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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jun 22 , 2021

Expand the reach of your business with the latest and most effective 2021 digital marketing trends.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A breakdown of 7 digital marketing trends
  • Ways to implement these trends into your current strategy
  • Data showing which trends are on the rise
  • How staying in the loop can give you an edge over competitors

Rarely does a month go by without a search engine or social media platform (or both!) announcing a major update. For advertisers, the effects can be slight or sweeping, and they often come without much of a heads up. 

But marketing pros know change is the name of the game when it comes to today’s digital landscape. Trends come and go, but more and more they’re leaning towards things like personalized ads, convenient purchase processes, and authentic, natural-sounding content.

Keywords and audience targeting remain at the core of many search and social ads. But businesses can also layer in new marketing tactics to stand out from the competition.

hawksem: digi marketing 2020

Marketing teams and agencies must account for the ever-changing ways customers access information, communicate, and shop. (Image via Unsplash)

Digital marketing trends and the latest technology

Most online marketing agencies already use insights from analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning to precisely target ads and deliver personalized promotions. Experts recommend combining these strategies with conventional search engine optimization (SEO) methods for best results.

An innovative digital marketing plan might unite a paid search campaign with pay-per-view Facebook video advertising or cross-platform social ads. In today’s business climate, marketing teams and agencies must account for the ever-changing ways customers access information, communicate, and shop. Here are 7 trends we’ve got our eyes on.

1. Look into micro-influencers

You’ve probably heard the term “micro-influencer,” since influencers have remained one of the biggest digital marketing trends of the last few years. If not, here’s the 411.

Micro-influencers are social media influencers with 10,000 or fewer followers (though some consider accounts of up to 30,000 as micro-influencers). They can generally be found on Instagram, though this content can spill over onto other apps as well. 

Brands can partner with influencers for sponsored posts, where the influencer features your product or service in a post (that’s marked as an ad), often in exchange for a fee or free product.

While micro-influencers don’t have the follower counts of more big-time influencers, there are plenty of perks when it comes to working with them. They’re often more affordable than those with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers. And they often have more engaged audiences, too. They also tend to focus on more niche industries than broad lifestyle influencers. 

Search Engine Watch reports that 71% of social media users are more likely to purchase products and services based on social media referrals. Moreover, 90% of people buy from brands they follow on social media, according to Marketing Dive. Depending on your industry, micro-influencers could be key to getting your brand added exposure and a bigger reach without breaking the bank.

2. Hop on the m-commerce train

Speaking of phone apps and Instagram, let’s talk about m-commerce. As you can probably guess, m-commerce stands for mobile commerce (AKA shopping on your smartphone), and it’s a growing trend. By 2022, e-commerce sales from smartphones will reportedly reach more than $432 billion.

Some brands are taking advantage of this rising trend through shoppable social media posts. A new Instagram integration with platforms like Shopify allows e-commerce stores to publish posts with links connected to the items shown in the image. Viewers can simply tap the image and be led straight to a product page to purchase right from their phones.

BigCommerce highlights just some of the benefits m-commerce offers, including:

  • an omni-channel experience
  • huge growth potential
  • better customer experience
  • a variety of payment options

Instagram Checkout, launched in 2019, allows users to purchase from Instagram without even leaving the app, making the transaction more seamless than ever. In mid-2020, Facebook Shops went live. The new feature is billed as a mobile-first shopping experience where businesses can create their own online store within the app.

3. Explore video ads

Video marketing has become one of the most effective ways to reach customers and achieve brand recognition. These videos can be served in places like social platforms, on blogs, as display ads, and on YouTube.

YouTube bumper ads are timed at six seconds and air before video content. These ads are particularly popular and effective for clients with limited video ad production budgets. Depending on available editing resources, you may want to consider using YouTube’s bumper machine. This tool generates brief ads from videos shorter than 90 seconds and has a few simple editing features.

Pay-per-view is available to video advertisers on Facebook. These placements resemble pay-per-click (PPC) search ads. Advertisers don’t pay for views of sponsored results or other search ads that don’t get clicked. A fee is only charged when a viewer watches more than 10 seconds of a video promotion.

Video ads allow you to quickly capture a viewer’s attention, get your message across, and highlight your brand aesthetic. As a bonus, your video doesn’t have to be feature film-quality to be a success as long as you’re targeting your audience effectively.

