11 Internet Marketing Skills That Must Be Second Nature

Ian Lurie

There are certain skills that you must firmly grasp before you tell folks you’re an internet marketer. If you don’t, and I hear you tell someone “I’m an internet marketer!”, I’m going to stalk you in my Toyota Prius and pin you to a fence.

You need to know the following, inside-out, backwards and forwards. They must be second nature. If they ain’t, you ain’t ready. If they are, you can move on to digital marketing strategy and other fancy stuff:

  1. XHTML and CSS. You don’t have to be a god(ess) of web programming. But so help me God the next ‘internet marketer’ who gives me a blank stare when I mention CSS gets an atomic wedgie. And by the way, web standards have nothing to do with the metric system.
  2. Search engine optimization. Search engine results are the starting point for at least 70% of all online behavior. How on earth will you help someone market themselves online if you don’t even know what moves a site up and down in the rankings? Quick hint: Saying “SEO? Oh, we optimize your meta tags” is the same as saying “I am a severely impaired nubwit“.
  3. Pay per click marketing. Nothing sucks money out of a marketing budget faster than undisciplined PPC marketing. Assuming you care about your clients, you need to know a lot about PPC. Knowing where PPC ads show up doesn’t count, by the way. You need to know and understand concepts like negative keywords, quality scoring, dynamic keywords and content networks. Another hint: “Negative keyword” doesn’t mean “Keywords that make you feel bad”.
  4. Analysis. Let me make this clear: A bar chart is not analytics. If I ask for analysis and you e-mail me a bar chart I will so kick your behind. Analysis/analytics is the practice of turning data (the bar chart) into action steps and conclusions like “Wow, our ROI on this keyword is great. We need to build a landing page.”
  5. Usability. Please, please read Don’t Make Me Think. Just for starters. Then start keeping an eye on Jakob Nielsen’s site and other resources. Usability is a non-stop learning process. So get going.
  6. Complete sentences. Write every day. Every day. I don’t care what you write about. But you need to be able to write a post like this in 30-40 minutes, and it needs to be readable. If not, I shall become Conan the Grammarian and smite thee. (awesome image submitted by OneTakeMedia)
  7. RSS and feeds. I shouldn’t even have to say this. But you do know how to use Google Reader, right? Right?!
  8. Blogging and social media. Write at least one blog. See ‘Complete Sentences’, above. And know what people mean when they say ‘social media’. They really mean media. Understand what makes it all tick, and how you can help someone interact with their audience in a meaningful way.
  9. E-mail marketing. Learn to build a house e-mail list. Learn why most rental e-mail lists suck eggs. Know what makes an e-mail work or fail.
  10. Statistics 101. If you don’t know what a rolling average is, don’t even talk to me.
  11. Marketing. Oh, did I mention? You need to be good at, you know, making people understand why something is The Product For Them.

Remember when you first learned to drive? You were so busy remembering to signal before turning, maintain safe following distances and generally not humiliate yourself in front of your friends it’s amazing you didn’t drive right into the car in front of you.

Now, of course, the mechanics of driving are second nature. So is tailgating, but we’ll skip that part.

If you’re going to be an internet marketer, all the secondary skills have to be second nature, too. Until they are, you’ve still got a big ‘STUDENT DRIVER’ sign on top of your car.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (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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  1. Excellent picks!
    Email Marketing is my favorite, since I did not begin making a regular income until I finally had a, DUH, moment!
    Now I am building different lists and keeping a great relationship with them as I recommend products, which they are purchasing!
    Bob Ratcliff
    “Bob’s College Of Knowledge”

  2. great post. i like that you added numero 11 on there. a lot of people produce content through the right channels and than forget that a) the content has to be interesting and b) you have to monetize to eat.

  3. Hi Ian,
    I agree with everything except the XHTML and CSS portion. Although I am proficient in both I don’t believe that it is a necessary skill for success in internet marketing. Will it help your sites? Absolutely. Is it necessary? I don’t think so.
    Thanks for the article though. Everything else is good solid information that we should all take heed of.

  4. @Ryan Agreed. It’s amazing that I still see internet ‘companies’ with no long-term monetization plan, at all.

