My problem(s) with 'inbound marketing'

Ian Lurie

I want to emphasize that this is a friendly discussion between Rand and I—we’re colleagues and friends, plus our companies are close enough together that he could bring his much more numerous minions to Portent and wipe us out in one afternoon of horrifying nerd slap-fighting. I’ve received a few comments I deleted because they seem to be taking things personally. Please read this post, and Rand’s, and the discussion around them, as they’re meant to be read: An interesting discussion about where our industry is headed, and how we should name ourselves.

yeah, I'll get hatemail for this one, too

Yes, I'll get hate mail for this one, too.

Rand wrote a great post earlier today (or late last night – does he ever sleep?!) about ‘inbound marketing’ and the branding of SEO. I’ve got a problem with the whole idea that we have to rename marketing, or a segment of marketing, just to keep it relevant. Rand says the discussion’s important, and I agree. So, I’m going to discuss at you for a few minutes.

Here are my problems:

UPDATE: Paid versus unpaid

Rand commented below and Carlos to emphasize that to him the split is between interruption and non-interruption, paid versus non-paid marketing. I get that. I really do. But to me there are many forms of paid online advertising that would fit ‘inbound’. In fact, there’s a dwindling list of internet marketing tactics that could be considered ‘interruption’ based.

Spam would be one. But to me, at least, that’s not even marketing. It’s an activity that’s now illegal in most forms.

Pop-ups and pop-unders would be another. But how many legitimate marketing sites still use those?

And, as I said in my reply to Rand, why not just go with ‘permission marketing’, then?

SEO isn’t marketing

WAIT. Before you start lighting my blog on fire with angry protests:

SEO is a marketing tactic. It’s one of the many activities you undertake to run a successful internet marketing campaign.

SEO sits in the same tier as PPC, social media, banner advertising and all the other things you can do to build an audience.

SEO is not on the same tier as ‘marketing’ or ‘internet marketing’. It’s one piece of it.

Inbound marketing, as it’s taken shape so far, wraps SEO, PPC, social media, content strategy, conversion rate optimization and lead nurturing into a single package. So you can’t really rebrand ‘SEO’ as ‘inbound marketing’, even if you think inbound marketing is truly a new kind of marketing.

It’s marketing by confusion

Why are we coining a new marketing concept/field? Not because it’s revolutionary, that’s for sure.

It’s a branding ploy by several firms in an effort to make themselves stand out from the crowd. It’s a kind of key phrase gamble: Introduce a new concept, write a ton of content about it, then spread the word and hope it goes viral. If it does, woo hoo! You’ve got a top ranking for a hot marketing phrase!

Yeah, I’m partly jealous. I’ve never coined a nifty new phrase that I could use to sell my services. My company’s earnings are a tiny zit on the behind of Hubspot’s. It’s still a branding ploy. It’s just not MY branding ploy, dammit.

I know: Conversation marketing. What the hell, Ian? I have to plead early-career ignorance. I couldn’t think of a name for my blog. I’d just read the ClueTrain Manifesto. The term stuck in my head. So I named the blog. It’s not like I’ve tried to get the entire industry to adopt the term. Nor will I.

There’s no there, there

Rumors of widespread acceptance of inbound marketing have been greatly exaggerated.

Rand did some searches on various networking sites, search tools and the like to see how inbound marketing measured up against other concepts. He said the data suggests that inbound marketing is gaining traction:


The terminology comparison from Rand's blog post

But he left out the phrase that kicks all their butts: Internet marketing. Which is really what we’re doing anyway. So I ran the numbers again, and included ‘internet marketing’. Lookie thar:


Terminology comparison, with internet marketing included

So we’re coming up with yet another marketing term exactly why? ‘Internet marketing’ describes strategic application of SEO, PPC, analytics, etc. to offer something of value to an audience. It has broad acceptance. It’s flexible and accurate.

You could argue that ‘inbound’ marketing is strictly permission-based, not interruption-based, stuff. I’d answer by saying there’s ‘good’ internet marketing and ‘stupid’ internet marketing. Popups, adware and other interruption based garbage falls into the latter category.

It’s because we’re lazy

My biggest problem with the the need to add to the marketing lexicon, though, is the sheer laziness.

Are we marketers so pathetic that we can’t sell our services effectively without constantly redefining them?

Are clients so intellectually lazy that they fall for it when we do?

If inbound marketing remains a niche term of art, then I’d say no, and I’ll heave a sigh of relief. If it somehow rises to the same level as internet marketing, or if it somehow worms its square peg into SEO’s round hole (no snickers) and replaces it, I’m going to be really, really depressed.

The discussion is good

I’m not trying to stick a fork in anyone’s eye, at all, and I welcome the whole discussion. I just hope we stop there. Somehow marketers were able to effectively sell their services for decades without renaming the whole discipline. I’d love it if we could make it 3 whole years.

If not, I suggest we get it over with and use inboundsocialmediapersonalizedmobileqrcode marketing. That way, we can cover all our bases.

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, 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

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  1. I appreciate the post and I’m glad you’re calling out the way the term was more or less invented (or at least taken over) by a few specific companies *cough* Hubspot *cough cough* And yes, the hype is starting to get to be a bit much. And yes, inbound is nothing new.
    But I do think it’s a useful distinction. Outbound = advertising, which is annoying. Inbound means being useful, interesting, etc, which is good.
    I prefer the term ‘content marketing’. This puts the emphasis where it should be. It’s the content aspects of SEO, social, email, PR that are good. Any efforts in these areas that aren’t focused on quality content are shady. Link farms, Tweet Adder, spam, etc.
    As long as people focus on genuine, ass-kicking content, I don’t care what they call it! …but I’m calling it content marketing for now.

