I usually respond to readers’ SEM (define) questions individually. But sometimes I get the same questions repeatedly, so I address them here. Today, I’ll answer your questions on global SEM strategies, hiring honest SEM vendors, and the education you need to work in SEM.
Note: no individual or company names or email addresses are used to respect correspondents’ privacy. Some of the questions have been paraphrased into more general queries.
Q. The company I work for wants to take our SEM strategy global. What should I look for in a global SEM vendor?
A. Executing an SEM program on a global scale isn’t easy; SEM combines business goals, technology, and creativity. Yet global SEM campaigns can produce amazing results when geographically divergent branch offices are unified in a global search campaign.
Different vendors will have different approaches to producing a global strategy for your organization. To determine which vendor best suites your needs, organize your Web assets by priority. Know which markets, languages, and places are most important to your business. From there, review each vendor’s capabilities in the countries and markets that mean the most to your business.
Ask for local references from organizations operating in the countries that have the greatest effect on your business. The SEM vendor you select must have a working knowledge of local directories and search engine usage in each market on a language-specific basis. Also, be certain the vendor has either a local presence or access to talented translators who speak the languages your business needs.
Q. How can I be certain I don’t hire an SEM vendor that will spam the search engines?
A. Once again, references are essential. However, three good references don’t necessarily mean the vendor won’t leverage questionable SEM tactics. Some vendors will go so far as to put no-spam clauses in their contracts. But this doesn’t guarantee the services they provide aren’t contrary to what search engines deem best practices.
No reputable vendor will ever guarantee organic search results. Nor will they promise results within a definitive time frame. Such promises usually mean that link farms, doorway pages, or cloaking will be employed to produce temporary top rankings. Your best course is to review the Webmaster guidelines at each of the major search engines:
You can usually spot a link farm or doorway page by doing a few deep searches for the vendor or a few of its clients; simply drill down similar page details in Google or analyze who links to them. Another signal of questionable strategies is if the vendor expects your business to link to it or an off-topic site. If a vendor tells you it can increase search traffic to every page of your site, they’re probably building doorway pages for your site.
Spotting a vendor that employs cloaking is no small task. Sometimes the vendor tells you very few site changes need to be made, only some "special code" needs to be added to the site. An easy way to see if a vendor uses cloaking to deliver different search results is to check out the site or its clients in Google’s cache. If what you see is different from what Google sees, the vendor’s probably using IP cloaking to sway search results.
Q. What educational focus provides the best background for getting into the SEM industry?
A. The answer depends on which elements of SEM you want to specialize in. Computer science is a natural if you prefer programming over site design, for which an art degree would be handy. An advertising or marketing degree provides a solid background if you prefer the PPC (define) side of the street. If writing and composition are your forte, an English degree is in order.
Top marketers in the industry have highly diverse backgrounds. No particular educational background makes one SEM more successful than another. Focus on what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing. From there you’ll need to practice, practice, and practice. After that, the sky’s the limit.
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P.J. Fusco has been working in the Internet industry since 1996 when she developed her first SEM service while acting as general manager for a regional ISP. She was the SEO manager for Jupitermedia and has performed as the SEM manager for an international health and beauty dot-com corporation generating more than $1 billion a year in e-commerce sales. Today, she is director for natural search for Netconcepts, a cutting-edge SEO firm with offices in Madison, WI, and Auckland, New Zealand.
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