  5. @Rick Yup, I had a tough time deciding whether to include XHTML and CSS. In the end I included it with the caveat, because I don’t think you can design a house without at least basic knowledge of how the plumbing works.
    Too often I see internet marketers shrug and give up on one important point or another when a designer says “That’s impossible”.
    By knowing what can and can’t be done, you become a better marketer.

  6. You don’t need to be an expert in it to know generally if it can be done, in my case as a owner of a design company I need to at least know enough to know if I’m getting smoke blown in my eyes by clients or potential workers. 🙂

  7. It is so great to have found you. You’re to the point, informative and comical. I look forward to making my way through more of your information and what comes in the future!

  8. Haha, this post was a breath of fresh air! What made it so funny to me is that with myself just starting to get into internet marketing, I have made many similar feux pas and asked about many of those things. Thanks for the great post.

  9. Great content. The condescending holier-than-than attitude is a bummer. After all, who is your audience? See item #11.

  10. I’m no Internet marketer but I can understand and agree with everything that you said above. Does that make me an Internet marketer? Or better yet, an Internet marketing guru? 🙂
    On a serious note, what you said about writing every day? It works very well. It seems that the more I write, the faster and better I get at it.

  11. Ian, I have no clue what a rolling average is. Now go call SMX and tell em I’m a hopeless newb who they shouldn’t have put on stage at SMX West ;).
    I get that you’re saying the title should apply to well rounded folks only, but it also assumes a particular meaning for internet. Methinks many of the word’s users just mean online marketers as opposed to offline marketers. “I’m an internet marketer, not a direct mail specialist.”

  12. @Gab Yah, I’m a bit harsh in this post, I admit, even by my standards.
    The real point: Internet marketing is a very, very challenging field that demands many different skills.
    Something tells me you know what a rolling average is but don’t happen to know the term 🙂

  13. Three Blogging Skills That Should Be Second Nature:
    * Rather than “hinting” at how to do these things that everyone should be expected to do, provide fact, information and guidance.
    * Don’t assume your reader is a complete idiot and attempt sarcasm, particularly if comedy writing isn’t second nature to you.
    * Writing like you are from some kind of higher level using sentences like, “…then don’t even talk to me,” makes me take, and i’m sure others stumbling through who are not familiar with you already, an instant dislike to you.

  14. Conan the Grammarian looks like Pepper Ann with biceps. (Now I won’t be able to get that dang song out of my head: “Pepper Ann, Pepper Ann, way too cool for seventh grade….”

  15. The beauty about internet marketing is that you can track results to the T. If you can’t drum up a case study, blog post or slide show of how you directly influenced website traffic or sales, you might not be able to call yourself an internet marketer.

  16. I like your style man – you have a new subscriber. To the above commentator who wants you to explain every little detail: don’t be so bloody idle – google it jeeze!

  17. Pepper Ann? Well she sure has been pumping iron lately.. look at those biceps! 😀 I must have grabbed the wrong image. 😉

  18. Great article. I know exactly how you feel. We have been looking for a new internet marketing consultant to join our company and you would not believe the lack of knowledge about what you mentioned by almost all of the applicants.
    I tihnk next time we put an ad out for help, I will just shell our the extra money and put your article in the ad.

  19. I love that others find problems like this even in more online marketing evolved countries. I thought only in Easter Europe issues like this show up.
    A nice post. I will translate it and post it to the company blog and reffer to you.

  20. @tankianann Yes, it does mean that. And no, most companies are not used to that. And no, that doesn’t matter.

  21. So glad I stumbled upon this! Thanks for a great article. There are so many facets under the marketing umbrella and the lines can be blurry… This should help in understanding what to look for and expect from an Internet marketing expert.

  22. I had a long, informed message to add to the comments, but it seems the author of “conversionmarketing.com” can’t seem to understand what “* required” means for a form. See, if you mark something as required, I will usually add the information. However, seeing that the site didn’t think name and e-mail (it is “e-mail” by was of AP style, not email) was important, I didn’t bother to include it. I submitted, and the message was rejected as incomplete because I didn’t include name or e-mail. So here goes — If you are going to require information, mark it as such. Given this, if you are going to gripe about “internet marketers” having usability experience, I suggest you practice what you preach.

