How to Find the Right SEM Vendor

Posted April 22, 2014

By Mike Doberenz

You can have the most beautiful website ever—with the most compelling content of all time—but if your customers can't find you, it won't do you a bit of good. Successful search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns can help you attract new customers and reengage existing or former ones by improving your search ranking, but it often takes the right combination of ranking factors to generate real results.

Yes, that's SEM…not SEO. If you're confused about the difference between SEM and SEO, you're not alone. But click on that link—it takes you to Webopedia for a great explanation.

Four SEM Campaign Strategies

Most small business owners aren't experts in SEM, but an experienced vendor can help craft effective small business marketing campaigns. Although SEM campaigns vary by vendor, the strategies they use fall primarily into these four categories:

1. Keyword Analysis

By determining the "best" keywords, you can improve your website's rank in search queries. Some vendors use crawlers that digest your website to determine gaps in your current keywords. Others analyze past traffic to find new keywords to target.

2. Backlink Generation

Most backlink techniques are nefarious and referred to as "black hat" SEO. Google generally doesn't like even "good" backlink techniques. However, establishing relevant links from other websites to the products or services sold on your site can help drive traffic your way. Relevant is the key word: offer content that helps or educates—content that makes people want to share your site.

3. Targeted Content

Generating on-site content that gives visitors exactly what they were querying shows why your site appeared in search results and tells them they're on the right page.

4. Bid Management

Adjusting the parameters of your paid campaigns to optimize for the most clicks, conversions, visitors, and recurring revenue can all prove beneficial.

Increase Your Chances of SEM Success

If you're contemplating hiring outside SEM help, take the time to think about your business, your site and what you want your SEM campaign to achieve. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my site follow best practices? Your website should follow Google's Webmaster Guidelines so that search engines can find, index, and rank your site. If you're not sure, enlist the help of an auditing service to assess and provide recommendations for improvements.
  • Am I targeting new customers or trying to reengage existing ones? The intended audience of any small business marketing campaign should influence the SEM firm you choose. If you want to find new customers and use well-established search terms, pay-per-click vendors may be your best option. If you're trying to reengage existing customers, look to firms geared toward SEO.
  • Does my site have a distinct style and audience? On-site content should help keep visitors on your site. A website with a unique voice may not want to outsource certain marketing efforts, particularly content creation. You want content to be consistent with your style and relevant to your audience.
  • How often do I change the products sold on my site? The variation in products or services on your site helps determine your requirements for an SEM vendor. If you offer a small set of products or services that rarely changes, recurring keyword analysis might be hard to justify. However, an ever-changing menu of offerings could benefit from it.
  • Is my site an Internet island? When no one links to your website, a backlink strategy may be helpful. However, it's critical that you find an ethical vendor to help you. Otherwise, you'll end up with links from bogus sites, and Google will penalize you by sending your site further down in the search results.
  • Do I want a recurring or one-time service? If you're trying to align your strategies with best practices, you probably don't need a long-term SEM commitment. However, when you need to offload some or all day-to-day SEM decisions, you're in for the long haul. A year-long contract may provide some savings in this case.

Selecting a Search Engine Marketing Vendor

Evaluating your needs can help narrow the field of potential vendors. When choosing a company, weigh these three factors into your decision.

1. Do I understand the SEM pricing model?

Pricing models vary by vendor, so read how a vendor charges clients. With a paid advertising campaign, use caution with vendors who charge by impression. Remember, they're doing the counting.

2. Do I understand exactly what the SEM service entails?

Examine how the vendor plans to provide services. Google doesn't care if you don't know what your SEM vendor does to improve your ranking. If Google doesn't like it, you'll be the one penalized with unfavorable search results—not your vendor.

3. Can I measure the SEM contributions?

Tying revenue to marketing campaigns can be extremely messy, but you should investigate what vendors are doing to improve conversion rates. Start measuring before running an outside SEM campaign so you have a benchmark to compare your results against.


SEM can be a cost-effective way to grow, but it's important to choose the right vendor. You want one that fits your needs and uses good search practices to boost your rankings without raising a red flag with Google. Premium search results give you the opportunity to get in front of your potential customers when they enter the buying cycle, ensuring they consider your company when making a purchase.

Michael Doberenz is the co-founder and chief data scientist of EchoVantage. Trained as a mathematician with a master's degree in the actuarial sciences, he develops next-generation analytics platforms and services. Connect with Mike on Twitter and Google+.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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