4. Consider chatbots

As a digital marketing trend, chatbots have come a long way — particularly when it comes to AI and personalization. Not only can chatbots provide 24-hour customer support, but they can help answer common customer Qs, freeing up your human employees for other tasks.

Forbes highlights how chatbots have skyrocketed in popularity during the last few years. And, with advancing AI technology, chatbots can become “smarter” as they gather more data. 

Depending on the chatbot software you go with, you can create a variety of scenarios that may help prospects and clients find what they’re looking for, from contact information to knowledge-base articles.

the home depot AR app

The Home Depot’s AR app

5. Get familiar with augmented reality (AR) 

AR shopping is another trend to watch out for in 2021 and beyond. Since more and more consumers are choosing online shopping, this type of technology allows customers to try on products virtually before they buy them. 

All users have to do is upload a photo or simply point an app at their faces. Zenni Optical lets you see how you’d look in certain styles of glasses, while Maybelline lets you virtually try on a variety of makeup shades.

AR marketing involves creating AR brand experiences to increase brand awareness. One great example: The Home Depot’s AR app that, according to the brand, “helps you see products in your space in a few easy steps.”

6. Privacy-first laws dictate marketing tactics

As our recent privacy webinar points out, privacy changes are a big conversation happening in 2021. Google has initiated its third-party cookie phase-out, while Apple’s new iOS update features a pop-up that lets users opt out of app tracking. 

Meanwhile, GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act, and Brazilian General Data Protection Act are making it harder and harder for marketers to gather the much-needed data about their target audiences.

These changes shouldn’t come as a shock to marketers, as they’ve been brewing for a while. However, there are strategy changes that can help lessen the blow. These include:

  • Making use of all the targeting tools at your disposal
  • Leveraging workarounds when possible
  • Restructuring your retargeting audiences
  • Focusing on acquiring new leads through prospecting campaigns
  • Continuing to invest in SEO, which is less affected by these changes
woman in front of camera in library

Companies with campaigns that highlight social initiatives or somehow “give back” may see more success than those that focus solely on sales. (Image via Unsplash)

7. Sincerity and sustainability are priorities

We’ve talked before about how leading with authenticity is key to gaining your audience’s trust. We’ve also shared data about how more consumers look for brands that align with their values. It’s not enough just to have a quality product or service: people want to partner with companies that stand for something.

Even though sustainability isn’t a new trend, it’s as popular as ever in 2021. Consumers are worried about their impact on the environment, giving marketers a tool to use when driving purchasing decisions.

These days, companies with campaigns that highlight social initiatives or somehow “give back” may see more success than those that focus solely on sales.

The takeaway

Much like Google beta releases, some digital marketing trends fall by the wayside, while others prove to have staying power.

By staying in the loop and testing out the latest marketing trends (which they make sense for your business, industry, and budget), you can show your audience that you’re paying attention to what’s on the horizon.  

This post has been updated and was originally published in August 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jun 14 , 2021

Working with a winning PPC agency can help increase your search results visibility, boost your ROI, and more. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Steps for partnering with a PPC agency
  • What questions to ask during the vetting process
  • Red flags to watch for from agencies
  • What qualities make up a good agency

Paid search is an ever-changing field. For marketing professionals whose time is already at a premium, finding the time to stay up-to-date with the latest techniques and nuances can be challenging.

New to the SEM field, feel under-experienced to be running campaigns, or just not seeing the results you want? Hiring a PPC agency may be the best way to boost ROI and free up your time for other channels.

Agencies understand that to remain effective, their teams must stay on top of the latest trends and tactics. Account representatives are experts in their field, and they typically have access to systems that help them increase effectiveness for clients.

In the same way that no single marketing strategy fits all companies, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for PPC management. These tips will help you choose the right PPC service agency for your business and what to expect if this is your first time working with a PPC agency

two women discussing ppc service

Whether it’s a percentage of your overall marketing budget or based on past ad spend, you should have a ballpark in mind for what you can spend with a PPC service agency. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Have a list of goals and objectives

Before you begin your agency search, make sure you know what you want to achieve, whether it’s building brand awareness, fueling your pipeline, launching a new product or service, increasing conversions, or improving online revenue.