  23. I would trust this article so much more (especially in light of the fact that XHTML/CSS is number 1 on the list) if this page actually passed W3C validation…:-)
    Otherwise, great work – I chucked several times while reading it!

  24. @gh Oh c’mon now only 33 errors 🙂
    Once upon a time the site was 100% standards-compliant and then I drifted off the One True Path.

  25. @Panda mea culpa. I’ve had that on my next action list for about 3 months.
    However, note that I didn’t put “Perfection” on the list. I am nothing if not a huge maker of mistakes.
    Should have it fixed this week.

  26. I think You don’t need to know CSS nowadays. That’s a $20 problem. You can find somebody to do CSS for You any time of the day, anywhere in the world for a few bucks. And it only has to be good enough, not perfect.

  27. @Teemu I disagree. If you don’t know CSS then you can’t tell whether the folks you hire for ‘a few bucks’ are doing a decent job or not. I’ve seen far too many cases where a marketer asks a developer if they code in CSS/XHTML. The developer nods vigorously and then proceeds to build the worst crap code imaginable. The marketer then pitches a fit when they find out they have to rebuild the site.
    You need to know CSS.

  28. I would add #12 (sort of a combo of #6 and #11): have something interesting/useful to say. Even product or service information (commercials) should attempt to also teach and add value beyond “Hey, our product is really cool, you should buy it.”

  29. this was very entertaining to read and on a Monday afternoon, anything that keeps my attention should be applauded.
    I will work on my CSS before I see your Toyota Prius in the parking lot.
    Thanks for sharing.

  30. Short sharp and shiny I like it! I’m looking up rolling average before I ask any questions 😉

  31. Sounds like good information to me but you if you talk to your customers like that you’ll still be going nowhere

  32. Ian,
    I loved the post and have made a commitment to myself to be somewhat knowledgeable about each skill listed above before the end of the month.
    Watch out for this student driver on the highway! I’m new to this business, but plan on putting as many miles behind me as possible. I’m looking forward to my new venture and posts like these will help me fail often and quickly, leaving nothing but success.
    Keep up the good work.

  33. @Ian OK. So maybe it’s a management/hiring skills one needs to hire the right professional to do it… Of course knowing CSS helps to achieve that.

  34. The post would have been a little more pleasant to read without all the faux threats and feigned anger at the ignorance of some internet marketers who don’t know these things. Once, okay. After that the joke gets tired.

  35. All are good skills. I would add “An Eye For Trends” or at least the ability to spot them. Let’s not forget either that you can’t always be hiding behind your computer. The best internet marketing pros are presenters and sales gurus too.

  36. In reference to number 5, I don’t think usability is all that essential. It’s necessary in some instances, such as large scale applications. However the most important thing would be to display the most relevant data prominently – something a lot of people don’t/won’t do. This can be achieved via typography.
    Users browse for information, it is essential that they can attain it. So perhaps usability is not all that essential, I would say if anything, the layout is essential.

  37. It’s not a bad article and certainly holds true in today’s economic client, but don’t you think you’d be doing the online community a favour by educating those that don’t know about these internet marketing skills as opposed to bitching about it?

  38. I know some guys believe in Pay per click advertising, but I just go strictly for organic search engine traffic. The natural organic traffic is great for conversions.

  39. You have a writing style that speaks one on one with people, which I happen to think is very magnetic. I agree with all of your points but mostly with the point about writing every day.
    I feel that the best way to get good fast is to practice your communication skills. That means writing every day. It can be a blog post, some blog comments, writing an article for article marketing, etc. Just do it at least once per day and the results will start materializing.

  40. I found your post today with StumbleUpon and I loved what I read. Your post was a quick read that helped solidify for me the point that there is a big difference between people who can talk-the-talk and those who can walk-the-walk.

  41. I do not consider myself an internet marketer by any means (at least, not yet), but I have been slowly learning this stuff over the past couple years. The only thing I disagree with is statistics. I don’t see how that’s important – especially if you’re talking about the inferential type.

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