SEM Campaign & Project Management, Part 1

What's the best approach to managing a search marketing campaign? A panel of experts shared best practices gained through years of experience with a wide range of clients.

Search marketing is more than managing bids on ads. A campaign may involve both organic and paid listings, perhaps with many different products, goals and participants. This session at the recent SES Chicago conference gave attendees tips and techniques on managing the process and getting the most success out of their campaigns.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, December 5-8, 2005, Chicago, IL.

Moderated by Michael Sack, the SVP and Chief Product Officer of Inceptor, the panel featured four executives from SEM agencies: David Williams, Chief Strategist of 360i; Harrison Magun, VP and Managing Director of Avenue A | Razorfish Search; Ani Kortikar, Founder and CEO of Netramind; and Barbara C. Coll, CEO of WebMama.com.

David talked about three key challenges facing SEM agencies.

The first is organizational knowledge. He asked, "If everyone in the organization does not have a baseline understanding of search, how is it going to ever be a strategic marketing initiative?"

David said people invest in what they understand and are familiar with and test what is unknown. Sometimes using an independent 3rd party can help build organizational knowledge and buy-in. He recommended, "Develop cross department education with basic 101/201 sessions and ongoing education."

The second challenge is an integrated search strategy. He asked, "Is there one overarching search marketing strategy that is integrated with other online and offline marketing initiatives? Or is your search strategy in silos?"

David said campaign strategy will drive tactical implementations as related to brand, keyword bucketing, performance targets, and messaging. He added, "Having one integrated search strategy allows for maximum campaign impact and growth."

The third challenge facing SEM agencies is data optimization. He asked, "Do you have ownership of your data and the ability to optimize campaigns base on all historical information?"

David said having ownership of data allows marketers to make accurate forecasts and ROI decisions that have maximum impact across all search channels. He predicted, "Data management and optimization is the future of search, especially as search develops!"

David added, "Search marketers can now use sophisticated statistical modeling to take advantage of current market inefficiencies. We typically see a 20-50% lift against actively managed campaigns."

David also quoted the 360i Media VP's guidance: "Rather than jumping in and developing keywords, you should develop a strategy that becomes your roadmap for implementation." The 360i Media VP had also spelled out the key questions to ask when developing a strategy:

  • What are the important keyword buckets?
  • What does the promotion calendar look like so that you can align budgets and messaging to it?
  • What are your competitors running for creative on your important keywords and how do you differentiate yourself from them?
  • What kind of language will you test in creative?
  • What landing pages will be most appropriate for the various keyword buckets?
  • Are those landing pages optimized for conversion if it a conversion focused campaign or branding if it is a branding focused campaign?

David said, "We typically put some 'core' keywords into one bucket and say that for branding reasons we want to always be #1 (based on client egos)."

He added, "For retail clients we usually assign each product a bucket and within those buckets we further break things down into the high volume terms that have a lot of searches but low ROI and the lower volume, tail terms with a high ROI."

He continued, "We want to have some of the broad terms with lots of searches in the campaign because they do drive volume, but we want to separate them into an ad group where we can manage the budget on those words so as not to overspend on them and kill the overall ROI."

To set search up for success in 2006, David recommended:

  • Build your organization's search marketing knowledge for paid search, SEO, etc.
  • Develop a fully integrated search marketing strategy that does not look at search in a silo.
  • Leverage historical data and sophisticated statistical modeling to take advantage of market inefficiencies and product abnormal returns.

David concluded, "A focus on education, strategy, and data will be the key to your success!"

Harrison spoke next about his "rule of 4."

His 1st rule of 4 is "define success." Harrison said this should include:

  • Direct response metrics
  • Other metrics and key indicators
  • Dependencies
  • Benchmarks of what's reasonable
  • Key milestones

His 2nd rule of 4 is "make a plan." However, before you make a project plan, Harrison said, "Know your levers!" These include:

  • Bidding strategy
  • Keyword expansion and categorization
  • Messaging
  • Business intelligence

With these levers in mind, he said, "Now create that project plan." When doing this, he advised taking into account:

  • Resources
  • Objectives
  • Your business reality (seasonality, etc.)
  • Statistical significance and testing time

Harrison presented an example of a project plan with one to four bullets listed next to week 5 to 11 of an SEM campaign. He recommended using bullets in the project plan to give clients enough information to know what to expect, without bogging them down in the details of how it was being accomplished.

Harrison advised, "Always stick to the plan." Then, he admitted, "You can't always stick to the plan." SEM agencies have to be reactive as well as "proactive." He recommended, "Be realistic with trade-offs." When making these, he counseled, "The plan is your currency."

His 3rd rule of 4 is "measure results." This involves measuring and communicating "at least" every week:

  • What you did
  • Why you did it
  • What was achieved
  • What you are going to do next week
  • What will be achieved

Harrison's 4th rule of 4 is "get feedback."

He said to ask for feedback "even if you know the answer." He also suggested asking for it from ancillary constituents as well as from the main constituents. Then, incorporate feedback into the project plan.

Before concluding his presentation, Harrison provided a few other tips:

  • Analyze performance, then look for culprits
  • Help constituents ask the right questions
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Fight bad ones like the plague
  • Document everything you do
  • Understand statistical significance

Part two of this article will appear in tomorrow's SearchDay.

Greg Jarboe is the co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization company and public relations firm that specializes in news search, blog search and vertical search.