Online Marketing Fundamentals For New Professionals, Part 1

I spent even more time than usual talking to attendees at Search Engine Strategies San Francisco, in the hall, during social events, and speaking at sessions. It was a fabulous event, which attracted an extremely wide array of attendees. It should be no surprise to anyone that there is a tremendous influx of professionals flocking to the online marketing industry.

Though this is an “experts” column and my writings are known for being much more technical, with the indulgence of my editors, I’m devoting this installment to many new SES-friends-made, who I know will welcome this writing.

Also I know first-hand the need for articles like this. AimClear has several multi-national clients where we regularly encounter in-house marketers who absolutely need exposure to these fundamentals.

Certainly, #SESSF sported the usual array of extremely advanced online marketers. That said, I was astounded how many “traditional” PR, marketing, advertising, media-buyer, CMOs, designers and other long-term pros were in attendance. Good for them and their employers! Good for SES!

Many of these “new” e-professionals had literally been thrown under the bus, in a good way, by management of companies, ranging from small businesses to huge multi-national corporations. There is a serious shortage of those who really know their stuff in the online marketing universe.

The biggest revelation to me was that, while most of these new online marketers had, at least some, focused experience “operating the machines” (running PPC, community management, content responsibilities, etc.) many had never been taught fundamentals. The biggest disconnect of all seemed to be the difference between search marketing and contextual placements. I vowed to write this blog post for our new online marketing friends, offering up info about Internet marketing paradigms.

If you’re an old-hand salty dog online marketing professional, then you may enjoy this post or find it suitable to use to train new team members. If you’re one of the thousands of traditional marketing/PR professionals quickly migrating to our online marketing world, this post will fill in some important basics.

We’ll also touch upon vocabulary essentials. While these terms may seem just that, basic to long time online marketers, dozens of new online marketers didn’t know some of these terms when they arrived at SES, but left the event with a new understanding.

Same As it Ever Was In a Brave New World

Essentially, not much has really changed in human marketing theory over the last 3,000 years. In marketers’ timeless quest to achieve goals of commerce, effect public opinions, or accomplish other desired actions by advertising and public relations, eyeballs and ears have only been available to by two basic methods, “search” and “contextual” (walk-by). Let’s wrap our arms around these archetypal targeting methods.

“Customers” are those we target in our marketing efforts for any reason. The word “customers” is interchangeable with “users,” “humans” or “people.”

Marketing to “Search” Traffic

Providing themed answers to direct questions has always been an amazingly effective way to target customers. At the root of this classic targeting method, marketers simply supply topically relevant answers to questions where and when people ask them. Marketing to people in quest of specific information always has been, and always will be, efficient.

Examples of search marketing include:

  • Ancient civic employees responding to inquiries at Roman Forum government building information kiosks.
  • Yellow pages for those seeking information by category search.
  • Presidential press conferences.
  • Search engines, like Google, iTunes, and Bing.

Anywhere people ask direct questions, those with something to spin or sell find fertile grounds for disseminating themed messages for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Search has been around forever. Only the search “engine” technology and our ability to mine valuable data to advise the targeting process have changed.

Internet tools for searching are called search engines. The result of a search on a search engine is a search engine result page (SERP).

What makes search marketing especially powerful is our ability to theorize the intent of “users” (people targeted). In other words, when people ask specific questions it’s often possible to determine with some confidence what they’re actually looking for.

We’ll discuss user intent as applies to search traffic in much more detail later. For now just keep in mind, whether the user asks, “Please, where can I find a good restaurant,” “what’s the best seat at basketball stadium,” “best brain surgeon Milwaukie” or “used Roland D-50 keyboard,” marketers can take a good guess at what users truly seek.

Marketing to Walk-by Traffic

Serving up banners and billboards, tailored to the context of people meandering past, is a timeless targeting technique. Though not as focused as search in most cases, examples of contextual marketplaces include:

  • 30 second television commercial placements between sports and weather segments on the local news.
  • Billboards alongside the highway heading north, in sports stadiums or subway walls.
  • Print placements in newspapers, magazines, leaflets, ballet program ads, and writing on the bathroom wall.
  • Facebook ads, tweets, banners on Yahoo personals, and video ads in Google’s Content Network

As with search, clever marketers have always speculated as to the intent of users as they walk by a placed message. However, as a rule, contextual ad placement doesn’t feature the same highly focused litmus test of user intent as available to search marketers.

For instance, placing an ad for a tire sale in the newspaper’s sports section next to box scores may be somewhat targeted. Perhaps demographic research shows that time purchase decision makers like baseball and read the sports section.

A Duluth hotel outdoor poster (billboard) on highway 35W north from Minneapolis to Duluth is somewhat focused because drivers are heading north to Duluth. They might need a hotel room. Obviously this is a less effective method than users searching for “Duluth Canal Park Hotel.” We’ll discuss gleaning user intent, as applies to contextual targeting, in much greater depth later.

The term “contextual” is interchangeable with “walk-by” and “social.”


What has undergone perpetual and radical changes over time are the channels in which search and contextual marketing campaigns are tendered. “Channel” means anywhere users can access the Internet and Internet-based tools, entertainment, or services.

The concept of channels is also timeless. The Native American pictographs, drawings of figures, and handprints painted with a mixture of iron ore and water on cliffs in northern Minnesota are channels. Radio stations, newspapers, Google’s SERPs, Facebook fan pages, Twitter, e-mail, YouTube, ESPN, placards above men’s room urinals, paper newspapers, XM Radio, handing out fliers in Times Square, Yellow books, or a bistro’s tabletop cardboard tents advertising dessert options on each side are each examples of channels.

As marketers undertake the process of reaching customers, they’re inevitably faced with decisions regarding what channels to utilize for campaigns. Campaign simply means systematically publicizing a themed message, or series of messages, on one or more channels.

Channels are places where somehow customers frequent and congregate. Radio is a channel because large amounts of people listen, just like Twitter is a channel because massive groups of users hang out. Channels are physical or online places where advertisers get to users’ eyes and ears.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the fundamentals of paid and organic search.

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