What do you look for when selecting a search marketing partner?

I'm right in the middle of evaluating vendors for Forrester's Wave on search marketing agencies and I'm finding (no surprise, really) that these providers offer very similar services.  There are certainly some place of differentiation (like the amount of consumer research a vendor conducts to understand your target audience).  But in terms of the basics (keyword selection, bid opimization), vendors look a lot alike. 

So, as I wade through the details of each vendor, I'm hoping you all will weigh in on what selection criteria is most important to you when you are looking for a search partner.  Does it matter if the vendor has its own bid management technology?  Are you only interested if they have experience in your industry?  Is SEO or paid search more important?  Would you sacrifice customer service for in-depth conversion tracking?  Let me know what the most important factors are to you.  I'll be using your feedback to help me weight my evaluation criteria.  Thanks!

Comments

re: What do you look for when selecting a search marketing part

I think one of the most important factors you can look for when selecting an SEM partner is a firm's track record. The barries to entry for SEM are so low that anyone can throw up a website and call themselves an SEM expert. The problem is that a lot of these people have no idea what they are doing, or some are just crooks that will take your money and not provide a service.It doesn't really matter to me what tools a person uses. If they can complete the job in an ethical manner that stands the test of time (Google updates) everything is all good.

re: What do you look for when selecting a search marketing part

Our firm, Apogee Search, has grown to be the largest "pure-play" search engine marketing firm in the Southwest (there is one other big one in Dallas, but half their people are doing websites, so they aren't really "pure play"), by successfully differentiating itself from all of the "very similar services" you have found. In fact, we think most of our competitors are full of hoo-ey.Big example -- most SEM firms lead their sales efforts by pushing natural search heavily, preferring it (because of margin characteristics) to paid search. BUT, in terms of the basics for natural search (SEO), keyword selection is one of the MOST important factors. If you don't start with paid search (where you can test HUNDREDS of keywords on conversion metrics), you are choosing your SEO keywords based on nearly useless *reach* and *visibility* metrics.All real firms in our space use bid optimization technologies where appropriate, but actually these technologies aren't needed for most keywords in a well-run campaign, and need to be used judiciously.Bill

re: What do you look for when selecting a search marketing part

I definitely agree that tenure with search (and also industry experience) are very important considerations.Bill -- to your note on Apogee. I'm finding that the perspective of "which is more important SEO or SEM" depends on the vendor. Maybe because they are better at one or the other, or because their heritage is from one or the other. But I've heard both your opinion that paid search should lead and the exact opposite from competitors. What I haven't heard a lot of is a solid plan for how vendors actually use SEO and SEM to boost each other. That whole "integrated" approach still eludes marketers and vendors.Thank you for your comments. Keep them coming!

re: What do you look for when selecting a search marketing part

One thing you could look for is Google Accreditation. Have the company taken the time to train with Google and got Adwords Accreditation? Are there people on staff whom have taken the Google tests?For instance, an individual gets this kind of accreditation;https://adwords.google.com/select/ProfessionalStatus?id=bFmtflwRHn-5P846kOF23A&hl=en_USA company gets this;https://adwords.google.com/select/ProfessionalStatus?id=FNHhNHskzWMvThU82h2-hg&hl=en_US