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The truth about internet marketing

NO_iconThe internet is awash with get-rich-quick schemes, scams, and outrageous claims about making money. Almost all of it untrue in one way or another. We sometimes think this is a phenomena limited to the internet. But it’s much the same as advertising was at the turn of the last century, when outrageous claims filled the pages of newspapers. The internet is just the latest incarnation.

We are now in the second generation of internet advertising and if one thing has become clear, it is that internet marketing works. This was not clear in the first generation, where billions of dollars were squandered in attempts at selling dollar bills for 95¢ and other poorly thought out schemes. The lack of testing and fundamental misunderstanding of trying to do image advertising in the first-generation led to the great bubble and burst of 2000. Today we are seeing much smarter, much better strategies put to use by large and small companies alike.

Back to the flood of internet BS: If the flood of useless claims is nothing new, and we know that sound advertising strategies work, then what we need is a method of telling the good from the bad. If you run a small business you can hardly afford to ignore a medium that can reach potential customers wherever they are. So here are some simple guidelines I use to help sort the good from the bad.

First, assume 50% of everything you read about internet marketing is hogwash. Pure, unadulterated manure. Many of the techniques and plans and systems are little more than scams. Some are downright illegal and could even land you in jail. At best they are unethical, unseemly, and seedy. This 50% rule holds for Search Engine Optimization strategies, link strategies, traffic strategies, and any other strategy or “secret” you may find advertised by a guru. Assume half of everything is BS and use your God-given BS detector to quickly rid yourself of any further investigation. If it sounds to good to be true, it is.

Assume another 25% of what you read is factual, but useless. This usually consists of Secrets, Super Secrets, and Super Systems that worked once, used to work, or maybe worked in some weird and long-departed set of circumstances that we will never see again. This stuff is dangerous mostly because we get confused by its factual nature. It sometimes passes the “sniff” test. But it won’t work, and if you try it you’ll be disappointed. If pay for it you’ll wish you hadn’t. There are many, many gurus promoting these types of systems and secrets. Filtering them out can be a chore, and it’s hard to know what is and isn’t real. You often have to dig into this a little bit to see the flaws.

That’s where the third rule comes in — finding the remaining 25% that is the good stuff — the stuff that really works. The trouble with this 25% is that it isn’t magic. Whether it’s a secret or not depends on how much you know about business and marketing in general. But the bottom line is that this 25% takes a lot, and I mean a lot, of work to get it right. It takes hours and hours of effort. Research, practice, testing, and then repeat.

This remaining 25% is based on tested, tried-and-true direct response marketing methods. To recognize it you need to steep yourself in the principles of direct marketing, a field that has been developed and expanded over the past 100 years. Oh, there are some internet-specific techniques you need to master — after all, if you’re going to run an ad in a newspaper you need to know the specifics of using that medium. But there is nothing magical about the internet. You just need to know the specific application of the techniques for the medium.

But it turns out that good internet advertising is like running any real business — online or offline. Every technique and strategy taught in the good 25% of internet marketing will work for any business:

  • the research techniques will work for any market, for any product or service
  • the marketing techniques and strategies will work for any product in any industry
  • the sales techniques will work for any product

Every basic technique in internet marketing that works will also work in the offline world, because it is a sound, tested strategy or technique that came from established, tested, and proven direct marketing strategies. If it isn’t, if you can’t find some validation for the super secret internet technique of the day, walk away from it. It’s BS.

So your first criteria for judging any internet marketing program, system, or secret is to ask yourself, “Will this basic principle work offline? If I were to apply the essential rules of this system in a purely offline way, would it succeed?” If the answer is no, walk away.

Direct Marketing is about two things – connecting directly to an individual and convincing that individual to take action. Advertising is useless if suspects don’t become prospects, and prospects don’t become customers. There are many good internet marketing teachers, but all of them will openly tell you that thinking there is some internet-specific magic that will turned bad marketing into good is crazy.

The internet is a new weapon in the arsenal of the small business. But, like everything else worth doing, it takes practice, practice, practice.  Learning to research your market, to get inside the head of your customer, to write good copy, and to find the triggers that inspire action is hard work no matter where you plan to use it.

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