Choose Your Search Marketing Approach


Now that you have analyzed the search marketing tasks to perform and made some preliminary decisions about who in your organization will perform them, it's time to decide exactly how to get started. Do you have the expertise on your team to do this? Or do you need to hire some outside help?

You might hear people talk about the choice between outsourcing search marketing and "doing it in-house," but that is a false choice. Certain search marketing tasks, such as changing the content or doing proper redirects, are almost never done by outsidersyour extended team does them. You will always do some of the work in-house.

The real question is whether you hire an external vendor to help you. Do you conduct your search marketing program with completely internal resources, or do you also hire an outside firm to augment your own personnel? To answer that question, you need to consider several factors:

  • Corporate culture. If your executive never "throws money away on consultants," you are unlikely to persuade him on this one. So, one reason to avoid an external vendor is that it does not fit your corporate culture. Most companies, however, benefit from the specialized expertise that search marketing vendors bring. Search marketing is exactly the kind of focused specialty where a consultant can be extremely valuable.

  • Budget. It is sad but true that some organizations do not have the money to hire an external firm, or at least they believe they do not. This can be extremely shortsighted. Some "starter packages" from search marketing firms cost just $5,000 to $10,000 for a quick analysis with a recommendation for a single product line, for example. You might spend that much to do it yourself, and you would be unlikely to do it as well as the outside firm. Your time is not really free, and you might spend a lot more time doing it than an expert would, especially when you consider the specialized tools and experience a professional brings to the task.

  • Expertise. Do you have the necessary skills to staff a central search team internally? If not, could you afford to hire someone who has those skills? Would you know how to locate such a person? If you have sufficient expertise available in-house, you do not need any external firm to help. Be aware, however, that a good search marketing firm has a breadth of expertise that you could never find in one or two people. You might need help on arcane technical topicstopics such as rewriting URLs to help dynamic pages get indexed. To solve that problem requires deep expertise in search marketing as well as skills in the particular brand of Web server software you purchased to run your Web site.

  • Time. In Chapter 7, you probably found that search marketing is an extremely valuable opportunity for your business. It follows that every minute you fail to cash in on that opportunity is costing you money. So, one factor to consider is how quickly a vendor can get your program in gear as opposed to you going it aloneand how much that is worth. If you can see results two months faster, would that more than pay for the professional fee?

  • Quality. Do you believe that you can get the same (or better) results from your completely in-house search marketing program as if you hired an outside vendor to advise you? It is not easy to assess this factor, but it is worth pondering. A search marketing firm has worked with lots of clients and has undoubtedly seen something before that is similar to your situation. That experience might result in more traffic from your search campaigns.

After assessing these factors in your situation, you might still not be able to decide what to do. If you are undecided, you can interview several search marketing firms to see whether they convince you to hire their firm. They can develop proposals for you to help estimate what your search marketing costs might bemany will do that for a modest fee (or perhaps no fee if you are a large company that could make them a lot of money). Next, we look at how to engage a search marketing firm and select one if you are interested.

Select an External Search Marketing Vendor

As discussed briefly in Chapter 1, "Why Search Marketing Is Important … and Difficult," the search business is becoming big business. There are many companies clamoring to become your search marketing vendor, and more firms enter the industry each year. How do you decide which one is right for you?

Any time you select a vendor to provide services to your company, it makes sense to follow a methodical step-by-step process. Your procurement department can help you with some of these steps, but there are specific tips you need to know. We provide those tips as we walk through each step.

Decide Your Vendor Requirements

"Common sense is not so common," goes the old saying. And so it is with selecting vendors. You would think that every company would make a list of what is needed before buying, but many do not. Because we know how sensible you are (hey, you were so smart you bought this book), we are confident that your first step is thinking through your requirements for a search marketing vendor.

You have already made a decision in Chapter 7 on which search techniques you would like to use, so you should ensure that your vendor has expertise in organic, paid, or both, depending on what you picked. Some vendors do much more of one kind of search marketing. Know what you need.

Decide which search marketing tasks you would like the vendor to perform. Help you with the strategy? Keyword planning? Make your list so that you can check the firm's expertise for each task that you want help with. Your list will drive the questions you ask when you talk to each firm.

Do you have any other requirements? Do you want the firm to be available for in-person meetings (so maybe they should have an office located near you) or is it okay that they do the work remotely? Do they need international experience?

Make a list of every requirement and decide how you will grade each one. For example, if you require that your vendor meet your team frequently in person, you might use specific criteria to grade each company:

  • Strong. Every member of the vendor team on your account is available in a local office.

  • Moderate. The key members of your vendor account team are local, but some members are not.

  • Weak. Few or none of your vendor account team members are nearby.

