An effective SEM campaign requires a tactical structure that involves a strategic approach to SEO and PPC; although, many are turning away from SEO due to the fear of Google penalties in light of the recent algorithm updates. However, a successful SEM campaign must have both SEO and PPC advertising as 70 percent of internet users find a site through SEO, while 30 percent of internet users find a site through PPC.
SEO and PPC must be included in an online marketing campaign, but many business owners remain confused as to how to achieve all three. Your best bet is to hire a company who is capable of achieving your goals. Some choose to hire a company who caters to all internet marketing strategies, while others prefer to use a company that is specifically experienced in SEO and PPC. No matter the method you decide, choosing the best SEO/PPC company is easier said than done.
“There are so many factors that go into choosing the right SEM company. The agency should take the time to get to know your business and its model,” says Jake Waldrop, Sr. Marketing Specialist. “Without this understanding, they cannot deliver a truly exceptional campaign. The industry, competitors, and the constituents that make up your market are all going to affect your campaigns.”
To begin choosing a company, you first need to have an idea of what you want to achieve with your campaigns, such as impressions, conversions, and even your budget.
“Every company should know exactly what their primary goal is and what the indicators are that lead to success. For example, if my goal is to maximize ROI, I’m not going to care as much about Impressions or CTR,” says Waldrop. “An agency doesn’t know your business like you. If they don’t ask what the end goal of a PPC campaign is, that’s throwing up a major red flag.”
So, how can you rest assured that you’re hiring the best SEO/PPC company to handle your needs in 2015? We asked leading marketing professionals their input on what matters the most when choosing the best company.
How Much are Businesses Going to Spend in 2015 for SEO/PPC?
According to early surveys, agencies are predicting to spend as much as 70 percent more for client budgets. Business owners agree that they will likely see an increase in their budget, with the majority expecting to spend as much as 60 percent more for both SEO and PPC. Although, this number can fluctuate depending on a business’s precise needs.
“Spending needs to come from the business owner. For example, a brand new business needs to spend more to introduce itself,” says advertiser Mike Poller. Poller also recommends considering what your competitors are spending, the cost of keywords, and the estimated profits from each sale when creating your budget.
Specific business objectives will play a key role in what a business will spend, such as driving traffic, selling products, and improving customer service. Your primary goals will coincide with the types of campaigns you’ll run and how much you’re willing to spend for those campaigns.
“Recommended spending will depend on your industry and the types of campaigns you’re looking to run. Some verticals are extremely competitive, and average cost-per-clicks can be upwards of $50 for some of the keywords. When keyword are that competitive, it will take a higher spend to accrue any decent traffic,” says Online Marketing Consultant Kristina Cutura. “Once an advertiser has narrowed down their targets and keywords, Google has tools that can help you estimate traffic and potential cost. I recommend starting with a more conservative amounts as you go through the period of testing and figure out what works, then increase budgets once campaigns start to be profitable.”
However, budgets can always change once new digital marketing trends develop over the next several months. Looking back on 2014, both B2B and B2C businesses report their month-to-month budgets for SEM have actually decreased due to revenue loss; however, with a firm strategy in place for 2015, you’re able to avoid any profit losses as your campaign will attract more sales.
Many businesses choose to budget their marketing and advertising as a whole, instead of for each campaign. If this is the case, you want to estimate your total online marketing budget to consist of around 47 percent of your total spending, mainly focusing on SEM and SEO. Your online display advertising, including PPC, should include an additional 34 percent of your total marketing and advertising budget.
What Should You Look for When Choosing a Company?
You have a lot of options when it comes to choosing an SEO/PPC company. However, you want to automatically red flag any company who guarantees results or instant results, especially those that use link farming and methods that will get you penalized by Google.
“I recommend looking for a company with a track record of success and failures. I want to see that they take calculated risk and how they succeed. I want to see how they measure success–is it just clicks or is it closed business?” says Chief Marketing Officer, Holly Wolf.
You’ll learn a lot about a company by viewing their track record. A company needs to have transparency and be willing to communicate clearly, without there being need to read between the lines or decipher their real intentions or the methods they use. If a company isn’t an open book when it comes to their past or how they will deliver the results you want, don’t even consider hiring them.
A good company will have the experience and certifications you need to properly meet your business’s goals, not just with links, but all aspects to improve your website traffic. This involves having cross platform capabilities and the success of following the algorithm requirements correctly without any black hat tactics.
