Interview: In Conversation with Ian Lurie, Founder of Portent, a Digital Marketing Agency
Ian Lurie is the CEO and Founder of one of the oldest Internet marketing agencies in USA, Portent , which was launced in 1995. The veteran Internet marketer, who has 20+ years of experience, has spoken at conferences around the world including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad Tech. He has been a contributor to Forbes, AllThingsD and TechCrunch. He is also the author of the book ‘One Trick Ponies Get Shot‘, which is about strategy for services business. He writes regularly for the Portent Blog.
In this interview, Ian talks about real-time penguin, Google’s rank brain, SEO in 2016 and more.
Kavin Paulson: Hi Ian, thank you so much for your time, we are honored to have you featured in The iMarketing Café. Can you tell us something that we do not know about you?
Ian Lurie: I’m a Trekkie, not a Star Wars guy. But I still know the Star Wars canon pretty well. Our house is divided: I’m a Star Trek guy. My son’s Star Wars. My wife and daughter are independents.
BTW, the Enterprise would totally win a battle against a Star Destroyer, Darth Vader or not. Why? Commander Data. I kinda doubt you can Force choke someone that doesn’t need to breathe.
Kavin Paulson: Tell us more about Portent.
Ian Lurie: We’re marketing realists and idealists at the same time. We practice a lot of SEO and PPC because that’s where our clients generate a lot of revenue. But we do social, creative, content, etc. If social media someday becomes a primary driver, we’ll go there. Or maybe direct-to-brain advertising? Who knows.
We also think marketing can change the world. It’s one of the prevalent forms of communication. It’s not just about products, either. You hear it in political campaigns. Little bits of marketing messaging make it into every day conversation. So it dominates the level of discourse.
Kavin Paulson: How does Portent differentiate itself from the competition?
Ian Lurie: Couple things. First, it sounds like a cheesy cliché, but we are exceptional strategic thinkers. We have something called The Marketing Stack that covers everything from infrastructure to content to paid/earned/owned. Our main job is to point out and execute on the risks and benefits of action and inaction across the stack.
Second, we teach ourselves and clients. We learn constantly. And we pass it to clients without reservation. We’re not worried about teaching ourselves out of a job. Our best clients become increasingly sophisticated over time.
Kavin Paulson: How did the Internet marketing landscape look like in the 90s? Can you share a couple of Interesting things that happened back then?
Ian Lurie: I sure heard the phrase “best of breed” a lot. In all seriousness, there were a lot of gaps: Analytics was pretty much non-existent. Content wasn’t its own thing, but I kinda liked that, because great content was assumed, rather than being some kind of marketing appendage. Everyone was looking for the magic bullet. I guess that hasn’t changed that much. Blogs barely existed and generally were called things like ‘ezines’ or ‘newsletters’ or, heaven forbid, ‘useful.’
Kavin Paulson: Many people believe that the real-time penguin will discourage blackhat SEO practitioners to a great extent but some think otherwise. What’s your take on that?
Ian Lurie: I think Google has to consistently detect links violating their guidelines first. Until they can do that, I don’t care if they’re sending penguins back in time.
KP: If you have to give a few pieces of advice to small businesses on doing SEO in 2016, what would they be?
IL: What I’ve said about SEO since 2000. Get your infrastructure right. Don’t write crap. Don’t shoot for miracles. Work around the edges: Optimize for local. Learn the new stuff like Product Ads. If you stake your success on SEO, you’re going to get hammered.
KP: A Few words about Google’s Rank Brain
IL: Google’s trying to deliver more relevant results. How’s that news? It’s not. Also, Rank Brain isn’t new. Google was using it for a while before the news came out. Don’t read too much into it.
KP: Where do you see Google five years from now?
IL: Still in Mountain View, I’m guessing.
KP: What is that one piece of advice that you would like to give to upcoming Marketers?
IL: The rules don’t change. The channels do. Learn what makes people tick, and learn your fundamentals: Writing, data, infrastructure. Oh, and learn your technology. Technology delivers this stuff. You cannot depend on third parties to get it all right. I am not saying third parties can’t get it right. I’m saying you’re accountable, so learn how this stuff works.
KP: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
IL: If you’d asked me five years ago where I see myself now, I would’ve been totally wrong. So I’d better not make any guesses.
KP: How would you describe yourself in one word?
KP: If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be and why?
IL: I’d be a lot less negative. Woody Allen said it best: I don’t see the glass half-empty. I see it half-full. Of poison.
KP: What are your future plans for Portent?
IL: I want CEOs and CMOs pounding on their desks and saying “DAMMIT GET ME PORTENT.” I want people at conferences to see my team walking around and say “Wow. They’re from Portent. They know their s—t.”
KP: If you were not a marketer, what would you have been?
IL: A Congressman. That, or a spellcaster of some kind.
KP: On a lighter note, what would you do if you woke up one morning and found that you had become Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google?
IL: I’d name Android ‘Gamera.’