Think carefully about every requirement you have. Decide up front what you are looking for from a vendor to meet that requirement. Then prioritize your requirements. Which ones are criticalno vendor can be selected unless they qualifyas opposed to those that are of medium importance or just nice to have? After you have chosen your requirements, your scoring criteria, and your priorities, you can look for the search marketing vendors that meet them.

Create Your List of Vendor Candidates

Before you can start listing individual firms, you should first decide whether a particular type of search marketing vendor meets your needs better than others. You can consider three major types of firms:

  • Search consultants. Called search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM) consultants, these new firms specialize in search marketing. Some of the leading firms include iProspect, Fathom Online, and Global Strategies International, but many smaller firms can do a great job for your business, too. Typically, search consultants are smaller firms whose resources could be overwhelmed by a large account, and they have commensurately higher risks of failure. Like most small companies, they are usually far more flexible in the way they work with your company, which can be critical if you work for a large organization used to doing things its own way. Some search consultants are stronger at organic search than paid search, but most handle both well. A great place to find search consultants is the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (www.sempo.org).

  • Traditional advertising agencies. Branching out from their traditional advertising business in TV, radio, and print media, well-known agencies such as Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather have moved to the Web. Agencies tend to be more proficient at banner ads and paid placement than organic search, but they are steadily making strides there, too. These companies have enormous strategy experience and huge resources to throw at almost any problem, but might not always provide the most personal attention to your account. Your company might already have a relationship with one or more of these companies.

  • Interactive advertising agencies. Consisting of mostly small firms (although usually larger than search consultants), these firms handle all Internet marketing needs, including e-mail and banner ads, but have begun to focus more on search marketing. Traditional ad agencies have created interactive agencies as well (such as OgilvyInteractive). Some interactive agencies are better at paid search than organic search, but others have strong SEO expertise. Small firms suffer all the expected small company vendor risks, but also provide more personal attention than their larger agency counterparts. You can find a list of agencies by visiting the Interactive Advertising Bureau Web site. (Visit iab.com/about/general_members.asp for a list of "general" members; see iab.com/about/assoc_member_list.asp for "associate" members.)

Perhaps one type of company fits your situation better than the others, or maybe you want to interview a couple of firms in each category, so that you can evaluate the full gamut of vendors available. Regardless, you must put together a list of firms to consider.

Recommendations from others, Web searches, and trade association lists (such as Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization) can all help you compile your list. You can visit each firm's Web site and read comparisons of each firm to come up with your "short list" of vendors to consider. In Chapter 16, "What's Next?," we list several industry conferences where you will find vendors selling their waresit never hurts to meet them and hear a five-minute sales pitch before going further. Depending on your organization's location, you can also consult Buyer's Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms: US, UK & Canada by Marketing Sherpa (www.marketingsherpa.com), which contains ratings of more than 100 organic search vendors.

After you have your short list of vendors, you can use your requirements list to put together a matrix to assess each vendor against the others. Snap Electronics put together such a matrix, as shown in Table 8-2. (The vendors shown, like Snap itself, are fictitious operations that are not intended to bear any resemblance to real firms.)

Table 8-2. Snap Electronics Vendor Scorecard (Set up a matrix to assess your vendors against each requirement according to the criteria you have decided.)

Vendor Requirements

Priority

Stolid Advertising Agency

Mega Internet Marketing, Inc.

Boutique SEO

Organic search experience

High

   

Paid search experience

Medium

   

Search strategy

Medium

   

Keyword planning

High

   

Technical expertise

High

   

Business reliability

Medium

   

Local presence

Low

   


In the interest of space, we are showing a short list of both requirements and vendors for Snap. Yours would likely be considerably longer for both. Right now, there are no ratings for each vendor in that table, but we will fill them in as we meet each one.

Meet the Vendors

Now that you have a scorecard, it's time to start the game. Depending on the size of your company, and the size of the deal the vendor anticipates from you, you might be able to get a free proposal for your search marketing plan. If you have a small organization, you can at least get them to conduct a teleconference with you during which they "strut their stuff" and answer your questions. So what questions should you ask? That's what we will show you here.

The first set of questions should cover the vendor's methodology. After reading this book, you should be able to ask specific questions about each technique that your vendor proposes to use. You need to ensure that your vendor does not use unethical spamming techniques and that your consultant's approach is right for your situation. You should expect a document or presentation that lays out the strategy the firm intends to use.

HOW DO YOU SPOT A SPAMMER?

No smoking gun proves a search marketing vendor practices unethical techniques, but you can use this list to raise enough red flags to eliminate suspicious candidates:

  • Do they guarantee top rankings? No reputable firms will promise you top resultstoo many variables are out of their control. Firms that promise top results will usually do anything to get them. Spam techniques might have temporary results, but they will be caught in the long run and your site will be banned.

