Agencies and SEM: Howdy, Partner

I’ve spent the past week or two on a veritable manhunt for solutions. I need solutions in so many aspects of my job. I have an inability to staff correctly for reasons I can’t control (and you wouldn’t believe); there are offline agencies we work with that more or less want to do things right but always seem to do them wrong; I have clients… I won’t try complaining about clients again.

My complaints usually fall on deaf ears. I had coffee with a colleague the other morning, a guy who runs the online acquisition initiatives for one of this country’s largest retailers. We laughed, knowing there was nothing funny in it; we’ve been seeing the same problems for the past seven-plus years, and most people in this industry (maybe most of you reading this) are in the same boat. Same stuff, different year. More challenges but, fundamentally, only subtle changes.

So here I am, the day before my column deadline, and I think I’ve found a solution to at least one of my problems: search.

Search is the online agency’s albatross in so many ways. Gotta do it but have no interest (or expertise) in how to get it done. Why? Search is incredibly complicated for something so simple.

We online media planners and buyers have been beating down publishers for the past three or so years. We’ve had no real reason to go outside the sexier online media buys down into the pedestrian world of search. There’s no glamour, no tchotchkes (did I spell that right, James?), no free dinners, and, least of all, no free trips to posh events. Only results. Ones our clients keep demanding more of, by the way.

How do I staff a search expert or two when I can’t staff a sufficient number of planners? I’ll be blunt. I’m ready to scream it from the 29th-floor window I nearly jump out of on a daily basis: Agencies should seek a search engine optimization (SEO) partner.

Not just someone who manages a pay-per-click (PPC) buy on Overture and Google, but someone who also covers paid inclusion and provides consulting services for tech optimization requirements. Our clients have IT departments, so they don’t need someone to do that work. But tech guys build sites the way they’re told to, in ways marketers always have to fix. If we (or our partners) could provide the directions, we’d all win.

Why should we partner? Because agencies and search engine marketers (SEMs) look at things very differently:

  • Agencies establish budgets based on cost-per-acquisition (CPA) goals, reach/frequency, share of voice, and so on. SEMs do it on “here’s what it takes on structural demands and paid inclusion/click costs.”
  • Agencies view search (though that’s changing) as an afterthought or a necessary evil that pulls budget from other areas. SEMs view search as an integral, if not downright basic, communications plan component.
  • Agencies view PPC search as a way of covering the search bases. SEMs see PPC as only one of three pillars, the others being technological optimization and paid inclusion.

How do you select a search partner? Good question. Talk about a seedy underbelly. Companies all over claim expertise and longstanding this or that. Every one of them says it needs a 12-month engagement but cannot guarantee any results (at least, not for 90 days). Search industry organizations appear biased, in existence to move the industry agenda forward. It’s a confusing landscape. And we media planners basically know jack about it.

Trust me, you can find a credible partner. As with anything else, do your due diligence. You need to get people through the door to see what they’re really about. If they suggest they need a 12-month engagement, it’s the first sign they should be shown the door.

Once you find a partner, you can seamlessly include significantly more robust search solutions for your clients and prospects while freeing up your team’s time for planning and managing other campaign aspects. Additionally, you’ll enjoy the results that come with a well-designed and -implemented, holistic SEO program.

With this solved, I’m off to find the next solution. I eagerly await the arrival of my brochure on Alpaca ranching opportunities in Ecuador. Beats a plunge from the 29th floor….

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