How to Choose an SEM Agency

08.14.11 // Mike Nierengarten
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Choosing the right SEM agency can boost quarterly profits and cause CEOs and shareholders to smile.  

The wrong agency can be a disaster.  Good SEM agencies are partners who demonstrate continual growth.  Bad agencies are roadblocks and financial drains.  Obility can help identify the agency that is best suited to tackle your needs:

Vet the individuals who will be working directly on your account

It does you no good if the agency has 250 combined years of experience if the person working on your account is right out college.  Save the tough questions for the person who will be doing all the work

Know your needs going in

Identify the agency best suited for your goals.  Is automated bid management necessary?  How vital is Web analysis or conversion optimization?  Do you need to integrate a CRM?  Most agencies have a core specialty.  What are your core needs?

Understand the value and cost of SEM agency services

Agencies charge differently.  Some charge a percent of media.  Others charge by the project or hourly.  Some use a variable rate.  Better understanding of the value of internet marketing services will give you a leg up in contract negotiation

Avoid commitments

Few agencies are worth a long-term commitment.  Do not sign long-term agreements.  Break down your needs into specific projects (e.g. keyword research, product page optimization), and minimize recurring costs

Custom reports only

Skip the standard reports.  Most agencies cut & paste a couple sections in a master template, charging a hefty fee for basic work.  Avoid the templates by demanding a report specific to your needs.  Monthly or quarterly reports should also be customized to your business objectives

Regularly challenge your SEM agency

Once you have started working with an agency, regularly challenge their work even if they are providing good results.  Oftentimes the more you demand of an agency, the more they will deliver.  It is okay to be unreasonable sometimes.   A good agency will clearly explain why your requests are unreasonable

Avoid sales people like the plague

God bless ‘em.  Sales people over promise and don’t have to deliver.  Talk to the guy who will be working on your account as soon as possible.  Deal with the sales folks when it comes time to negotiate a contract.  Until then, they offer minimal insight

How Not to Select an SEM Agency


  • Number of years in service: Your account manager’s experience matters.  Your agency’s experience does not
  • Industry relationships: Any decent agency should have AdWords, adCenter, Facebook, & LinkedIn reps; this is not a differentiator
  • Case studies:  I have left a lot of great case studies at past agencies, but I ain’t there anymore.  Agencies are littered with case studies from employees who have moved on.  Find out what case studies your client contact has worked on.  Ignore the rest


About Mike Nierengarten

Mike has been in online marketing since 2004 and started Obility in February of 2011. Mike is a numbers geek who feels more comfortable staring at Excel spreadsheets & AdWords Editor than sitting in lengthy meetings. Mike saw Obility as an opportunity to rethink SEM management and focus solely on the unique needs of B2B clients. Mike enjoys board sports, exploring restaurants, and lively discussions about the economy. He is also a passionate traveler. His long-term goals focus on spurring economic growth and addressing inequality in the Portland community. View all Mike Nierengarten’s posts >

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