Looking for a search engine marketing company?
The good news is that there are plenty of SEM companies ready to help. The tough part is determining which is the best search engine marketing agency for you.
Luckily, we have you covered. Below you’ll find all your answers to what exactly search engine marketing is and why you need it, as well as 50 of our veteran tips on how to pick the agency that’s best for you.
What Exactly is a Search Engine Marketing Agency?
To understand search engine marketing (SEM), you first must have a grasp on search engine optimization (SEO).
SEO is the process of optimizing a website so it can be found in search engines through organic (unpaid) listings. To do this, marketers use words and phrases relevant to what the site is offering.
According to Forbes, SEO is generally made up of three activities:
- Creating content
- Building high-quality links
- Analyzing results and adjusting accordingly
To take things up a notch, marketers employ SEM. SEM builds on typical SEO techniques by including paid advertising. These paid advertisements generally appear alongside results in search engine queries.
You probably know these ads by the term pay-per-click or PPC. You pay to have your blog or website advertised on search engines through keyword searches.
One thing to keep in mind: not all keywords are created equal.
Advertisers must bid on keywords that users might enter when searching for different products and services, so the more popular the keyword, the more expensive it will be.
For example, if you own a custom clothing business and decide to run a PPC ad campaign, you would start by choosing keywords that are most relevant to your business. These could be broad, like “custom mens” or “personalized clothing,” or more specific such as “custom t-shirts” or “mens suits.”
The popularity of the keyword will determine how much you pay. Every time someone clicks on your ad, you will have to pay the specified amount of money.
The payoff? When done correctly, SEM will improve your website rankings, drive traffic, and increase your visibility in search engines. If any of that sounds good to you, then SEM is worth a try. It is highly recommended, search engine marketing agencies are one of the best ways to drive business online.
What Does a Search Engine Marketing Agency Actually Do?
Like any field, it pays to have an expert on hand. And when navigating the murky world of keywords and SEM, it could determine whether you sink or swim.
A good SEM agency looks at every dollar you spend and tries to piece together how to deliver the best return.
This usually starts with an initial analysis. Typical activities include a website audit to check for technicalities like page speed and link analysis to determine what needs to be added or cleaned up.
The agency should also run a keyword analysis and assignment early on. Here, they will evaluate the keywords you are interested in along with competitor keywords to determine which will be most effective. Then, they will begin on-site optimization.
What the agency uncovers in these initial analyses will determine the SEM strategy going forward. Recommendations may include website and content fixes, link building strategies, adding content to the site and how to integrate paid advertising.
SEM can quickly become overwhelming for those unfamiliar with its intricacies. And because most SEM strategy is ongoing, it’s easy to fall behind. With an SEM agency on hand, that’s one less thing to worry about.
Facts About Search Engine Marketing Companies
Don’t take our word for it — let the numbers speak for themselves. Below are a few stats and facts about the power of SEM.
- 81% of B2B purchase cycles start with a web search. So if you’re in the business of selling to other businesses, it pays to know that your target customers are using search engines, and that’s exactly where your advertisements need to be. (Business2Community)
- Over one million businesses use Google AdWords. Which means your competitors likely are as well. (Wordstream)
- Google’s content reaches over 80% of all US internet users. Want to be where your customers are? Then get high on Google’s mighty list. The surest way to do that is to employ SEM. (Business2Community)
- Over 50% of mobile searches lead to a purchase. Just make sure those searches lead customers to your company. (Payfirma)
- Google receives over 57,000 searches per second on any given day. With numbers like that, there’s good reason to do everything you can to make your business visible in Google searches. (Web Presence Solutions)
- In 2016, 47% of marketers identified SEO as one of their most effective tactics, but 39% also listed it as one of the most difficult. Yet another reason why SEM agencies are so integral in overall strategy and delivery. (TNW News)
- Businesses that have a strong keyword in the business name rank 1.5 spots higher than if there is no keyword in the name. Doing your keyword homework pays off. (Local SEO Guide)
- Marketers see SEO as becoming more effective, with 82% reporting effectiveness is on the rise. It’s not too late to start incorporating SEO, but the longer you wait, the quicker your company will fall behind. (Marketing Dive)
50 Tips for Selecting a Search Engine Marketing Agency
So, you’re sure you need SEM (and an agency that specializes in it), but not sure where to start. Here are 50 quick tips to help determine which search marketing agency is right for you:
- Know Your Goals. Before you begin narrowing down the SEM field, you need to take a look at what your overall goals are. Once you know what results you want, make sure each agency you meet with can offer you a strategy that meets those goals.
