SEMDirector Offers Accountability to Enterprise SEMs

As paid search budgets continue to grow, and campaigns get more complex, the management of those campaigns gets more difficult. When a large organization with multiple divisions ends up competing against itself in paid search, it gets even more complicated.

The biggest problem reported by advertisers across the board was rising keyword prices, which topped the list for advertisers of all sizes in a recent JupiterResearch SEM Executive Survey. In that study, between 57 percent and 64 percent of advertisers, depending on company size, reported keyword prices as their top concern. Large enterprises, with annual revenues of $50 million or more, came in at the top of that scale. In that same study, between 41 and 48 percent of advertisers expressed concerns with measuring the ROI of their search campaigns, with large enterprises at 47 percent.

SEMDirector, a hosted software developer that spun out of enterprise systems integrator Silicon Space nearly two years ago, is aiming to help large-scale search marketers to manage their campaigns, and to tie them back to enterprise-wide goals. In many companies, campaign management is done manually, via spreadsheets. In large organizations, there can also be very little communication between divisions, making extra work and competing goals within an organization, according to SEMDirector’s CEO Russ Mann.

To remedy these problems, SEMDirector has developed a “Marketing Action Platform,” a hosted application which links into an advertiser’s Web analytics, bid management, and CRM applications to automate the management of search ad campaigns.

“We take a no-nonsense, practical, hard-ROI look at search engine marketing,” Mann said. “Our goal is to help further a new age of advertising accountability.”

One way SEMDirector helps improve ROI is by assess keywords by value rather than popularity. For example, a popular search term like “breast cancer” is very expensive; while a related term like “chest pain” is not. With SEMDirector’s technology, it is possible to determine the value per click as it translates based on searches performed by end users, Mann said.

Advertisers who employ these tactics will not only cut costs, but will also create efficiency by pinpointing the most effective, rather than most expensive, keywords for search marketing campaigns, he said.

SEMDirector focuses its efforts at the Global 2000-level, and counts several Fortune 500 companies as its clients. Companies of that size have the most to gain by coordinating intra-enterprise marketing activities, and are the most likely to be operating in silos at some level.

“Companies of that scale have a unique set of needs in search, which are not the same as those of smaller companies, or of massive e-commerce players,” Mann said. “They have multiple business units, multiple brands, are geographically dispersed and decentralized. Different agents within the business end up bidding against each other.”

In large organizations, transparency can save millions of dollars in spending on ineffective advertising, he said. One of SEMDirector’s customers buys tens of thousands of keywords for multiple products on more than 20 search engines globally, using 6 agencies. SEMDirector has mapped the company’s entire campaign structure so that the CMO can see the performance of every campaign globally through one interface. The client can view the comparative performance by agency or search engine, and can see how well the search program is performing by product or region, for example.

These companies are also beginning to embrace search at a higher level than they did in the past. What started with individual efforts by each business unit is now being remade into a unified effort across the organization, he said.

SEMDirector can be used by customers to help an in-house search marketing team communicate and coordinate with an SEM agency. It can also be used to help multiple divisions of an enterprise engaged in search to coordinate their efforts to avoid competing with each other, while still competing with outsiders. SEMDirector also has a very select few clients that outsource their entire SEM program to them, paying for agency services as well as the hosted software.

SEMDirector focuses on the first two areas, offering a management dashboard to monitor and optimize campaigns, and serving as a complement to existing analytics tools. But technology cannot be a replacement for strategy, or proper structure of a search marketing program, Mann said.

“There is no ‘silver bullet’ software, or agency secret that can solve everything. Clients need a consultative partner that can help them understand strategy, structure, and systems — in that order,” he said.

What SEMDirector brings is greater visibility into a search program than a typical five-page overview delivered by many large agencies. SEMDirector allows customers to benefit from their agency partners, while still getting deep, drilled-down looks at how their search campaigns are performing, he said.

The Marketing Automation Platform combines automation tools for paid and organic search, as well as customized measurement of ROI, and “shelf space” in the SERPs (presence in both paid and organic listings). It is also developing a platform to coordinate channel advertising efforts with affiliate partners.

Clients can use the “shelf space” technology to compare their placement in search results against competitors. They can define competitor URLs, the markets they want to compare, the keywords on which they want a view, and then see how much of the “shelf space” they control. This methodology is used to identify competitive gains and losses so they know when they have to change their bid strategy, or adjust budgets, Mann said.

The company has developed relationships with Web analytics providers like Omniture, WebSideStory, and Unica, and with agencies like Greater Than One, Business Online, and Red Door Interactive. While companies do not need to replace their existing Web analytics programs to use SEMDirector, they often need to reconfigure it.

The organic tool automates the process of performing a site-wide audit, according to business rules defined by the customer. The software is not trying to reverse-engineer the ranking algorithms used by search engines, Mann said, but to identify problem areas of a site that need to be addressed and develop long-term best practices.

“When a large company loses rankings, it’s usually not because of Google’s algorithm,” he said. “It’s usually due to a lack of discipline, a lack of internal processes that lead a company to go too fast and make mistakes.”

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