Prospects and agencies need due diligence: search experts at ad:tech

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NEW YORK - Search engine marketing is not as easy as it sounds, requiring certain skills, planning and patience. Panelists at ad:tech New York's "Planning and Executing Search Engine Marketing Projects" session gave helpful hints on how to get the job done right.

Christina Howe, director of Web strategy and development at Avid, Akron, OH, advised the audience of interactive marketers on what a client should be asking a search agency prior to selecting one.

"It is important that an agency understand your business," Ms. Howe said. "But it is even more important that the agency understands your industry."

Next, Ms. Howe said the client should ask, "Where do we need to be?"

At this point, the agency should go over paid search inclusion plans and the landscape of the online community in this particular industry.

Next, it is important that the agency outline its methodology for selecting keywords.

"Make sure and ask what the agency's approach to account management is," Ms. Howe said.

Find out the ratio of staff to clients, the number of people who will be working on your account and an explanation of the communications plan.

Sometimes it helps to know whether an agency has ever worked with your competition. In this case, a track record is useful.

Barbara Coll, founder and CEO of WebMama, said agencies should ask questions, too.

"It's important to know what your client is trying to achieve," Ms. Coll said.

Agencies need to cover all the bases and should find out what the critical success factors are, how the success will be measured, and the timeframe for the campaign.

Knowing whether the organization has had any previous experience with such a campaign is important for the agency. The previous strategy and execution might just need to be tweaked a little, so it is key to go over what worked and what didn't.

Rob Garner, a Chicago-based senior strategic partner at search agency iCrossing, went over some of the challenges that both clients and agencies face.

On the client side, building business codes and developing systems to track performance are the biggest challenges, he said.

"On the agency side, integrating search as a business requirement and building business cases are the hardest parts of the job," Mr. Garner said.

He also said that balancing creative, brand accessibility and search is very important on the part of the client.

Lastly, Mr. Garner said it is important to think about how much is invested into search and how much value search is currently driving.

Another panelist made a pitch for outsourcing.

"Some of us are born great, some of us achieve greatness, and others hire a search agency," said Ani Kortikar, founder and CEO of Netramind, Santa Clara, CA.

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