Securing SEO, PPC, social media and analytics advice can be risky, like buying diamonds from a jeweler you don’t know. The premise of the purchase is sometimes a customer’s (enthusiastic) lack of understanding of criteria by which to judge the actual value of products offered, a dynamic dangerous for both parties.
I personally gravitate towards buying bling from a trusted friend who’s family has owned a classic jewelry store for 3 generations. My personal friendship with the proprietor helps me feel safe about purchases. Most SEM shoppers don’t have the same luxury.
When buying diamonds or procuring search marketing help, it’s best to have a trusted adviser in the industry to guide your decision making. (No my jewelry store pal did not put me up to this post, nor will he even have reputation monitoring sufficient to catch this “mention.” *sigh*
Who is Good, Who is Best, Who’s Right For Me?
An industry luminary confided in me that, in his opinion, there are a but a hundred boutique search marketing shops savvy enough to give world-class advice on par with large production line SEM agencies.
Whilst huge Internet marketing agencies are a great fit in their standardized approach for some clients, others need personalized thinking, out-of-the-box tactics, business plan input and the Zen of true industry thought-leaders.
Authority Trade Publications
So how do you navigate the SEM vendor world and figure out what the heck to do? One tried and true method is to discern who the thought leaders are, writing about provocative issues-of-the-day for authority trade publications and speaking at conferences. Follow their work and get to know their immediate communities.
First stops are SearchEngineLand, SearchEngine Strategies, SEOmoz, SEORoundTable, OnelineMarketing Blog, and Sphinn. Noted SEO artist “StuntDubl” once told me that any SEM “worth their salt” is known at least in passing to these communities.
The above mentioned thought-leader communities encompass some of the finest vendors (and in-house) marketing pros in the world. Follow the blog rolls and banter of community members on these sites and you’ll know who the thought leaders are. The quest inevitably leads to SMX, SES, PubCon, PPC Summit, SEMpdx, SearchMarketingNow, WebMasterRadio, SmallBusinessUnleashed, Cre8asiteForums, and SEMPO.
General Search Marketing Counsel
You don’t have to pick your main & forever search marketing firm all at once. One idea is to find a search-focused advertising agency you think you’d most like to work with and retain them as “General Search Marketing Counsel” for help in planning and procuring the right vendor team.
The General counsel role can lead to a larger scope of engagement. This gives both agency and client time to acclimate, truly assess needs and go about efficient execution of newly defined projects after an thoughtful organizational process.
Given escalating demand and the pesky presence of spamming SEO snake oil salesmen, qualifying a reputable vendor outside the mainstream global factory-agency approach can be a daunting task.
Who is Good? Who is the Best? Who’s Right For Me? The irony is that in these days of hyper-specialization, there are very few “full service” SEM vendors so many mid-sized agencies have partner vendors of different stripes. There is a Tao to crafting strategic SEM partnerships so look for an agency with lots of cool friends 🙂 .
There are going to be more and more advertising agencies entering the SEM space over the next few years. Some of them will be terrific, some dumb and a whole bunch in-between. Vetting SEM vendors will become an art in itself and consultants will crop up to meet the need. There will be a new role for some grownups to play as “General Search Counsel,” tour guides to the shell shocked Web1.0 world.
Buying SEM help is like buying a car without being a technical mechanic. If you don’t have a friend in the business it can work out great or turn out to be a real mess. Consider procuring help from an industry insider to help organize your Internet marketing efforts, even if it’s only a few hours a month. They’ll charge a lot per hour and it will be worth it.