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SES 2008 – How to Choose Your Search Vendor without Regrets

  • By calcoastwebdesign
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  • 22 Aug 2008

What? You can’t stand your SEO / SEM company? Why not???

We’re roundin it up here, Day 4 session 3, we’re totally skipping out on the next session and getting on the road….I am itching to IMPLEMENT!! Especially local stuff!!!!!

How to Choose a Search Vendor

Panelists:
Jonathan Allen, Incisive Media
Eric Papczun, DoubleClick Performics
Jeannie Moran, AutoNation

Eric was up first, he’s from an agency, so we get that perspective first. He’s going to go over important guidelines when you are choosing a SEOs or SEM’s.

I like this guy, he’s gonna start with Organic first 🙂

8 factors and questions to ask when looking for an SEO

  1. look for a firm that understands your business. Do they LISTEN? Are they selling you or acting like Mother Theresa…a helper and servant? Look out to make sure the pitch isn’t templated!
  2. look for a firm that is aligned in your vertical. If you want social media then find an expert there. If you want press releases find an expert there. Does the firm have the expertise you need or the partners to provide what you need? Make sure who you hire is on the right path or they will miss your target goal
  3. consider the project managers. You’re basically hiring a consultant to work with hand in hand, and take advise from. You need someone who acts like a consultant and is trained as such, not “just a geek”. Projects need to be well organized. Do they have a “taskmaster”? Who’s cracking the whip? Haha our clients will attest to Ang and Jenn doing so. Do they care about your project? Enough to whip you into shape?
  4. look for a firm that is equipped. Do they have a strong TEAM, not just one or 2 people? Do they have folks that specialize in just keyword research, just copy, just design. UM YA that’s us!!! Don’t choose an unbalanced vendor. They need a balance between technology and expertise, not too far on either side.
  5. do they have sound methodologies? How do they combine the art and science of this SEO game? What is their approach to SEO? White hat or black hat? Processes are the foundation to work from. Ask about the policies on the keyword methodology..say what tools do you use for keywords? How do you sift out the noise? How do you make sure to connect us with the right phrases? Go ahead and ask the right questions so you can find your shining star. Go ahead and ask me….go ahead…but be prepared for a 1-2 hr answer lol! Basically, make sure they think deeply!
  6. ask if they are leaders. You want an advocate for your goals. Do they have the leaders to connect the whole team AND your people? Do they have passion? Do they have a powerful message or stories about SEO? Be careful not to just hire a motivational speaker though 🙂
  7. ask about education. Will you teach me? Are you going to keep all secrets locked up? How educated are you and how do you continue your education? See if they can simplify the message for you. Ask a couple hard questions. See how educated they sound.
  8. how trustworthy are you? Do you feel like they are honest? Are they fabricating or overselling? Or possibly underpromising so they can over deliver, like us 😉 ask for referrals, proof of happy clients, the real story behind client success.

At the end of the day TRUST YOUR GUT! Don’t hire because they are biggest, or because you are friends, or because they are down the street. Do these people communicate and match your culture? Are they responsive in the sales process???

On to Paid Search….my ears are perking up, we need a vendor!!!! Comment your case!!!!

  1. people. Am I going to get an account manager who does everything? Or am I going to get a team of specialists? do they have people for keyword research, bid management, etc.?
  2. technology. Do they have robust technology with direct API engine integration? Do they offer in depth real time reporting and analysis to assist account managers in making informed decisions? Ask to see a demo, don’t just be impressed at what fanciness they have – YOU need to be able to work this technology too or you will remain in the dark about your account!
  3. methodology. What’s your typical launch timeframe? How do you migrate my account and what is the process? Make sure they offer a comprehensive campaign management process, including strategic planning, meticulous execution, and targeted growth. If they don’t have a process… you better run.

Again, make sure you dig deep and ask tough questions. Its way better to do it now then after you hire them!

How can we bring the sciences of SEO and SEM together???? Clients want holistic search management, not two separate companies for each (most times). Well, its not always possible, and if it IS, its not always in your best interest, so proceed with caution.

Find the best in breed in both organic and SEM, and they will give good results! BUT if they are not working together as a team, there is opportunity left on the table. How do we gobble up these opportunity scraps then?? Well, there’s a few ways:

  • Know how paid and natural campaigns perform vs best practices
  • Identify opportunities that can improve performance
  • Optimize ROI across all search channels
  • Combine campaign metrics and reporting so you’re comparing apples to apples

Hint: Paid search is great to test keywords… if they convert in paid, they will convert in organic. This is good because you wait 3 weeks, not 3 months.

Good stuff. Now who are we gonna get to help us with the PPC here??? I’m an artist at heart, the spreadsheets and numbers bore me to death.

Next up was Jeannie Moran, with AutoNation. They use vendors – so here’s a priceless client perspective!!! Read up!! Jeannie is going to share what our potential clients think and what they look for, plus strategies that have worked for AutoNation over the years.

First you have to set the stage – there are 5 fundamentials to follow – they are very similiar to marriage & courting!

  1. sign a prenup – there should be a mutual non disclosure and / or non-compete to put everyone at ease
  2. don’t disrespect the family. Is this someone you will be proud to introduce to your boss?
  3. build trust. Set reasonable expectations, meet deadlines on your site, demonstrate your behavior as a fair, responsible partner. This will go a loooong way.
  4. be honest about dating others. Working with multiple partners can become dicey, avoid vendor conflicts, be honest upfront if there are other partners let them know!
  5. keep everyone happy. This should be a match made in heaven. Make sure its worth your while and their while!!!

