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How To Choose The Right SEM Agency

Published: January 31, 2012

Author: Ian Lopuch

Are you searching for the perfect SEM agency? As someone who’s managed some of the top SEM programs across most major verticals on the Internet, I’m thrilled to share a few tips today that will help you in your search.
Tip 1: Search for SEM Agencies in Your Vertical
Online marketing is truly vertical these days. As someone who’s managed campaigns across product shopping, travel, mortgage, insurance, B2B, and other verticals, I’m here to say that each category is truly different. I recommend hiring an agency that has hands-on experience in your particular category. If your category is really specific, you want to make sure to select an agency that has experience in a closely related category. The only caveat: I wouldn’t recommend signing up the agency that also manages the campaigns of your biggest competitor. There’s balance here: You want the agency with the right amount of experience in your vertical, but not so much experience that they have a potential conflict of interest.
Tip 2: Find a Personable Agency
Online marketing is an exciting, collaborative field. It’s also really tricky at times, and the best results come from working as team. Whether you go with a large agency, mid-sized agency, or small agency, find one that has the bandwidth to interact with you and your organization closely. Make sure the agency you choose has the expertise to drive your program forward independently while also executing upon input from your internal team.
Tip 3: Check References Before Making The Hire
Hiring an SEM agency is a key decision in the future of your organization’s online marketing. Just as if you were hiring a new employee for your internal team, it’s critical to go through reference checks. Try to chat with references in your vertical (or closely related ones). Write down your questions beforehand and make sure to ask about such topics as expertise, attention to detail, responsiveness, reporting, and, of course, results.
Tip 4: Ask About Technology and Automation
I’m a huge fan of online marketing tools and technologies. There’s a ton of scale that can be achieved by automating both simple and complex tasks. That said, the best technology has a thoughtful and creative team behind it. Try to understand if the agency you’re auditioning has an overreliance (or under-reliance) on SEM technology.  It’s a true balancing act. Also, understand what types of technologies your agency leverages. Do they have an in-house tool, or are they working with a major vendor?
Tip 5: Spend Time Negotiating a Favorable Contract
My final tip in finding your perfect online marketing agency: Spend time negotiating your contract. Does your prospective agency want to lock you into a long-term contract? Do they charge a flat fee? Or, is the fee based on performance? Different contracts make sense for different situations. Understand your preferences going into your negotiations, and work with the agency that’s most willing to work on your terms.

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