How to Choose a Search Vendor

Aug 21, 2008 - 5:18 pm 1 by

Marketers face a bewildering number of options in selecting their search marketing campaign tools and vendors, and making a decision will only become more difficult as the variety of players in the industry grows. Likewise, instead of just settling for the usual functionality, features, and pricing, search marketers are clamoring for more integrated tools and innovative solutions when they survey the various vendors. Join us for an enlightening discussion as industry veterans share insight into matching the best product offering to your company's individual search goals. Moderator: Jonathan Allen, Search Marketing Specialist, Speakers: Eric Papczun, Director of Natural Search, DoubleClick Performics Jeannie Moran, eCommerce Marketing Director, AutoNation

Eric from Doubleclick starts off.

Has an agency point of view. Will talk about natural and paid, and will give guidelines what to look for in a PPC provider. Also, guidelines for finding someone to bring pieces together.

8 Things to consider for hiring an SEO firm:

1- An understanding of your business, goals, and has a plan around that. Stay away from anything that feels canned, templated, or prepackaged. Need customization.

2- Alignment - someone with experience in your vertical. Need someone with expertise, or partners that have the expertise. Always question and test expertise and background.

3- Consider what your buying. Basically hiring a consultant when hiring an SEO or PPC firm. Looking for a partner to work with you in an integrated fashion. Look for someone with expertise in consulting. Find someone who is a taskmasker - will push you forward. Need to get recommendations implemented. Want someone who is pushy to get tasks and goals accomplished.

4- Equipped - Want to find a whole team that represents you. Folks that specialize in copy, keyword research, technical side - when you have that team - you get the best of both worlds. Good account management at the front end. Find a vendor that is balanced. Balance between technology and expertise is the sweet spot. Be wary of folks who tell you they have everything you need, but don't. Just like interviewing - ask for examples of work, tools they use and how they use them, and how they will help you move towards your goals.

5- Sound methodologies - SEO done right is an art and science. Need a good process, one that doesn't limit creativity. Find one methodology that is specific to SEO - like keyword methodology. Ask questions about it.

6- Leaders - you need an advocate for your goals. Having someone with the skills to understand how to talk to technologists, marketers, to digest this is important. Passion is very important. Need someone who can preach the benefits of SEO. Be careful that if they have these skills, they have the expertise to back it up. Good vision + good tool sets.

7- Education is vital. Good consultants share information. Need someone who is open about their knowledge in a simple manner. Someone who can speak in layman's terms and technically.

8- Trustworthiness. Hiring a partner, so honesty is so important. If you feel oversold or fabricated, try to trip up with questions. Get referrals. Find out the work they've done. Just like on a job interview - if you probe and ask the right questions, you will get to the right story. At the end of the day, you have to trust your gut. Have to feel good about it. Don't hire because someone is down the street. Need to find someone who matches your culture and can communicate well.

Choosing a paid search vendor:

Outsourcing is done for efficiency. Consider three things.

1- Are you going to get an account manager that will do everything? A generalist? Or will you get a specialist. Bid management is huge. Need someone with the skills.

2- Technology - need integrated API's with the engines. Frequency of reporting is close to real time. Want to know about tool sets. How do they do bid management? How do they structure campaigns?

3- Methodology - Ask what the typical launch time frame is? What goes into a launch? What is the process? Need to be as clear and organized as possible. Need consistent delivery on promises. Dig deep and ask tough questions.

How can we bring these together? There is a massive trend of clients looking for holistic search management. Old model was to find best in breed in SEO and PPC. If not working together - not thinking of it as one - leaving opportunity on the table. Need someone who an test rankings and ROI on both the SEO and PPC side.

Next up is Jeannie from AutoNation, Inc. AutoNation is the largest auto dealer group in the county.

Will present the opposite view - from the client side. What they look for. Goal is to share specifics of what worked for them.

The auto industry has been hit hard recently. There's a huge focus on where dollars are being spent.

Setting the stage. Has hired several vendors, and fired several. Can't settle.

Hiring a vendor is a partner. Going into a relationship.

5 Rules: #1- Sign a prenup. A mutual NDA. Puts both parties at ease. #2- Don't disrespect the family. Need to be aligned. #3- Build trust. Set reasonable expectations. It's a two way street. Client has to build trust with agency. Need to trust what vendor is sharing. Lots of ways data can be manipulated. #4- Be honest about dating others. Working with multiple partners can be tricky. They use multiple vendors, but they know what each other is doing. #5- Keep everyone happy. Make sure it's worth the vendors time and your time.

Groundwork for Success. Educate yourself in what you are buying. Need to be able to ask the right questions. Some players will guarantee positions. Must filter between pros and amateurs.

Purchasing considerations - never meet with the sales team only. Meet with someone who will be accountable with what will be done in proposal.

Make sure technology is compatible with applications already in use.

Confirm capabilities; Does the tool work on tier 1 and tier 2 engines?

Get all promises in writing. Negotiate a trial period. A test pilot. Only do things that way now.

Always ask about hidden costs. How do you know what to ask for?

Technology is very important. Ensure that applications for tracking and reporting is not being duplicated or inflating.

Check if product works with foreign languages.

Verify API status to ensure that fees are included in contract, not additional.

Make sure you understand methodology for measurement.

Support - need a strong team. An available contact.

SEO Vendor Considerations:

1) Strong keyword research strategy. How will they determine KW's you will show up for? 2) Strong copywriting and link building. 3) Optimization plan for organic pages. 4) Measure organic conversion and ROI. 5) Proven results. Ask about failure, success, and referrals.

Paid Search Vendor Considerations:

1) PPC programs in Google, Yahoo and MSN. 2) Web traffic measurement tools to measure your precise ROI. 3) A/B testing of PPC ads and landing pages to identify the most effective campaigns. 4) Account managers that are Google Adwords Certified and Yahoo Ambassadors.

Social Media Vendor Considerations:

1) What channels are you currently active in for clients? (Digg, Facebook, StumbleUpon) 2) Give examples of how channels might be used to bolster the overall SEM effort. 3) Proven results, failures, success, and referrals.

Key Takeaways:

1) Educate yourself to ask the right questions! 2) Invest time to find the right partner! 3) Agree and document billing model! 4) Start small - test vendor on small scale! 5) Monitor, measure, and optimize!

Contributed by Avi Wilensky of Promediacorp.


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