Top 7 Things to Expect From a Search Marketing Agency

Search is evolving and you need to improve your Search Engine Marketing programs to keep up with competition and demand. Here are seven points that you should analyze about your SEM agency to be sure they can properly address your needs. Also, remember to always look beyond the sales pitch as many agencies have polished the sales pitch to reflect what you want to hear as opposed to what they truly offer.

1. Professional and speedy customer service.

Real-time communication is here. Make use of it and make your customers part of the experience.

2. Knowledge of the client’s target market.

The client expects you to be knowledgeable in the market vertical they compete. If you are not an expert then talk to the client more often.

3. Being pro-active and flexible in your strategy.

Don’t wait for the client to tell you that a keyword is flying off the handle and spending too much. Monitor the performance and come to me with ideas and data. I care more if you tell me whether we are reaching and surpassing our business objectives.

4. API connectivity.

There is just no way around it. I believe there is not business case that can support not having Google Adwords API connectivity for your app, is there?

5. Thought leadership.

Clients are hiring your agency  to teach them and educate and to have interesting conversations on how to use the channel more efficiently. Yes, I do realize that a lot of times [the client] seem rather obsessive about minute things but the reason is that they are trying to learn and most of the time this is all new to them. The agency needs to lead the way and show the opportunity ahead.

In some cases, your client might be years behind the market leaders in terms of knowledge and experience, but if you apply resources, hard work and a well thought out strategy, your clients should be able to catch up pretty quickly to the market leaders.

6. Global presence.

An increasingly important point is to have true global knowledge and presence. Large companies are going to demand that you have a presence wherever they are. If your company is not lean and flexible enough to adapt to these demands quickly, you might see your client target pool shrinking.

7. Be creative.

If you want your company to be a great company, allow your people to be creative, to think out of the box and to stay ahead of the market so that you can beat competitors. Search Engine Marketing is a data-driven field and encouraging and practicing creativity can be challenging. However, you have the blessing of data which allows you to test your creativity and realize whether you are right or wrong very quickly.

Although data is comforting, you need to make sure you are looking at the right data. You need to play by the rules and then learn how to break them. That’s the beauty of SEM.  It not only it levels the playing field, but if you apply a disciplined approach to innovation, a boost in campaign performance will follow.

Convincing a search engine you are number 1 is easy.

Now try convincing a human that you are number 1 or the right person for the job. That’s slightly more difficult, depending on the person of course. That’s why social media represents a harder challenge than search. Here are some considerations and key differences between building a corporate or personal presence without a strong social component.
  1. In social media you can’t pay your way to the top.

    • At least not for long. In search, if you are a well-funded business you can pay your way to the top eliminating the human filter completely.
  2. A search engine is for the most part “dumb”.

    With the adequate (white hat) pieces you can put together the puzzle and feed the ensemble to the search engine. Since most websites do it wrong,  you have a good chance at getting some of those highly coveted top positions

  3. Social media is powered by humans.

    Human passion drives leaders and spammers. That is then used as a filter and as a powerful influencing channel that can be a curse or a blessing for a brand.

  4. SEO can be done in isolation.

    Collaboration with the subject matter expert (SME) is key but the SEO steps can be implemented by the SEO guru who maintains a set of static assumptions and answers (meta information) that are then fed through an equation to the search engine. Thus the SME need not to be involved any longer

  5. Social media presence needs to be represented by the SME directly

    If not directly, then the involvement and collaboration with the Social Media expert needs to be constant and inmediate. To be successful the communication needs to be clear, constant and the knowledge always improving.

  6. Having a website without a real-time social component is like having a bakery with the “out to lunch” sign on all the time.

    Your business needs to interact with your customers in any way possible in order to satisfy their expectations.

The value of Social Media during an economic downturn (A look beyond Twitter)

Inspired, in part by the latest post by BuddyMedia about how Social Network Numbers Continue to Climb, April 2009. I decided to help shed some light on how to measure the value of social media if you are getting started with it by comparing it to SEM, a widely understood marketing technique. Link courtesy of Jeff Ragovin

Nowadays Twitter equals social media. However powerful twitter is (for people that understand it that is) it is very difficult to explain the actual value to new comers or classic  marketers. Since Twitter is a conversational medium, it poses a very different set of challenges and opportunities than more traditional channels such as search. This causes Twitter to be misunderstood and underutilized.

There are other social media channels that can be better understood and easily compared to a medium that most people understand which is Search Engine Marketing. SEM has a set of “rules and outcomes” that are widely understood across the internet savvy as well as business leadership at companies. For simplicity’s sake the top three we’ll use here are clicks, impressions and conversions. Keep in mind though that we are skipping to the tactical assuming the top level planning and thinking has been done. I, however, think that marketing programs should align to a final goal but should be flexible enough to add new channels. That poses a staffing issue and the flexibility to be ready to face that problem is key to the success of a program. But that topic is a material for a different post. Now on with the tactical.