  2. It feels like you are actively misreading Rand’s post. He pretty specifically separated out paid search and advertising in the post. Yes, Internet Marketing is a catch-all term, but it seemed to me that Rand was trying to express “unpaid Internet marketing.”
    It seems like you are just cherry-picking a couple of phrases and ignoring the spirt of the post: which is online marketing that is better aligned with time rather than money expenditure.

    1. Hi Carlos,
      I doubt clients see the difference. It’s all money to them. And actually it’s Rand’s separation of the two that I think makes ‘inbound marketing’ an inaccurate term. Why exactly would a paid search ad not be ‘inbound’? It appears when someone searches for it. It’s not interruption-driven.

      1. PPC is like Google saying, “But First! A word from our sponsors,” be giving us the search.That seems like interruption to me. Granted, there are some very well executed interruptions, but I argue that they are still interruptions.

  3. I like this. Well said. I do organic SEO and I’m still quite new to it IMO and the idea of SEO turning into “inbound marketing” all of the sudden freaks me the hell out. Yes I realize that I DO do (no snickers) more than what my job description would be able to cover, but I think there is plenty of room for my efforts at organic SEO to develop as one part of the gigantic picture of what y’all are calling “inbound marketing.” I have worked amongst developing digital departments long enough now to see the terminology played very well by SEO inept opportunists who are good at business. I think I want to stick with SEO and teach my clients SEO without watering it down. There are too many people in the mainstream world (outside the techie/geeky world) who don’t understand the basic core of good, solid, thorough, ethical organic optimization and they’re getting snowed. Let’s not start teaching the X, Y, Zs until everyone gets the A, B, Cs.

  4. I’m buying right now so I have it when that one goes viral! But seriously, great post. Your points about branding ploys and the differences between these emerging terms and the classic “internet marketing” definitely have me thinking.

  5. I often wonder who’s responsible for these sort of sudden “buzz words.” Marketers? Clients? Are they reinforcing each other? I don’t know.
    Personally, I call it either “internet marketing” or “online marketing” and leave it at that. All efforts to sell something via any online medium at all is internet marketing.
    And yes, it is a discipline of many facets, but it’s all marketing.
    Good post.

    1. Doesn’t happen on its own for sure. Usually starts by one firm who already probably trademarked or acquired/registered domain by the very same name. Then you pour in dollars. Lots of dollars for the word to “sit” in peoples mind so people start chattering about it …its a snowball effect.
      Again this can be *usually* done only by firms with very deep pockets.

  6. Interesting post, Ian,
    I think at least SEO of large websites like Alibaba or Tripadvisor would not agree on rebranding SEO to inbound marketing, as SEO for those sites involves less marketing stuff but a great deal of technical things, compared with small business SEO.
    “Spider nannies” sounds like a more suitable name for them.

  7. I think the purpose of the discussion was about finding a new term to mitigate the negative connotations SEO has developed and that in this regard, ‘inbound marketing’ was a fresher (yes) ‘rebrand’ of the same thing. Only, differentiated from the former, by espousing value creation and permission marketing over interruptive, spam farming.

  8. Hey Ian – great post. Just feel like my message was somehow missed. Let me try to put it as simply as possible.
    SEO is great as is. It shouldn’t change meanings and those who do it shouldn’t call what they do something else.
    The combo of SEO+Social+Content+PR+Outreach+Analytics+CRO needs a name. “Internet Marketing” is too broad – it includes paid channels, interruption marketing, etc. “SEO” is too narrow – it just means search.
    I hate having to say/explain that whole combination every time I want to describe it. Hence, “inbound marketing” is a useful phrase for me, and I see it gaining more adoption than “organic” or “earned media.”
    Sorry if I suck at explaining this.

    1. You’ve explained our industry to the entire planet – your inbound explanation totally makes sense.
      My concern is that the world in general just won’t see the distinction – they never have. Isn’t PPC really inbound marketing? You don’t have to click, and it doesn’t interrupt anything. And if PPC is inbound, what about embedded display ads?
      And, if we do need a term like this, why not stick with ‘permission’ marketing, coined by Seth Godin years ago?

      1. Just to play devil’s advocate here Ian….
        From my understanding, “permission marketing” is focused on creating what Seth Godin would call a “permission asset”, which is basically a group of people that you have permission to contact about your products and services.
        “Permission marketing” would seem to be more of a long-term client-relationship strategy. Does that accurately describe everything that falls into the SEO+Social+Content+PR+Outreach+Analytics+CRO camp?
        Satellite TV retailers (not the providers), for example, can get great benefits from the SEO+Content+PR+Analytics+CRO cocktail. But there’s no long-term relationship in that industry. Once a customer is under contract, they belong to the provider, not the retailer.
        So is that still “permission marketing”?
        Personally, I just like calling it all “Internet marketing”. To me, the word “inbound” conjures up images of call centers.
        But if we do need a new word, I’m not sure that “permission marketing” quite fits.
        I’m loving the discussion – thanks for this post Ian!

    2. How is ‘inbound marketing’ not “too broad”? That’s more broad of term than ‘internet marketing’, IMO. At least you’ve narrowed it down to the internet.
      I get the reasoning behind trying to find a better name for our industry, but it all seems forced to me. A marketing ploy for some (I’m right there with you, Andy C.).
      And even more, I’d have to explain to clients/wife/friends/whomever what ‘inbound marketing’ is. And this after finally getting to a point where people KIND OF understand what I do. This factors in quite a bit into my thinking.