“If a business only focuses on manipulating Google rankings, they will eventually be found out by Google. Guest posting, link farms, and directories have all fallen by the wayside and anything else you try will be found out eventually and stopped,” says AaronGrossberger, Internet Strategy Executive. “Gaining links is still an important part of SEO but it should not be the main goal. So, choose a company where the marketer really understands what’s going on in the business.”
Even after you’ve hired a company, they must remain in communication and hold transparency about the results they are providing. They need to be able to provide how they are generating the results.
“Many agencies will provide the client with a dashboard of “results” that are entirely based on the top of the funnel (Impressions, CTR, Visits, Sessions),” says Waldrop. “It’s important to have a top to bottom view of your sales funnel when employing any PPC company.”
In addition, Cutura recommends making sure the company you’re hiring is Google AdWords certified and to check the Google partner page to verify. “Ask how long they’ve been doing PPC and make sure that the person who will be in charge of your account has solid experience as well. Many agencies focus on attracting new business, then outsource campaign management to a cheaper labor who does the work on the backend.”
The bottom line boils down to ensuring you really know who you’re working with. Do your research and check out a company very well before hiring. If any of your questions or concerns aren’t addressed, go with your gut and look elsewhere. Any red flag, no matter how subtle, is a huge indicator on the likeliness of future problems if you hire that company.
In addition, don’t make a decision on a company based on their rates alone. Fixing penalties and mistakes caused by hiring an inexperienced company results in higher expenses down the road. For example, Expedia lost over 25 percent of their search visibility after being penalized for unnatural links. Although their bottom line didn’t suffer, they lost a huge chunk of traffic after Google discovered their paid link scheme. Thus, proving even large companies can fall victim to bad SEM/PPC companies.
How Worried Should I be about Google Penalties?
Over the last several years, Google has cracked down on SEO, setting strict guidelines for what’s considered to be safe methods to use. This leaves many worried that they will be hit with Google penalties should they use SEO. However, SEO is still a legitimate form of marketing if conducted correctly.
“What Google has tried to do with all their updates is to change this perspective and make it harder for people to be able to manipulate the results,” says Grossberger. “Their objective is that the most relevant and important website should be placed higher up for the searcher to find what they’re looking for.”
Basically, you need the SEO/PPC company you hire to know the rules and follow them to avoid penalties. It will be necessary to conduct an audit of your website to remove any links that may already be harming your business. The company you hire needs to work to keep your link profile clean and free from any links that may come back to haunt you. In addition, all SEO algorithms need to be followed to prevent any harm coming your way.
“Make sure you hire someone who is familiar with Google’s many product and editorial policies. Your ads should not be frequently rejected due to issues your manager could have avoided,” says Cutura. “At the same time, Google also frequently makes mistakes and incorrectly disapproves ads that are actually fine, so you need someone who can spot these issues and knows how to deal with them.”
The biggest penalties businesses reported in 2014 include unnatural links to websites, impact links, and unnatural links from their own website. These penalties could be the result of a hacked website, spammy links, lack of quality content, blatant spam, and user generated spam. In addition, penalties often occur due to cloaking or sneaky redirects, hidden texts, and spammy freehosts. Therefore, when you hire a company, you must be guaranteed these methods aren’t used and they can reverse these penalties if you’re already suffering from one.
When considering a company’s proposal to handle your business’s SEM campaign, carefully evaluate their proposal for any red flags. A good proposal will include an establishment of strategy, website audit, backlink audit, keyword research, proposal for landing page development, and PPC campaign development. In addition, it needs to include a social media audit, strategy, and management plan. Local listing optimization, content creation, back linking strategy, and a plan for reporting results need to be included as well. With these things, you’ll be able to determine if a company is a potential risk for causing penalties.
Should you hire the wrong company and get hit with a penalty, recovery can take anywhere from a couple of days to over a year depending on the penalty and the recovery action that was needed. For example, 14 percent of those hit by a penalty said it took over a month to see an increase in their ranking, while 8 percent reported results to take 3 months, and 7 percent reporting six months to recover. Unfortunately, 53 percent of those surveyed post-penguin penalty saw no increase in ranking even after a year. What does all of this mean? Money. Lots and lots of money you’ll have to spend should a low quality SEM/PPC company cause a penalty. Not to mention, the valuable time, potential sales and decreased web traffic you will lose while trying to recover.
Should I Choose a Local Company?
Many businesses, especially smaller companies, choose to hire local companies because they want to know exactly who they are working with. However, the internet opens a gateway to possibilities, including working with anyone anywhere in the world. Location isn’t a huge factor, but more a personal preference.
