Featured Internet Marketing

Internet Marketing: The Vehicles

I wrote a half-assed attempt at this way back in 2008. This is a bit more comprehensive, I hope.

There are lots of ways to drive an internet marketing campaign. From a strategic viewpoint, you must understand the tools available. I’m not going to go into methods here – I’m going to outline the options, their relative costs and a few other essential factors:

Search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engines are so dominant now that many internet users think Google is a web browser. They go to www.google.com and type in a web address, then click the first listing. I ain’t lying.

SEO is all about moving up in the unpaid rankings on search engines like Google:

organic search results

I could throw all sorts of fun statistics at you like “70%+ of people looking for something online start at a search engine,” but you’ve heard all that. Oh, wait, I just did. And most of those 70% click on the unpaid rankings, not the PPC listings (see below).

SEO has some new subcategories: Image search and video search, as well as shopping feeds, are all part of SEO.

SEO takes a long time. It’s a pain in the arse – think months and years. There’s nothing you can do about it, no tricks or secret recipes to speed it up. But the potential is so high only a moron would ignore it.

SEO factors: Keyword-rich content and lots of it. Timeliness of content. Links. Site structure and infrastructure. Persistence. Popularity.
Skip this one: If you’re dumb. Or your boss is insane.
Primary sites: Google. Google. Some more Google. Then Bing and Yahoo!.
Conversion potential: 9/10
Speed: 2/10
Cost: 9/10
Measurability: 6/10

Local search

In SEO, see how I didn’t include the local business results? Those are the local search results, and they’re driven by a different set of algorithms. Local search optimization is a separate creature: It’s more useful for local businesses (obviously):

Google local search

Local search results are driven in part by a business’s physical location. So they’re a fantastic opportunity to move up in the rankings without going head-to-head with national or international competitors who are located elsewhere.

Read David Mihm’s excellent local search factors report to get the full picture of what works and what doesn’t.

Local SEO can happen pretty quickly – think weeks or months, not years.

Local search factors: Location. Links. Reviews. Content.
Skip this one: If you don’t have a ‘walk in’ style business, or if you just don’t like people.
Primary sites: Google, Bing, Yahoo!, then a host of specialized sites like Yelp.
Conversion potential: 8/10
Speed: 5/10
Cost: 3/10
Measurability: 6/10

Pay per click (PPC)

PPC is fast. You can have a Google Adwords account up and running in 20 minutes. The number of folks who click on the sponsored links is tiny compared to the number that click organic search results. But a ‘tiny bit’ of ‘everyone on earth’ is still a lot.

PPC is also dangerous. You can pour money down a hole in a big hurry, and the search engines will cheerfully take your cash. It requires a lot of attention and real sales instincts.

SEO is a big, happy, lumbering Brachiosaurus. She’s harmless, nice, and can mow down a forest. She can also squash you by accident. PPC is a zippy Velociraptor. Keenly intelligent, fast, and could rip you limb from limb at any moment.

PPC factors: Bid amount. Ad performance. Industry. Account history. Landing page quality.
Skip this one: If you’re low on cash but have lots of time.
Primary sites: Google, Bing, Yahoo! and increasingly Facebook. Also Business.com for the right audience.
Conversion potential: 7/10
Speed: 10/10
Cost: Depends on you, but watch out.
Measurability: 9/10

E-mail marketing

No one likes e-mail marketing any more, but I do. Build a good ‘house’ e-mail list and you’ve got a permanent sales or leads-generating asset.

E-mail can bite you on the heiney, of course, if you send unsolicited messages to lots of people. Even worse, blacklisting services like Spamhaus may block your messages because 20 people forgot they’d ever subscribed and complained. So there’s a lot more to it than just chucking messages out the door.

But it’s worked brilliantly, when done right, for over 13 years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Don’t ignore e-mail. Get a refresher here.

E-mail factors: List quality. Good subject lines. Good content. Great landing pages.
Skip this one: If you can’t build a clean e-mail list.
Primary sites: Yours, of course.
Conversion potential: 4/10
Speed: 7/10
Cost: 3/10.
Measurability: 8/10

Social media

I shudder every time I write the phrase. It’s like hyenas saying ‘Mufasa’. Social media (shudder) isn’t one vehicle. It’s actually thousands of sites, tools and pieces of software that people use to talk to each other, pass around photos of who-knows-what, share videos and/or bookmark interesting sites.


The audience for social media is even larger than the one for search engines. Facebook and Twitter alone have enough members to fill a small planet.

The trick with social media? To sell without selling. Yeah, I know. Good luck with that. If you do social media campaigns assume you’ll have success 1 time out of 20. The rest of the time you’ll be yelling in an empty room, or just chatting about the weather.

Social media factors: Good writing skills. Good manners. Strong audience knowledge. Trust. Patience. I wrote a social media marketing list ages ago that might help.

Skip this one: If you think flyers are still a great advertising medium.
Primary sites: Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Yelp, Flickr, Google Buzz (I guess), Del.icio.us, Digg, Yahoo!, and about 100,000 others.
Conversion potential: 2/10
Speed: 2/10
Cost: 7/10
Measurability: 1/10

Note: While these numbers look bad, a successful campaign can generate huge returns. Plus, smart social media work helps you maintain your reputation. It’s still worth doing.


With Apple getting into the mobile advertising game and Google launching the Android mobile operating system, we have to start taking mobile seriously.

