Each year thousands of companies of all sizes invest in some form of search engine marketing and/or search engine optimization program to try to build brand awareness and generate sales or leads. Many of these companies initially try to manage the program internally. Typically, the internal manager has good intentions and a determination to succeed with paid placement SEM programs like Google AdWords and Overture Sponsored Listings.
Natural search often overlooked. But most internal managers lack a thorough understanding of basic SEM and SEO program components. SEO, also known as natural search optimization, should be the foundation of any program, yet it is the component most often overlooked.
SEO optimizes meta tags, site architecture and site coding to ensure your Web site is positioned in a manner recognized by the major engines. If your site is coded correctly, it will be easier for Google spiders to navigate your site and collect content through the crawling process. Easy navigation means your site has a better chance to make headway in Google’s index. Natural results are incredibly important, as they drive non-paid (free) traffic to your site. Few internal marketing or IT professionals have had experience and success with optimization.
It is understandable why most internal managers focus on paid placement programs. With increasingly convenient interfaces, Google and Overture have made it simpler to begin a paid placement program. Internal managers with the talent and time often have success with those do-it-yourself programs. The big question for the marketing vice president is: Does your manager have enough talent and time to run these paid placement programs month after month?
Paid placement programs are changing rapidly, and the environment grows more competitive each month with a greater number of companies bidding for your keywords. The internal manager must examine traffic patterns daily to see which keywords are working and which aren’t. Bids must be tweaked, keywords adjusted and click-through rates analyzed. Web site pages also must be tagged properly so the entire paid placement effort can be tracked and conversion data studied.
This routine is challenging, even for trained experts who spend their entire day on these activities. For internal marketing managers embarking on paid placement programs, these activities are unlike any responsibility they’ve ever assumed and often require more time than anticipated. When you compound this with the numerous other sales or marketing projects they are charged with, the ongoing paid placement experience can be daunting.
Choosing the right SEM consultant. If it becomes evident that your internal resources are stretched too thin to manage a paid placement program, or incorporate search engine optimization into your program, consider outside help. Many smaller businesses seeking an inexpensive solution trust their SEO/SEM program to a Web hosting or Web design firm that offers this as an add-on service.
Because it is not a core competency, these consultants rarely incorporate SEO into their offering. Instead, they provide Web site submission services that blast the site to thousands of search engines without modifying content or functionality. This has little effect.
Other companies look to traditional advertising agencies, many of which have begun offering SEM services. Similar limitations are evident here, as most traditional ad agencies focus only on paid placement, with little or no attention paid to SEO.
Each year, more companies find that agencies focusing only on SEM and SEO are best suited to meet their comprehensive requirements. True SEO/SEM agencies are committed to best practices, using methodologies consistent with the submission criteria and guidelines set forth by Yahoo, Google and all major search engines. These specialized consultants offer keyword-selection assistance, Web site guidance, directory submissions, copywriting assistance to ensure effectiveness of paid placement ads, continuous reporting and program management by a dedicated account executive.
Another important offering of the focused SEO/SEM agency is a paid inclusion program. Paid inclusion resembles paid placement in that the search engines and directories charge a fee, but the pricing model differs. Instead of an auction environment, paid inclusion fees are derived from a flat-rate cost per click. Paid inclusion results are database positions, and they appear below the small number of paid placement positions that are at the top of most search results. For the more competitive keywords, this is a proven way to drive traffic that can remain cost effective.
When interviewing SEO/SEM agencies, check whether they have managed successful programs for companies in your industry as well as companies of your size that likely would have established a program budget similar to yours.