SEM is Getting Harder (SEM is Not For the Amateur)

Tracy Earles
VP of Marketing

Inbound marketing is much more difficult than five years ago. Why? And why should it matter to you? Can’t a company run its own search marketing campaigns?

The main reason that search marketing is more difficult is that it is more competitive. Advertising dollars are fleeing traditional media, like TV or print, and moving into online media. Take a look at these advertising expenditure numbers from TNS Media Intelligence compared to Google financials:

Media Q1 2008 Ad Revenue ($M) Q1 2009 Ad Revenue ($M) Change
TV $16,438 $14,835 -9.7%
Magazine $6684 $5314 -20.5%
Newspaper $5974 $4450 -25.5%
Radio $2169 $1601 -26.2%
Google $5190 $5510 6.1%


These ad dollars have come to online marketing, particularly to search marketing, because it is both effective and so much easier to measure.

This shift in marketing spending to online tools is driving up the competitiveness of two key portions of search marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). There is increasing demand for a limited resource, clicks or eyes, making the price go up. Clicks, and their resulting revenue, are more expensive; SEO-driven rankings are more challenging.

Not only is there more demand for clicks, but Google and the other engines are designed to extract the maximum amount value for each click. This is why it makes sense to have an agency manage your PPC campaign. More specifically, there are several advantages to using an agency to run PPC, rather than trying to do it yourself:

  1. Keyword research. You probably think you know the best keywords to use to drive profitable clicks. To us, this list is just the starting point, because the list likely consists of the most expensive keywords. We continuously run experiments to develop a broader set of keywords to drive click costs down.
  2. Experience. We know all of the engines, how they work (or don’t), and how they’re changing. Our search marketing specialists train constantly to ensure they’re taking advantage of the latest tools and techniques. We also know what has worked for other clients that we can leverage for your benefit.
  3. Changing PPC landscape. As mentioned earlier, the search engines are constantly working to extract the maximum value for a click. That means that, even if you’re running a finely tuned PPC campaign, the landscape is constantly changing. For instance, as new advertisers enter or existing advertisers change their tactics, they will affect your PPC performance. PPC campaigns require constant monitoring and improvement.
  4. Contacts. Even the best-run campaigns can be surprised by unexpected search engine behavior. When something unexpected happens, we have quality contacts, be it representatives with the search engines themselves, bloggers, or business contacts, who we can call quickly for answers, rather than wait for boilerplate support replies.
  5. Peace of mind. It is a huge benefit to know that your PPC campaign is being run professionally and that it’s working as it should.

It’s not just PPC that requires a professional agency to maximize performance. SEO is an even more difficult challenge for the non-professional. Why?

While search engines provide tools and guidance to help advertisers maximize their paid search performance, they offer no assistance to help companies maximize their organic search results. The search algorithms employed by all of the major search engines are constantly changing and are a closely guarded secret because these algorithms are the core of the engines’ competitive positioning. They are constantly changing because the engines are always trying to present the most relevant results to searchers, and search behavior is changing (i.e., people search differently and for different things now).

In addition to this changing search environment, the search engine optimizer must also deal with competing companies who constantly attempt to decipher the algorithm and take advantage of it. These dynamic search and competitive conditions require us to pursue the same kind of constant study and experimentation in SEO as we do in PPC.

In the same way that ad dollars have flowed into paid search, driving up the cost of clicks, investment in SEO management has increased as well. That means that, for a given keyword, there is a constant ‘arms race’ for results page supremacy. If you’re not constantly investing in SEO, then you’re doomed to slide down the results.

So, can a company run its own search marketing campaigns? Sure. But a search marketing agency, that does nothing but work to maximize search return on investment and can leverage the experience developed from a broad range of clients and campaigns, will always be able to deliver superior performance.

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