  • Do they promise that top rankings require only minimal changes to your site? You might be dealing with a link farm operator. Another way to spot a link farmer is that they want you to include special HTML on your pages. They hide links to their other clients on your pages (and hide links to you on other clients' pages).

  • Do they talk about special code that gives them an edge? If you hear them discuss "cloaking," or "IP delivery," or using different versions of pages for the spider than are used for the visitor, be wary.

If you get a "yes" answer to any of these questions, you might be dealing with a spammer. One way to flush out a spammer is to check the references provided. Another way to spot a spammer is to act as though that is exactly what you are looking for. Talk up how you have heard that you need to do some really secret stuff to get high rankings and that you need an expert who knows how to do it. A spammer will likely take that bait, but an ethical search marketer will talk you out of it and explain the right way to do it.


Each firm should be able to itemize the steps they will take to diagnose any problems on your site and work with you to correct them. How specific they can be depends on whether they have done only a quick site audit or a full-blown proposal for you.

You need to be realistic in your expectations. If you are a small company looking for a $10,000 contract, you cannot expect any vendor to provide you a 30-page proposal before you have signed a deal with them. On the other hand, a large corporation that wants a long-term relationship should expect a free detailed proposal before signing a six-figure agreement.

Some vendors will perform a site audit that clues you in to search marketing challenges before you sign up with them. Even if they do not, you should be able to review a step-by-step pro forma project planmaybe your plan will be a bit different, but each vendor should be able to show what they typically do. Unless a vendor has done a site audit, you cannot expect a specific plan for your site, but they should be able to tell you what they do in certain hypothetical situations.

One last methodology question might be important to you. You might care deeply how wedded your vendor is to their own methodology. If you work in a large, inflexible organization, you might require supreme flexibility in your search marketing vendor's methodology. If your vendor insists on only one right way to do its work, you might not be able to carry out the plan.

Beyond methodology questions, there are the normal business questions you would ask of any prospective vendor. Your procurement experts can help you analyze the pricing, contract terms, and the firm's financial viability. Remember that in the fast-moving Internet world, a company's financial health can change rapidly, so be sure to check out a firm's records, not its past reputation. Your procurement specialist should also weigh in on whether liability insurance is required.

Perhaps the most important set of questions center on the account team that will be assigned to your company by the vendor. A high-priced dream team might call on you before you sign the deal, but are they going to be your actual account team after you sign? Insist on meeting your account team beforehand. Those folks will be working with you every day and their opinions and experience will prove far more important than the rainmakers who close the deal. There's nothing wrong with a junior staff member doing preliminary keyword research or running reports or other preparation workthat saves you a lot of moneybut the real brain work must be done by experienced senior search marketers.

Ask the members of your account team how long they have been employed by the firm, and whether they are permanent employees (who get W-2 statements) or are contractors (receiving 1099s). Team members that are longstanding permanent employees provide reassurance that your account team might remain stable, without members jumping to new jobs and leaving you with a rookie to break in. All team members should be covered by nondisclosure agreements for confidential information. If possible, ensure that team members do not also work on search marketing for your competitors.

Question account team members about their specific expertise and search marketing experience. They should be able to name their other accounts and supply references you can contact. Those references should testify to the team's results in previous search campaigns. Insist on talking to former clients, not just current ones. Firms routinely recite long lists of impressive clients, but you should only be impressed by the clients that you verify are satisfied.

As you ask these questions, fill in your scorecard. Table 8-3 shows Snap's scorecard.

Table 8-3. Final Snap Electronics Vendor Scorecard (Using the criteria that you set at the beginning of the process, each vendor can be graded against the others.)

Vendor Requirements

Priority

Stolid Advertising Agency

Mega Internet Marketing, Inc.

Boutique SEO

Organic search experience

High

Weak

Moderate

Strong

Paid search experience

Medium

Strong

Strong

Moderate

Search strategy

Medium

Strong

Strong

Moderate

Keyword planning

High

Moderate

Moderate

Strong

Technical expertise

High

Weak

Moderate

Strong

Business reliability

Medium

Strong

Moderate

Weak

Local presence

Low

Moderate

Weak

Strong


Snap used its interviews with each vendor to decide its rating on the requirements. Not all of the assessments were clear-cut, and no real leader emerged. The final decision came next.

DO YOU NEED A GLOBAL SEARCH MARKETING VENDOR?

Maybe your business has been a global marketer for many years. Or perhaps the Web has put global markets within your reach that were impossible before. Regardless, more and more businesses are marketing globally on the Web. If you are hiring a search marketing vendor for a program with global scope, you need to ask more questions to find the right match.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to some of these questions. You will quickly find that each vendor you interview has a different story about how they execute global programs, so it quickly comes down to what you need. You must ruthlessly prioritize which countries and languages you need coverage for, because a vendor strong in one area might be weak in another. Know which countries and languages are your top prioritiesthat cannot be compromisedand be willing to accept a little less for other markets.