- Start here. Take a look at the history of the agency’s work. Does it have a demonstrated track record of success? Remember, you’re looking specifically for successes in the realm of SEM. Ask for case studies, and if all adds up, put them on the short list.
- Ask For Referrals. Always. Don’t rely solely on the agency itself for accurate information; use all your resources (customer referrals, etc.) to make sure the company can truly deliver on its promise.
- Does the Agency Rank in Google? Seeing as this is all about SEM, you need to make sure the agency can put its money where its mouth is. If it can’t get itself a good ranking on Google, it doesn’t exactly scream success story for its work with your company either.
- Do They Specialize in SEM? These days, Google’s a sea of digital marketers and agencies, all claiming to specialize in everything from strategy and social media to SEO and PPC. Make sure the one you choose has an emphasis and expertise in SEM (and as previously mentioned, make sure they can prove it).
- Specialist or Generalist? Look into the different industries each firm specializes in. If you work in a niche industry that requires certain knowledge about particular audiences, you’ll want to find a firm that specializes in that area. On the flip side, if your industry is broad or more accessible, a general firm will suit you fine.
- How Do They Measure Success? What does a successful campaign look like? Is it based on number of clicks or ROI? Improvement in rankings is one way to do it, but even more important is traffic increase, conversion rates and quality leads.
- Does Their Idea of Success Align With Your Own? Think back to the goals you outlined. Make sure the agency understands exactly what you’re looking for and is prepared to deliver. If their idea of success lies with Google rank and yours is overall ROI, you may not end up with the results you set out for.
- Ask How They Deliver Reports. Do they provide real time reporting? Monthly? You’ll want to take an in depth look at their reporting process. It’s not enough to simply provide graphs and numbers; make sure you’ve found a company that will take the time to explain key metrics and figures in each report.
- How Long Will it Take to See Results? Results vary depending on the medium, but SEM — and especially PPC — should deliver some pretty quick results. If a company answers longer than 60-90 days, you should be ready to look elsewhere.
- What’s the Average Length of Their Client Relationships? Who Is Their Longest Tenured Client? The answer will give you valuable insight into the companies’ working relationships and its ability to consistently deliver great work. If they have a track record of short contracts and high customer turnover, you’ll know to keep looking.
- Who Will Own the PPC Account? You should. You own the account, and they work on it. If you are unhappy with their performance, you can then easily transfer it to another company.
- Do They Overpromise? Because chances are, they’ll underdeliver. Yes, a guaranteed top spot in Google rankings is what you want to hear, but no company can control the internet and the ever-changing way it ranks. If a firm is promising the elusive #1 spot, you might what to think twice about their ability to deliver.
- Look Beyond the Rank. Don’t rely solely on a Search Engine Marketing firm’s ability to make rank. Look at the big picture instead. A higher ranking should always come with increased ROI, customer leads and sales. A great SEM company should be able to yield results in all areas, not just rankings.
- Analyze How They Create Campaigns. SEM is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. What worked for one company may not work for yours, so make sure the marketing company you choose to work with specializes in creating unique, individual campaigns for each client rather than taking a blanket approach to all its campaigns.
- Ask How They Address — And Avoid — Penalties. Google penalties are a very real concern for SEO and SEM marketers, and even giants like JCPenny and Overstock have been hit by them. While many companies that aren’t familiar with SEM aren’t even aware of these penalties, you’ll want to make sure the company you hire has a plan to avoid them.
- Make Sure They Understand and are Up-to-Date on Google Algorithms. Building on the last point, one of the biggest reasons companies rack up penalties is because they don’t fully understand Google’s algorithms. It’s therefore essential to choose a firm that fully understands the intricacies of the algorithms.
- How Transparent Are They? Are they willing to share their strategy with you? And if requested, would they let you see their keyword lists? A reputable firm has nothing to hide. If they refuse any of the above information, it may because they utilize less-than-desirable tactics to yield results
- No Black Hat Business. Speaking of undesirable tactics, if a company you’re looking at has a history of using black hat tactics, look away. Fast.
- Are They Realistic? This goes back to overpromising; they should be able to promise results (and have evidence of such), but if everything they’re telling you is exactly what you want to hear, remember you should be hearing a few warning bells as well.
