Signs Your SEM Firm is Good or Bad

Ian Lurie

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You don’t know anything about search engine optimization or search marketing. You know it’s a key part of your internet marketing strategy, but you’re vaguely unhappy with your SEM agency. Are you justified? Here’s a test. Answer each question with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’:

  1. My agency lets me see the keyword list and ads they’re using for paid search.
  2. They regularly provide reports showing ranking changes, money spent, and results.
  3. They answer the phone when I call, or call me back within 24 hours.
  4. I can talk to an expert if I arrange it.
  5. No tricky stuff: My agency doesn’t do anything that makes me uncomfortable.
  6. No ‘yes’ men: They will warn me if they think I’m going in the wrong direction.
  7. My agency will admit it when they screw up, and explain how they’re going to fix it.
  8. They explain themselves: My agency tells me the reason for their recommendations.
  9. They make recommendations to improve conversion rates on my site, too.
  10. And they have demonstrated expertise with analytics, so they can measure what they’re doing.

Add up the ‘yes’ answers.
10/10: Wow. Send them chocolate. They’re fantastic!
8/10: Excellent. Keep this agency – they’re worth it.
6/10: Eh. There are some problems. Intentions are good, but it’s time to have a sit-down.
4/10: Start looking for a new agency.
2/10: Run. Now.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Kudos.
    As I posted on Greg’s site.
    Our industry needs more of this kind of open talk.
    More about the emerging ethos-models etc,
    Best practices in client-vendor relations.
    By being more transparent about these issues hopefully their will be trickle down that will help the market place distinguish sharks from dedicated professionals.

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