Clicks, impressions and conversions are the outcomes from an SEM campaign. They can be measured, optimized and most importantly understood. With that in mind we can translate that value to social media and show the savings that a well run program can mean to a company. Especially in a downturn.

How would you possibly measure social media impact?

  • By putting in place the same tracking systems that you have for SEM. At the very begining of a social media pilot that will be the tool of record and the one that everyone will trust.
  • Once you have that in place, make sure to get comparable metrics so that SEM will serve as a benchmark.
  • Measure conversions and clicks as you would a SEM campaign
  • Set up a timeframe for testing equal for both
  • Compare the number of clicks and conversions you get from SM vs. SEM
  • Quantify that in dollars saved and conversions acheived.

What are the channels that your company should use?

  • Depends on your business. Try the usual suspects (twitter, facebook, edocr, etc) and build relationships with the company directly. You need these relationships to get your stuff featured in the home pages of these Web 2.0 (social media) sites. That is where all the action happens.
  • Understand the benefit you are providing to your channels and leverage that. You need to become important to them.

How to optimize and test B2B SEM campaigns?

GapingVoidLooking at the right stuff but looking at it from too far away might be hindering your optimization capabilities.  At this level of optimization, the factors that you need to consider are much more complex than campaign level CTR and CPC.

For those struggling to find a meaningful test environment, I would suggest doing the following before moving forward with a SEM test.  This will help you gather data and possible outcomes.

(GapingVoid) Image

Continue reading →

SEM (PPC) Ineffective. The industry needs to evolve or slowly deteriorate

By now, most of you have read the New York Times article that highlights EngineReady study about conversions from organic search vs. paid search. (Jan, 2008)

Our study showed that, paid traffic returned a more valuable visitor than that from organic
listings.

The discussion is about the influence of both channels on the bottom-line. This study helps trigger the conversation about the future of search engine marketing.

The fact is that paid search marketing is far from an optimal way to spend ad dollars. It is a passive medium with hit-and-run methodology that has worked well for a while now but it is starting to break down. With CTRs of less than 5% on average and a less-than-optimal long term customer acquisition model, search is becoming the new banner of the online advertising industry. The internet is evolving towards the development of deeper customer experiences and towards a higher level of customer trust . In this new internet panorama, search marketing (as it is today) is at odds with this evolution.

Customers want more. Advertisers want more. Search sits in the middle brokering deals quite efficiently but as publishers realize the value of their own content, search traffic might become obsolete for some, being replaced by traffic from social media sites and word of mouth.

Social networks offer a medium where internet citizens feel comfortable spending their time and interacting withbrands. They are within a circle of trust that provides support, guidance and suggestions about products and services. They know you and they know what you like. They have networks you can tap and they are human. They understand needs.

That is the reason why (at the present moment) targeted search ads do not work within a social network.

Why would people care about a search result when they have hundreds of friends that can help them figure out the best way to purchase a product or service. For instance, it is nearly impossible to find a unique travel experience by searching the internet. There are hundreds upon thousands of results that have zero relevance to what you are looking for. A search engine does not know you.

The question is not if but how the search engine marketing industry is going to evolve.

Adwords for content | Ads for dis-contempt

Given the propensity for unqualified conversions from content, Google seems to have improved upon their content targeting techniques. However, timing is everything in a fast moving market. Smaller, nimbler start-ups are taking the niche markets for content and snapping them away from Google. To name a few, Quigo, Consorte Media for the latino [hispanic] market, etc.

For some time now, new social networks [small, unproven] or blogs that use Adwords contextual are seen as “spammy” or not having a strong foundation. I think there is a lot of truth to it. For instance, if a shaky start up with big monetization dreams puts up their website and has some traffic, they are very likely to bend over for the easiest-dirtiest way to monetize, namely Adwords contextual.

A blog, that wants to “make money” right away, sees Google Adwords Contextual as the easy way into the advertising world. See Scoble’s blog, no ads. See Dave Winer’s blog, no ads. See Seesmic, no ads. Now look at the blogs that actually have thought about the type of advertising they want. See Techcrunch, 2 columns of display ads that make some sense to the reader. You don’t see the buy-viagra type of ads you see in unfocused, worthless blogs.

UPDATE: Since posting this entry, Scoble has announced that he is actually starting to include advertising options in his blog. Oh well, hopefully he’ll do it elegantly.

Optimizing a website is not SEO. It is a good business practice.

Optimizing a website from a pure search point of view is like throwing a rock in the river and expecting it to float. Practices such as directory submissions, search engine submissions equates to burning bills in the fire.

How to optimize your website?