- How Do They Determine Keyword Recommendations? As the basis of any SEM strategy, keyword analysis is crucial. Ask how each search engine marketing agency will determine the best keywords for your business, and if they use any in-house tools to do so.
- Check Out Their Website. Is it professional? Well-written? Easy to navigate? Any digital marketing agency worth its salt should have a website that wows, no exceptions.
- How’s the Content? While browsing the site, make sure it has great content. Check out the blog section; a firm that specializes in SEM should have a dedicated library explaining the how’s and why’s of search engine marketing.
- Check How They Communicate. Along with great content, you want to make sure that all communication efforts are professional and proofread. That means email, homepage, and social media channels. Typos and content that seems slapped together should signal a red flag.
- Do They Have Internal Links? A good SEO or SEM focused company will understand the importance of internal linking and its ties to successful SEO. Take a look through their content to make sure there are links included throughout.
- Are They Focused on the Customer? If a website reads more like a sales pitch, it’s not for you. The emphasis and tone should be focused on the customer and what the company can do for you, not the company itself.
- Check The Connection. As with any relationship, it’s all about the chemistry. They may have the greatest SEM track record this side of the equator, but if you can’t connect with them or the way they communicate, it may not make for the smoothest relationship. Make sure you find a company that clicks with you for a smoother, longer-lasting and ultimately more productive working relationship.
- Do They Ask Questions? A company with a lack of curiosity is a sure sign to move along. An exemplary SEM firm will ask questions (and lots of them) to really hone in on your company and your goals, and figure out the best ways to help you achieve them.
- Do They Communicate Well and Openly? As always, communication is key. If the company isn’t communicating or fully explaining how they will help you reach your goals, you need to consider taking your business elsewhere. A reputable firm will always keep you in the loop and in tune with what’s happening in your campaign.
- Is Company Size Important to You? Do you prefer the more personal touch of a smaller company, or do you like the prestige of a larger firm? It’s really a personal preference, and many elements, including cost effectiveness, will factor into your decision. Evaluate what’s most important to you in a search engine marketing company, and research which marketing agencies align with those principles.
- Are They Up to Speed in all Areas of Digital Marketing? Look at their social channels and multimedia. Do they have a strong presence? All aspects go hand-in-hand these days; it’s not enough to have a company that simply excels at SEM, they need to be savvy in all departments.
- Can They Provide a Range of Services? Along with proving their own digital marketing prowess, they should be able to do more for you than SEM. After all, just keywords won’t cut it anymore. The firm you choose should be able to present you with a plan that uses all current platforms in digital marketing, with an emphasis on SEM, rankings and ROI.
- What Contract Terms Do They Offer? Don’t get roped into a longer contract than you’re ready for. A company with a successful track record will be able to offer you a shorter contract, giving you time to evaluate the relationship and results before entering a long term commitment. In the end, you’ll want to stay with a company based on results, not contracts.
- How’s the Price Point and Payment Structure? While price isn’t everything, it will weigh heavily on your decision. Ask about their payment structure. Is it based on performance? Monthly? Hourly?
- How Do They Measure ROI? With any investment, you want to see a noticeable return. While measuring success is one thing, you want to make sure that your agency has a plan to measure ROI specifically. This will ultimately determine whether your investment in the agency is worth it overall.
- Meet the Project Manager. Always make sure you meet the point person for your project. While it’s important to evaluate the company overall, it’s equally important to feel comfortable with the person who will be responsible for the communication and success of your specific campaign. Do your research. Look at their resume and their LinkedIn profile to ensure they have the experience you need.
- Do They Have Bio’s for Key Players? Before you begin the meeting stage, dig into their website to find information on who’s who in the company. Stellar companies will want to brag about their best workers and highlight their achievements.
- What Automation Tools do They Use? In today’s digital world, it would take some sort of search engine superhero to keep up with all the different updates and channels. Enter automation tools. These help to scale otherwise complex tasks, saving time and money. An agency you hire should be using up-to-date and reliable technology tools to ensure each process is as efficient and painless as possible.
- Look Into Their SEO. As a crucial part of overall SEM, the agency you choose should have a trusted SEO plan of attack. Ask them how they move up in rankings, and if they use guest posting and long form content.
- Request an Audit. See if they’re willing to look over your site and provide recommendations. Because on-page SEO is such a big part of SEM, the agency you choose should be able to review and make suggestions specifically related to your site’s SEO and ways to improve it.
