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Search Engine Marketing Buyers Guide

By Steve Winkler
Posted Sunday, February 8, 2004

As your company finalizes budgets and allocates funds accordingly, if you are like most businesses a significant portion will be allocated towards Search Engine Marketing (SEM). The success or failure of your ventures may lay solely in the hands of an outside firm. With the potential for failure being an option, if the wrong provider is chosen, what criteria should a decision be based upon? The proper choice of SEM providers should all but eliminate the risk of failure. The following guidelines will enable you to come to an informed and educated decision with peace of mind as your provider helps you achieve and maintain excellent search engine exposure.

If you have been holding off on signing up for another PPC account, now is your chance to give a try at no expense to you.'s search network allows website owners like you to target customers who are actively searching for YOUR product and/or services. You simply bid on the keywords that apply to your website and your chosen listings will appear throughout's search network. Your site will then appear in front of users who are actively searching for your product, resulting in more sales and a higher return on your advertising spend.

The Criteria

1. Specialization- Many firms are general practice Internet firms that offer a multitude of services and rarely specialize in any of the areas that they provide to the consumer. While this "one stop shop" may be a good option for Website design, hosting and email support, be reluctant to spend your marketing dollars here. Proper SEM marketing takes time, dedicated resources and specialized technicians who first and foremost can keep up with the regular changes imposed by the main search engines. No more than you would trust a mason to landscape your yard should you put faith in a general service provider to assist you with your SEM needs.

2. Marketing Focus- You have now made the determination that company that you have chosen is not a Website design company who dabbles in marketing. Probe the company that you plan to choose on their knowledge of marketing. SEM is not privy to opinion as much as it is designed to apply fact and demographic information to you. The proper firm for you should understand the dynamics of running and online business and show you how you can make more of your presence and better reach your target market.

3. Expertise- While most tout their services as more than satisfactory, ask probing questions to see how effective these services are in reality. Length of time offering service is not alone a basis of judgment, but rather client satisfaction should be the judge of expertise. A proper firm will be able to satisfy nearly 100% of all clients. Internal staff experts should be internationally known and be well published in SEM industry publications and will often conduct overviews and instruction for individuals interested in learning more on SEM marketing.

4. Customer Service- It has been said that there are two things that are for certain, death and taxes. In SEM issues that compromise your satisfaction are almost guaranteed to arise during the course of your tenure with your service provider. On a daily basis techniques and fail-safes are being devolved to stifle the occurrence of issues that compromise your satisfaction. However, a strong customer service department is not an admittance of failure, but rather a commitment to client satisfaction. Prompt, knowledgeable, and courteous staff should be available during regular business hours to address your needs. You should expect to wait no longer than 72 hours for responses in addressing your needs.

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5. Technique and Technology- SEM marketing now relies less on trial and error and more on the adaptation of proven technique and principle to your Website. In addition you should be wary of firms that use unethical or illegal techniques to achieve traffic to your Website. Do not accept that you cannot host an "optimized" page and stay far away from firms that build doorway pages, regardless of what the firm calls the extra pages. Only choose a firm that utilizes your own Website and information contained therein. You should also understand that any ranking achieved for your site must be on terms relevant to your cause. Research and consultation should be ongoing aspects of your relationship with this company. They should either possess demographic and sales information that can be applied to your situation or they should have ability to access such information and help you apply it to your needs.

6. Keyword Selection- You must be able to choose the keywords that you feel comfortable with. Too often firms choose keywords and keyword phrases that are fabricated or drive irrelevant traffic if any at all. Insist that upon completion of any keyword analyses that you get to have a say in the keywords that are promoted for your Website. Do not accept a firm that arbitrarily selects terms that contain erroneous characters on your behalf as doing so can adversely affect the public that you intend to reach. i.e. choose "Diamond Jewelry" instead of "Diamond_Jewelry".

7. Target Search Engines- A reputable firm will only work with the industry's top search engines. An upstanding firm will also understand your particular needs and tailor your marketing program to focus energies on a select set of search engines while approaching the entire set of popular engines with a purpose of reaching all individuals.

8. Acceptable Time Frame- True SEM programs do not need 12 months of time to achieve success. On the other hand it is just as unrealistic to think that all work will take 2 weeks to achieve success. Rather expect that it could take 60 to 90 days to achieve results. One factor that is beyond the control of your SEM provider are the index rates of the major search engines. In your relationship with your SEM provider have them define what their typical time frame for achieving positioning is. Ensure that any foreseeable marketing campaigns properly coincide with the achievement of positioning. Allow sufficient time prior to marketing campaigns for your SEM provider to obtain stable positioning.

9. Continued Support and Tracking- Along with the requirements of a strong customer service department to address your ongoing questions and needs, you should also have access to reporting and results tracking for your program.

10. Ethics- An ethical firm will only make choices for you in your best interest. Understand that a firm who cannot or will not disclose information to you on how it is that they obtain ranking is withholding information vital to the success of your business. Since all traffic is not created equal, understand the source of your traffic and make sure that it's coming to you via your own Website and your information. Also understand that you should own any work that you pay for and should not be tied to your provider through pages that do not belong to you or do not reside on your server.

11. ROI Focus- More likely than not, you expanded your marketing to include SEM because you are focused on your Return on Investment. The proper SEM firm will care just as much about your ROI as you do. An SEM firm that cares about their own future must care about whether you stay as a client as long as you are marketing your wares or services online. Through consultation and constant changes to improve the usability and functionality of your Website you can dramatically increase your conversion rate. Couple a strong conversion rate with a high and steady stream of new visitors and you should have some of the main components for the success of your business.

While it can be a daunting task to select a SEM firm, it never hurts to ask for verification of the aforementioned details. The details make the difference between your service being successful or being unsuccessful. Each day new "expert" firms seem to have the solution to your SEM needs, but in reality very few have the necessary knowledge and background.

An old saying goes that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". This adage could not be truer in the world of SEM. The right choice can mean amazing success, while the wrong choice can mean many thousands of dollars lost and, more importantly, time lost which provides your competitors with the opportunity to solidify their search engine stature.

About The Author
Steve Winkler is the Business Development Manager of the team of marketing and search engine professionals. Steve Winkler has experience in demographic based marketing and interactive marketing programs and business efficiency consultation. He can be reached via email:


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