Many immigrants to Israel who are not fluent in Hebrew — especially those who are native English speakers — end up working in some type of sales or marketing position that focuses on selling to customers or clients in their native countries.

Six years ago, I was one of those immigrants. Partly as a result of my prior career as a Boston journalist and newspaper editor, I found myself working in Tel Aviv in some nebulous field called “SEO” a few months after leaving ulpan in Jerusalem.

Today, after working for various Israeli companies and doing some private consulting, I now work in the digital marketing space for The Cline Group, a global strategic-marketing agency with many clients who are startup companies here in Tel Aviv. Over the years, I have seen how the digital-marketing world has changed and wanted to offer some advice — both to any olim who want to enter the exciting online-marketing world and to those Israeli businesses that want to understand the strategic underpinnings of Internet marketing today.

Here are some things that both marketers and startups need to understand about modern online marketing:

  1. Digital marketing is more than just search-engine optimization (SEO). Internet marketing is using a new set of communications channels to achieve one’s overall business and marketing goals. It is essentially doing the same thing online that has been done offline for decades.
  2. Online marketing needs to occur in the context of an overall strategy. What are a company’s marketing and communications goals? If it includes user acquisition, then SEO, online advertising, and conversion optimization may come into play. If it includes public relations, then social media and reputation management may be needed. Almost any marketing strategy will need to include content creation as well.
  3. “SEO” is not really about using keywords and links to rank first in Google directly. My first job in “SEO” in Israel was pumping out short blog posts that were stuffed with keywords. My second job consisted in part of submitting links to countless online directories. Thankfully, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates (respectively) have killed the practices of creating bad content and building bad links.
  4. “SEO” is actually a collection of marketing best practices. As I wrote at Moz, it is doing web development well, content creation well, conversion optimization well, social media well, and PR well – all together. In fact, getting an increase in search-engine rankings today it not something that one does directly – it is just the by-product of doing web development and marketing well because Google has become extremely smart. I frequently tell clients that a company will rank highly in Google when it deserves to do so – in other words, when it builds a strong, trusted brand. Think about what made websites popular in the 1990s – before everyone became obsessed with keywords and links.
  5. “Social media” is just a set of PR and communications channels. Social-media networks transmit marketing content and communicate with the public just as the television, radio, and newspapers did before the Internet. Twitter can be used for media relations, Facebook can be good for customer service, and LinkedIn is important for B2B lead generation. It is crucial to create a social-media strategy that includes one’s desired goals.
  6. Public relations still is – and always will be – important. As I described in a talk at SMX West in Silicon Valley earlier this year, the best way to “build links” for SEO purposes is to earn them naturally through PR and publicity. Traditional communications and marketing theory – see the graphic at the bottom of this post – is crucial to remember because PR needs to inform all stages of the online and offline marketing process. After all, Google has also killed the practice of stuffing links into online press releases.

In other words, “SEO,” at least as too many people think of term, no longer exists. If the CEO of an Israeli startup asks you how long it will take to rank first in Google, he does not get it. If the marketing manager of a website (especially in an ultra-competitive niche such as porn, forex, gambling, or pills) asks you to spin content or build random links with the exact-same anchor text, run away before the black-hat SEO practices burn the website to the digital ground.

(In fact, if you want to break into online marketing, find an entry-level position at an Israeli company or startup that sells an actual product or service to a specific audience — or at an agency that specializes in helping those types of businesses. Think about mobile apps, B2B SaaS products, B2C startup technologies, and more. Forget about porn, forex, gambling, and pills – and especially, God-forbid, binary options – because too many companies in these sectors try to manipulate Google, and the search engine will eventually beat them down in the end. Moreover, they exist primarily to separate people from their money.)

The secret to success in any industry is not to view “SEO” as a “bag of tricks” to get to first in Google but to understand that it is the long-term process of building the brands of companies and websites over time. Unfortunately, this is one of the major problems that I have seen specifically in the Israeli startup scene.

Startups often have shoestring budgets, and marketing is usually one of the last departments to get funded. It’s why a CEO will often think that he needs to hire only one “SEO” person to get him a lot of website traffic, leads, and customers almost magically. Nope.

Quality marketing is even more important today than in the past because the Internet and cloud computing have virtually eliminated the barriers to entry. Anyone can create a website or mobile app for comparatively little money – meaning that the competition in almost every sector has skyrocketed. In such an environment, great marketing and PR are the keys to success over the long term.

Whether you want to work in digital marketing or help your startup’s digital marketing, this principle is the first thing to understand. Stop thinking about SEO and start thinking about the process of good marketing (this essay has more information):

marcom theory

Image: The Cline Group (used with permission)

To learn more about true digital marketing today, I recommend taking Hubspot’s free inbound-marketing certification course and then reading Moz’s guides to SEO, social media, and linkbuilding here. Good luck! If you have any questions, feel free to connect with me on social media or elsewhere as listed in my Times of Israel profile at the top of this post. If you are a new immigrant – welcome, and good luck!