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Choosing a search marketing firm

Are you looking for a firm to help with your search marketing? It’s complicated, for sure. (That’s why we wrote our book in the first place.) But there are steps that anyone can take to narrow down the firms available to help you.


The first thing you need to do is make a list of characteristics that you are looking for in a search marketing firm. Do you need help with organic search? Paid search? Both? Do your campaigns cover the US? Other countries? Do you need help with local search, contextual ads, or shopping search?
Think about exactly what you need, and set your priorities (which things are absolute musts and which ones are merely nice to have). Make sure you know what your high, medium, and low priorities are—that gives you your list of characteristics to assess each firm against.
But where do you get your list of firms to choose from? The best source is recommendations from others. If you have colleagues that can relate their experiences with several firms, use them to make your short list. But most of us don’t have a long list of recommended firms. If you find yourself in that situation, you might check out the Marketing Sherpa guide, which gives a long list of firms along with ratings for each firm that help you narrow the list based on the criteria you chose for yourself.
You’ll make trade-offs of one characteristic versus another as you make your decisions, firm by firm, because there’s no one perfect search marketing firm. But your goal is to come up with a short list of firms to interview. Make sure that you ask questions about their credentials and that you get to talk to their existing customers. Find out exactly who will be your account team and talk to them, not just to the top consultant who won’t be working with you day-to-day. Check to see that the account team has been working for the company for a while, because some firms experience lots of personnel turnover, which can disrupt their service to you.
If you have a large search marketing program in mind, you should be able to get a free analysis of your site with a plan for what you should be doing better. Looking over such plans from several firms can help you compare them in action.
Most of all, stay far away from the few firms that practice unethical spamming techniques. If you are being guaranteed high organic rankings (and promised results will happen quickly), you can bet that corners are being cut. Choosing these firms brings huge risk to your company’s campaign and its overall reputation. (Look no further than the bad publicity and dismal results BMW received when it crossed this ethical line.) Note, however, that paid search can give you quick results as long as you are willing to pay the price.
Choosing a search marketing firm is a difficult decision, so take your time and get advice from others who have made good choices. To learn more about this decision, check out Chapter 8 of our book, Search Engine Marketing, Inc.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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