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What kind of search marketing partner do you want?

Search marketing is a mystery to many. Part voodoo, part black magic and chock full of snake oil salesmen. It’s the marketing world’s version of a black hole. Business owners don’t want to get too close to it for fear of being sucked in, never to be heard of again. (Tip: Getting sucked into a black hole can ruin your whole day.) While search marketing is now a requirement for effective marketing in the new economy, it is fraught with more shapes and sizes of practitioners than even I care to admit. Today we will take a look at a few profiles of search marketing providers that exist, as well as some tidbits to help you navigate these treacherous waters so you safely land on the shore of a search solution that best fits your business needs. While this list is not exhaustive, I do think it hits the high points. If I offend any search marketers out there, please remember that I too am one of you. I would love to hear your feedback (or defense).

Profile #1 – The Full Service Agency

This can take the form of a division of a large advertising agency or a large search marketing agency who says they are an online marketing agency. Either way you will hear a pitch about full service this and that. “We can ‘handle’ ALL of your marketing needs here under one roof. Why deal with multiple vendors blah, blah, blah.” Usually this type of firm incorporates a lower case letter “i” in either their names or their offerings. They are not cheap and depending on who you work with they may not actually perform the work they recommend. Usually reserved for the Global 2500 types, the price tag will be high and it will be done on their terms.
Summary: Jack of all trades, master of none?

Profile #2 – The Search Marketing Agency

There’s no law stopping you from calling anything a “search marketing agency.” The “agency” that you hire may be a one-man band or small pack of search marketers (who travel in numbers for impressiveness). Skill level and knowledge of the industry is all over the map here and there has never been a better case for “caveat emptor” in business than working with a search marketing “agency.”
There are very good small agencies out there, but take care to ensure your small agency is not merely a “broker.” Often small shops simply outsource your work to other small providers. Prices will be all over the map, with services being defined differently from different providers. Even worse, the services are undefined, giving carte blanche to the provider to do as he wishes. Shame on you Mr. Business Owner, if you let this happen. Pricing will amount to a monthly retainer for services which might be too rigid in scope for any real success.
Summary: Do your homework. Ask a ton of questions about exactly what is being done for your fees and how it will benefit you. Get at least four different quotes before you buy.

Profile #3 – The Used Search Salesman

My personal favorite, this is the slick sales approach that promises you everything (We GUARANTEE first page) with a high-pressure close on the deal. Oftentimes, these folks will claim some proprietary system that makes them different, such as a network of linked blogs, or a slick software application. (I even had one guy tell me that Google came and trained his company on how to get number 1 rankings).
After shaking hands with such a salesman, check to see if you have all five fingers left. There are endless stories about search marketing scammers, so be on your guard. If there is an “end of month” discount or some other sales gimmick to make you take action, beware. If you do say “yes,” you might have committed to a deal of six months or more, and are then passed off to a delivery team that knows nothing about the salesperson’s promises. Pricing varies greatly but usually falls in the “$$$ per month for a defined number of months” category.
Summary: If you feel like you are being “sold” during the process of choosing your provider, then there are probably large gaps between the sales promises and the delivery of services.

Profile #4 – The Search Consultant

As with anything else, there are bad search consultants out there. I personally am moving to this model though, and here’s why: The consultant is not constrained by service delivery procedures designed to get the most out a delivery team.
Instead, because the services are truly customized to fit your business’ specific needs within its search goals, there is higher probability of success. Consultants can either deliver the service themselves or can deliver a strategy then provide options for you to look at for execution.
Consultants benefit those with in-house talent because they complement and supplement rather than compete with existing resources. Lastly, a good search consultant will work with integrity because there is no one to blame if something goes wrong or doesn’t work.
While not cheap (average about $250 per hour), the consultant is someone you can use on an as-needed basis and needs to continually prove his or her worth in order to be allowed to work with you. Like I said, there are bad ones out there, so do your homework, but give a consultant a tryout of sorts before you commit anything of significance.
Summary: This seems to be the delivery method that benefits the end user the best and provides the flexibility that is an absolute essential in search marketing.
Well, that’s a lot to chew on. I look forward to some feedback because I am sure there are experiences on both sides of the ledger (search marketing providers and buyers) that can benefit us all.

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