SEM is essential for a successful digital marketing strategy. The best way to guarantee excellent results is to find the right experts for the job.
Here, you’ll find:
- How to determine what kind of SEM expert you should hire
- Qualities to look for in an SEM expert
- Where to look to find your ideal SEM expert
- Questions to ask during the hiring process
When you’re on the hunt to hire the right person to handle your search engine marketing (SEM), you want someone who is considered an expert.
SEM is critical to modern marketing success, but it’s also got plenty of nuances and factors to take into consideration when planning and building campaigns.
Because of that, putting yourself in the hands of a novice is a risk many businesses aren’t willing to take.
Poorly optimized ads can spend tens of thousands of dollars overnight with little to no results. Even worse: harder-to-spot issues can crop up and deplete your budget slowly over months or years before someone catches on.
So it makes sense that the best course of action is to put your program in the hands of someone with a proven track record and the skills to pay the bills (and then some).
The question is, how do you find them?
Before we get into that, here’s our top 5 list of the best SEM expert agencies (more details on them below).
The top 5 best SEM experts:
Every agency worth its salt has a website, and it’s relatively easy to find them on Google. For that matter, you’re on one right now, so your search may already be complete!
Here are five of our favorite SEM specialist agencies to consider.
That’s us! We’re leaders in the digital marketing space and have helped our clients build a formidable online presence for over 15 years. Our average client ROI is 4.5x, we have a client retention rate of 98%, and we manage over 3,000,000 keywords.
We’re proud of these stats because we work hard to take the time to learn about each of our clients and establish customized strategies to help them succeed.
White Shark Media is an SEM agency with PPC and search engine optimization (SEO) management services. It is headquartered in Nicaragua and specializes in Google, Bing, and Facebook Ads. White Shark has over 10 years of industry experience.
About 40% of its clients are PPC-related, while SEO and social media management make up another 20% each, according to Clutch.
Logical Position is an SEM agency providing PPC marketing, SEO, and other related services like website design, graphic design, and social media management.
The agency has been growing its client’s sites for over a decade with millions of customer conversions to show for it.
Logical Position has an impressive number of case studies, and its various services make them a bit of a “one-stop shop.” Its team even provides services like logo design, video content, and email marketing.
Jellyfish has helped clients grow for decades and, like most of the experts on this list, the agency is Google, Meta, and Amazon certified.
The team offers pay-per-click (PPC) management, and its Express Ads service enables businesses to quickly kick off an ad campaign in less than 10 minutes.
Jellyfish is a large firm, and while it’s headquartered in London, the team has offices in 32 cities and thousands of employees.
Thrive is an award-winning agency specializing in data-driven web marketing services. Since 2005, it has helped thousands of clients, from startups to large franchises, achieve measurable digital marketing success.
Specialties include PPC, SEO, social media, ecommerce, Amazon, and online reputation management.
What is an SEM specialist?
An SEM specialist is an online marketing professional with significant experience in the realm of search engine marketing, or SEM.
SEM specialists work with clients to help build, launch, optimize, and monitor paid search strategies. Many SEM specialists are SEO specialists as well since search engine marketing encompasses paid and organic search strategies.
What does an SEM specialist do?
An SEM specialist works with a business to create or modify an effective search engine marketing plan. The scope of the work will depend on the specialist as well as your company’s needs and budget.
Generally, an SEM specialist will complete these tasks:
- An audit of your current initiatives
- Analysis and keyword research and analysis
- Market research to understand your audience
- A strategy based on your goals
- Buildout and implementation of the new strategy
- Optimizations according to PPC and/or SEO performance
- Reporting on data and metrics related to these marketing campaigns
- Ongoing monitoring and assistance as needed
Do you need an SEM specialist or a team?
The first thing to do is evaluate your needs. To do this, you need to look at two things.
The first is what kinds of people you currently have on staff handling SEM. Since SEM encompasses most of what goes into digital marketing, you may already have a PPC team, a content creation team, a marketing department, and so on.
In some cases, you may only need one expert, such as an SEM specialist, to come in and act as a high-level source of guidance and direction. This person can help unify the efforts of your teams and lay the groundwork for a successful PPC campaign. Their knowledge and experience can also improve the focus and efficacy of your existing marketing efforts.