  9. I call the combination of services, “Integrated digital marketing,” but I still call SEO, “S E O.” Inbound marketing sounds like a traditional marketing term and doesn’t really reflect the medium or technical vehicle. I think we can all agree we spend enough time explaining things as is without inventing generic terms with no true definitive.

  10. I fully agree with you when it comes to the misused or understanding of the term SEO itself.
    Internet Marketing is exactly what we do and specialise in and SEO is one of the many elements that fall under Internet Marketing.
    I also did my own experiment and your figures are spot on.

  11. Great debate guys.
    You are spot on about SEO being just a tactic along with an arsenal of other tactics.
    So often clients will label the whole thing simply SEO. It does make a great pitch story when you can expand on the SEO part and talk about increasing their revenue though, so in this sense, not having a defined name for it works to my advantage:)

  12. I’m firmly in the confusion camp here.
    I don’t see any reason why SEO+Social+Content+PR+Outreach+Analytics+CRO needs a different name other than internet or perhaps digital marketing?
    So DM/IM includes paid search? So what?
    Perhaps you don’t do any PR, does SEO+Social+Content+Outreach+Analytics+CRO need a different name as well?
    What if you don’t include social, does that need a different name too?
    I must admit, I tend to be a bit of a cynic, and thing this is all about a company taking a gamble on a new term and carving a niche for themselves.

    1. Matt – I agree, I think it’s a confusing term that we have no need for. If we take the view of the general public, the term ‘Inbound Marketing’ could still include paid search, we are assuming that they understand that we are only referring to natural search!
      Hope that makes sense, lots of ‘that’ ‘they’ and ‘we’.

  13. SEO shouldn’t exist, but it exists because designers/developers don’t follow best practices when it comes to coding and user interaction. If developers and designers did their job properly there will be no need for “onsite” SEO.
    Then we have “offsite” SEO which is mainly link building and social “stuff”, this is not SEO, it is just on-line PR everything else is just buzzwords to impress clients – I guess.
    So yes, very extreme opinion I guess, but our industry shouldn’t really exist but it does because folks don’t do their jobs properly.

    1. While I see your point, I would have to boldly disagree with that statement.
      The process of building/planning a website is no different than the process of building a new home. The reasoning that a designer or developer should be solely responsible for “onsite” SEO is similar to stating that a carpenter framing the house should be responsible for running the electric (or plumbing).
      Different specialties are needed to perform different tasks in order to be the most efficient. That being said, each of these specialties should have a solid understanding of what the others do. Hence the carpenter (designer) should have an understanding of what is needed for the plumber (SEO) to do their job proficiently.
      The SEO industry exists because search engines exist. NOT because a web designer is not doing their job properly.

      1. Michael, I agree completely with your sentiment. I’d re-phrase your second-to-last sentence as:
        The SEO industry exists because search engines exist, and are at least somewhat limited by the fluid and imprecise nature of language.
        Basically Google can read a page, but if you say “poodle puppies” on your page and the searcher is searching for “baby poodles”, Google won’t directly equate the two terms…even though any human could immediately tell that they’re referring to the same thing.
        If/when Google gets to the point where it can read, comprehend, and contextualize as well as a human, that could all change. But until then, I think SEOs’ jobs are safe. πŸ™‚

  14. I recall this post from Rand almost a year ago:
    This one got me scratching my head, because while we can all agree the set of concerns for SEO has widened, I’m not convinced CRO, Community Management, Content Strategy, etc, all fit neatly under the domain of the SEO. Does any Internet Marketer worth her salt need to think about these? Absolutely. Just like a CRO specialist should be aware of the SEO implications of what he’s doing (AJAX, Pagination, etc), a Content Strategist should understand calls-to-action for CRO and crafting infographic embed code that lends itself to SEO, etc.
    Even HubSpot’s own definition of Inbound Marketing has some frustrating nuance – paid search and email are neither inbound nor outbound. They could be either one, depending on how they’re used. If that’s the case I’d argue the same for PR, Social, Content Strategy – if you’re using these in, as you say, stupid ways, your’e going to use them in thinly self-promotional ways that fall flat. In terms of Inbound Marketing, you’d be using them as outbound channels, and you’d lose.
    It’s really about understanding the way people create a curated web experience for themselves and that today there’s little choice left but to create valuable stuff people love and share. It makes marketing harder than when the channels still had novelty, when people actually willingly consumed ads because they weren’t drowning in them and forced to be incredibly skeptical of anything with even a remote air of commerce, but it gives us all the opportunity to leave better work behind when we die at our keyboards.
    How about “holistic marketing?” Or “competitive webmastering?” Or maybe “permission marketing?”
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with coining a phrase that helps you create a shorthand for an importance concept. But there’s a risk you’re just tossing some more mud into already-murky waters.

  15. I think the most telling part of Rand’s analysis is the comparison set.
    It’s a comparison of “Inbound Marketing” to two other phrase that are seldom used outside of the industry. “Organic Marketing”: never; “Earned Media”: only by PR firms when trying to validate their existence.
    I’d love to see your charts with “PPC”, “Social Media”, “SEO”.
    I’ll admit, Inbound Marketing is a nice catch-all, but it still doesn’t *explain* anything and that’s one of the toughest parts of what we do, explaining it.

    1. That’s pretty much how I feel. Regardless to the title attached to the job, some people will get it and others will not get it. You can’t win the game 100% of the time.
      I’ve been using Internet Strategist to summarize what I do across all channels/services. For me, it includes: website development, search engine optimization, paid channels, social media, CRO, analytical work, etc… all the same services you’d assume. I feel the title fits because what I do involves the Internet and a plan (or strategy.)
      I think this is one of those situations where it’s OK to where multiple hats at once, no reason to create a catch-all hat.

