SEO is a Tactic, Not a Strategy

Ian Lurie

SEO is no more a strategy than printing business cards.

It’s a tactic that forms a large and essential part of your internet marketing strategy.


My client (who I respect extremely – hence Yoda, and not Boba) wanted to use SEO to build their online business.

It can’t do that. It can build traffic – hopefully relevant traffic. But it can’t build business.

SEO is important. It’s the only online marketing tactic with near-infinite scalability. You don’t pay by the click, so successful SEO lowers your cost per acquisition.

But focus purely on search engines and you’ll miss other crucial issues:

  • Usability problems that prevent customers from buying;
  • Analytics showing that e-mail generates 90% of all sales;
  • Hidden opportunities in the social media world;
  • Deeper technical issues with the site that would make fulfillment a nightmare;
  • Similar issues that, if corrected, could reduce delivery time;
  • Overall site performance issues;
  • Design choices that drive away the best customers;
  • Less-than-optimal marketing copy;
  • Or a host of other stuff that might crop up.

So pay attention: SEO is a tactic. Not a strategy. Internet marketing is a strategy.

Now, young padawan, go meditate on this, and tell me what you find…

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Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is 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. Great blog. I really liked it. I have also created a lens in same niche. This is my first time, hope u guys like it. Here’s a brief intro: : Running your own Internet Marketing business is really the best way to make money in the world. You get to set your own hours. You can work from almost anywhere in the world. All of your efforts go towards YOUR business and YOUR success, rather than a large corporation’s. You write your own paycheck.

  2. So I’m like 2 years late here, but nice post. In fact I think you called this “a million years ago” in a recent post. My how internet time flies.
    No way not to agree with you here. As big a fan of SEO as I am, its indeed a tactical activity not a business strategy. It does not create differentiation, it creates awareness and opportunity. If you sell the same standard, identical widget as everyone else but you charge $100 where competitors all charge $15-20, all the SEO in the world isn’t going to help much. You need to look at your strategy. You either need to go low-price-leader and sell it at $14, or go for some sort of differentiation that justifies a higher cost. Maybe you ship yours overnight and everyone else ships in 5 days. Maybe you provide lifetime service… whatever it is, increasing sales is about competitive advantage and differentiation. Same high-level principles apply to your idea of checking the shopping cart before the SEO plan.
    I often have prospects seek out strategy from my firm. Many times they come to us for SEO and we give them SEO, but in doing so it raises discussions and backs us into conversations about strategy, approach, differentiation, etc. Probably not ideal, but better to back into these conversations three months into an SEO campaign than to never have the conversations at all! “Strategies” are tough to sell, and often clients don’t want to pay for these discussions since they are “soft”. “Tactics” are hard, tangible and easier to quantify in some way. Doesn’t make it right, but at least in this case the client’s search for tactical help led to a discussion about overall strategy.

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