Search THIS: Seven Steps to Rational SEM

Search engine marketing is often likened to the Wild West due to its lack of standards, industry guidelines or any form of regulatory body. As an advertiser seeking a search engine marketing (SEM) provider or solution, you are likely to witness a broad spectrum of offerings, cost structures and promises. From what I’ve seen, the Wild West would be a calm alternative to what marketers often experience.

Today, SEM is a full-on "Black Hawk Down" day at the Bakara Market.

But help is on the way, with organizations like the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), which seeks to educate the industry about SEM, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) which currently has efforts underway to develop standards and, like SEMPO, seeks to educate and increase awareness of the search universe. These organizations have professionals (including yours truly) in the industry who donate their time (hopefully) to help the cause.

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and while industry organizations are hard at work, there are opportunists out there dying to take advantage of the confusion. Worse, industry pundits can be heard complaining about the time it takes to achieve results. If, heaven forbid, an initiative does move forward, the same schmoes often emerge to take shots at the effort. While I can agree that no system or organization is perfect, some of the gratuitous whining is now permanently lodged in my craw.

So, for the “action now” junkies -- along with the whiners and people forced to act within the confines of a bureaucratic process -- I would like to offer the following support. 

What’s A Boy To Do?

People with the least influence and the most to lose from organization tend to be the ones who complain incessantly about efforts to apply common sense and discipline to chaos in an organized manner. Most are would-be entrepreneurs who have little or no appreciation for having to meet the needs of a large-scale constituency, successfully navigating political dynamics of biblical proportions, or couldn’t hack corporate life in the first place -- hence the title.

A wise old client in wise old firm once told me, “Any idiot smart enough to get venture capital can go and start his own firm, name himself the chief strategic something and break all the rules. Show me someone who can turn the aircraft carrier in an established firm; that’s an accomplishment.”

The wise old client has since started his own firm with some v.c. money. In any case, the blunt reality of any large guideline or governing initiative is that it requires massive campaigning and education to form a solid foundation. This process takes time.

I have the unique privilege of hearing complaints from both sides of the fence. Advertisers sound off about the pitfalls in seeking an SEM provider. SEM providers and agencies complain about lack of willingness on the advertiser’s part in accepting a possible shift in paradigm to accommodate the needs of search.

In the absence of formal declarations of war and the subsequent mutually-agreed upon treaties, I have assembled --in an easy-to-use letter format -- the collected gripes from both sides of the battlefield with the hope of moving seven steps closer to finding common ground.

The Advertiser’s Letter of Appointment

[On official stationery]
[Date]
[Key Contact Name]
[Key Contact Title]
[Valued Firm’s Name]
[Address]
[City, State, Zip, Planet]

Dear [Valued Partner’s Name]:

Thank you for agreeing to be our search engine marketing provider. We at [insert advertiser name] are thrilled to be in partnership with [insert valued partner].

Though no industry guidelines are in place for search engine marketing, we fully expect to experience the following throughout our mutually beneficial relationship.

  1. You will not bombard our IT/ Webmaster/ Site Designer with requests to change site architecture without consideration for our site’s user experience.

  2. You will not invent your own marketing language in the hopes of confusing us in order to create perceived value, e.g. Google Dance Disintermediation.

  3. You will provide us with sound advice and practical implementations to help search     rankings without implying that you can fool or trick search engines.

  4. You will not guarantee optimized positions while supplementing your reports with paid search, or leave out critical information such as the site in which our guaranteed ranking is to appear.

  5. You will not invent your own ROI metric system to justify the costs of your services, cite press releases as “news” or mentions in pseudo “SEM guides” as points of credibility.

  6. If results are not achieved in a timely manner you will not blame the following:
  a. Acts of God, i.e. Google
  b. Our IT department
  c. Our Ad Agency/ Ad Server

  7. You will work with our other marketing/ advertising vendors without quibbling over budget real estate to create a unified, integrated marketing program.

Please send your contract posthaste as our legal representation is in desperate need of a means to increase their billable hours.

Sincerely,

[Key Contact Name]

The SEM Provider’s Response

[On official stationery]
[Date]
[Key Contact Name]
[Key Contact Title]
[Advertiser’s Name]
[Address]
[City, State, Zip, Planet]

Dear [Advertiser’s Name]:

Thank you for selecting us as your search engine marketing provider. We at [insert valued partner] are thrilled to be in partnership with [insert advertiser name].

Though no industry guidelines are in place for Search Engine Marketing, we fully expect to experience the following throughout our mutually beneficial relationship.

  1. Your IT/ Site Provider / Site Designer will keep an open mind (between viewing episodes of "Deep Space Nine") as we recommend site architectural changes to help with positioning.

  2. We recognize that SEM requires a very specific knowledge base and promise to explain our efforts in either plain English or marketing speak, e.g. Google Dance Disintermediation.

  3. We promise to provide you with sound advice with the understanding that you will actually implement our recommendations in a timely manner.

  4. We recognize there are very few guarantees in the search engine optimization process.

  5. We promise to be forthcoming with cost per click structures in both the paid search realm and optimization while helping you understand your own ROI requirements.

  6. You promise to maintain staunch vendor governance policies making certain each firm understands the role it will play in your brand’s success. This will reduce budgetary real estate quibbling.

  7. If you execute the above, we won’t have to blame any of the following for bad results:
  a. Acts of God, i.e. Google
  b. Our IT department
  c. Our Ad Agency/ Ad Server 
 
Enclosed please find our contract. Thirty-seven pages of innocuous word gravel that even our attorney’s can’t decipher.  We wish yours the best of luck. Please countersign it and return one copy for our records.

Sincerely,

[Key Contact Name]


Consensus: Chaos Compendium

We are not there yet. The medium, let alone search, is still too young to start applying complex defining characteristics to the structure of guidelines. Industry initiatives move forward as quickly as the process will allow. The ill-intentioned activities of the few have a demonstratively negative effect on the many working to make everyone’s experience a bit more bearable.

Like so many other principles of life, the first step forward often requires a little common sense.

About the author: iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. He is currently Director Market Development of IPG’s Wahlstrom Interactive where he provides guidance in directional online marketing to Wahlstrom’s prestigious list of clients and sister agency brands. Kevin wishes to acknowledge with heartfelt thanks the creators of the film “Black Hawk Down” for bringing wide-scale public awareness to the heroes who fought, and the ones who died in the selfless interest of protecting those who could not protect themselves.

Meet Kevin Ryan at Search Engine Strategies on March 2, 2004.

For more information about selecting a search marketing partner, visit
iMedia's Search EngineConnection

 

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