    2. “I’ll admit, Inbound Marketing is a nice catch-all, but it still doesn’t *explain* anything and that’s one of the toughest parts of what we do, explaining it.”
      Will states what I have also been trying to grasp. Maybe a step further is that “Inbound”, to me, does not resonate or clearly represent a *defined* set of marketing segments that would fall under an umbrella term the same way that “Digital”, “Web”, “Online” and “Internet” do.
      OK. I get the common threads here. But I’m still trying to grasp how this truly is different from Search Marketing:
      Especially since we are living in a Google Plus Your World where social has crossed the line into search. Also adding to the confusion is that various PPC aspects, like Facebook sponsored stories, feed directly into social which is part of the Inbound chain…
      Another layer of confusion comes from HubSpot and how they became, to me, synonymous with Inbound Marketing a few years back:
      Perhaps the conversation would lead in a clearer direction if we started discussing Inbound Marketing in comparison to Direct Marketing?
      From a PPC point of view, Direct Marketing has a meaning that pay per click marketers can gravitate towards, while Inbound… umm, not so much.

  16. How many ways are we going to slice it before it’s so diluted that no one listens!
    ‘Inbound’ as a word is vague at best, and does not describe SEO+Social+Content+PR+Outreach+Analytics+CRO. Analytics is not inbound marketing; there’s nothing inbound about it. Perhaps I am cynical from attempting to describe to people what I do, over and over, ad infinitum.

  17. Honestly, who cares what it is called? The actions we do each day are the same either way.
    Both blog posts are interesting insights about how terms are being adopted.
    Non-SEO/inbound/online/internet/social media marketers struggle to understand the concept of SEO, let alone introducing new terms which cover more disciplines.

  18. Totally agree Ian. You’ve said what we’re all thinking.
    “Inbound Marketing” is HubSpot’s term and their way of labelling the industry. It’s the equivalent of us renaming SEO as “Marketing Redistribution” and then running around hoping it catches on.
    You took the words right out of my mouth.
    We’ve spent years trying to get people to understand SEO as a term so a new term is illogical and a backwards step. Sure “SEO” as a term has been damaged by bad people doing it badly, but those same people will destroy any other term we use.
    For the marketing managers who have spent years trying to get their teams and bosses to understand SEO let’s just stop this renaming stuff now. It doesn’t make sense to have to reducate everyone all other again.

  19. Love banter between two people I respect immensely, Lets talk less about if we agree / disagree and just go do whatever out definition of SEO is GTD! πŸ™‚
    The one thing I will say is that Rand has more visibility than most of us do, so he can move an naming system more than we can. I learned that when I worked with MBUSA in 1999 – no one called used luxury cars pre-owned – they spent a LOT of money and years on it and guess what now many people refer to a used lexus or BMW as pre-owned.
    My point, a Used BMW is a used BMW, whether you call it pre-owned or not. It still needs an engine, wheels, and a transmission or its nothing, so call SEO what you will, but it still requires outreach, connecting with people, technical chops, and writing skills.

    1. I think we all know Rand’s definition will end up winning. I’m just some guy in an office πŸ™‚
      Seriously, ‘inbound’ has been around for a few years now. I’m pretty sure Hubspot led the charge there, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I do think it’s important for us in the marketing industry to think carefully about the implications of the words we use, though, since words are really our craft. So the discussion is great.

  20. To say that we should just call it Internet marketing assumes the industry “gets” the philosophy behind permission-based marketing. This is still the biggest disconnect in my experience.
    Folks outside of SEO still don’t fully understand SEO, and now they’re even more likely to be confused because SEOs are now branching out to do social, PR, analytics, CRO, outreach, etc. To us, yes, it’s the evolution of marketing.
    But to our colleagues and bosses (keep in mind that much of the confusion is on the part of the client side, not agencies), they don’t understand how we need to do more than just SEO to accomplish what they misunderstand to be… just SEO. If you don’t understand the philosophy, the tactics will always remain a mystery.
    If we continue to uniquely combine SEO+Social+Content+PR+Outreach+Analytics+CRO, it needs a name. Calling it “marketing” or “Internet marketing” only further blurs the line between the philosophies of push and pull marketing.
    In my opinion, the only way to really drive home the philosophy of permission-based marketing is to call it something specific and different so that those who view it with confusion are forced to learn it by the name of inbound marketing.

    1. Many clients have enough trouble sorting out the differences between all the pieces of Internet marketing, as well as the facets of each; sometimes the debate over whether it should be “Inbound” or “Internet” marketing feels secondary to education.

  21. Definitely find myself agreeing with Matt in that it sounds like this would lead to the need for a new title for each unique job. My question would be if “Internet Marketing” or “Digital Marketing” is too broad or not completely accurate “So what?”
    Is creating a new title really going to alleviate any confusion? It’s certainly not going to change the job itself or what the job entails.

  22. I think your right Rand wouldn’t be pushing “inbound marketing” if his site ranked for “Seo”. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this as it’s a strategy to not only rank but differiate his services from competitors (I.e. Will’s pre owned vs used). We all know that when you invent new words, you are seen as the authority in that field.
    As internet marketers it’s healthy that we have a little cynism over what our peers are doing and this post did just that. Props!

  23. It becomes problematic on a fundamental level when definitions focus on the tools we use. We should focus on what we do rather than focusing on the tools we use to do it.
    When television, arguably a powerful marketing tool, was introduced. Professionals didn’t start calling themselves “Television Marketers.” The also were wise enough not to suddenly throw away the other tools in the toolbox.

  24. Also, while we’re discussing semantics, what is “conversation” marketing? Isn’t it just Internet marketing with a different name?

