The 5 S’s: What is internet marketing?

Ian Lurie

Ask ‘What is internet marketing?’ and you get a lot of answers. Most center around search engines. And that’s not accurate.
SEO is part of internet marketing. So is pay per click marketing. So is web design, copywriting, blah blah etc. etc..
I’ve struggled with one definition of internet marketing for years. I think I’ve reached a conclusion (until next week):

Internet marketing is comprised of the 5 S’s

The 5 S’s are five kinds of optimization that make up internet marketing:

Story Optimization

Marketing is storytelling. Seth Godin said it best in All Marketers Are Liars. I’m not talking about lying. I’m talking about making your product compelling by breathing life and context into your message.
I’m not some internet marketing guy. I’m Ian Lurie, the grumpy internet marketing curmudgeon. Coca Cola isn’t soda. It’s The Real Thing.
The first and most important part of internet marketing is story optimization: Telling that story in a way that really works for your online audience.

Strategy Optimization

Video or podcast? Should we blog? Is e-mail in our marketing future? How should our site look? Should we rely solely on SEO (no!)?
You must have a strategy. Must. MUST MUST MUST.
You don’t need a 1-year strategic plan. That’s not what I mean. A ‘strategy’ means you have an overarching goal, and guidelines for what you will or will not do to attain that goal.
“I will build a $1 million marketing agency” could be a goal. “I will do so by building my online reputation and making customers happy” could be the general guidelines.
Then, as time passes, you change and adjust that strategy, narrowing your focus and adjusting your guidelines. For example, “Making customers happy” may become “Win industry-wide customer satisfaction surveys”.
Strategy optimization is a big chunk of internet marketing.

Search Engine Optimization

I’ve said it before, I’ll keep saying it: If you ignore SEO, you’re a fool. 75% of everything that happens online starts at a search engine. You need to be there.
But remember, SEO is a tactic, not a strategy. It won’t stand on its own. If your web site sucks, or you blow your budget on PPC, or you alienate customers with a bad story, all the SEO in the world won’t save you.
Regardless, search engine optimization is the 3rd component of smart internet marketing.

Spend Optimization

One way or another, most businesses buy clicks. Usually they’re using pay per click marketing (PPC). The more aggressive marketers may look at display ads, e-mail list sponsorships, site sponsorships and other paid ads.
You need to optimize that spend by measuring results. Then you adjust what you’re buying according to performance.
Spend optimization – where you ensure you’re spending your money wisely – is essential to internet marketing.

Site Optimization

You’re bringing people to your web site. Are you giving them what they want?
You need to measure everything: How many people click that ‘buy now’ button on your home page, shopping cart bailout rates, etc..
You must constantly tweak your copy, your design and your site features to make your site the best possible response to your customers’ questions.
That’s site optimization. It requires design, copywriting and development skills. And it’s the final, essential piece of the internet marketing puzzle.

What about social media?

That’s story optimization. Plus there’s no such thing as ‘social’ media. It’s just media. Saying ‘social media’ will no longer get you instant VC money, so give it up, OK?

Why I wrote this

When I go to parties, which isn’t very often because for whatever reason, a room full of partying people reduces my social skills to 0, folks ask me what I do.
“Internet marketing”, I answer.
That gets a blank look. Then I get a few responses:
“Oh, you sell pornography?” or
“Cool” and then they walk away; or
“So you work on the Googles? Do you know someone there I can talk to?”
Now, I’m going to print this and hand it out, instead.

Other posts

You might also want to read The Internet Marketing List and why failure is guaranteed (but that’s OK).

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  1. Hi Ian,
    Thanks for putting “story optimization” up at the top of this list.
    Here’s my question.
    Did you notice that people are suddenly doing a lot of small website tweaks, and some, even Total Redesigns?
    Curious what you think of the new Skittles website, for example.
    And, more specifically, wondering what role you think design ought to play in creating websites optimized for internet marketing. If there’s a way to answer that, I’m all ears.

  2. @DK I actually don’t see many people tweaking their sites the way you describe. Some big players, yes. But SMBs continue to miss the boat.
    For design: Design’s part of the story. Hopefully, everyone hires competent designers and the design reinforces the message. In reality, a lot of folks hire hacks, in which case my sincere hope is that the design not get in the way of the message.

  3. Ian,
    I’m with you on having a hard time explaining Internet marketing. People always assume that I’m a designer or a programmer. It’s frustrating at times. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Count me in on the list of people you meet at a party who had no idea what you do, Ian. Had to go to school for 2 years to start to catch a clue.
    You’re helping me not be a hack and my clients thank you for it (well, they would if they knew it was you…).

  5. Solid list and good twist with the S’s. “Send optimization” is definitely important as Michael x2 mentioned, but I see it somehow included in the Strategy part.

  6. @Zemalf To me that’s part of Spend Optimization. You pay to send out those e-mails, so you need to measure, track and optimize your e-mail marketing.

  7. I enjoyed this post. It all makes alot of sense and to me the first thing to do is read it over a couple of times to get all 5s’s in your mind so that you can piece them all together. I don’t think you want to do just one or 2 of these avenues. As far as people’s reaction to your saying that you do internet marketing, maybe just tell them something stupid like you do your grocery shopping on the internet. Watch people say they understand you then.

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