“Location depends on the client’s goals. If it’s important to them to meet frequently in person, location could be important. However, a lot of the best PPC talent may not be available locally, so you’ll have to weight that,” says Cutura. “With the many powerful online meeting tools, most of the PPC related tasks can be handled remotely.”
However, if location is not an issue, you must be wary of certain companies located in other countries. Although they may have cheaper rates, you’ll generally get what you pay for, which can be a very costly mistake.
If you’re comfortable working with a company via Skype, email, or phone communication, don’t let their location limit the potential you have to work with a reputable company. Plus, many small towns simply don’t have the necessary resources needed when it comes to expertise in the area; therefore, don’t let your location border your options.
Is It Better to Work With a Large, Small, or Medium SEM Company?
The answer to this question again boils down to personal preference. There are many small companies who are easily able to do the exact same job with the same results as larger companies. Most often, small businesses prefer to work with smaller companies, while larger companies tend to choose larger companies. Although, larger companies often don’t add that personal touch many enjoy when working with smaller companies.
“Large companies tend to be automated and, therefore, treat each client the same. This may work for a national organization where efficiencies can outweigh effectiveness,” says Poller.
However, Grossberger warns against using smaller companies, saying, “A smaller company would do well to understand a company, but will – at best – offer short-term value to their company and will likely lead to penalties in the future. In terms of small or large, a larger company is more likely to have the expertise in terms of marketing and on-site changes.”
On a more positive note for smaller companies, Grossberger says, “Smaller companies tend to have one person to manage your website, which would help him/her understand the full picture better.”
However, Cutura says there are advantages and disadvantages to both. She recommends, to make the choice, you should consider a few factors, “First, you’ll have to consider your PPC management budget. Some of the medium and larger agencies have fixed fees, usually based on a % of your ad spend.” She goes on to say, “Smaller SEM companies could be more flexible in this regard. Larger companies could have more resources and people that can help manage and optimize your account. At the same time, they may be less specialized and have greater turn-over.”
However, many are now turning from larger companies due to two very large SEM firms failing their customers. ReachLocal received 60 complaints and Yodle received more than 180 complaints from business owners in a very short period of time. The complaints largely consisted of unfulfilled promises, exaggerated traffic reports, and extensive errors. With these two large companies that were considered to be trustworthy facing serious accusations, many business owners now question the reputation of other larger SEM firms.
Despite this new form of doubt, there are still many large companies who do hold solid reputations and produce positive results. You just have to do your research to weed out the bad.
No matter if the company is large or small, the ability to achieve the results you want should be the defining factor. They must have the track record to prove they can achieve your business’s goals. This involves fully understanding your business and working with you to succeed.
“If the company is small or large, you want to know that you have one person you can always go to and get the answer,” says Wolf. “The firm and the person has to be willing to learn your business so they can understand how your customer thinks.”
Whether you choose a large or small company, local or remote, they needs to understand the full scope of SEM/PPC, but hold the ability to get to know your company inside and out to create a customized approach. The campaign they create needs to be individualized to meet your specific needs, not a cookie-cutter campaign.
Choosing the Right Company
To choose the best company possible, do your research and look for any red flags. Although every business owner wants to stay within their budget, that doesn’t mean that cutting corners and hiring the cheapest company possible is the best option. Do your research to find the company that fully understands your business and your needs, while holding the expertise and successful portfolio to back their results. Work with the company you choose by clearly defining your goals in order to track your results to monitor your progress. The right SEM/PPC company will make you feel like a partner, not just a customer, while working towards your business goals.
Your goals need to be clearly defined and understood by the company you hire. The company should provide you with a detailed outline as to how they will accomplish your goals with a timeframe. In addition, make sure your expectations are well defined from the very beginning and fully understood.
By checking references and a company’s history you’ll lessen the likeliness you hire the wrong company. Finally, once you do hire the ideal company, be open to learning about SEO and PPC. The more you learn, the better you’ll understand what exactly is occurring, what methods are being used, and how the results are being generated.
Internet marketing is an evolving industry and you don’t want to put your business at risk of hiring an under-qualified company.
“The Difference Between SEO vs. PPC” SEOWorks.com
“Choosing a PPC Agency” WordStream.com
“How to Keep Your Website Safe from Google Algorithm Penalties.” ThinkSEM.com
“Tips to Avoid Google Algorithmic Penalty” InternetSearchInc.com
“How Much Should You Budget for Marketing in 2014?” WebStrategies.com
“How to Avoid Hiring a Bad SEM Vendor” SearchEngineWatch.com