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Search and Select – Top Tips for Finding the Perfect Search Agency

I was recently talking to a colleague about how frustrating pitching for new SEM opportunities had become, and how much the buying process has changed over the years – for the worst! Having been on the front line of search marketing sales for most of my career, I thought it was about time to tell the marketing and procurement teams what they are doing wrong and why the whole process is flawed!

I have been involved in more than 50 competitive search specific pitches, and have seen the process run in a number of different ways with varying levels of success. Based on my experiences, I am going to share the key considerations to finding the perfect search agency.

Tip 1 – Choose a Specialist

Imagine this scenario: you're at home freezing because your boilers just broke down. Do you a.) Contact the local CORGI repairman who has worked on boilers like yours a hundred times, or b.) Pop round to Dan next door who likes to tinker, and manage to fix his boiler a week ago – he's cheaper and much more convenient. Which option would you go for? I know which one I would.

Most digital marketers I know understand that Search, especially SEO, is one of the most technical and complicated disciplines to master. For great results, should you engage with the agency who built the website, or your media agency? Both have inexperienced search teams, so it makes sense to contact a specialist agency, who has a proven track record in constantly achieving results in your industry, right?

Specialist firms exist because the digital space is so diverse and fast changing that it is almost impossible to excel in every discipline. Most full service agencies I know are great at one or two things, but they offer complimentary and sadly, below part services. This simply dilutes their core offering, but companies still engage with them. Why?

There are many online resources to help you find a good agency, one of the best being the e-consultancy buyer's guide –

Updated annually, these guides are the perfect place to start. They contain the vital statistics for any digital agency worth the salt. Information featured includes size, location, specialism, and sector experience.

There's no substitute for experience, so the next time you are considering finding a search agency to build a long-term relationship with, based on achieving remarkable results and creative ideas, turn to the specialists.

 Here is my second top tip for finding the perfect Search partner:

Meet the Agencies!

About six years ago it was my job to visit marketing managers. My objective was to create effective search strategies based on my knowledge of a) their business b) their goals and objectives c) what’s achievable and realistic – and it worked!

The biggest change in recent years is the move from consultative sell to requirement sell. The problem is a lot of the time companies are getting the requirements wrong and not asking the right questions to filter the wheat from the chaff.

What’s even more worrying is that agencies aren’t even getting the chance to meet with internal teams to discuss the project prior to pitch – and I thought you wanted to engage with an agency because you needed our expertise?!

Doesn’t it make sense for us to work with you to scope the project, agree what is achievable and give guidance on budgets before you reach these conclusions yourself? The final nail in the coffin is that when we do get a chance to meet face to face, (following the submission to an RFP that I no doubt have concerns over), my team only get an hour and a half of your time. Is that really sufficient time to allow you to make an informed decision? Bear in mind you have a 6-figure budget to spend and 12 months of activity planned!

My first instinct when I receive an RFP is to question it. I am insistent that my sales guys meet with marketing teams prior to providing a response or we simply won’t pitch. Why? Simply because the margin for error is too great. We didn’t start an agency to be ‘yes men.’ We are here to challenge ideas, provide direction and set expectations, and all of this starts well before the creation of an RFP.

We’re all here to form a long lasting and fruitful relationship, so let’s spend some time getting to know each other…