I am writing this based on experience from my company’s first foray into the world of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising (using Google Adwords) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). I am the sole marketing person for an independent manufacturing business – Alker Fibre Optics – and when I joined I was made aware that we intended to commit a large slice of the marketing budget to PPC. I explained I had little experience with this but was told not to worry:
“We have a company that will take care of all that!”
The experience taught us a rather expensive lesson, but we also saw glimpses of how it could work and gain us a lot of business, but at the time we just did not have the skills in-house. So, what have we learned from this?
I should also mention that prior to hiring an agency to help with our account, our Director, armed only with an ‘Adword for Dummies’ book got stuck in and set up some Adword campaigns, and I have to say, it did actually work! There was a real pick-up in enquiries and business almost immediately. However, it quickly became clear that the campaigns were not the most economical, we were spending far more than necessary to achieve our targets not to mention the countless hours spent googling for keywords! At the time, outsourcing to someone with the know-how and time we lacked seemed a better option – and it might have been, had we ourselves been better informed before choosing our agency.
I do believe we have to take some responsibility for not having a clear understanding of what to expect, but I also think that there are agencies and consultants out there who are more than happy to take your monthly fee and then run and hide behind Skype and email once you start asking questions.
So if you are intending to outsource your Adwords campaign here are my top ten things to ask agencies before you commit – but with the caveat that you should also do some research and find out more about search engine marketing and what it means to your business before going ahead.
You can skip the intro and go straight to ‘Top ten questions…’ if you have already done some research on the power of Google, SEO and Adwords.
I have built on my experience at Alker by attending the excellent Search and Social Media Marketing (SSMM) course at Salford University, so below follows a little information on where to start your research.
A little on Search Engine Optimisation first.
How many times have you clicked past page one when searching with Google? Not many I bet. If you don’t go past page one why would your potential customers? This link from SEOBook.com illustrates the point beautifully:
This is a very basic overview and as I said before I highly recommend you familiarise yourself with the field further. A good starting point to find out more about Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing is as always Wikipedia – SEO / SEM, but I can also recommend Avinash Kaushik’s web analytics blog.
So, born from expensive experience, here is what I should have asked, and what I believe you should expect from a good Search Engine Marketing/Adwords company or consultant – but don’t forget to do some homework first!
The first thing to bear in mind is that Search Engine Marketing is not just for Christmas – it is for life. A long-term strategy is therefore important. If you are relatively certain that you want to outsource both the organic optimisation and the paid for search for the foreseeable future, then budget for it and agree a long-term strategy with tangible outcomes and regular updates.
If your longer-term strategy involves bringing the skills in-house or making sure your staff have some core skills around search marketing, ask your shortlisted companies if they offer training and on-going support (and if they have run any courses so far). If you want to train your staff independently of your chosen SEO company I can highly recommend the Search and Social Media course at Salford University.
Ask to see examples of client reports (without the client data of course) and if there is something you don’t understand – ask. A good digital marketing company should be able to explain what all the terms mean and why they are important in such a way that you understand it. Most search engine optimisation is not about technical know-how. It is about ensuring you have good, relevant copy that is easy for the search engines to find and understand. It is about increasing your web-presence and authority with an all-round strategy.
This is a key part of getting your website up the rankings and unfortunately also an area where less reputable companies will take shortcuts that can seriously damage your business (to the point where you no longer show up at all on Google searches). Instead of going for someone promising you 100 links a day, choose the company that will take the time to talk to you about who your customers are, or what the online trade journals and directories relevant to your business are and if you can gain links back to your website from these. As an example, my company, alker fibre optics, has a number of Universities as clients. Getting backlinks from these around work we have done with them was far more valuable to us than random links from irrelevant websites, and also unlikely to land us in trouble with Google!
Decide if you want regular face-to-face meetings. It may seem a small point, but some companies will prefer to deal mainly on email and phone. Personally, I prefer to know I have someone’s full attention when discussing my business and did find it frustrating when regular meetings were difficult to arrange, particularly for the first few months when there is a lot of new jargon to take in.
This goes both ways. Your chosen company should ensure you have key contact people you can easily get in touch with and, likewise, you should champion the SEO and Adwords work from the top of your own company. Make sure that it becomes part of someone’s job to manage the day-to-day work. If, for instance, you are implementing customer feedback on your website there is nothing worse for your business than to then ignore it because you haven’t got time. The same goes if your digital strategy involves using social media platforms (like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter). If you’re going to do it, make sure you do it consistently.
Does your shortlisted companies outsource the work or do they have the staff in-house? Outsourcing isn’t necessarily a negative, but I would find out if they regularly use the same consultants and that your work will be assigned to mainly one contractor to ensure a consistent approach.
A good digital media agency should have current or previous clients that they are happy for you to get in touch with.
Do all the basic checks you would do if you were making any substantial financial commitment. It is amazing how a great looking website can dazzle you into thinking everything is hunky-dory. Check their registration with companies house, ask them about staff turnover, how long they have been in business etc. NB: A lot of SEO/Adwords companies are relatively young – don’t immediately count this against them!
There are no magic widgets that you can buy that will propel you to the top of Google’s organic listing and no one can guarantee you this using SEO alone. If you are starting from scratch you should allow three months for the work to start making an impact. If you are also implementing Adwords, this will have more immediate results and you should expect to see your adverts appearing on Google in the first week of going live. How long the work takes leading up to this depends on the complexity of your business, but I would expect it to take at least 4-6 weeks.
I would be interested to hear feedback from the excellent agencies that have contributed to the SSMM course about their experiences – are expectations from clients too high? Have I missed any obvious points in my list?