We’ve been in business more than nine years now, and the whole time, we’ve been expecting a slew of competitors to come out of the woodworks. After all, search engine marketing is a great business to be in! As an effective, affordable and measurable marketing tactic, it’s in high demand, and there aren’t that many SEM firms in the marketplace.
The slew of competitors has finally showed up, but they’re not the agency specialists (like us) that we expected. They’re established businesses whose core industries are shrinking, so they’re using technology to try to move into a growing market — search marketing — in order to survive.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. We all have to evolve as technology and markets change. That said, we are marveling at the fact that Prominent Placement is now competing with the local newspaper, the printed Yellow Pages, the coupon mailer people, domain registrars, local sites and more.
So far, we’re only competing on the pay-per-click (paid/sponsored listings) side, as that’s somewhat similar to the traditional media that these folks are familiar with. PPC is also an easier nut for newcomers to crack and scale quickly with. To our knowledge, none of these businesses have ventured into search engine optimization yet.
The pay-per-click services offered by these companies rely heavily on automation. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Technology can certainly make large, unwieldy PPC campaigns more efficient and manageable. But we believe that to do search engine marketing right, you absolutely need a great deal of skilled human involvement as well.
If you’re considering using one of these new services, be sure to ask these questions:
- Who does keyword research and determines which keywords I’ll target? Can I review the entire list of keywords? (Many services have templated lists of keywords for different industries and you must use their entire list, even if some of the keywords aren’t relevant to your particular business. Some won’t even show you the whole list. Hopefully they aren’t relying on you to supply all the keywords!)
- Who’s writing my ad’s titles and descriptions? Is it someone with copywriting experience who knows how to entice clicks? Are you doing research on what my competitors’ ads say to ensure my ads stand out? Are you tailoring the copy for each group of keywords to the buying cycle stage in which searchers using those keywords are likely to be? Are you constantly testing multiple versions of creative to see what produces the best result? Are you testing dynamic keyword insertion as well as static copy? (Hopefully they aren’t asking you to act as copywriter!)
- What landing pages will the ads point to? Pages on my site, or custom landing pages targeted to each category of keywords? Will they be pages designed with usability best practices and a way to convert right on them? Will the landing pages be regularly tested and improved upon?
- What levers will the technology pull, and how/when will these levers be triggered? (Levers include match types, dayparting, pausing poorly performing keywords, options for geographic targeting, accelerated delivery, display URL and more.)
- Will the best performing keywords be moved into their own ad groups with their own creative and budgets? Will variations on successful keywords constantly be added? Will negative keywords regularly be added, based on actual search history?
- Will there be any synergy with my search engine optimization or other online marketing efforts? Will keywords be strategically targeted between the two efforts so my site can dominate the search engine results? Will anyone regularly comb through my web analytics data to find organic keywords that have driven traffic and conversions, and make sure they’re added to my PPC campaign?
- Is the content network available? Who chooses the sites on which my content ads will be displayed? Will the copy be different – aimed at grabbing the attention of people reading articles rather than people actively searching for what I’m selling? Will the bidding strategy be different since these folks are less likely to convert?
- Who will determine my budget and bidding strategy? Will budgets be moved between different search engines (or to the content network) depending on performance? Will the bidding strategy be focused on driving the most clicks, the highest click-through rate, the most conversions, the lowest cost per conversion, the highest conversion rate, the highest return on ad spend, or some other criteria?
- If I have a lead generation site, how will success be measured? Number of online lead forms filled out? Will you also track phone call leads? Will the phone calls be recorded so I can listen to the quality of the leads and use them for internal training purposes? Will your data synch up with my CRM data so I’ll be able to tell which leads became sales and calculate my true ROI?
- Will you supply me with easy-to-understand reports on a regular basis so I’ll know what my results are? Or will I have to remember to log into your system and try to figure out which data is relevant to me and what it all means?
- What level of service can I expect? Will I have a dedicated account manager? How accessible and responsive will he or she be? How much experience and training will he or she have?
We have had two clients move their PPC services from Prominent Placement to two of the aforementioned services. Both clients quickly came back to us because their results declined dramatically and they weren’t able to get the level of service that they desired.
Automated pay-per-click services have their place, and they may be the only option for very small companies. But we believe that the human touch is critical in managing PPC properly and maximizing results.