What Search Marketers Need to Know About Agencies

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What do marketers need to consider before entering the world of search?

Among the many criteria, it is important for marketers to know what they are looking for in a software vendor or an agency.

"A vendor might not provide both paid and organic search management with a strategy to leverage data across both to really drive the client's search budget most effectively," said Mike Gullaksen, senior vice president at iCrossing, New York.

A vendor also may be unable to provide proprietary technologies like search analytics that will track both paid and natural search, showing efficiencies side by side, or bid management technology that speaks to an analytics platform for the ability to automate some of the paid search management, he said.

ICrossing  is a search agency with clients like Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Symantec, FedEx Kinko's, General Motors and DEX Media.

A search firm's method is key when trawling for search engine marketing or search engine optimization services. This makes it imperative to consider whether the firm uses software or people to manage bids.

For example, not using software may cause a scale problem. Eventually, a campaign will get so big that it will need more people to work on it. A search agency may be a better pick for a large marketer that requires a team of people dedicated to work one on one with its search engine strategies.

"For truly the most integrated and difficult search strategies, you need a company that can focus on market research, Web development, creative [and] marketing strategies having to do specifically with a particular company and how that strategy should be integrated into search," Mr. Gullaksen said.

What matters most is a client's budget to support its approach to search marketing, which may be fully integrated or not, he said.

However, others have a different view.

"Every company should care primarily about one thing, and that is how much the SEM/SEO firm will increase profits," said John Rodkin, CEO of ClickShift, San Bruno, CA.

Costs should not be a decisive factor because spending more money is worth it, even if profits rise by a mere 10 percent, he said. ClickShift (www.clickshift.com) will not disclose a list of its search clients.

Lisa Wehr is CEO of Oneupweb, Lake Leelanau, MI, which provides SEM/SEO for marketers like Unisys, Maritz, Schwan's and Imagistics. She thinks that company size does not matter.

"Performing SEO/SEM properly spans the entire industry and does not discriminate," she said.

Oneupweb  recently created a new recipe for ensuring that marketers' online partners are SEO/SEM experts (see below).

Partnering with an SEM firm is like hiring a new member of your team, said Peter Hershberg, managing partner of Reprise Media. The firm provides SEM services for marketers like Microsoft, The Princeton Review, Los Angeles Times and Guess.

"It's hard to get a sense of what to truly expect from an interview, so it's in your best interest to check their references thoroughly," he said. "Good, established firms should be able to provide a list of clients willing to share their experiences."

Oneupweb on Finding a Search Partner

Once you decide that your company needs an online marketing agency, how do you find someone who can help build your online business? Some of our clients have shared their horror stories of online marketing relationships gone sour. Here are tips on avoiding those costly relationships. Does the company ...

  • Have more than one answer to your marketing challenges? What's valuable about integration is that many campaigns work together on one issue. Find a partner with enough vision to oversee how it all works together. For example, how can banner ads, search optimization and pay-per-click ads work together to expose your company to a broader target audience?
  • Leverage the enterprise's experience to your benefit? Ask how it cascades a lesson learned on one client across all its teams. Visionary firms systematize collaboration. They design their office space, processes and training programs to make it easier for many minds to contribute to your campaign without complicating your customer experience.
  • Develop and support its own technology? To make intelligent decisions, your online marketing partner needs access to tracking. And well-developed technology streamlines mundane tasks, letting your team focus on strategy. A company that develops its own technology has the knowledge to adapt it to your needs and provide support during implementation and service. Those that don't may withhold services you need or charge you for time-consuming tasks that should be automated.
  • View your relationship as a long-term campaign? Though you may see results quickly, marketing strategies involve continuous monitoring and management. Furthermore, if a company talks only about short-term position increases, it may not be using best practices.
  • Provide timely, accurate reporting? Understanding your return on investment is critical in online marketing. Your online marketing partner should provide you and your project manager with tracking and reporting so you can understand what's working and what isn't.
  • Share case studies, testimonials and provide references? Can this company do what it says it can? Is it easy to work with? Find out from people who share your side of the table.
  • Clearly explain the cost, duration and cancellation options in its contract? Clients tell us that clarity in work agreements is rare. Nail down the details at the start so you manage the expectations of your organization as the project unfolds.
  • Offer "too good to be true" promises? Today's snake oil salesmen promise top billing on Google in 30 days, then disappear with your money when Google bans your site. A reputable firm answers your questions, provides references, outlines a clear process of work and is open and honest about what it does.
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