get on that path is all about visibility. Say I need help changing a bicycle tire. I go and search for “Changing ridiculously tight road bike tires.” Up pops 10 different sites. But of those 10, 1 catches my eye. All 10 were discoverable. One is visible:

Tight bike tires search result - all discoverable, one visible

Tight bike tires search result - all discoverable, one visible

Visibility drives more than search, though. It’s a core marketing concept. Check out these Facebook ads. Which one grabs your attention?

facebook ads visibility

It’s not a trick question. At different times, different ads are more visible to you. Me and Rush, we’re buds (no), but I’m not going to click that one. AppSumo jumps out at me because I know the site. And ‘Become a web developer’ grabs my attention because the guy is looking right at me. But aside from AppSumo, none of these ads are particularly well-targeted, so none are that visible to me.

And that’s what visibility is about: Targeting, or, as I used to say, “Dressing appropriately.”

Visibility is driven by:

  • Targeting: Put the right message in front of me, when I need it.
  • Usability and navigation: If I find you in a search result, but then can’t find what I need on your site, you’re discoverable but lack immediate value. So you lack visibility.
  • Call to action: Tell me what to do!

Discoverability gets you seen. Discoverability + Immediate value = Visibility. That gets you a response.


I discovered you. You’re visible. I click. Now what?

Density provides the ‘now what’.

HAH. I bet you expected something like ‘virality’ or ‘contagiousness’, didn’t you! I tried those, and they didn’t fit. So density it is.

Visibility and Density are always in tension. Visibility demands that certain messages stand out. That’s hard to do if you’re putting 100% of your information in front of the user the first time they see you. So you have to layer information, letting folks learn as they go. Density lets me drill down and learn more, when and how I want to. Apple does density on their iPad page:

Density - Apple does it better than anyone

Density - Apple does it better than anyone

I can stick with the top and just learn a little. Or I can scroll down and learn more. And then I can click and learn even more.

Density comes from:

  • Information architecture
  • A great design
  • Great writing
  • Not design/architecture by committee
  • Providing knowledge, rather than information

Density is what folks want to find when they dig deeper, wherever they start. A Facebook brand page with one update a week is not dense. A software website that tells me only 10% of the feature set and asks me to sign up for a demo is not dense, either.

But a brand page that keeps me up-to-date, or a software site that lets me explore as much as I want before I pick up the phone are great.

Density = Knowledge availability. If the stuff I need is available when I’m ready, the immediate value you sent my way turns into lasting value. You’ve won a customer.

The formula

Discoverability gets you seen.

Discoverability + Immediate value = Visibility.

Visibility + Knowledge availability = Density.

Discoverability + Visibility + Density = Customers.

What would you add?

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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  1. Wow, great post! I was kinda expending the same topics over and over again that come with “principles” and “Internet Marketing” posts, and while they may be similar, I have never read a post like yours before (And I read a lot!)
    I especially like the way you break down visibility and density. Thanks!

  2. Ian this is truly a fabulous post! You have given me the piece of jigsaw missing from my low conversion puzzle! I have completely muddled visibility and discoverability and my site lacks a call to action in its density! You are absolutely right, the customer has to be led through the maze with incentives at every stage to engage them further! Now I’m looking at my site with a fresh pair of eyes! I had “site-blindness”!

  3. I love the term “density” used here (thank you for steering clear of “virality”). I also like your point of layering the information for the visitor, oftentimes I’ll reach a site and instantly get thrown into a bulleted list of key points that mean nothing to me. Layering out the key points in sections would make a heck of a lot more sense to the user. Thanks for writing.

  4. Couldn’t agree more.
    Social media, SEO and content marketing are great traffic drivers, but they must be accompanied with clear call-to-cations and web architecture for the internet marketing initiatives to work.

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