On the other hand, maybe you don’t already have people doing all of the above. Perhaps you have some outdated content, a few PPC ads without much focus, or a marketing department already stretched thin.
In this case, hiring a single SEM expert is a good start, but you may benefit more from hiring a complete team.
Decide between a freelancer (contractor), employee, or agency
Related to the first decision, you need to decide whether you want to hire a freelancer, a part- or full-time employee, or partner with an agency. Each option comes with its own advantages and disadvantages to factor in.
1. Hiring a freelance SEM expert
Freelancers (also called contractors) run an extensive range of talent and experience levels. You can find very talented and excellent freelancers to step in on contract and perform miracles for your business.
On the other hand, you can run into so-called “experts” who don’t have the experience or bandwidth to take on your entire program. Pricing can vary widely as well, depending on their experience, what they offer, and how hands-on you want them to be.
Often, the most challenging part of hiring a freelance marketing consultant like this is finding and vetting them. SEM experts are everywhere, but what they consider “expertise” can be open to interpretation.
Freelancers also typically work on a contract basis, and that contract may be severed at any time by either party. This strategy works to your advantage if you need to cut ties, but it also puts you at risk if the freelancer decides they want to move on with little notice.
Where can you find them?
SEM expert freelancers can be found all over the web. If you search for terms like “[your industry] marketing freelancer,” you’ll probably find a few experts’ personal websites where you can contact them. You can also explore LinkedIn and see who has “open to work” or similar verbiage on their profile.
If you want to go through a database, you can browse freelance hubs like Upwork, Toptal, and Freelancer.
2. Hiring an SEM expert as an employee
Having an in-house SEM pro has plenty of upsides. Your expert will likely step into a marketing manager or strategist role where they can guide and manage your organization’s marketing efforts.
By contrast, hiring an SEM expert as an employee can be an excellent idea for more stable, long-term benefits.
However, employees can be more challenging to hire and harder to fire than freelancers. Accordingly, the process will take much longer with interviews, onboarding, and training. You’re also making a bigger investment in this person, in terms of salary, benefits, and all the other aspects of bringing them into the fold.
You need to know what to look for in a great SEM expert, but moreover, you need to find someone who fits with your company culture and works well with your existing teams to make the most out of the resources you have for your marketing efforts.
If you hire someone that doesn’t end up being the right fit, you’ll either have to train them and hope that they improve over time, or let them go and try to find a better solution.
Where can you find them?
You should be able to find potential full-time experts anywhere you would typically look for an employee.
You can put a job listing up on your careers page and promote openings on social media, or you can put listings up on all of the usual job boards, like Indeed, CareerBuilder, and ZipRecruiter. Executive positions may be best filled by a recruiter who specializes in SEM talent.
3. Contracting an expert SEM agency
While partnering with an agency may be a bigger investment than a freelancer, an SEM agency is more likely to guarantee results in less time. These businesses have highly trained teams to produce content, create advertising, push marketing, and everything in between.
What’s more, experienced agencies can bring everything from advanced web analytics to optimization to cutting-edge knowledge to the table.
They’ll likely be experts in Google Ads, and may even be familiar with lesser-used ad networks like Bing, Yahoo!, and Amazon. You can ask about their experience with social media networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest Ads too.
SEM marketing services and agencies thrive on their reputations, so you shouldn’t have a hard time determining whether or not an agency is reputable and delivers on its promises.
Well-run agencies have established processes, client lists, and testimonials to back them up. They earn their clients more than they’re spending, and they’re building long-term business relationships.
If you’re curious what an expert SEM agency can do for you, many such agencies — ahem — offer consultations you can book to discuss the subject.
What to look for in an SEM expert
Finding an SEM expert is just the first part of the process. Next, you need to know what to look for outside of just the right job title before deciding if you want to consider hiring or contracting them.
Here’s a rundown.
High-level SEM experience
Time is of the essence, so you want to hire an SEM expert with a background that allows them to hit the ground running.
