5 Reasons SEM Agencies Should Do Social and SEO

I’ll admit it; I was wrong when I thought that social media was a stretch for SEM and SEO agencies and that a separate set of agencies would be required to fully tap the social media marketing opportunity for advertisers and marketers. And I was wrong when I assumed that marketers for whom PPC search was critically important would turn to boutique specialist agencies that excelled in PPC search either exclusively or primarily, not one-stop shops. After reevaluating both my decision-making process over the last decade with regard to focus, and by talking with clients, prospects, and fellow folks in the industry, I’ve become convinced that the benefits of a unified approach to search and social marketing handled through a team with high levels of communication with each other is superior to a fragmented approach.

What was my response after a reevaluation of the landscape that suggested a significant strategy change? I bought an agency that put me back into the one-stop shop business. But let’s look at you and your strategies and how you should approach the tasks of resource and budget allocations across paid and organic search as well as social media.

Much of my earlier decision process supporting the boutique model was based on the behavior of IT departments at enterprise clients and the way mid-size marketers decided who should “own” the website (generally IT). IT departments 10 or 15 years ago were far more likely to have resisted the necessary changes to a content management system (CMS) or e-commerce site based on SEO recommendations.

However, in the last 10 years (when I made the decision to double-down on PPC search and make SEO more of a hobby), many IT teams finally learned that SEO is a necessary part of having an online presence. From 1996 through 2002, my recollection is that when we put together SEO priority lists and itemized the SEO initiatives that would be required in order for clients to reach their potential in the vast majority of instances, months would pass and progress of SEO would be slowed due to IT teams dragging their feet. That still happens to some extent, but far less frequently. In addition, Google and Bing rely more heavily on external ranking factors to break a tie between two sites, both of whom have great, relevant content.

That brings us to social media. It turns out that the evolution of social media advertising and earned social media (as some people call it) has several factors that make the expertise of the SEM and SEO agency and team relevant to social media. Regardless of whether or not the search engines are using social media signals in their ranking formulas (many people believe that it’s already happening, if not imminent), earned social media is clearly a catalyst for coverage in the blogs and press, much of which includes links and citations. There’s the SEO to social media link.

So, the first reason a holistic digital marketing agency with strong competence in SEM should be running social and SEO is:

  1. Social media supports SEO. You need good social activity to maintain buzz and get links.
  2. The lines between earned media social and paid media social are blurring. Facebook’s Sponsored Stories ads work best when the brand has interesting things to say and is well-known within the social media ecosystem. So, paid social media advertising is more efficient when the social media strategy and tactics are coordinated with teams that are in regular communications.
  3. Attribution. I barely need to say more. Brands that also invest in early buy funnel (that outdated yet very useful concept) marketing communications get more mileage out of social media and SEM campaigns even with last-click attribution. When digital “marcom” is handled either by a single team with access to all the data on paid and earned media social and search (including SEO), or information is shared freely, the results are better. Access to the full spectrum of marketing data allows for both experimentation and modeling, taking us one step closer to a marketing mix model (including earned social and SEO).
  4. Targeting and audiences. SEM folks understand targeting and the various forms that targeting can take (beyond the keyword). An SEM team understands and can appreciate the differences between search and social media audience targeting and how best to combine targeting options.
  5. Convenience. This seems like a trivial reason, but I’ve heard it far too many times from client-side marketing departments not to mention it. When a client-side marketer has only eight to 15 hours a day to work every repeated conversation about campaigns and their effectiveness, it slows that marketer down from taking on meaningful projects.

So, after having been a stubborn believer in the “boutique agencies rock” as the only solution for 10 years, I’ve decided that if a marketer can find an agency that is great at the most important channel and competent in the other important supporting areas of online marketing, then indeed the one-stop shop can be the right decision. Agencies that are great in a couple of areas often end up acting as general contractors themselves, farming out the tactical work to freelancers or other agencies. The client gets a single point of contact and responsibility. The alternative of hiring best-in-class boutiques and project managing those is clearly an option, but requires a commitment from the marketer to staff the internal teams appropriately.

SEO Social image on home page via Shutterstock.

This column was originally published on Aug. 31, 2012.

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