3 Steps to Internet Marketing Success (Without Becoming an Expert)

Ian Lurie

You can succeed in internet marketing without learning every facet of the business.
You can do it the same way you succeed in, say, brain surgery if you’re not a surgeon. Or in car repair if you’re not a mechanic.
You find someone who’s good at it. You pay them. You succeed.
It’s the “good at it” part that can be rough.

Matt McGee sent me this gem from YouTube today, where an SEO expert novice B.S. artist tells the audience that ‘305 links will get them a pagerank of 5 on Google’. She must be smoking the best weed west of Jamaica to say that with a straight face.

Picking The Right Internet Marketing Pro

If you know nothing about the subject, though, how can you pick the right expert? Like this:

  1. Talk to them, on the phone or, even better, in person. Ask them about their business. Do they sound enthusiastic? Excited? Comfortable with their profession? That’s good. Do they sound like they’re in a coma? Stammer? Say they have to get back to you on that? That’s bad. Also, talk to the person who will be doing the work! Would you talk to the brain surgeon’s gardener to decide whether the surgeon should poke around in your cerebellum? I don’t think so.
  2. Talk to their clients. Are they happy? Getting enough attention from the agency? Getting value? Faint praise means you should avoid them like the plague. Imagine if the brain surgeon’s last four patients all said “He did OK. He felt really bad when accidentally he sucked out my frontal lobe.”
  3. Talk to their competitors. Not in some cheesy search for a better price. This isn’t a freaking car lot. Talk to their competitors to find out what they think about your potential internet marketer/agency. Grudging respect is good. Intelligent concerns are bad. Ignore outright slander. If competitors say things like “Ian is a real pain in my behind. I hate him because we don’t agree on [insert marketing concept here],” that’s probably a good thing. If they say “Ian rocks!”, that’s OK too. If they say “Ian is the devil! He’s clueless!” you can probably ignore them. Finally, if they say “Ian’s very good at x and y, but if you do z be sure you keep an eye on things,” think carefully about what you’ve heard.

How do you feel after this process? Do you trust this person or company with your internet marketing strategy? Do you like them? Does their history show they’re honest, smart, creative and capable?
If so, hire ’em.

What Not To Ask About

As an internet marketer, I have my own checklist for a good/bad client. Here are a few that cause me to instinctively raise my price, or run so fast there’s a popping sound as the air rushes in to replace the space I formerly occupied:

  1. “Why does it cost so much?” I could ask you “Why do you think I’m a liar?”. Because that’s what you’re basically saying with that question. You don’t believe me, or my price. Your cousin says they can do it for $99.95, but I just told you it’ll cost you $5,000 a month. Your cousin may be a great cook. They may do the best Donald Duck impression ever. They may even be a brilliant surgeon. They don’t have a freaking clue about internet marketing. If you don’t trust me, please don’t waste my time.
  2. “Have you worked with other companies in my industry?”. No, and it doesn’t matter. A good internet marketer can make things happen regardless of the product. A crappy one can’t help you sell bread to starving millionaires. If I’m not comfortable selling your product, I’ll let you know and remove myself from contention.
  3. “I need someone who’s ruthless/will do anything to help me sell.” K, that’s not a question. But I’ve heard it too many times. I am not ruthless. I won’t do anything unethical. If I was willing to, first thing I’d do is take your retainer and leave the country. You don’t want a ‘ruthless’ marketer. You want a good one.

Instinct Matters

In the end, you choose the brain surgeon based on reputation, the fact that they look you in the eye, and because their hands don’t shake. Not because they’re the cheapest, or because a 10-factor list tells you they’re the best choice.
Same goes for internet marketing. Instinct matters. If you’re a VP of marketing, or your running your own business, chances are your instinct has worked well for you up to now. Keep trusting it.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian'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. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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