Sure, there’s always going to be a learning curve when it comes to getting to know the nuances of your brand, but they should be able to take action on your program relatively quickly.
Industry and niche experience
It’s not always enough to hire someone with broad SEM experience. Someone familiar with your niche will likely have immediate ideas they can bring to you from clients they’ve worked with in the past.
Your industry and your niche often require a unique understanding of the pain points, competitors, messaging, and other aspects that make it stand out.
A history of reliable service
SEM experts don’t start their careers as experts. So, you want to find someone — whether they’re an individual or an agency — with a proven track record of positive results.
That could look like a list of satisfied clients, testimonials and case studies, data reports, and glowing online reviews.
A keen understanding of what SEM entails
The right SEM expert should be well-rounded.
Unless you’re just looking for someone to handle PPC, it helps for them to have skills that complement paid search, such as email marketing, SEO, social media marketing, link building, and web development.
Flexibility and adaptability
The past few years in particular have taught many of us that staying static doesn’t yield results. Not only are business climates unpredictable, but new analytics tools and features, changing Google algorithms, and trendy apps can throw even the best-laid plans for a loop.
As a result, ads and keywords that were once profitable can start chewing through your budget and result in a drop in website traffic and sales. An SEM expert should know the importance of monitoring changes, adapting keywords, and being proactive.
Excellent organizational and communication skills
Your SEM expert needs excellent project management and communication skills to guide, direct, optimize, and collaborate with multiple teams and employees. In that vein, they should have a deep understanding of your conversion rates, profit margins, inventory, and other critical factors that influence their decision-making, as well as your preferred communication style and frequency.
Questions to ask a potential SEM specialist
Now that you know what to look for, you can also benefit from learning how to look for it. Sooner or later, you’ll be talking to your SEM expert candidate, and this is your chance to ask them questions to determine if they’re the right fit for you.
Here are several questions you can ask, why you should ask them, and what kinds of answers you want to hear.
1. How many clients in my industry have you successfully worked with recently?
As mentioned above, your ideal PPC specialist knows the ins and outs of your industry. This isn’t necessarily a make-or-break factor, but it’s certainly worth asking about.
2. How long will it take you to get my site to rank #1 in Google search?
This one is a trick question. You want a paid search expert who can honestly tell you that there are no guarantees. Avoid anyone who has a fixed timeline or guarantees top search engine results page (SERP) rankings. This is, however, a good time to talk about how they’ll at least do what they can to help you become more visible.
3. What are some examples of content you’ve created for other clients?
Along with paid search campaigns, modern SEM also includes SEO tactics like content marketing and web design. Ask about content and landing pages your potential expert has created for previous clients. They might not be able to show you their best work (if it’s under NDA or contract), but they should have a portfolio with some case studies, web development work, and landing pages that you can examine.
4. What do you think of Google’s latest algorithm update?
This one is always a good question to ask. As of this writing, Google’s most recent major update (the Helpful Content Update) is poised to shake up the industry again, and a good SEM expert will have meaningful thoughts about it. Of course, you need to know enough about Google’s updates to interpret the answers, so it’s good to read up on the changes beforehand.
5. What do you do when a mistake or problem arises?
Even with experienced pros, mistakes can happen, ranging from minor errors (like a delay in activating a scheduled ad) to significant ones (like an unchecked budget spent far too quickly). When it happens, the way your expert handles them is critical. Ask them if they’ve encountered similar mistakes in the past and how they handled them.
6. What are your favorite tools for SEM management?
This one is always a good question to see what tools and resources your proposed expert uses. Ensure the tools they use are reputable and avoid anyone who refuses to tell you what they use or labels everything “proprietary in-house tools.” Honesty and transparency are essential, as you’re trusting this person or group to manage your organization’s advertising dollars.
Hiring a search engine marketing specialist isn’t much different from hiring any other team member. The trick is understanding SEM is both complex and broad, which can make it challenging to understand what characteristics and expertise to prioritize.
Once you know how to properly create expectations, quickly weed out unqualified candidates, and ask the right questions, you’ll be sure to find an SEM specialist that’s the perfect fit for your team. It may take time to find the perfect fit, but once you do, you’ll be poised to see significant results.