Many agencies and search firms claim to view search holistically when updating ongoing strategy and planning considerations. Common statements by business development folks include, "We use paid search data to determine keyword value and apply these learnings to our SEO efforts," "We balance paid and organic listings to ensure you have the best possible visibility within relevant search results," and even, "Our SEO and SEM teams meet regularly to discuss trends and client objectives."
Marketing managers and executives have to ask themselves: How many actually follow through on these ideas once the statement of work is signed? With that in mind, here are five questions to ask potential search vendors, as related to how well everyone plays together.
- What is the physical proximity of the two teams? Very large organizations are likely fragmented when it comes to the team that is serving your search needs. If the SEO and PPC teams are legitimately to meet in person to cross-pollinate search efforts, it should be clear that these meetings will happen face-to-face, at least on a quarterly -- if not monthly -- basis. In the case of the same team handling everything, I would only feel comfortable with this resource allocation for relatively small search campaigns.
- Can you provide me with an example of how the SEO team has benefited from paid search direction or insight in the past? This question can and should also be asked in reverse order (SEO helping paid). If at least one answer doesn't flow right out of the agency or SEM representative's mouth, you should be able to tell this isn't something that happens too often within that organization.
- How does the relationship between paid and organic search allow me to gain a better understanding of the whole search landscape for my industry/vertical? Again, this is a question that shouldn't cause someone to "trip up" or provide a fluff answer. If it seems like someone is digging for the answer they think you're looking for, the company probably doesn't have the experience to provide concrete examples. Confidence in the answers to these types of questions is almost as important as the content of the reply.
- Do you perform regular reviews of targeted keyword phrases for SEO and paid search? Update keyword research at least quarterly. There should be a clear "yes" answer to this question, no matter how static your industry or vertical may seem. Search behaviors change frequently, and this should be monitored and acted on by any SEM or agency worth their salt.
- Can you explain the use of local and product listings as part of a holistic visibility strategy? Search engine result "nirvana" can be reached by having listings for a product or business location along with a top five organic and paid search listing, all above the fold. For a product, this can equate to up to six listings for the site out of 18 or so -- one-third of the real estate! If you think the math is wrong, consider having all three of the product listings pulled into the results page by Google, in addition to one sponsored listing and two organic listings (primary plus indented). If you don't believe this can happen, contact me and I'll be happy to show you some examples (once you sign an NDA -- just kidding). Of course this only applies if you sell products online or if you have physical locations. A search team with true holistic experience should have a plan for handling this relationship, even from a high level during the business development process.
Each organization has different goals and objectives for their marketing efforts, and these can vary by the type of campaign. In many cases, paid, organic, and local/product search efforts are probably aligned towards the same end goals, however sometimes these goals are different.
If you're dedicating marketing resources and outsourcing any search efforts, establish and maintain a clear relationship between all efforts. Simple business development promises aren't enough, and organizations should expect regular communications both internally on the part of the SEM or agency, and between the outsourced and internal search teams.
Frank Watson Fires Back
Paid search is often used to develop keywords for the optimizer. Organic information can help build the initial lists to test with PPC -- this interconnectedness is a vital part of success in our industry.
The biggest caveat: don't separate the people who run the different aspects of your online marketing. I watched a company lose its edge because the paid search and organic search people didn't speak to each other. In fact, it became an almost adversarial situation of who brought in the most leads.
While you may want to separate measurement, the effort should be combined.
Country and language conversions, and landing page success numbers, should be looked at separately as well as combined.
Perhaps it falls to the analytics people to bring the teams back together.
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