Search engine marketing (SEM) is a key component of most successful online marketing campaigns. But choosing the best agency to handle your SEM can be tough. While most SEM agencies claim outstanding results, the reality doesn’t always live up to the hype. So how can you separate the good ones from the bad? How do you know which ones will deliver the goods and which ones are all hat and no cattle? As SEM experts ourselves, we thought we’d boil down the seven key qualities marketers should look for in an SEM agency.
1. Senior Level Experience
Experience and skill go a long way in determining the results you get from your SEM agency. So make the effort to find out who will be working on your account and what their level of experience is. Often, agencies will reel you in with their A-list team and then give you the bait and switch—passing your account off to inexperienced novices learning the ropes on your dime. To get the most out of your SEM investment, you want people working for you who are experts at the top of their game—SEM wizards with a knack for getting the biggest bang for your SEM buck. Of course, the agency itself is never going to tell you that it’s putting the C team on your account. So you’ll have to do a little digging. Talk to some of the agency’s other clients. Ask them about the results they’ve gotten. Find out what it’s like to work with this agency from those who actually know.
2. A Clear, Consistent Process
A solid SEM agency has a point of view—a consistent approach to SEM that they believe in and have fine-tuned over time. Like a company with a cohesive brand, having a clear, consistent SEM process means the agency has focus, vision, and an understanding of who it is and what it’s doing. A scattered or inconsistent process, on the other hand, can be a warning sign that the agency doesn’t really know what it’s doing. The best agencies have it already figured it out. They’ve perfected their process. They have a proven system that works.
And since were talking process, let’s just add that when it comes to account management, it’s best to choose an agency that monitors and optimizes your SEM manually, rather than having everything automated. This allows them to be more responsive, and to quickly make adjustments based on their knowledge and experience. Assuming you’ve got skilled SEM experts on your side, this will translate to better results.
3. Transparent Communication
With SEM you’re paying for clicks. It’s all about the results. And when it comes to your results, you need to trust that the numbers you’re given are real and accurate. Unfortunately, some SEM agencies use bad practices, making themselves look better by faking or skewing the results, thereby tricking clients into thinking their SEM is working better than it actually is. This can also lead to clients paying for things they don’t need and/or could be getting for free.
Besides their transparency, good agencies are upfront and proactive about providing them. They willingly share information and encourage their clients to get involved in the process. Why? Because they know they’re doing good work and are delivering quality results for their clients. Good agencies give their clients access to AdWords, analytics accounts, and all other available reporting data. They make open, honest client communication part of their regular process. This is big. Make sure any agency you’re considering is totally transparent with their reporting. If not, stay away.
4. A Flat Fee Structure
How does the agency get paid? With the media-spend-based structure common at many agencies, the more you spend on media, the more they earn in commission. This naturally makes it harder for the agency to separate your best interests from its own. What’s more, a bigger media spend doesn’t necessarily translate to better results. The main goal for agencies that charge a commission is to encourage you to spend more. On the flip side, a better agency uses a fee-based structure that motivates them to get the best results they can, independent of media spend.
One more thing: Don’t sign a lengthy contract with your SEM agency. A long contract is another incentive killer. A quality agency will want you to stick with them because they deliver outstanding results that exceed your goals, not because you’ve signed away your right to fire them.
5. A Focus on Quality Over Quantity
Not all clicks are created equal. Unfortunately, many paid search agencies don’t care how they generate clicks, only that they do. But merely getting people to click isn’t going to do you much good. If people are baited into clicking, with no real intention of being there, then those clicks are essentially worthless. You want to attract people with potential to buy from you. One qualified click is easily worth more than a hundred unqualified ones.
A good SEM agency values quality over quantity. They may not generate as many clicks, but the ones that do are more likely to turn into sales. Agencies that put quality first also tend to maximize and monitor your account more carefully. This gets you better leads, stretches your budget further, and gives you more for your SEM investment.
6. High Level Strategic Insight
While it’s true that hiring an SEM agency that ONLY specializes in SEM can have its advantages, we believe choosing an agency with broader marketing experience can serve you a lot better. A smart, strategic agency that does more than just SEM will have a deeper understanding of how your SEM fits in with the rest of your marketing. To maximize the power of your brand and your marketing efforts, it pays to choose an agency that can see the big picture—one that understands multi-channel marketing and can ensure your digital communications work seamlessly into your overall marketing mix. Ideally, the agency you choose to do your SEM would be an SEM agency and a general agency rolled into one—with senior level SEM experts on staff, along with a team of experienced strategic, creative, media, and account specialists.
7. Good Chemistry
Now, this might go without saying, but it’s worth saying nevertheless. That’s because things like good chemistry, niceness, and excellent communication skills are essential to any good relationship, no matter whom you choose to work with. A good SEM agency is down to earth and direct. Its people are enthusiastic about your business, they value your ideas, and they invest in the relationship. They answer your questions, treat you with respect, and are fully committed to doing great work and growing your business. These things are extremely important. Sure, they don’t have anything to do with SEM, at least not directly. But they do have a lot to do with building a solid relationship with an agency that will give you the kind of results you expect and deserve.
So there you have it. With so many supposed experts out there, it’s become more difficult than ever to choose an agency to handle your SEM. That said, we hope these seven qualities give you some decent things to consider next time you’re on the hunt for a good agency to partner with.
Do you agree or disagree with our recommendations? Have some of your own to add? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
Born of curiosity and enthusiasm, we’re a scrappy group of smart, passionate marketers who work hard and play hard. We show up every day and fight for our clients who are making the world a better place. We listen with curiosity, explore deeply, ask hard questions, and sometimes put forth ideas that might make you squirm. Because we believe the status quo is good for growing mold but not much else.
The way we see it, change is the way forward and the magic happens when curiosity, math, science, instinct, and talent intersect.