Search Engine Marketing: RFP Questions You Should Ask

Picking the right search engine marketing company is tough and separating out the experts from the pretenders can be even more difficult!

Search marketing has become more and more about algorithms and account structure and implementation principals. Now, that’s not to say that the job doesn’t demand creativity. On the contrary,  it’s that the creativity must be exercised within some very well understood limitations of reality and what actually works. 

Here are a few factors to look for in the search marekting firm you choose: a  track record of success, a sterling reputation and a fair fee structure.

One of my favorite pay per click marketing blogs, The Rimm Kaufman Group, recently put out a list of RFP questions you should ask that will help guide you through the sales pitches and give a REAL glimpse into how each SEM firm you’re considering approaches search.

I’ve highlighted a few of my favorites below:

  • General Business
    1. What fraction of your clients are in my vertical? (Retail, Financial Services, Travel, etc)
    2. What fraction of your employees work in client services vs marketing? This is perhaps one of the more highly revealing questions. Firms with a large ratio of client service staff to marketing have built their businesses on retaining clients. On the flip-side, firms with a lower ratio may provide less service, or expect more client attrition.
    3. How much money does your tenth largest client spend per month? How many keywords comprise your tenth largest keyword list? This will help get a sense of whether your account will be among their biggest, or nowhere close. If their tenth largest client is tiny, that’s a bad sign. If their tenth largest client is several orders of magnitude larger than you, that might indicate that you’re not going to be a very big fish in this pond which can be reassuring, but might mean you’re ignored.  
    4. How do you rank the following elements of paid search in importance?
      • Account Structure
      • Ad Copy
      • Bidding
      • Data Analysis
      • Keywords
      • Landing Pages
      • Match-Types and Negatives
      • Quality Score

      PPC For Hire has strong opinions about how these should be ranked for most advertisers to generate the highest ROI, but that may not be your measure of success. If you don’t like their ranking then you may not like their approach to search.

  • Keyword Construction
    1. How do you build the keyword list initially? If they talk about software packages like Hitwise, or their own trademarked “solution”, be concerned. Machines do a lousy job of initial keyword creation. The core of the list should be generated by a human controlled process/research.
  • Bidding: Many firms claim to have the most advanced bidding system, and will wear out their thesaurus describing their “cutting-edge”, “world class”, “enterprise level” systems. Below are some questions that should cut through the bluster.
    1. Who built your bidding system? You might find out that the “world class technology” they tout is in fact rented from some other company. If they built their own system, do the architects have the kind of statistics and direct marketing credentials needed for building a top-notch system?
    2. Is the foundation of the system built on finding the right position on the page, or bidding what the advertiser can afford to pay for traffic on each term? Don’t let them get away with “both”. Either they’re letting your competition determine the bids or they’re letting your economics determine the bids. If you’re looking for an agency to do position bidding, make sure that’s what they do.
    3. How does it handle seasonal effects, short term promotions, etc? A bad answer will sound something like “oh, our algorithms recognize the slightest changes in performance and react accordingly.” What that really means means is they’re focused far too much on the most recent results and given the spiky nature of PPC the result will be whipsaw bidding coupled with poor performance.
  • Data Analysis
    1. Who would do our reporting or analysis: my daily contact, or some other team? A bad answer would be: “a separate team”. Doing data analysis in the absence of detailed account knowledge causes problems. Not knowing the account details makes analysis less valuable and the suggestions potentially dangerous.
  • The Reference Calls: Almost any agency can find two or three happy clients to serve as references. Your job is to figure out whether they’re happy for the right reasons, or whether they just don’t know any better.
    1. Ask the happy client: “What criteria do you use to evaluate your search vendor?” You may find that they judge their vendor strictly by how well and quickly the vendor completes task lists, or how slick their reporting interface is. If they don’t talk about keyword level performance, data analysis, etc, that may mean that those critical differentiators aren’t what this particular advertiser cares about.
    2. Other than this agency, which others have you worked with? Those who can compare and contrast agencies often have more valuable perspectives to share.

    Hopefully this will help in your next search marketing RFP request! To find out more about PPC For Hire’s pay per click marketing services, contact us for a free analysis of your existing account.


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