Now that the stage is set – let’s lay the groundwork for success:

  • understand what you are buying. HELLO potential CLIENTS!! Understand what you are buying!!! Angie rant – this means you should NOT call the week after you fax in your contract and wonder why you are not #1 in Google. This is an obvious misunderstanding of what you bought!!
  • ask the right questions to separate the professionals from the amateurs. Just ask “can you guarantee me on the first page”? See what they say. Another Angie rant – You better run from anyone who LIES to you and tells you “yes” flat out. You should know the answer’s no by now! I know, I know, you are in denial because you are not hearing the answer you want to hear. I do it too, but we gotta get over it. The only guarantee for placement is PAY – PER – CLICK. Period. (sorry, I would be happy to show you all the people we have got on page 1 position 1 of Google to prove to you we have the capability, but to guarantee it in writing for each client every time is just not a possibility for ANY organic SEO. Take it from someone who’s been in the biz 10 yrs)

You got the groundwork – now on to purchasing considerations

  • Never meet with the sales team only
  • Make sure technology is compatible with the applications already in use. You gots to coooorinate – I won’t link to the John Witherspoon act here because he drops too many F-bombs – but he says it best lol 🙂
  • confirm capabilities, does the tool work with all tier 1 and 2 search engines?
  • get all promised capabilities in WRITING. Make sure you have a contract or a written agreement – verbal agreements leave all involved with a potential disaster!
  • negotiate a trial period – have a test pilot. You don’t have to give them ALL the business at once, let them earn it with a small test pilot.
  • hidden costs? Freaking ask! There always are some somewhere.

Let’s Talk Technology

  • Ensure that only one application is ultimately utilitized for reporting / tracking, so that data isn’t being duplicated or inflated. You’re gonna have enough to look over as it is.
  • Can the product work with foreign languages and foreign currency? You may as well prepare to grow rather than having pains in the future!
  • Verify API status to ensure that fees are included in contract, that its not an additional “hidden” cost
  • What is the methodology for measurement – is a visit page counted when the page begins to serve or only when a page is fully loaded?

But do they have Support?
There should be a dedicated support team!!!!

Organic SEO Vendor considerations

  • a strong keyword research stragety (she said this is MOST IMPORTANT…it came from a client mouth OMG…YAY!!! It IS most important!!!)
  • strong copywriting and link building
  • optimization plans for organic pages
  • measures for organic conversion and ROI
  • proven results (ASK about failure, success, referrals) You know you want to….go on and google them. Google results don’t lie, but salespeople might 🙂

Paid Search Considerations

  • PPC programs in Google, Yahoo and MSN are a MUST.
  • a web traffic measurement tool to measure your precise ROI (it doesn’t have to be theirs, but you need a tool that you and your geeks understand)
  • AB testing of PPC ads and landing pages to identify the most effective campaigns. If your PPC vendor isn’t an advocate of this RUN. RUN!!!!
  • Account managers that are Google adwords certified and Yahoo ambassadors

Social Media Vendor Considerations

what channels are you currently active in for clients? Stumbleupon, digg, facebook, etc.

  • give examples of how these channels might be used to bolster the overall SEM effort (nice HARD question!)
  • do you have proven results? (failures, successes, referrals)
  • Take aways:

    • educate yourself to ask the right questions
    • invest time to find the right partner
    • agree and document billing model
    • start small – test vendors on small scale
    • monitor – measure – optimize

    Question Time:

    Is it possible to find an all in one? Yes, but only for certain companies. Sometimes its best to split your SEO and SEM. Also, if you can’t have one umbrella make sure the two play together nicely and communicate.

    Can you tell an example of how social media has helped with SEM? Its an exciting area, Eric couldn’t say the client, but they have one that has taken the brand messaging and built a fan page within the network. They are finding people set up these fan pages and they get found in natural search, so remember to be socially optimized 🙂 Also remember social sites are still working on being better crawled, its a new craze.

    What are tips for a medium sized agency to make sure an outside campaign gets a fair and full effort? Have really strong deliverables…you can’t guarantee the people on your account, so make sure to hold the company accountable because skillsets of people may change. Make sure they are aligned with your goals. Oh lady, I’m gonna give you my card afterward 🙂

    What is your link building perspective? Sensitive area, build genuine links. Be authentic and don’t just link for SEO if possible… be careful not to do more harm than good. Do an analysis of your link portfolio. How many are internal? External? If you have a large portfolio, you can be aggressive. Cluster if you can, and have theme pages. Everyone looks at links differently, make sure your SEO is aligned with your goals.

    Can you talk about setting expectations on the front end? What’s fair? FEAR the guarantee. We (SEO’s) don’t run the search, we run after them 🙂 We know our experience and past success. Ask the quoter to set goals for your future. What milestones will get you there? Find out what exactly they are going to do on your site to get you there. I’m giving this guy our card too!!! A solid early gauge is percent of traffic. Also, measure the keywords you are actually optimized for, and track that ranking.

    I’m with a B to B business and we are starting up we are spending 30 – 40K /mo on PPC but we are clueless… should we look for a small agency or a big one? What would be better for us? There are pros and cons for both. Interview both. I’ll tell you now the small guy will bend over backwards to grow with you. But go ahead and check the big guys too. Also think about the industry. If they are already in your industry they may service your competition. But if they are outside they may work harder on you. Make sure they understand B to B. Remember – that’s a SMALL budget for today. Humph. Look for scalable tool set.

    Thought to leave with: its not always the SEO’s fault. It’s a crappy economy right now…is THAT why your traffic is down? Do you need to revisit your unique value proposition? Do you need to offer more competitive services? Sometimes there is only so much we can do.

    OK we’re done!!! I just want to say THANK YOU for not making this a PPC session. I like the unbiased info, I loved the client perspective, and I will be sending this post to our potential and existing clients frequently!!

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