    1. Shhhhhh! πŸ™‚
      See above – I talk about that in a note. It’s a very old term and was only meant to be the blog’s title when I came up with it.

  25. SEO is a great term, overall to explain it to a layman, I generally use the word Internet Marketing (SEO+Social+Content+PR+Outreach+Analytics+CRO), which is more easier to explain, and get digested by the business owner much easier, compared to when you say SEO, and their eyebrows raise.

  26. Ian, I have been really torn with this subject as well… (and agree with what you have to say here)
    We all know that the SEO industry has gotten a bad wrap/name throughout the years. We all know why too… A lot of this irreversible damage has been caused by the “self-proclaimed internet marketer or SEO” that offers services they don’t really understand.
    This isn’t the only industry where things like this happens. It is present everywhere. I just don’t believe it is a cause for coming up with a brand new term to encompass what an “internet marketer” already does.
    I really feel that we need to spend more time educating and informing our clients about what we do, rather than confuse them with a new term. There isn’t a more powerful tool than knowledge.
    Although, on the other hand, having a term to “segment” specific titles into a category is convenient, I just do not think it is needed at this time.

  27. Ian… first of all… let me say… I’m a huge fan! I think what you do is great. And you’re authentic and helpful as bacon is delicious in smell and tasteful… So… please take my comments against this contextual backdrop of respect and admiration.
    But I just want to throw this out there…
    Is it at all possible that Rand and the SEOMoz crew just boxed themselves into a corner with their SEO-centric name?
    And now…
    As SEOMoz realizes the potential business downside of maintaining a blatant SEO label they decide they want to be perceived as a more holistic – dare I say – “Internet Marketing” firm? And without a new term, they’ll almost certainly be pigeon-holed with the con-artists and used-car salesman.
    It was just an idea. But I’m curious on your thoughts.

    1. Hi Jeff – thanks!
      I don’t think they’ve boxed themselves in at all. Their brand is pretty powerful, and they’ve expanded nicely. Plus, they can always just drop the ‘SEO’. And, in my experience, there’s always a big population that things marketing is generally awful. I always joke that I went to law school, then chose to go into the only profession MORE hated: Marketing.
      I do think this is a larger discussion than just company brands – Hubspot started it with their huge success around the term ‘inbound marketing’. We’ll see where it goes.

  28. Well, I’m just a clueless copywriter, but I always thought it was Internet Marketing, too. It’s marketing for the Internet…what am I missing here?
    This discussion reminds me of an article I read many years ago in Texas Monthly. At the time, theme bars were the rage — wine bars, piano bars, fern bars. (Fern bars??) The article’s author came out in favor of bar-bars — you know, what used to be called, well, just a bar.
    Sometimes a bar is just a bar. And sometimes Internet marketing is just, well, Internet marketing.
    Take it from whence it comes: a clueless copywriter. Now it’s noon, and I think I’ll head to the bar-bar.

  29. Internet Marketing = lots of things that people do to market on the Internet that don’t necessarily have overlapping influence on one another nor synergistic impacts when combined.
    SEO+Social+Content+PR+Outreach+Analytics+CRO = several specific tactics/channels that work in a concerted way and that bolster each other.
    Permission Marketing = email (opt-in). I can’t think of it as anything else, and when I see it described/referenced, it’s always in that fashion.
    Conversation Marketing is actually great. I like both that and organic marketing better than I like “inbound” as raw terms. But, Inbound’s got traction, the others don’t. Hence, I’m going to stick with the one that the most people are going to grasp.

    1. Oh, we’re all going there whether we like it or not. I’ve had my whine. Now I’ll get some cheese, and I’m all done.

  30. I have to disagree on this point here: “Internet Marketing = lots of things that people do to market on the Internet that don’t necessarily have overlapping influence on one another nor synergistic impacts when combined.”
    Paid search online display ads and other form of paid ads have been proven quite a bit to impact the SEO+Social+Content+PR+Outreach+Analytics+CRO equation. You also need to factor branding – in all of these elements, as well as site design. Offline efforts drive people online, what do we call that? Frankly, to me, it’s online / internet marketing, or offline / traditional marketing. Segmentation of expertise happens from there. Some practices involve more crossover that others, and many should crossover between online and offline. I’m just not as convinced that the inbound marketing definition is as relevant as it was when Hubspot first coined the term years ago.

  31. And even if we have to re-explain ourselves every time we meet with a potential client or random Joe on the street, isn’t that a perfect sales opportunity?
    If they think SEO is all about spam, and you come at them with CRO, social media, analytics, and the like, explaining how SEO isn’t spam, you’ve got an in to explain your unique product offering.
    Really, the term “SEO” being associated with spam or being too narrow seems like it might even be a good thing. Showing them just how awesome you are, above and beyond simple search, is a great way to grab more attention.

  32. “….Introduce a new concept, write a ton of content about it, then spread the word and hope it goes viral. If it does, woo hoo!”
    Well, shee-it, I think you have just described the heart and soul of what *marketing* is and always has been. Before there was Coca Cola there was “carbonated health tonic” and look what they did with a new concept wrapped around an old idea.
    The only part you left out is the part about all of that working and driving real revenue for the company that coined the concept.
    So what’s the debate here?

  33. “inbound marketing” is much better than SSCPOAC, but maybe there’s a new acronym we could create like”SASPOCC”. It sounds like “Sasquatch”. Since Bigfoot is Sasquatch, we could just call “inbound marketing” “Bigfoot”, and it would encompass everything “inbound”, but it would be much more fun to talk about and overhear at search and inbound marketing sessions.
    Former “SEO”: “We Bigfoot to make your business perform online.”
    Prospect: “Awesome! it sounds like it will crush the competition.”

