Learn how to find, select and hire someone who is an expert in SEM (search engine marketing) who can help you set up and/or manage your online search marketing to attract as many website visitors as possible.
SEM = search engine marketing. It’s a term used to describe people with expertise in search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing) who understand how to effectively use:
- Search PPC advertising – Google’s AdWords and PPC (pay-per-click) advertising for the other search engines. They should also know about PPC advertising on Facebook and LinkedIn.
- SEO – search engine optimization. This is how to write articles and set up your website to attract people for free through them finding your web pages on what are called natural or organic search results.
- Social media marketing – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube are the “biggies”. Social media is all about engaging with people. If you run a business and want presence on the leading social networking sites, then find an agency that also understands social media and how to help you connect with customers and attract new business via social media.
- Social media monitoring. They should have tools and expertise in reputation monitoring and responding to any negative feedback on your brand online.
Since 65% of all searches are done on Google, they should know how to use the Google tools for advertising, keyword research and web analytics very well!
The best SEM experts know how and when it’s best to use SEO techniques and when it’s best to use paid search advertising.
First, understand some cautions and warnings about hiring anyone to work on SEO for your website or blog
Bad things that can happen to you if you hire someone who isn’t reputable…
Your website can get blacklisted by Google and the other search engines. That means you’ll get a trickle of the website visitors you should be getting
If your website gets blacklisted that means you can’t send emails. If that happens, your emails may be blocked by ISP (Internet Service Providers) like Comcast who don’t want their customers to get spam.
A Google webmaster forum article on hiring a SEO says this, “Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site.”
Buyer beware. Hire carefully.
There are a lot of freelancers and agencies that claim to be “experts” in SEO who make claims like, “We’ll get your site listed on page #1 of Google by next week!”
That’s a scam. They’re doing something to “game the system” that may get short-term results and then seriously backfire on YOU after they’ve done the damage and been paid. If an SEO offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s important to do your homework, starting with knowing what they should be doing.
In deciding to work with an SEO firm or consultant, you should consider what services they can provide, verify their reputation and performance, and then choose a firm that is a good match to your needs.
Advice from business owners who run online businesses dependent on SEO…
At one of my clients, we engaged in search engine marketing with first a “local search guy” and then an SEM agency. But frankly, it didn’t pop until we engaged a Google search team directly. You can actually engage them – although I don’t know if they would engage any really small businesses. But what was amazing was how much better the search results were once Google got involved.”
Half the things seo and search experts tell you is true, you just don’t know which half.”
It’s a bit like hiring a stockbroker in that these seo experts get paid for doing things but not for results. They charge you for ‘fixing up’ your site to attract more visitors but they won’t forecast what that search traffic will be and how fast you’ll get it. And if it doesn’t work, they still got paid…The ones that do guarantee results are really to be wary of because they’re probably doing some black-hat tricks that will get you and your site penalized by Google and then you’ll be worse off than you were before.”
These seo experts never agree on anything. They each have their own ideas about what works and what doesn’t.”
They don’t seem to know what’s the 20% that will get 80% return on your and their time. They want to do and fix everything.”
If you hire someone to manage your PPC advertising
It’s easy to buy PPC ads. It’s time-consuming to set-up and optimize a PPC advertising campaign. Sort of like mowing the grass vs. all the prep work to set up the sprinkler system and get the sod in.
Be sure and discuss pricing up front. Will they charge you a percentage (commission) on the ads purchased or a flat rate to manage the program. Depending on the size of your ad buy, and what else they manage for you, one or the other will make more sense.
Unlike display ads both online and offline, search PPC ads are typically not sold to agencies at any kind of a “discounted” rate so any commission they charge is being carried by you, not the search engine.
Hire someone who has worked on PPC advertising to reach a similar target audience; someone who knows your industry and type of business. Then you’ll benefit from their “lessons learned” on other clients and get better results more quickly.
Know this: If you are already working with a traditional media planner or ad agency, be sure you check their credentials for handling your PPC program as many won’t have experience in that area. They know how to buy print, radio, online and TV ads. PPC advertising is different. You don’t want them to learn on your dime. You want a specialist in PPC advertising so you benefit from all their accumulated “lessons learned” on other clients.
