There’s No Such Thing as “Online Marketing”

internet-marketingThis post originally appeared at LinkedIn Today.

By Samuel Scott

Linkbuilders often ask themselves this question (to avoid potential penalties): “Would I want this link if Google did not exist?” The smarter that search engines become, the more I argue that all digital marketers should ask themselves: “How would I market my company and website if Google did not exist?”

A weird thing happens when marketers start to talk about the Internet. The conversation usually turns from traditional practices such as messaging, positioning, and branding to technical minutiae such as keywords, links, and retweets.

Too many Internet marketers view digital marketing as a bag of tricks:

  • Organic search: Getting more links and higher rankings
  • PPC: Getting more clicks and better leads for the lowest cost
  • Social media: Getting more “likes,” followers, and retweets

And that’s a shame. I have yet to see any of the major online-marketing blogs, forums, and conferences discuss something such as the use of the 4 Ps (product, place, promotion, and price) in the context of the World Wide Web. How many Internet marketers can explain this basic marketing principle from memory? How many even know that the 4 Ps exist?

Here’s why it is important.

Marketing cannot occur in a vacuum because all marketing is essentially communication from a sender to a receiver via channels. In many contexts, the Internet as a whole is just another set of communications channels, and the same, traditional marketing principles still apply. Websites, organic-search results, social-media posts, PPC advertisements, and more all communicate messages (in addition to performing other tasks). It’s one reason of many that public relations needs to inform all stages of the digital-marketing process.

The supposed “old” marketing principles are still important – and they will always be important even in the age of inbound marketing. In many respects, we “online” marketers are not doing anything new. We are actually doing what marketers have always done – but we are just doing it via new channels.

Here is my modified version of traditional communications theory (with some additions in an online context):

communications theory

Here are a few examples that go into more depth into how the online world is just a mirror of the offline one.

Messaging is an Important Part

When you think about SEO strategy and “optimizing a website,” what comes to mind? For most online marketers, it is targeting specific keywords (at a basic level) or the specific user intents behind those keywords (at an advanced level). The best of we “SEOs” will think about user experience, website hierarchy, schema code, conversion optimization, and other factors. But it’s still a lot more than that.

To quote an advertisement of the anti-dandruff shampoo Head & Shoulders, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The same idea applies in the text and images that are shown in paid and organic search results as well as on websites and social-media profiles themselves.

Marketers who, for example, focus just on short-term by using only whatever text maximizes the click-through rate (CTR) in organic and paid search results miss the larger point: the messaging that is conveyed in search results is often the first – and perhaps the most important – exposure that potential customers will have to your brand.

Does the messaging in these locations match your brand’s positioning? Messaging has the same role online as it has in offline marketing collateral such as taglines and sales brochures. The processes of website and PPC optimization need to include the matching of its messaging to the brand’s positioning.

Content Marketing

People hear “content is king” and think that the idea is something new and revolutionary. I laugh. Marketing and advertising agencies have always used content. Content, in most contexts, has always just been stuff that you put in the hands of potential customers and clients to engage with and get them to buy. Content is what contains the message that is communicated.

“Content” is the catalogues and free samples that door-to-doors salesmen gave to housewives in the 1950s. It is the discs that AOL mailed to everyone in the 1990s. It is the blog posts, e-books, and more that companies publish and promote online today. (Though the type of content may depend on the choice of channel – it is important to strategize the big picture in advance.)

Social Media is Just a Channel

Social media is just another set of PR and communications channels that can be used for nearly any purpose – just like conferences, trade shows, e-mail, the telephone, the telegram, and letters. Social media is just another channel that is used to deliver the content that contains the message to the audience. Just like the telephone, Twitter can be used for media relations, Facebook can be used for customer service, and LinkedIn can be used for B2B lead generation. You just need a good strategy to integrate all of these activities – especially now that it’s a lot easier for the audience to communicate back.

A colleague in a non-digital department once received a random tweet and asked me how to respond. Twitter was a foreign concept to him. My reply? “Just interact with him how you would in-person or over e-mail. Be nice, friendly, and helpful.” The same interpersonal skills that apply offline also apply online. People overthink it.

It’s one reason why there will be no jobs specific to social media in a few years (as Jason Nazar correctly noted in Forbes). What is more effective: teaching a customer-service representative how to use Facebook and Twitter for that purpose, or teaching someone who knows Facebook and Twitter how to do customer service well? Companies do not have “telephone departments” today – just as they will not have “social-media departments” in the near future.

There is Only Marketing

If you want to understand how to succeed in “online” marketing, just visit traditional marketing and advertising departments and agencies and watch their creative teams in action as they brainstorm and execute campaigns. (Hint: Their creative teams produce “content.”) “Digital” marketing departments and agencies need to act in the same way.

Do we still hear that much discussion about radio, television, and the telephone as though the acts of marketing via those channels were considered specialized practices and disciplines unto themselves? Nope. They were eventually folded into the general marketing and sales operations of businesses and agencies. In the same way, there is no such thing as “online marketing.” There is only marketing.

As Moz co-founder Rand Fishkin once tweeted, traditional marketing (as if Google did not even exist) is actually the best way to do SEO and digital marketing today:

Online marketers today need to remember the big picture and realize that, in the end, we are using the same communications process that existed long before the Internet did. The difference today is that we need to integrate the online and offline worlds holistically when we create marketing-mixes of content (say, offline ads and online e-books) and channels (say, TV and organic search) to accomplish a given goal.

Samuel Scott is Senior Director of SEO & Digital Marketing for The Cline Group. You can see more of his thoughts on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Scott’s personal website is here, and he is a contributor to Moz.


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