The more specific you can be about your objectives, the better chance you have of partnering with a PPC service agency successfully. Goals are crucial for ensuring the strategies developed and tactics used are in line with your business needs.

2. Identify which services you need

Perhaps you want to run paid search ads or add content to boost your SEO ranking. When making the list of agencies to contact, make sure they have experience with the services you need.

You may want to screen out any that only focus on one area, such as SEO. A PPC company that integrates paid search with other online marketing services can work with you to a higher degree and help you understand customer behavior across various digital channels. Over time this can improve campaign results and increase ROI.

Services that paid search agencies typically offer, include the following:

  • Paid search (SEM, PPC)
  • Content marketing
  • Conversion rate optimization
  • SEO
  • Social media advertising/paid social
  • Shopping feeds
  • Display advertising
  • Remarketing/retargeting

3. Establish a budget

Whether it’s a percentage of your overall marketing budget or based on past ad spend, you should have a ballpark in mind for what you can spend with a PPC service agency. 

Questions you can ask a potential agency regarding budget to determine if they’re a fit include:

  • Is the budget adequate to obtain our objectives? 
  • Is PPC the best solution for our goals? 
  • Will our funds be better spent on different channels? 
  • Are there more effective solutions that align with our budget while increasing ROI? 

If they don’t think you’re budgeting enough to achieve your goals, make sure they fully explain their reasoning. 

4. Know the PPC agency’s fee structure 

When it comes to pricing, the terms should meet your budgetary requirements. There are several options to consider, such as:

  • Flat monthly fee
  • Percentage of the advertising spend
  • Hybrid approach

There are pros and cons to each. But what deliverables are included in the services you’re signing up for? Are there any hidden fees? Will you need to hire additional resources to get the job done? Discussing questions like this with each PPC agency you interview can help you decide which will work best for your business.

5. Identify the qualities you want in a PPC service agency

No two PPC agencies are exactly alike. And while you can’t predict how a partnership will turn out, your intuition should be able to help you discern which agency reps you will and won’t mesh well with. 

Knowing what qualities to look for when you’re vetting PPC agencies will help you more easily weed out who’s not a good fit. Some qualities to look for include:

  • A history of meeting (and exceeding) expectations
  • Frequent communication
  • Industry expertise
  • Proactive ideas and vision
  • A long-term focus rather than buzzwords and numbers without context
woman walking and talking on the phone at ppc agency

Before partnering with a PPC service agency, you should discuss what your expectations are in terms of communication. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Determine if an agency will be a good culture fit for your team

Finding the right culture fit is essential for the success of your relationship with an agency. This is because not only will they work with you or your in-house team on some aspects of the campaigns, but a shared perspective enables effective collaboration.

Even if it looks good on paper, if you don’t share similar values, the teams may not mesh and work well together, which can affect productivity. You want a firm that is motivated and passionate about what they do and takes pride in the quality of work they provide.

7. Research the PPC agencies and ask for proof points

Any PPC agency will work to put their best face forward when meeting with you. However, doing your own research before the meeting can save you time. Aim to get an idea of their online reputation. Check out review sites to read what other customers have to say. (Just remember to take reviews with a grain of salt, since you don’t know the full story behind each client experience). 

It’s also worth checking out the agency’s own site to see what kind of testimonials or case studies they’ve published that could be relevant to your industry or goals. If they don’t have anything published, you can request to speak to a referral or past client for more information. 

8. Get to know their communication style

Before partnering with a PPC service agency, you should discuss what your expectations are in terms of communication. Is receiving a weekly email with updates enough, or do you prefer a phone call? Do you want specific information in the reports?

The firm should also make their preferences regarding communication clear. Do they recommend regularly scheduled meetings and updates? Is the whole team involved, or just the account manager?

You should also discuss what the agency needs from you and their expectations. Will they be partnering with you to strategize and execute, or simply providing recommendations for your team to carry out? When both sides communicate clearly, the partnership can proceed more smoothly.

9. Prepare strategic questions to ask potential PPC agencies

When you schedule a virtual or in-person interview with a PPC service agency, make the best use of time by having a handful of specific questions ready. The more pointed your questions, the less opportunity they’ll have to be vague or broad. 