  34. I have to agree with you on this, Ian. ‘Internet marketing’ makes sense to laymen where ‘inbound marketing’ does not.
    Yes, I specialize in SEO, but my every day tasks also span social media, CRO, PR, content creation, analytics, etc. But I can’t explain that to anyone who doesn’t already know what those are. Inbound marketing is no different. But if you tell someone you do ‘internet marketing’, they can grasp the concept without having the know the specific tactics.

  35. So happy to see this post, Ian. As I completely agree, and had this very conversation with Jen Lopez last week on Twitter – started by this tweet –!/MichelleRobbins/status/177979803666878464
    In summary, if we need to make up new words, we’re doing it wrong. Channels will always change – do we need to make up new words for what is, fundamentally marketing, each time a channel changes or emerges? If we need new terms because we cannot otherwise describe what we do…perhaps there’s actually a number of other, more fundamental problems that need to be addressed.
    I do think the creation of a new term is not happening because it’s needed – because brands don’t understand the marketing done on the web in all it’s various forms. In fact, I think it only contributes to the further distrust many brands have of internet marketers. And I think it blurs, not clarifies, any transparency in tactics or channels. I also think it highlights a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of marketing.
    Though describing your own firms’ services as ‘inbound’ may be great marketing (“We don’t sell wrinkle cream! We sell facial enhancement!”) it’s neither necessary nor meaningful as a definition of internet marketing tactics and channels as a whole.

    1. It’s just like in the 80s, when Certs were “the only mints with Retsyn”.
      Of course they were – Retsyn was a registered trademark of the company that made Certs. πŸ™‚
      Very well-put Michelle!

  36. As I’m reading this, I’m reminded of the Myers-Briggs personality test. Some people like to put things into boxes, and break those boxes into sub-boxes and so forth. These people typically come from science and engineering backgrounds. I remember this because I am one of those types. There are other more literal types, who come more from backgrounds of language and communication, who do not like the boxes. I remember this because I dated one many years ago, and she hated all of my boxes!
    I say just chalk this up to personality types, and their way of processing information differently.

    1. Now, since I’m a “box” type of guy (see above), here’s my opinion:
      I see the terms Inbound/Outbound as two mutually exclusive boxes *under* the general term of Internet marekting, not in replacement of. I do think it is useful to group and name these activities seperately. I’m not sure I agree with those being the best names for the 2 boxes, but I do think the concept of there being basically 2 boxes is sound.
      I worked at a company who in fact had these as two seperate teams – organic vs paid marketing. The terms used were different, but the concepts were the same as the inbbound/outbound concepts.
      To the extent that teams are actually being formed around these groupings of activities, clearly there’s some difference there, for which it would be useful to have industry-standardized terms.

      1. @neal except that a box already exists πŸ™‚ it’s called internet marketing. or online marketing. as distinct from traditional or offline marketing – which is what is described when ‘outbound’ marketing is defined (only by inbound marketers – the rest of the world still calls this “offline marketing” or “traditional marketing”). organic vs. paid live in the box of online marketing. they are simply 2 different sub-channels. just like billboards and tv are sub-channels of offline marketing.
        i just think making new boxes to re-describe existing boxes is redundant. and is a function of positioning your products or services, not actually describing a thing that is so esoteric as to need a new box. but hey! look at all of us here — driving up the number of discussions, references and links to the ‘inbound’ branding concept. my hat is off to it’s marketing maven creators. truly. and if they succeed in getting an entire industry (or large portion thereof) to believe it is something real that currently does not already exist, then, well played!
        i just hope someone can do the same for ‘shin’ – that one has always bugged me. can we call it ‘footbound’ instead?? πŸ˜‰

        1. If we take the “box” idea, I’d agree with Michelle – “Internet marketing” is the main box, and there are a dozen smaller sub-boxes under it.
          And if some sub-boxes (paid search & email, apparently according to Hubspot) can be either inbound or outbound, why not just show all the boxes and explain to the clients which ones we’re using and how we’re combining them?

  37. I wish I had the time to jump in and really give my .02 here. The amount of energy going into the discussion of a phrase is astounding. Everyone else must have all their marketing done for the day or something. I’m still going.
    (Plus I assumed everyone knew this was a dipshit phrase invented most assuredly at Starbucks by some mediocre sales nerd who couldn’t sell his current product using the same words as the other guys.)

  38. I respectfully disagree here. I think there’s enough room on the web for generalists (Internet Marketing, which covers far more ground than Inbound) as well as folks who specialize in a specific combination of channels. They’re simply not the same thing and it’s just part of human nature to differentiate and stratify.
    Like several others here, I think that this is a good conversation for the internet marketing/inbound marketing industry to have. A great example from a related industry is the dust-up that information architects and UX designers had with… content strategists! They argued for years over definitions, who owned what disciplines and tactics, and they emerged from it with a wholly new set of experts, best practices, tools, and services. Sure, it wasn’t always amiable, but overall it did yield new learnings and knowledge.
    This will happen/is already happening with SEO and inbound marketing, too. It’s a sign of an industry in transition and one that is, quite frankly, finally growing up. Inbound marketing and its core philosophies and skillsets are a step forward for us – and they don’t have to be the end-point.
    Don’t hate… iterate! πŸ™‚