- What is Their Response Time? Before anything’s signed and delivered, remember to ask about response time. You want an agency that is available when you need them, and is able to talk with you and your team in a reasonable amount of time.
- What Does a Google Search Reveal? When in doubt, turn to Google. Run a search and see what you can find about them — any negative reviews or information is never a good sign. If you do find some dirt, ask them about it. If their answer doesn’t add up, move along to the next SEM experts.
- What is Their Preferred Means of Communication? Do they generally provide meetings, emails, conference calls, or Skype sessions? Can they promise daily, weekly, or monthly communication? And most importantly, make sure that form of communication works for you.
- Can They Clearly Identify Your Target Market? At the end of the initial interview, ask them to identify what they think your target market is. A good rep who has clearly been paying attention should be able to give you at least a brief rundown of your target. Don’t expect all the details, but a little insight will go a long way in building your confidence in the agency.
- How Do They Test Search Engine Marketing Campaigns? Testing is crucial in any marketing strategy, and the agency you choose should have a tried and true way of testing the effectiveness of each campaign. It should go beyond number of clicks on your ad. You want to make sure the right people are coming to your site, engaging with your content, signing up for your newsletters, etc.
- How Do They Find Their Business? This is an interesting one, and can give you some unexpected insight into the company. Referral based business is always a good sign, while relying on hard sells could signal a warning flag.
- Do They Talk Badly About Other Search Engine Marketing Agencies? A good agency will focus on selling their strengths, not others’ Most of their efforts should be spent highlighting their successes and fit for the job.
- Do You Trust Them? We already touched on initial chemistry, but in the end, you want to go with who you trust. That would be the agency that feels like a partnership and is honest about their goals and expectations, not the one that pressures you into hasty contracts with too good to be true promises.
- Ask What Sets Them Apart. The answer may surprise you. This is where they can list exactly what makes them an ideal choice over similar agencies. If the response doesn’t stand out, the company may not either.
- Last But Not Least, Meet With Multiple Companies. Get as much information from as many companies as you can. Most will offer a free consultation, so take your time choosing which is the right fit for you.
- How Long Have They Been in Business? An agency with years under their belt and pages-long client lists will naturally sound many appealing in many ways. But less history doesn’t necessarily mean a newer agency will do a poor job — in fact, they may have proven pro’s on their team. It ultimately comes down to what you and who you’re comfortable with, so do your due diligence in the meeting stage.
- Do They Have Any High Profile Clients? This will go a long way in building trust with the agency. A lack of big names shouldn’t automatically cross anyone off the list, but it does mean you will have to work a little harder to make sure the agency can deliver. In a competitive industry like SEO and digital marketing, prestige goes a long way.
Search Engine Marketing Agency FAQ
1. Where Can I Find an Affordable Search Marketing Agency?
If you’re looking for an affordable company, there are plenty of them around. However, that’s not how you’ll find the best SEM agency.
Remember the old adage: you get what you pay for.
While there are plenty of agencies around that will promise you amazing results at a low price, you’ll find that they usually underdeliver.
If you’re serious about reaching people online and building your brand, you’ll probably have to open your wallet. That quality of service doesn’t come cheap.
2. Are There Companies That Specialize in B2B Search Engine Marketing?
Yes, the best search marketing agency you find probably has a B2B specialist.
Although there are plenty of similarities between B2B and B2C search engine marketing, there are also some noticeable differences.
One of the biggest differences is the nature of the audience you’re trying to reach. In B2B marketing, there are usually a few decision makers. In B2C marketing, there’s just one.
Also, the buying cycle tends to be much longer for B2B organizations than individual consumers.
Finally, because the price point is often very high, B2B companies can afford to splurge on online advertising and still maintain a healthy margin for a single purchase. That usually doesn’t work in a B2C environment.
3. Is There Such a Thing As Guaranteed Search Engine Optimization?
Although search marketing agencies can certainly guarantee you that they’ll follow modern principles of great SEO, they really can’t guarantee specific results.
In other words, they can say: “When you sign on with our service, we’ll optimize your site for keywords related to your business model.”
But they can’t say: “When you sign on with our service, we’ll land you on Page 1 of the search results for any keyword!”
You should probably run, not walk, away from any company that promises you to rank #1 for any search term.
Selecting The Best Search Engine Marketing Agency
Once you’ve made the decision to pursue a SEM agency, there are many to choose from. Most will do a decent job, but only a few will go above and beyond. Take your time and narrow down the field. And most importantly, make sure the agency you pick is the right fit for you.