Questions you can consider asking include:

  • How would you make sure our leads are resulting in revenue for the company?
  • On what level is the structure and experience of the team we’d be assigned?
  • What successes have you had in our industry before?
  • What is your long-term plan to drive value for us?
  • How would you report on monthly or quarterly results?

While this is a good general list, it’s wise to also include questions focusing on your company’s specific goals. 

10. Understand their experience and expertise

When discussing the possibility of retaining an SEM agency, find out who will connect with you regularly and learn more about who will be working directly on your account. The agency you hire must be able to navigate today’s complex landscape and have the chops to make your PPC campaigns successful.

Some agencies will have senior managers who own several roles, while others may use junior talent. It’s important to understand the level of expertise you’re getting so you can determine whether it’s commensurate with the fee.

Another factor to consider when choosing an agency is whether they’re Google Ad certified or a Google Premier Partner. This accreditation is earned by those who attend training and demonstrate proficiency in a broad range of Google Ads features.

team discussing ppc agency

There are certain red flags that you should pay attention to during your PPC agency search. (Image via Rawpixel)

11. Ensure you own your data

In the future, you may decide to find a new agency or build an in-house team to work alongside or in place of your agency. Prepare for that in advance by ensuring that things like the Google Ads accounts, landing pages, and creative assets are all yours.

A PPC service agency will not only bring experienced PPC management to the table, but your creative assets should also build. Because of that, you want to make sure the account is set up using your email account. You should also have full access to any paid ad accounts, but grant the agency full access so they can create and manage campaigns as needed.

Having historical data is crucial to optimizing your campaigns. If the Google Ads information isn’t yours, you’ll have to start over again, which wastes valuable resources. When the partnership with the firm ends, you should be able to take everything with you.

12. Watch for any red flags

While you should feel like an agency’s No. 1 client, you should understand that they’re likely juggling dozens (or even hundreds) more. While no business is perfect, there are certain red flags that you should pay attention to during your search. Let these serve as warning signs that you may not want to continue discussions with this particular service agency.

  • Lack of communication: Barring holidays, it’s not a great sign if you go days without receiving a response to a voicemail or email when you’re trying to find out more about working with the agency. 
  • Making vague claims: If an agency isn’t forthcoming about backing up its claim with facts or numbers, you may have trouble establishing trust. 
  • Overpromising results: Especially if they don’t have the data or sourcing to back up their estimations. 
  • History of unhappy clients: If you find tons of reviews from unhappy clients, it may be a warning sign that there are underlying issues at the company. 

Other red flags to look out for? Poor retention, a sub-par or disjointed online presence, and any results or rates that sound too good to be true, given the company’s size and bandwidth. 

13. Look for transparency

Reporting results can be subject to interpretation. The paid search agency you hire should be willing to share the complete, unaltered information related to your KPIs.

In addition, the reports they design should match your internal metrics so that you can get a consistent view of performance. The data they contain should be detailed and up-to-date, not weeks old.

The takeaway

Deciding to work with a PPC service agency could do wonders to enhance your paid search efforts. 

For best results, don’t pick an agency swiftly or in a panic to fix your ad accounts. Rather, treat your agency as an ally. Sometimes new clients treat agency managers adversarially like they have something to prove.

Go into your new venture with an open mind, defined goals, and a clear communication plan to help ensure the relationship is successful and lasting. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in July 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 6 , 2020

As with any partnership, finding the right SEM agency for your brand takes patience and preparation.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Key questions to ask potential agencies
  • How to determine which one is right for your business
  • Ways to align expectations and communication
  • Red flags to look out for during the process

Whether you’re just starting out with search engine marketing (SEM) or have a successful program that’s just too much to manage on your own, partnering with an agency can be a great solution. But that doesn’t mean the process is simple.

As a marketer, you know how important search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and similar marketing tactics are, and doing these things properly can mean huge growth for your business. But SEM is a specific niche within digital marketing, and bringing in experts who know their stuff is key to achieving the growth you desire. 

So, how do you know what to look for in an SEM agency? Let’s break it down.

HawkSEM: Find the right SEM agency

Create a shortlist of agencies that seem to align with your goals and have experience in your particular industry. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Clearly define your goals

The first thing you need to do is create some clear, actionable goals you’d like to reach. When you begin working with an agency, they’ll want to get a clear picture of what you’d like to achieve through SEM. Having this information ready to go from the start will ensure you’re prepared, on the same page, and can hit the ground running.

