Noise: The state of internet marketing

Ian Lurie

How’s internet marketing doing these days?
I give it a B-. An 80%. The other 20% got lost in the noise.

Good stuff

Internet marketing is growing up!
Marketers with multi-million dollar budgets no longer look at me like a cockroach when I walk into their boardrooms. My relatives no longer think I sell porn for a living. A lot of marketers actually think before they throw wads of money at the web.
And, we’ve become kind of – dare I say it? – respectable. There are some big, competent agencies out there. Blueglass is thumping around, snapping up talent, scaring the living crap out of boutiques like mine (and yes, that’s a good thing). Big brands are carving out chunks of their marketing budgets for us. It’s a far more mature market than it was ten years ago.

Internal threats

Alas, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are still ripoffs aplenty: The scammers still outnumber the real marketers. Agencies and ‘professionals’ make ridiculous claims and spread total misinformation.
The worst part is, I think half of them don’t know any better. The competence level in our industry is embarrassing.
By the way, I’m not suggesting that traditional marketing was much better. But internet marketing is younger. We can’t afford a high yokel factor yet – it tarnishes the whole industry. And that hurts us.

External threats

Internet marketing – at least agency- and consultant-driven internet marketing – is under pressure from outside, too.
Many clients are trying to reduce costs by moving internet marketing in-house. They figure replacing a whole team with a single person has to pay off, cause it’s, you know, cheaper.
At the same time, the affiliate game is getting harder. A single company – Google – controls more and more of the audience. And they’ve cracked down on the kind of arbitrage that makes affiliate marketing so attractive. I don’t think that’s permanent, and the good affiliates still do just fine. But the slowdown is driving a lot of lousy affiliates to sell their ‘methods’ to unsuspecting clients. That’s another huge temptation for business owners looking for easy solutions. Why spend $10,000 on a consultant if you can buy Jimmy John Billy Bob’s $200 Earn Money While You Sleep Plan?
Yep. More noise.

Fixing it

We can’t keep growing and maturing an industry when the noise level drowns out the music. We have to squelch the noise. A few ideas:

  • Stop debating the clueless. Arguing with them just makes them look smarter. Don’t let someone draw you into an argument about some theoretical ‘method’ for top rankings.
  • Beat up the bullies. On the other hand, when the scammers use seedy promises to rip off clients, call them on it. Don’t ‘talk it over’. Don’t ‘teach the controversy’. Sock them in the mouth.
  • Debate the smart folks. Clarify each other’s points, like Jill Whelan did with me last week. That stuff’s great, and it’s invaluable. It raises the quality of information, and it keeps us sharp for the bullies.
  • Get holistic. If you’re an SEO, learn some conversion rate optimization. That way, you can help a client out when the traffic goes up, but sales don’t. If you’re a developer, learn a little SEO. It won’t kill you.
  • Educate. Don’t just do stuff. Explain to clients why you’re doing it. Even better, coach a fellow marketer who’s looking to learn. You are not training a competitor. You are training a colleague.
  • Show ’em the results. Never send a report to a client without showing what’s worked, in terms that matter to them. Don’t talk rankings, impressions and visitors. Talk leads, pipeline and sales.

There are lots of other ways, I’ll bet, to grow and improve internet marketing as an industry. What are your ideas?

Other, etc. and stuff

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, 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. Ian,
    I’m a long time listener , first time caller – love the show.
    I agree with the sentiment about noise. However I’m trying not to add to it as I have been becoming a one man marching band in marketing and promoting my own site, While being asked to help others with theirs. I would rather build something closer to the 10K consultant than the Jimmy John Billy Bob’s $200 Earn Money While You Sleep Plan.
    Thanks for keeping it real (read: relevant and fun)

  2. This post is right on target. Internet marketing is very new compared to other types of marketing and lacks discipline. I agree with you that we as online marketers can police our own industry by identifying the scammers and encouraging people to avoid these crooks and seek out legitimate sources of information on how to do it well.
    I suspect that online marketing will mature some over the next few years and many of these problems will be reduced. However, the free-form nature of the internet may prevent the industry from ever being scammer-free.
    Thanks and best regards!

  3. Hi Ian,
    An excellent read. Down here in Australia, as there are worldwide, there are quite a few scammers looking to take people for a ride. Internet marketing is still somewhat in it’s infancy here, certainly from a retail point of view, so hopefully the good will reign supreme!

  4. I also see this trend toward corporate recognition of the legitimacy in online marketing, but I’m not entirely sure if it will completely be a good thing. Overt, corporate marketing campaigns can seem contrived and turn off online customers, but covert ones can create an even bigger scandal if and when they are finally revealed as a marketing plot. Something like that can sting for a while.
    It does seem though, like this trend toward bigger teams and budgets is going to have a big impact – but will it end up as another bubble as people go back to the more organic networks that made the internet great in the first place?

  5. The great thing about reading your blog is that it’s great information packaged in the funniest wrap.
    Personally, I think the best, yet hardest way, is to actually educate most of the C-level people on the points you’ve mentioned. Cause in the end, decisions happen there, and you want to hit where it hurts most.

  6. @Pushan Glad you like the wrap 🙂
    I agree. The C level people have to be educated. But I think we’ll have better luck by educating their staff, and then letting their staff, who have more credibility than us, do the C-level education.

  7. I really enjoyed this article, and I really wanted to share it with my peers on Facebook. However, you have your links set up so that no matter what I do, all I get is a generic link to your site instead of a pertinent, relevant link to this article. I can think of a dozen good reasons as to why you may have chosen to do this, but it is actually very annoying and it dissuades me from wanting to share your content with others who have not discovered it on their own.

  8. Great article, the industry could really do with more education and less focus on “bambuzlement” fast cash. A holistic approach takes lots of time and energy though.
    Also learnt a couple of new words “yokel” and another that escapes me now. Quirky writing!
    I think Emilio refers to the like button that shares your home page, though the sharethis is not doing much better, attempted to use it for a tweet and got this: “‘url’ parameter does not contain a valid URL”.
    I also recently had similar problems with sharethis in a couple of WordPress blogs.

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