7 Rules for Agencies Getting into Search

I’m at the Search Engine Strategies Conference in New York and will be participating in a panel discussion tomorrow about agencies and search.  The topic raises an interesting discussion about where search engine marketing should fit.  Is it a PR activity?  An advertising program?  These
are the questions that not only agencies are struggling with, but our clients are too as they
allocate budgets and split funding for their many marketing initiatives.  My view that I will
share in the upcoming panel, is that search is anyone’s game … and this is what makes it so
disruptive
.  When you introduce something so new, and so fast growing, turf wars become
inevitable. 

But for smart agencies, there is an opportunity to stake a claim in a space your competitors may not yet be going after.  But the window will close fast.  Here are the 7 tips that I will be sharing in the panel discussion tomorrow to help agencies that may not yet be focusing on this area to quickly grow their capability:

  1. Identify owners … then train and support them – Unlike TV ads, or even full interactive campaigns that can take casts of thousands, a good SEM offering is often driven by the one internal guru that you have, or can strategically hire. Identify that person and dedicate them to becoming the evangelist that turbo charges your offering.
  2. Create your own method – Every vendor has an approach, so this isn’t about reinventing the wheel … but you do need to have a distinctive method that sets your group apart.  Figure out what you do differently or better than your competitors, and then sell that.  Basic business, but often forgotten in the "me-too" race that is propelling many agencies toward search today.
  3. Focus on client industries you know – This is perhaps the toughest rule of all, because every agency wants to be good at everything.  But focusing on the industries you know will help you bring more insight to your clients about what they should be advertising for, and what information people are seeking online.  Knowing the industry is the only way to get beyond the expected.
  4. Prove the value, sell the category – For many clients, SEM is still an emerging area, and one that they will treat with some skepticism.  For others, they may already be doing it and consider themselves way ahead of the game.  For each, proving the value in terms of ROI for hiring an agency to do the SEM is crucial.  Search Engine Marketers, and the entire category should take some lessons from WOMMA and the industry push to legitimize Word of Mouth Marketing.  Search needs the same concentrated effort from every agency hoping to make money from it.  SEMPO is a great start – but remains far behind in terms of mindshare.
  5. Get experienced DM copywriters – When it comes to writing ads that work, optimizing, and tracking performance, there are no more prepared industry practictioners than the direct marketers.  Copywriters used to writing for this environment will inherently understand what it takes to have compelling sponsored search ads … and how to fix ones that aren’t working.
  6. Find the right SEM software – Search marketing can quickly get out of hand as "important" keywords seem to multiply exponentially as more client stakeholders become involved.  Added to that, consolidated campaign reporting remains a challenge for advertisers working with multiple search vendors.  Good software helps you to manage, optimize and report on campaigns in a professional manner.  It’s most often worth the investment.
  7. Forget the low flying clients – One of the powers of search marketing is that you can do it yourself, and as much as any agency can demonstrate their value – for some clients, they belong on their own.  Small budgets or small businesses can do it themselves … they don’t need us.  Get over it and focus on the clients where we can actually make a difference for them and generate real value for the dollars they are paying to us.

Download the Full Presentation:  SES Presentation – Agencies & Search [PDF]

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