After all, if you don’t thoroughly understand your own business’s goals, then you might not be able to get the most out of the relationship you want to form with the agency. 

Think about your current SEM strategies, and ask yourself or your team questions such as:

  • What parts have been successful, and what parts haven’t been working so well?
  • Do you want to improve your ability to drive organic traffic from qualified keywords on search engines like Google? 
  • Do you want to increase your return on investment from online marketing as a whole or just PPC ads? 
  • Would you like to improve your ROI while increasing certain metrics or KPIs by a certain percentage?

These goals can be improved by making them even more specific. 

2. Do your research

It’s not enough to just pick the first SEM agency that comes up in a Google search. Instead, create a shortlist of agencies that seem to align with your goals and have experience in your particular industry. 

From there, you can dive deeply into any information you can find out about the company. Check out their website, read reviews and customer testimonials, look at examples from their portfolio, and see if they offer any references you can contact. Being able to chat with past clients can offer insight into the way the agency functions and what you can expect when working with them. 

Other things to look for include how many years of experience they have, case studies, and sample reports. If any bad reviews exist online, did the review receive a response? No agency is perfect, but they should be able to use less-than-perfect customer experiences as a learning tool. 

In this research, you should also be able to find out if they’ve worked with companies in your industry before. This is key, because if they have, then they’ll already have a bit of background and knowledge of what worked best for other businesses in your field. 

Successful SEM and PPC advertising strategies can differ widely between industries, so it’s a bonus if an agency has a lot of experience with companies similar to yours. The learning curve will be shorter and you’ll be able to see results quickly when you work with people who already know a lot about your industry. 

3. See how well you “click”

You want to form a long-lasting, productive relationship with the SEM agency you choose. That’s why it’s important that you feel a connection right from the start. Take time to interview each of the agencies on your shortlist. Ask questions about their process, learn about the team you’d be working with, and see if their values and mentality match with yours.  

This is also a great time to look for transparency. If you feel like they’re withholding any information or shying away from certain questions or topics, this might be a red flag that they may not be completely upfront or honest. 

Regardless of how they answer your questions, if something doesn’t feel right, go with your gut. The agency should be happy to tell you about their process, totally clear about pricing, and eager to point you to references who can give you even more insight. 

Remember: Search engine marketing is an ongoing process. You’re looking for an agency that you trust from the first time you interact with them. You’ll likely be working together for a long time, and you want to feel comfortable handing over your account or platform information. 

Does it seem like they’re communicative, friendly, and willing to listen to your input? You can also ask how often they plan to conduct meetings, phone calls or check-ins, and how open they are to revising strategies that don’t seem to be working well. 

HawkSEM: Find the right SEM agency

The more information you can get from the agency, the more sure you can be of your final decision. (Image via Rawpixel)

4. Discuss deliverables

Another important question: How will the agency show you that their efforts are paying off? Lots of the metrics they’ll be dealing with are easy to track and measure, so find out how often they’ll be providing you with reports and what these reports will include. 

You can ask for the prospective agency to provide a sample report. You can also ask questions like:

  • How does your agency measure things like brand awareness? 
  • How does your agency weigh traffic coming from different sources? 
  • What attribution models does your agency use?
  • Does your agency use different attribution models in different circumstances? 
  • How do you measure ROI?

Communication and regular reporting are important for establishing a strong two-way relationship, so don’t be afraid to ask direct questions and expect direct answers.

5. Break down the specifics

By now, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of which agency you’d like to work with, but there are few things to hash out before you make a final decision. For one, be sure that the agency’s services are within your budget. 

Successful SEM isn’t a one-off “set it and forget it” project. Ask how they handle ongoing maintenance of your strategies. Will you be working with an account manager or communicating with an entire team? Ask how many employees they have and where they’re based. How much experience do the team members who will be handling your project have? The more information you can get from the agency, the more sure you can be of your final decision.

The takeaway

Hiring an SEM agency can help you take your digital marketing strategy to the next level, and choosing the right agency can make all the difference. 

By following these steps, you can feel confident that you’ve got the tools you need to make the right choice.

Looking for an SEM agency that checks all these boxes and more? You’ve come to the right place.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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