You’ve probably read articles about how to select a search engine marketing vendor, as they’re a dime a dozen. Rather than focus on traditional evaluation criteria (credentials, case studies, references, published articles, conversion rates), I’m going to outline value-add criteria that generate return on investment for your business. Here are six elements any good vendor – SEM or not – should provide as a strategic partner interested in your bottom line:
Education. On the most basic front, an SEM vendor should add value by educating you, the client, by sharing its knowledge of SEM strategies, tactics, technologies and trends. Does your SEM vendor send you news (either ad hoc or via newsletter)? Does it maintain an SEM resources section on its site or an industry blog? One way we’ve educated clients is by hosting a free half-day seminar, bringing in our valued partners and industry leaders to share the latest and greatest you usually have to spend big bucks to see at a Search Engine Strategies show.
Experience. I started my career in high-tech PR, representing a technology company (now called LapLink). For the first year, I pitched its product to press and analysts. I’d never even seen the application, let alone used it. Once I had a chance to try it, I was amazed, and it helped me do my job that much better. Lesson learned. Has your SEM vendor tested or used your product regularly? We not only make a point of experiencing our clients’ products, we often buy them. Some are easier than others, as a bag of Kettle Brand Chips is less of a financial commitment than a hot new LCD projector from InFocus.
Feedback. I have been a customer of WebTrends & WebPosition since the products launched. I’ve had the chance to provide input on future iterations of the products. The same goes for our other service-based clients. If your SEM vendor isn’t providing feedback based on its experience with your products or services, the vendor is either ignorant or fearful, and neither is helpful to your company.
Referrals. Regardless of whether your product or service is useful to an SEM vendor, the vendor should send you potential prospects and partners. Otherwise, it isn’t a strategic partner and you’re missing growth opportunities.
Exposure. Because of my PR background, I’ve spent time promoting Anvil via press releases, syndicated articles, speaking engagements and awards, but that’s not unusual. However, it’s unusual if your SEM vendor does that for you. Though we do not offer PR services per se, we always look for opportunities to promote our clients. We’ve brought a few into speaking opportunities and even included them in pitches that have resulted in press coverage.
Strategy. If you’re the type of company that doesn’t look to vendors for strategic business advice, please stop reading here. If you’re the type of company that is always looking for that edge and is open to input from vendor partners, you should already have received unsolicited advice from your SEM vendor.
On more than one occasion, we’ve had to be brutally honest with our clients about shortsighted marketing strategies (that affect us directly) or even bigger-picture business strategy (branding, positioning, infrastructure, etc.) based on our collective knowledge and experience. It takes a strong company to listen and an even stronger company to act on that input.
Assess your current (or potential) SEM vendor based on the number of the above criteria you think it meets or exceeds. One point per element gives you a possible score of six. Below is a matrix that suggests next steps in your pursuit of the ideal vendor.
· 1-2: Start looking for a new vendor. Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization is a great place to start.
· 3-4: Time to have a heart to heart about your desires and expectations as a client and set goals.
· 5-6: You’re in good hands; continue to foster and evolve the relationship.
Any good SEM vendor should go the extra mile for your company. I have no problem demonstrating my dedication to clients. I liked one client so much, I married her. Talk about commitment.