From ABA Bank Marketing Magazine, July / August 2012

Selecting a search engine marketing (SEM) partner is not easy.  These agencies range in scope and size, with some specializing in SEM while others offer a myriad of services.  Search marketing efforts combine the best in analytics with some of the most creative messaging that your agency or internal marketing team will have to put together.

First, you must start by deciding if you need an agency.  In making this decision, you should ask yourself and your team two simple questions:

  • Do I (we) have time to manage our SEM efforts?
  • Do I (we) have the knowledge of SEM to manage these campaigns effectively?

If the answer to either of these questions is a resounding no, then you need to work with an agency.  It’s best to spend the marketing dollars doing something effectively rather than waste those dollars in attempting to do something you don’t have to to execute OR something that you simply don’t feel comfortable executing.

Keep in mind that with both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC) marketing efforts, things change rapidly.  In 2011 alone, hundreds of new features and policies were released for AdWords alone, not considering the updates from Bing and number of organic search algorithm updates for your SEO efforts as well!

Now if you’ve decided you don’t need an agency, you can stop here.  However, if the answer to either of your first two questions was no, the next question we need to answer is how should you go about selecting an agency.

When it comes to agency selection, everyone has a different opinion.  However, most agree that these five questions provide a solid start to your agency selection process.

  1. How do you charge for your efforts? The answer to this question may help you eliminate agencies up front.  Specifically regarding PPC, some charge based on a percentage of spend, others based on the cost per action (CPA) or return on investment (ROI) and even further, some simply charge based on their hourly fee structure.  Some, but not all, agencies that charge based on percentage of spend are incentivized to increase your spend, not your results.
  2. Who would be working on my account? It’s important to know who’s actually going to execute your institution’s strategy.  Are you being pitched by senior staff, only to be passed down to interns?  Do you have a project lead?  What experience do they have in SEM?  Just make sure that you’re getting the value that you are paying for in the people that will be leading your SEM efforts.
  3. How does your contract work? This is one of those questions that you usually don’t discuss up front.  What you’re looking for is a proper cancellation notice.  Also, be wary of ANY agency that offers a guarantee on performance for any of their efforts.  These people are typically scammers and your long-term SEM stragey will be sacrificed for short-term results, which may include being “black listed” by search engines over the long term.
  4. Can you share case studies or a list of references, specifically in SEM? You need to make sure that the agency you select has a track record of success.  If that success is in the financial industry, fantastic, if not, that’s ok too as long as they show results.
  5. How does your agency improve a SEM campaign’s efforts? The goal in hiring an agency is not to do what you can do, but for them to leverage their experience to increase results over time.  While the specifics on how the agency goes about this aren’t as important, knowing they have a process, and that it has been successful for other clients, is critical.

In conclusion, selecting the right agency isn’t easy.  Outside of the questions above, one of the most critical things you can do is make sure any agency you work with is a good cultural fit for your organization.  Just like your organization’s efforts in building customer relationships, being able to relate to your agency contacts on a personal level drives better service to you, the client, and results.

Make sure to check out this article in this month’s issue of ABA Bank Marketing Magazine.

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