  39. It seems that maybe one way to look at this is that people like Ian and Rank and Will and Wil and others here and not here have been in this industry a long time, and their opinions are based on extensive industry experience. There’s a lot of passion, and likely both figurative and literal blood sweat and tears shed by these industry experts. That leads to people who care greatly about how their profession, their business, and the future of this industry is represented in words – so it’s not just casual wordplay or semantics when it comes to the discussion of how we or anyone should or could refer to the myriad skills and duties that go along with – whatever we’re calling what it is that we do.
    Another way to look at it, for whatever this is worth, is that all words and all terms used – fried eggs, republican, SEO – will carry certain connotations and meanings specific to the listener. SEO or inbound marketing either will or won’t have specific associations in the listener. So even if we all agree what to call… what we do or aspects of what we do or the totality of what we do, we may need to be more concerned with how a listener is impacted by what we say, and adjust to that on a case by case basis. Yeah, I get that our websites can’t easily be chameleon-like (unless your developer is pretty talented πŸ˜‰ and present the exact verbiage that will be best-received by each and every visitor, but in actual conversations with prospects and customers where the real relationships begin, are maintained, and end, those clients and prospects are going to have specific associations to specific words.
    Is this discussion important? More than I realize, I’m sure. I’m just saying that no matter what we call what we do and no matter what we do or don’t agree to, there is a saying that “the meaning of your communication is the response you get” – the idea in this context being that it’s not how the speaker defines words that’s the most important part of a communication, it’s how the listener interprets those words. We could insist that our clients and prospects come to us and meet us where we are and adapt to our understandings and terminology definitions, but that’s a lot like going to Japan and demanding everyone speak English. Being willing to be flexible in each situation with each prospect and client seems more important than what we in the industry think we should call what we do. And ultimately – assuming your clients and customers are business people using our services and not a bunch of industry insiders like us (*cough Rand cough*) aren’t what the people who pay the bills worth a little flexibility and verbal jiu-jitsu?

  40. Maybe I’m behind the trends but I personally have never heard the term “Inbound Marketing” and I didn’t read Rand’s post…
    We have been trying to define what it is we do as SEO’s and now Social Media “Marketers” since the birth of the internet. I used chat rooms in 1997 to market my pet supply website. Did I need a word to define what it is that I did? No…
    Just say you are a marketer and tell the client what strategies you intend on using to get them money.
    If we find a word for what we do, then its going to need to be redefined in 2 months when the next popular marketing strategy hits the masses.
    Now stop wasting you time on the word or phrase and just do it.

  41. I think the problem everyone is having is that the practices of SEO, paid search, online PR, social media, email marketing, lead management, web site development and design, content development, mobile marketing and probably a dozen things I’m leaving off , which once existed as discrete, separate disciplines, starting converging as the internet became more social. Clients have organizational and budgetary structures that create siloed management functions. But, these things are all interconnected now. Even on the paid media side, for example, is it more effect to offer someone a call to action via an ad or though a relevant, helpful piece of content. To me, what creates the difference is the unit of communication behind the tactic…is it an ad, a press release or is it content. This has been the truly disruptive force on all these disciplines. It wasn’t practical or efficient in the past for marketers to become actual content producers. Now, the cost of entry has dropped so low that a ten year old can be a content super star. And, having seen the results that engaging content , informed by insights gained from search behavior and social listening, can have on major brands showed me all these things now have to come together. To me, its not so much about whether the end users found you or you found them. It’s about the communication experience they had with you in either case. You could use paid search or organic to get people to a spammy site and the experience would still suck. You could also use paid search, retargeting and a blog to get people really helpful videos and downloadable pdfs on how to take better photos and they would still find the content compelling, no matter wither it was paid media or organic. To me, content is at the heart of this debate. All the other elements are just the necessary skills needed to get your content to the right people at the right place and right time to help our clients sell more stuff. And that’s what marketing’s all about anyway, isn’t it?

  42. I agree that Internet Marketing is probably a better term to describe a broader set of disciplines that just SEO. That said, I’m also a bit concerned that Internet Marketing may already have it’s own meaning attached to the term (and not necessarily in a good way). Am I the only one who has seen “internet marketer” slathered all over people who live in the netherworld that surrounds MLM gurus who happen to ply their wares via the web?
    On a broader note, I also find interesting the battle to create a new phrase and to push new ideas into the marketplace. Doing so creates an assumed expertise. I see the same thing happening as the industry moves from “social media” into the worlds of “social business” and “the social enterprise.” To the degree those camps win those battles, untold riches and higher consulting fees await.
    Like you, Ian, I think this is an important discussion and one worth having intelligently. I’m not sure we’ll ever see any meaningful resolution, but it is important.

  43. I am a lowly business owner who has limited experience with the many facets of SEO and other forms of internet marketing. I have huge respect for Rand, Ian, and the rest of you who have made a science out of this subject. It is absolutely fascinating. I read as much as I can, filter as necessary, and put into practice what I have learned. It really works. It is amazing.
    My impression as a relative outsider is that inbound marketing as a business descriptor is a sham. It is really just one facet of marketing, pure and simple. Marketing has always included influencing influencers, who directly or indirectly refer business to you. Inbound marketing is a variation on that very old theme. I agree that it is useful to at least carve out Internet Marketing as a field, but that is sufficiently granular. Most business owners (your clients) will roll their eyes if you describe yourself as an inbound marketer. Sure, mention that as a concept or strategy, but not to say what your business is all about. I know Hubspot has mined that term to death, but that is hardly a justification for making it a business description. IMHO, you guys are Internet Marketers, and that is plenty impressive and descriptive. And don’t worry that there are lots of snake oil salesmen in the crowd. Your clients will see through that. They have to deal with that in their own industries as well. The problem is hardly unique to Internet Marketing.
    This is a great conversation.