What a reputable SEM expert should be able to do for you
SEO/SEM companies should be able to perform these services:
- Keyword research
- SEO research and training
- Technical advice on website development or improvements
- Content development and review
- Link management
- An audit of your site to assess what’s working and what could be improved
- Set-up and manage a PPC (pay-per-click) advertising campaign
- Set-up social media and advise you on how to use it effectively
Companies that also offer search engine marketing (SEM) services will offer:
- PPC management
- Landing page optimization
- Management of online marketing campaigns
The timing of when you work with an seo expert can also be important
In the development stage of a website, they can be instrumental in creating a search-engine friendly site from inception. When you are considering a redesign is also a great time to see what benefits an SEO firm or consultant can bring to the picture. But if you are not at either of those points, a good firm or freelancer can still work to improve your existing site.
TIP: It’s a lot of work to set up a PPC advertising campaign. You’re smart to be looking for someone to set this up for you! It’s the equivalent of hiring someone to set up the sprinkler system and planter beds in your yard. It’s hard work to do all the set up work and tinker with things to make sure everything works. Then it’s easier to mow the lawn and plant flowers each season. SEM works the same way so you can save money if you hire the best expert you can find to set things up for you with them knowing you will then be managing it yourself.
If you sell locally, then look for someone with local experience at SEM. If you sell nationally or internationally, then don’t limit yourself to someone nearby.
- Look for someone with experience/expertise in your industry
- Look for someone with experience/expertise in your business model (info commerce, ecommerce, local search, etc.)
- Mobile search, video search, local search, image search. These are all sub-specialties of a SEO.
SEO is a “team sport”
An effective SEO has to be excellent at understanding and working with others because they can’t achieve higher search rankings without the support of people like:
- Website developers
- Content providers – writers and agencies who provide the articles and videos
- Social media managers
- Website analytics experts
Tips on verifying an SEO/SEM company’s reputation and performance:
- Ask for examples of work and success stories with measurable proof of results
- Ask for references
- Ask business associates for recommendations
- Check their own placement in a Google search
- Do they follow Google Webmaster guidelines?
- What SEO techniques will they utilize on your project?
- How do they measure success? What tools are used?
- Who will be your contact?
- Will you be informed of all changes to your site with the rationale behind the changes?
- Do they have experience in your industry?
- What’s their experience with SEO in the country, region or town you want to attract website visitors?
There aren’t many people “certified” as SEO experts so look for experience and references from reputable people you trust. There are a few programs that offer certification programs for SEO but most people learn by doing. Experience and proven results should trump education or any certificate.
The best way to find a top SEO is to…
Look for someone with results over time. In the same way that an attorney who has done deals and been challenged years later on their contract will get smarter and better at the next contract they write, the same holds true for a SEO. You don’t want people with quick wins. You want experts who have shown they can build sustained website traffic.”
Get references from companies that are totally dependent on search traffic to make money…ecommerce companies like Amazon, Zappos…”
You want to find a SEO with a track record of converting browsers into buyers
People do what they’re measured against – you want to find someone who won’t just “drive traffic” but will work out how to drive qualified traffic and conversions from browsers to buyers.
This is a great blog post from Dave Blanchard of Cognesis Marketing:
I’m awed by the SEO community, but I think they’re missing the point. Most of their effort is aimed at creating innovative strategies and tactics to get web pages ranked highly which ultimately drives traffic. The more enlighten ones align their compensation with performance. “If you don’t rank, you don’t pay,” or even better, “We’ll increase your traffic – Guaranteed.” But is this really the goal? No business survives on website traffic. What a business really needs is traffic that converts to a lead and ultimately a sale.
Far too many SEO firms take their clients half way to their goal (sales growth) and say “good luck, hope it all works out from here,” when what they should be doing is optimizing not for traffic but conversions. Even when the focus moves to conversion, too often they are still thinking within the box of the website. They ask, “What can we do to get return visits?” But it’s not ABOUT the website. It’s about engagement through whatever means best serves the customer. That may mean getting people to Friend us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter or ask for our free report or attend our webinar or call us. And it may mean all of these things at different times.
This broader focus calls for a completely different set of skills. Developing lead nurturing strategies, creating content that engages and adds value all the way up to and beyond the point of sale, and integrating web, e-mail, direct mail, personal follow up and other inbound and outbound marketing methods. Tactics that get web visitors to jump forward, identify themselves and request more personalized communication. In sum, the ability to coordinate and automate a collection of marketing messages so that the right one gets to the right prospect at the right time via the right medium.
Driving traffic to your website is a critical piece of the marketing puzzle that requires a skilled SEO expert to do it right. But it is only a piece. To grow your business, you need the rest of the conversion puzzle, too.”