What's the Difference?

Ian Lurie

Internet marketing is not just a phrase that some agencies use to bill more. An internet marketing agency is altogether different from, say, a web site design firm or a search engine marketer. Internet marketing agencies do all of the things you’d get from these kinds of firms, but they pull it together in a unique way. Whether that way is best for you is another matter. I’ll try to help you decide in this post.

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I’ve been to a lot of family events in the last month. Which means that I’m spending a lot of time, as always, re-explaining what I do for a living, so that I’m not just “Ian-the-one-who-went-to-law-school-but-didn’t-practice-law”.

The typical conversation goes like this:

Me: I’m an internet marketer.
Them: Oh, so you’re a web designer.
Me: Well, we do that, but that’s not our whole job.
Them: Oh, so you do search engine work whatchamacallit? Optimization?
Me: Well, yes we do that too, but that’s not all, either.
Them: (silence)
Me: See, we combine analytics, search marketing, media planning and design to help people make more money online.
(Hapless victim slinks away from me, avoiding eye contact).

So what’s an internet marketing agency? To me, the definition is:

An agency that combines creative, technology, analytics and marketing/advertising to help a client efficiently achieve business goals.

Sounds fancy, but basically it means that we do whatever it ethically takes to help you sell more, get more votes, get more leads, or just get in front of more folks.

We do design, but we focus on a clear call to action and an easy to use site as much as brand.

We build online stores and fancy web systems, but only when they’ll clearly contribute to the bottom line.

We buy and manage pay-per-click ads and other advertising, but only if we can measure it, and prove it’s generating a return.

But an internet marketing agency isn’t always the right choice. Here’s a few criteria:

DO use an internet marketing agency if you have a marketing budget that covers for a minimum six-month campaign after site launch. No point in doing 2 weeks of marketing work.

DO use an agency if you depend on the internet as a major source of revenue, but don’t have any in-house resources for online marketing.

DON’T use an agency if you’re an individual, service-based business, get your business by word-of-mouth, and see your site as only ever being a brochure.

DO use an agency if you have plans, though, to later grow into something different.

DON’T use an agency (yet) if your IT department runs the site and won’t let go. Fight that battle first, or expect some rough times when the internet marketing consultant walks in and starts laying waste to the current site.

DO use an agency if your marketing department runs the site and needs help.

DON’T use an agency if your main issue is the cost of the site, rather than the value it brings. I’m not saying that to be nasty – as a business owner I have to make short- versus long-term spending decisions all the time.

Internet marketing agencies are unique beasts, and they’re not right for everyone. As long as you’re aware of the difference, though, you can make a good decision.

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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