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Beyond the SEM Bells and Whistles

There’s a lot more to search engine marketing than examining the pros and cons of all the hot new Google AdWords services.

True, that’s often the most fun and interesting part, which explains why that’s what you read about if you follow online marketing news and blogs. But just as every trial lawyer has a support team of associates and paralegals burning the midnight oil, every successful SEM campaign must a team of experienced production specialists and coordinators that make it happen.

Theoretically, this should be the easy part.Usually, one finds that understanding something is difficult, but once they reach understanding, implementing is easy.In SEM, there’s a bizarre reversal of the norm.Due to the proliferation of seminars, speeches, and articles, not to mention the barrage of sales calls from SEM agencies, many marketers understand the most high-level, advanced segmentation and cross-channel integration tactics.However, when it comes to implementing these tactics, most of these same marketers fall short

When it comes to implementation, agencies have a huge advantage over in-house marketers.An agency has probably implemented hundreds of SEM campaigns.An in-house marketer has maybe implemented five or six, and that’s a high estimate.An agency will have the infrastructure to implement new initiatives quickly and efficiently. Lacking that infrastructure, an in-house marketer will have to implement it himself, and juggle it with his other marketing channels

For example, suppose two competing marketers discover, at the same time, that there are certain regions in the country that convert better on a certain group of keywords.To capitalize on this, both marketers decide to create three hundred new, geo-targeted AdWords campaigns, each one tailored to those specific DMAs.One marketer manages his SEM in house, and the other outsources his to an agency.The in-house marketer may take months to get this done, but the agency should be able to get it done within a week

By the time the in-house marketer has implemented his geo-targeted campaign, the outsourcer has already optimized his bids and his copy.His ads have a better quality score because of his more extensive click history, and the in-house marketer faces a daunting uphill battle

Not only that, but in the meantime, Google has come up with some additional features of AdWords.The outsourcer’s agency has been busy incorporating those new features into their API.Once that’s done, the outsourcer will have the same advantage over the in-house marketer.He will be optimized faster, and ready for the next feature while the in-house marketer is still busy segmenting his audience by geography

Over time, the outsourcer has, quite literally, crushed the in-house marketer.He has beaten him to the punch on every initiative, and gobbled up the market share in their vertical.The in-house marketer has two choices, he can either throw his hands up and accept defeat, or he can ramp up his spending and hire an external agency to compete with the outsourcer

This is why you see so many marketers complaining about how difficult search is.They often groan about their despair in the blogosphere, complaining that search is too difficult, or it didn’t work for them, or click-fraud rates are too high.What really happened is not that search doesn’t work, it’s that they didn’t know how to use it properly.It isn’t because it’s hard to understand all of Google’s new bells and whistles, it’s because it’s hard to act on that understanding.All too often, marketers make the penny wise but pound foolish decision to keep search in-house rather than hire a reputable agency and pay its fee

In the end, they often find that there’s a high price to pay for that decision.The engines themselves are partially to blame for this.They often tout how simple and user-friendly their interfaces are.Another factor that brought about this disastrous state has been the proliferation of educational materials about search.All of these materials explain how search works.

Since many marketers understand search, they foolishly assume they can do it.Plus the very idea of cost-per-click seems low risk to advertisers.After all, they only pay when a user visits their site, so why not give Google money to drive that traffic?There’s nothing to lose

The reality is there is something to lose by doing search halfheartedly: market share.In-house marketers will lose it to those competitors who were smart enough to realize that they needed to do more than understand search, they needed to pay someone who had the infrastructure and experience to do it right.

About the Author:
Rohit Bhargava is the Vice President for Interactive Marketing with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.

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