  • Think about your business goals. After all, everything is about the bottom line. Being this more content served or more hot air balloons sold online.
  • Understand your customer base. Don’t optimize prematurely. You need to know what your customer base is looking for before optimizing. Pay special attention to internal lingo vs. the market lingo. If your customers call it SaaS and your service relates to SaaS then you should be found for SaaS. Forget about the internal project code name. You might find some resistance from within but what you can do is support your claims with data. Show the folks up above what’s being searched for. They are smart .
  • Understand your traffic. Use compete, Google Trends and other free services that can give you an idea of what your traffic looks like. Of course, use the keyword suggestion tool by Google or Yahoo!
  • Now, get started with that keyword list.
  • Set up the test environment. What variables are defined as metrics? Conversions, clicks, impressions, actions, subscriptions, video views, flash interactions, blog comments, trackbacks, pingbacks, blog mentions, content submission. Again, this goes back to your business goals.
  • Measure
  • Repeat
  • Experience vs. Data. Traditional vs. New Marketing

    Trying to make sense of the amount of data that comes in every week is a monumental task. It bends your thoughts in a different way. There is a difference though in analyzing data base on experience and analyzing data based upon asking the questions the data set might help us answer.

    The type of analysis that is based on experience only is the easy one. You put your time (for a few years or months, depending on the industry) and then you are entitle by seniority sake to opine about all the work that is being done by your team, because you’ve done it before.

    The thing is, for internet marketing, that does not work well. If you have done it before, over 4 months ago, the odds are that the tactic or strategy you used in the past has evolved and changed. That goes for the actual channel as well. For the sake of full disclosure and openness, my last conclusion is based on experience.

    How to Succeed in this ever changing environment?

    Learn. Evolve and ask questions that have not been asked before. You will probably find yourself struggling at the beginning but the journey to a new discovery always pays off.

    Look at the data and use your experience to ask the right questions, not to suggest answers that might be biased.

    Are you a senior manager?

    Use your experience to guide you in the search for answers but give your staff the space to be creative and test, always test. Sometimes experience based on traditional marketing can skew the questions and assumptions in the wrong direction.

    Take a fresh look at the business objectives and ask how can my new channels can provide support to those objectives and use the historical data to setup more successful test environments. Marketing campaigns online are all about testing – they are not traditional marketing. They are not supposed to be thrown out in market to see what happens.

    Traditional vs. New Marketing

    Turns out you are a brand as well. Not only the [insert yours here]’s (corporation, agency, startup) brand that you work for is important. You need to take care of your brand name. That will help you perform better in a corporation, agency, start up or even your own business. Much like Jeremiah Owyang. Jeremiah took control of his personal brand through his involvement in social media to raise his profile to the level where job offers from corporations came to him rather than looking for them.

    This means, at a very high level, that if someone types in your name into Google you should probably own between 40 to 60% of the page. I am not suggesting you go for “reputation management” services such as naymz.com or others. These services you pay for and don’t allow you a lot of flexibility.

    I am suggesting the following:

  • Take control of your personal brand online and use it to help your day job
  • Get out there and get a domain that relates to your last name. Install a blog such as wordpress or typepad. Both are open source now. If a domain is not available get a subdomain at wordpress.com
  • Get linked in at linkedin.com
  • Socialists vs. SearchHeads

    The social media market is hot! The valuation for Facebook is through the roof at $15 billion and due to the magnificent works of upside potential in a soon-to-be public or acquired company (and a mishap by Microsoft?) Facebook has managed to “pull a Google”- stealing top coders and employees from other companies in the Valley, namely Google itself.Search Market Share But what happened to search? It has been relegated to be the “old web” as GigaOm puts it. Even though search is not as hot as it once was (uh, 6 months ago?), it continues to command an impressive market share and continuing to grow much more than any other internet service and at the cusp of search we find Google. As you can in the graph, Google’s search market share is over 75% and growing. To enter this market as a service provider you need to be specialized. A company/consultant should have a deep knowledge of search (1st and 2nd tier engines), statistics, analytics, market segmentation and a strong knowledge of people’s behaviors online. You need to draw conclusions from the general to the specific and build business cases with supporting data behind it. It seems to be a field in which only “pure” search marketing companies or agencies are engaging. In other words you need to be a searchhead. Avinash is a great example. His blog aims to demystify analytics – a good read even though he continues to ask if he continues to ask whether real time data is really necessary.

    On the other hand we have the folks that are engaging in what has come to be known as new media. The Socialists. Podcasting, community marketing, viral marketing, twitter, facebook, myspace, utterz, seesmic, tubemogul, etc .The socialists seem to have lower barriers to entry since it is quite unchartered territory (compared to search) and the market is growing rapidly and absorbing talent quickly. An environment where social chops and the courage to get in front of a camera or a microphone with content of some value seems to be more coveted than an analytical “search” mind. It is more about building an ongoing conversation in the community in an attempt to garnish micro-influence across niche markets and to push messages important to us and the community. Chris explains how to help someone understand social media in one of his posts – an interesting read nonetheless.

    Search is here to stay as long as Google continues to deliver accurate and reliable results in a fraction of a second to the world’s search queries. In an ever-changing internet environment where businesses evolve and transform at ease, the top of the cusp is always up for grabs and facebook is proving to be a colosal competitor to Google forcing the giant to review their strategy by speeding up OpenSocial.

    The line between socialists and searchhead is blurring quickly which might give way to a new breed of internet marketeer who is comfortable in the multifaceted conversation and web-analytics savvy.