The Internet marketing industry as been around for 15-20 years and I find that many business / website owners still struggle with fully understanding and conceptualizing how Internet marketing works especially when it comes to the role each discipline plays.

Now, if you have ever had a conversation with me, you will know that I am a big fan of using analogies. Abstract or otherwise difficult-to-grasp concepts are well suited for analogy explanations, and over time I have devised the following analogy to help me explain – How Does Internet Marketing Work?

Search Engine Optimization = The 200,000 Ton Train

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts can take a long time (6 months or more) to see a return on investment just as it takes time for a 200,000 ton train to get up to full speed. However, once at full speed the train or SEO can be a great form of transportation or ROI.

SEO Train

Paid Search Marketing = The Railroad Tracks

Before the 200,000 ton train can go anywhere it needs railroad tracks. Paid search marketing is the railroad tracks for SEO. With paid search you can instantly test the effectiveness of keywords which is a huge benefit to SEO. Since SEO rankings take time to build, your paid search marketing efforts should lead the way and guide the campaign on what keywords to target.

PPC Train Tracks

Conversion Rate Optimization = The Surveyor

To make sure you are not laying your railroad tracks over a swamp or on too steep of a grade you need a surveyor. Like a surveyor, your Conversion Rate Optimization efforts will make sure that all the traffic you are sending to your website from Paid Search Marketing and Search Engine Optimization is not going to waste on a site that does not convert well.

CRO Surveyor

Website Analytics = The Railroad Electric Grid Operator

All railroad systems have detailed & complicated electric grids that are watched over by a person or a team to make sure that trains do not derail and to communicate about route delays. Website analytics are like the electric grid operator of your website as analytics can help measure that all marketing efforts are being associated with the correct channel attributions to calculate ROI.

Analytics Grid

Project Management = The Foreman

Foremen are critical when it comes to building and maintaining a railroad system as they make sure all parties are staying on task and meeting deadlines. Project managers for any significant internet marketing campaign do the same. They make sure that each online marketing effort (SEO, CRO, PPC, etc.) is executed to client expectations and is meeting performance goals.

PM Foreman

Now, I haven’t quite decided how social media, web development or other internet marketing disciplines fit into this analogy, but I know there is room as each play a critical role in overall internet marketing.

Please feel free to comment below and add your thoughts on how other internet marketing disciplines fit into my analogy.

7 thoughts on “An Analogy for Internet Marketing: Building / Operating A Railroad System

  1. Ricardo Figueiredo

    I love how you’re able to tie all of these analogies together with the railroad theme. I guess I’m the foreman, and I have to give you a picture of a better looking one cause that guy is cross eyed!

    All joking aside, great analogies. It’s so important to use analogies in client communication in our industry. It makes all the difference between the client grasping the core of the message rather than just focusing on the technicalities.

    ps: I also love the fallen branch image under the “Website Analytics” section.

    1. Stephen Peron Post author

      Thanks Ricardo – I really do this that analgoies (good ones) can really help with conversation with clients and during the sales process.

      I might just have to replace the Forman picture with a nice candid shot of yours!

  2. Jared

    Great write up here Steve! I think that this is a solid analogy that helps illustrate all of the moving parts of a campaign. Often times it seems that people think that digital marketing is something that can be done without a “plan”. Just like any business initiative, the well thought out plans are the ones that succeed!

  3. Jasmine

    This was such a useful metaphor for me, still learning the ins & outs of online marketing. And it’s always much easier to understand complex parts of a whole when you better understand the bigger picture. Thanks Steve!


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