Mobile advertising is totally in flux. Google uses a PPC system. Other companies use CPM (price per thousand impressions) formulas. And you can get tricky, inviting people to send SMS messages to a specific address via print display ads or ads in magazines.

Mobile is also a lot of fun. It’s a very creative space. Just don’t get carried away frolicking about while marketing dollars burn to cinders.

Mobile marketing factors: Content. Targeted form factor. Creativity. Careful audience targeting.
Skip this one: If you’re gonna be mad when I tell you you lost $50,000.
Primary sites: Admob, Google Adwords, Bing Mobile, Aditic, others.
Conversion potential: 4/10
Speed: 6/10
Cost: 7/10
Measurability: 3/10

Display advertising

Banner ads. They suck, right? Not exactly. A good banner ad may not get clicked as much as you’d like, and the measured ROI may make you want to vomit, but getting your name and offer in front of potential customers makes them more likely to click a search listing, e-mail link or mobile ad later on.

Don’t count out banners. Just assume they’re really expensive, and that they may not always be 100% measurable.

Display advertising factors: Eye-catching art. Clear text. Not having tons of fine print.
Skip this one: If budgets are tight. If brand doesn’t matter.
Primary sites: Anyplace that will sell space. Try Google’s network first, as it’s the easiest to manage and control.
Conversion potential: 1/10
Speed: 2/10
Cost: 10/10
Measurability: Hahahaha you’re kidding, right?

In-game advertising

Does in-game advertising count as an internet marketing vehicle? I think so. I know I can’t play World of Warcraft without a web connection. And games like Farmville simply couldn’t exist without the web.

In-game ads are very similar to display ads, but in many cases you can request a specific action on the part of the user. Bing did this by offering Farmville dollars in exchange for Facebook Fan Page signups.

Bing Farmville Campaign

It worked, netting them an unbelievable 400,000 fans in a single day. Your results may vary.

In-game advertising factors: A brilliant strategy. Creativity. A big budget. A targeted, game-playing audience.
Skip this one: If budgets are tight. If your audience isn’t a gaming crowd.
Primary sites: Google, IGA Worldwide, plus a bunch of others.
Conversion potential: 3/10
Speed: 5/10
Cost: Varies widely, but it ain’t cheap
Measurability: 3/10

Don’t forget your web site

It’s easy to think, with all of these different vehicles, that your own site matters less. Whenever you start thinking that pinch yourself. Then go back to work on the company web site. All of these vehicles drive more and more folks to you. You need to have a great place for them to arrive. Pouring money into SEO, PPC, etc. when your web site causes people to gouge their own eyes out helps only two parties: The marketers you hired, and the places you buy advertising.

Think big, then focus

Whenever you launch a campaign, keep all of these vehicles in mind. Then limit choices based on budget, time constraints and everyone’s tolerance for risk.
If I missed anything, let me know in the comments below.

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. A great post, Ian. You seem to have covered most the bases, but I would also argue that blogging is a key component of a good Internet marketing strategy. The portent blog is great and I think it’s your greatest marketing asset. I’m not sure if you would lump blogs under social media but I think they’re important enough to stand on their own.

  2. “SEO is a big, happy, lumbering Brachiosaurus…” I’m still laughing at that fantastic analogy!
    Great insight as always Ian, this is extremely helpful. Thank you!

  3. Awesome post as always… but I have to argue with something you said in PPC.
    You said that the number of people who click on sponsored links is tiny compared to those who click organic search results (I assume you’re referring to PAID links located to the top and right of organic search results).
    I have a number of clients who receive 80-90% of their entire site traffic via content network ads. This is due to their business being in a highly niche market, among other factors.
    True, the CTR for content ads is generally very low. For every 10,000 views, I expect to get 100-150 clicks.

  4. @Dan Yup, PPC ads can send a lot of clicks. Like I said, even 1% of search traffic on a busy term is a LOT of traffic. I’m in no way besmirching PPC ads – I just know they don’t get the same CTR as organic.

  5. Excellent post. Totally summarizes everything what internet marketing is about.
    It entirely depends on how effective the SEO is! I know sites which are optimized for several hundred keywords and there is no way PPC can compete even in terms of ROI.

  6. Great post Ian,
    I appreciate how you gave each vehicle your ratings.
    I find that many people who are marketing online have a tendency to jump from one thing to another, hopping onto the “next big thing” especially because social media changes so fast. There’s always “the latest” software that brings you massive traffic etc etc.
    Do you think that Blogs are a vehicle in themselves because they are in a way small portals on the net with their own rss feeds, and contain dynamic pages?
    Also, I think its important to just stick to a few vehicles that you are good at. Each one has their pros and cons, and it can be self limiting trying to do all things at once. Mastering a particular vehicle takes dedication but just by doing it 1% better than everyone else gives you the extra leverage and exponential results.
    Happy marketing!

  7. @Bailey I don’t put blogs in a separate category – they’re a specialized content management system. But they still depend on content, and SEO, etc..
    I do agree about focus – you really have to concentrate on the stuff you know will work. Jumping from one fad to another won’t work.

  8. One thing I have found with PPC is that if you want a decent ROI make sure its targetted.
    I only bid for extremely targetted keywords, and I like to have my ads placed around the bottom. Yes this is going to give you less clicks, however this way you’re only attracting the customers you really want for your website.
    Sometimes it’s even worth mentioning the price in the ad, so that your mainly recieving customers with a buying intent.
    Great post btw.

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