August 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

Supersizing Search

(Page 3 of 3)

The time-stretched program manager says driving as many of the rapidly-burgeoning search-related functions and opportunities as possible through one vendor is critical to getting his job done. “I rely on them because they have the expertise to know what’s hot. It’s going to be virtually impossible for me to keep up with everything new that’s out there,” he says.

Vendors that have assembled a soup-to-nuts offering in search engine marketing-either by developing relevant capacities or partnering with a company that already has the capabilities-maintain that retailers who want the full suite of search services are better off getting them all from one source. With the menu of search-related services now so large, going single-source means putting a lot of eggs in one basket. “If you are a large company that truly needs all of these things, ideally you want to go through one vendor,” says Berk.

Weighing the decision

Yet while the right intermediaries can make search marketing programs more effective for retailers, turning over the reins to a single provider isn’t a decision to be made lightly. “The thinking is that somehow, these guys will have more competency in this area than I will. And that may or may not be true, depending on who the provider is,” Berk adds. An agency accustomed to media buying in other channels, for example, may tack on keyword buys as a service without having any particular qualifications to do so, while a search engine optimization company that uses spamming techniques to sidestep an engine’s natural algorithms can get a client’s listings blacklisted by the engine.

Of the factors that determine whether outsourced search marketing efforts will soar or tank, most experts say the provider’s track record is the most telling. Some providers have been involved with search marketing in its various iterations since the beginning and some were born yesterday, but with new technologies and services emerging so rapidly, longevity can’t be considered the sole predictor of success. The acid test is in the experience of the provider’s other clients. “Talk to people for whom the provider has done work. That will tell you everything about a company,” advises Berk.

If a provider is willing to tell a retailer the details and results of projects done for other clients but won’t put the retailer in direct contact with those clients, let the buyer beware, experts say. Marckini takes that cautionary note a step further, noting that most companies, anticipating such questions from prospective clients, are prepared to pull one to three names of existing clients out of their back pocket. “Ask for four or five references beyond that, and then ask for references from other clients who have worked with the account team they have put together for you,” he says. “Often, there’s a big difference between the team that pitches an account and the team that does the work. You don’t want someone who has been doing search engine marketing for a year to manage your campaigns. Every company has a success story, but make sure the team that is working on your business has a success story.”

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