    1. Tim, there is no such thing as a lowly business owner. That’s what it comes down to, running a successful business. And I whole-heartedly agree, “inbound marketing” is a catch phrase to introduce a new way to think of marketing that is now no longer new. At the end of the day, in a way, isn’t it all “inbound” anyway? Getting people to your business either offline or online?

  44. Great discussion, i wanted to let the comments/flames build a little before commenting myself.
    “Labelling” is a VERY easy trap to fall into – and since everyone attaches these labels to themselves, it can become a vanity issue as well. The amount of energy expended on categorising or naming something – especially against convention – is normally a zero-sum game.
    This comes back to some sage advice from an old boss when I was negotiating my promotion and what label would come with it. He said “if you’re worrying about what to call it more than getting it done, then you’re worrying about the wrong thing”.

  45. Awesome thread. All the cool people are here, I’d feel left out if I didn’t comment.
    I totally get what you’re saying, Rand. ‘Inbound marketing’ does make sense and we DO need a term that encapsulates non-paid, non-interruptive online marketing. Sadly, SEO got an acronym in about 1996 and then the industry grew into this giant, awesome thing, and the work evolved into so much more than search engine optimization. But the acronym stuck. The name stuck. Even today, people will often call PPC ‘paid search’ but SEO is always just called, SEO.
    If anyone can change this it’s Rand. But I’m still stuck with Ian on the whole ‘internet marketing’ thing. When I’m sitting next to someone on a plane, and they’re obviously smart and get it, and I say that I do ‘internet marketing’ they instantly understand. If I say SEO, probably not. If I say ‘inbound marketing’ I’m sure they’d ask me what the hell that is!
    What we do is online marketing. There are several subsets of that work. There are paid and non-paid aspects of that work (although I’d absolutely argue that PPC and SEO do not need explicit separation. Their integration is essential for success when both channels are active. But I digress.)
    There is a lot of inertia around the term ‘SEO’. It’s going to take a long time to change that.
    Brings me back to 2008 when I wrote this:
    Internet Marketing and the Limitations of Language

  46. The danger in segmenting organic, inbound and earned media is that it creates silos. When there are silos each “program” ends up being managed separately with no regard for the relationships between them.
    I’ve started looking at the multi-channel funnels in analytics and it’s ridiculous how many touch points people go through before buying. As time goes on the winners will be the ones who can wrap their head around those relationships and make actionable decisions based on that data. That’s going to require someone who knows “online marketing” as a whole, not just one part of it.

  47. Awesome post and engaging comments.
    Marketing is still marketing to me; a strategy. Tactics will always change and so will the names for them.
    At the end of the day, if you’re too focused on segmenting tactics then you risk being myopic and missing the real insights hidden between the lines.

  48. To hopefully provide some historic context to all this — some that Hubspot may or may not have grasped when it was among those who started using this “inbound” term —
    Danny Sullivan called search a “reverse broadcast network” (or something like that). Jakob Nielsen called it “demand marketing”. Etc.
    This is more than just opt-in email/permission … which was certainly a change too. It’s people expressing their specific interests in something (sometimes, fairly identifiably, with high commercial intent) by typing, tippity-tap, some keywords into the box.
    It’s not just that it’s *targeted*, it’s that they’ve *stated* their interest explicitly. This intersects with Battelle’s concept of a “database of intentions.”
    I don’t mind the term “inbound marketing” in general, but unlike the above (narrow) concept centered around search, the “Hubspot version” is, to use a technical term, pretty squishy.
    I’m still not sure I get it. There are many ways to describe similar things: building a reputation, PR, spreading the gospel, networking, buzz, a 360 degree approach to online visibility, becoming a digital native, “getting it,” plus a bunch of the things I’ve picked up (after already doing them personally, but now at least having validation from authors who are teaching novices) from books like Six Pixels of Separation and The Whuffie Factor.
    I think it’s fair and still exciting to think of search (and very few other consumer behaviors) as somehow *special* because of the explicit nature of the “demand exhibiting” behavior. That’s something fairly specific that we capitalize on professionally — with a set of practices — in my case largely through SEM.
    I’m not feeling the same sense of clarity about “inbound marketing,” though I can vaguely recognize the characteristics of companies who have done a really good job of “it”.
    Was Michael Arrington a good “inbound marketer” before selling to AOL. I guess probably. A much older expression for the same type of person used to be: “he has a finger in every pie.”

  49. “SEO” is to narrow, it’s one piece of what we’re trying to describe here… agreed.
    “Internet Marketing” is too broad… fair enough.
    But I think that “Inbound Marketing” is indeed too broad as well. Let’s not forget that while everyone reading and commenting on this post is online 24×7, there is still a whole real world out there that doesn’t happen online. I know, shocking. But to me, “inbound marketing” also implies all of that. It implies doing a free seminar at the local chamber of commerce. It is not specific to “online” or “internet” whereas the group of services Rand is seeking to categorize are all activities that take root online.
    “Inbound Internet Marketing” would be more accurate. That said, it’s more of a mouthful and a two-word phrase is just way cooler than a three-word phrase.

  50. Ian:
    Great post BTW – I wish I would have stumbled upon this last month, but alas I just did. Just want to add one point to the debate so that maybe it helps with semantic understanding.
    Internet Marketing = Inbound Marketing + Online Outbound Marketing
    All Internet Marketing tactics fall in one of two buckets – Inbound or Outbound – Interruption or Permission if you will. Those items for which Rand discusses firmly fall into inbound or permission. All of the others fall into outbound or interruption. Outbound marketing exists offline as well – TV, magazine ads, direct mail, etc.
    After reading a couple dozen comments above it is clear that many don’t understand these distinctions. It’s important to understand these distinctions in order to have an honest debate IMO.

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