Monday, March 9, 2009

Search Insider: Want To Hire An SEM Agency? Check Its Site First

Want To Hire An SEM Agency? Check Its Site First

You probably don't want to hire a doctor who's obviously unhealthy or a lawyer who's just been released from jail. Similarly, you should look askance at any SEM agency whose online property is in a shambles. While it's true that most agency sites are fairly decent, a surprising number of them contain enough flaws to give prospective clients pause.

Following are some common and not-so-common errors I found on agency sites. If you work for an SEM agency, make sure that your own doesn't suffer from them.

1. Broken URL from PPC ad. Fortunately, this error is rare, but I've seen it happen, and it's probably the worst kind of error an agency can make. Obviously, if an agency can't manage clicks it's buying for itself, chances are it will mismanage those its clients are going to pay for.

2. No custom landing pages. Big agencies with search divisions take note: if people are clicking on a text ad with "SEM Agency" in the title or description, they're not going to want to know about your great print, broadcast, or outdoor stuff. Just give them a short pitch why your agency is the best in SEM: don't make them hunt for it. At the same time, if you do offer a custom landing page, don't trap your users on this page without a navigational link back to your home page. At the very least, hyperlink your logo to provide an infra-site exit path: if you don't, prospects will be forced to hit the back button to the SERP, which is fully stocked with listings from competitors.

3. Out-of-date blog post entries. Hosting a blog whose last entry is from September of 2008 tells clients that you're not serious about taking care of the annoying, time-consuming, resource-intensive production tasks that are a big part of running search campaigns. If your blog runs out of steam, don't let it die a slow death: kill it quickly and mercifully.

4. Links to clients who have gone out of business. It's truly bad form when prospects click on your client link and are greeted by an "Apache Server Port 80" error message. Cynical visitors might even think you had something to do with your former client's demise! Sure, it's nice to link to client sites, but it's dangerous unless you police these links on a regular basis. When in doubt, leave the URL out!

5. Out-of-date copyright stamp. Look folks, 2009 has been with us for two and a half  miserable months already. Nobody expects agencies to update their copyright notice on Jan. 2, but if this task isn't done by March 1, the agency looks sinfully slothful.

6. Links to press releases that aren't there. Lots of agencies link to externally hosted press releases, and while this is easier than copying the file locally, doing so will bite you in a soft place because these hosted releases go away after a month or so.

7. Basic grammar errors. Big agency sites almost never make egregious copy errors, but small agency sites seem to be full of them. Most of these errors are simple and avoidable. Many are errors of agreement: for example, agencies don't work on client's sites; they work on clients' sites. I suppose such errors prevail because spell checkers don't catch them.  

8. Tiny type. Yes, I'm unlucky enough to be over 50, so I probably find tiny type more annoying than many, but I know I'm not alone. Use fewer words, make them count, up the point size and don't give your prospects unnecessary headaches.

9. Ridiculously pompous titles on your "About" page. I don't know about you, but my unction gland starts firing whenever I read job titles that include terms like "Visionary," "Catalyst" or "Evangelist." Use standard titles; leave the ego-inflating hyperbole to the heads of religious cults.

10. Adsense running on your pages. C'mon, folks. I know these are hard times and we all want to make a few extra bucks -- but running advertising on your site makes you look desperate.

Steve Baldwin is editor-in-chief at Didit, an agency for search engine marketing and auctioned media management based in New York. You can reach Steve at

Search Insider for Monday, March 9, 2009:

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