After you have your target market list, check out the vendor's expertise, country by country:

  • Local presence. Does the vendor have native speakers residing in the country? Many do not. Does that person work for the vendor? Many have subcontracted relationships with local search marketerssometimes two or three levels of relationships, which can make things sticky if you run into disagreements.

  • Integration. How do they enforce the strategy of the overall program in each country? How do they report results across the whole program? Many do not have any way of performing these critical operational tasks.

  • Search engine relationships. Do they have verifiable relationships with the local search engines and directories? Many local search engines work only with certain firms, so make sure you are working with those firms, too.

  • Local references. Insist on speaking to customer references in each country. Search marketing vendors can have wildly different capabilities from country to country, so make sure you check them out in every top-priority locale on your list.

After you have spoken to each vendor, think carefully about the right tradeoffs. If 80 percent of your revenue is from the United States, is it worth compromising global markets to get the best vendor for the United States? Could you hire multiple vendors to get stronger coverage across your target markets, or would the coordination headaches be too great? You might not have an easy decision; if you ask the right questions, however, at least you will have fewer nasty surprises.


Make Your Decision

If you have done a good job recruiting strong candidates to become your search marketing vendor, your final decision will not be easy. You need to return to your original priorities. Which requirements are the most important and how does each vendor stack up on those?

Snap faced a difficult decision among the three vendors on its short list. To simplify the choice, Snap focused on its highest priorities: organic search experience, keyword planning, and technical expertise. Boutique SEO was rated "strong" on all three counts. Boutique's only weakness was business reliability, due to its small size and short experience. Snap decided to take that risk, negotiating a low-priced deal to compensate for the risk. Boutique, as a hungry small firm, was eager to land the high-profile Snap account as a great reference customer (that will help persuade new customers to sign with them).

Your decision might be just as difficult as Snap's. Before you decide, however, also consider whether you should run your program completely in-house, with no search marketing vendor on your payroll.

Run a Completely In-House Search Marketing Program

It is not easy to go it alonewithout hiring an outside vendorbut it can work, if you know what you are doing.

The biggest benefit to doing it in-house is that your program will take an "inside-out" approach rather than an outsider's approach. Your in-house team understands your organization. Your depth of knowledge will allow you to set your priorities based on which campaigns are the easiest to dothat can be good. Sometimes external vendors know a lot about search marketing but not much about your companythey can possibly lead you astray. Of course, if you manage the vendor properly, you will not run this risk.

The hard part of going it alone is in finding the needed expertise in-house. It is rare that you can find search marketing experts inside an organization that, up until now, has not been doing any search marketing. It is possible you can find such skills if your search marketing program is run on a small scale (one division, perhaps) and you want to expand to an enterprise-wide program.

Failing to find the needed expertise, you can develop your search experts from within. You can send folks to classes and conferences, and buy them books (they each need three copies of this one), teaching them what they need to know. This approach can work, but it is slowusually taking months of startup time before you really get rolling.

Typically, you will be in a hurry, forcing you to hire experts from the outside. The best of both worlds can be to hire an "embedded strategist" who acts as a facilitator to the organizationyou try to hire the same kind of person who a search marketing vendor hires.

If you can locate, develop, or hire the search marketing experts that you need, you will likely find that you still do not have the same experience that hiring an outside vendor brings. Vendors work with many different companies and see myriad situations. You are unlikely to replicate that experience in a one- or two-person search team. You will, however, save a lot of money. Internal search experts are typically cheaper than buying the same expertise from outside. With a few key hires and an investment in training, you can staff a strong internal team and create additional loyalty from employees gaining new skills.

And that loyalty might prove vital, because a 100 percent in-house approach has a key danger of employee attrition. Search marketing skills are hot and getting hotter in today's job market. External search marketing vendors can usually pay more for your employees than you do (because those companies charge more to cover the costs). If you lose your key team members to competitors or vendors, your search marketing efforts can be severely damaged, at least in the short term. Although members of a vendor account team also might depart, the vendor is more easily able to withstand those changes and replace people with others of high skill. Replacing defectors from your in-house team with equally talented people might be considerably more challenging.

In short, it is possible for you to run a successful search marketing program with no outside vendor, but it has its own set of challenges and risks. If you can find, train, or hire the experts you needand retain themyour search marketing efforts will bear strong results while also costing less than using an external firm. You might find, however, that the slow "ramp up" time to start your program, coupled with the risks of hiring less-skilled resources and unexpected employee defections, might not make the cost savings worth the pain.



    Search Engine Marketing, Inc. Driving Search Traffic to Your Company's Web Site
    Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Companys Web Site (2nd Edition)
    ISBN: 0136068685
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2005
    Pages: 138

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