Integrating Search, Part 1

What are the pros and cons of specialty agencies versus integrated ones? Some believe that, while they may deliver subject matter expertise, specialty agencies may be less focused on the bigger strategic picture. And while integrated agencies provide a one-stop shop, their different specializations or operating units may work in silos.

So, what’s the best way to integrate search as an operating standard? From a client perspective, a standard means that your agency’s work will be ensured a degree of effectiveness. From a search practice perspective, having an operating standard ensures the search discipline gets its seat at the table.

Developing this standard is a shared responsibility, and this presents a challenge when agency and specialty fail to see eye-to-eye.

The agency argument is that search:

  • Is too tactical.
  • Is too technical.
  • Isn’t creative.
  • Takes credit for all client success.

The search argument is that the agency:

  • Ignores search.
  • Wants to sell pretty work.
  • Just doesn’t get it.
  • Wants all the money.

Ultimately, search works best when integrated into the larger set of agency services. One voice, one team, one strategy. Sounds easy, but what are the rules for integration?

Translate How Search Fits into the Agency Disciplines

Search touches everything, but not everyone understands how. You need to know how to translate search into the language of other services. Explain how search can benefit the other marketing disciplines.

Make the strategy team aware that keyword research can be used to help gauge user intent, which will influence the content strategy. People who search for “family vacations” may also be searching for “babysitting services” or “toddler activities.” While a vacation resort may offer these services, they might not highlight them on the Web site. The search interest findings should be incorporated into the site recommendations.

Design should understand that the client’s site receives about 40 percent of its incoming traffic from organic search and that a full Flash home page design will impact search performance. The search and design teams must work together to present a solution that balances design and performance.

Media should understand the relationship between search and display, but also the additional opportunities that exist. Synching display and search messaging is important, and the media team can apply knowledge of what sites rank well for competitive keywords when considering them for placements.

This integration needs to be handled through education. Let the other services know how search can enhance their offerings and why the client will care.

Don’t Position Search by Insulting Other Tactics

Search people often expect search to be highly considered, but too often we sell the service by beating up on other media tactics. Search has been relegated to a corner for so long that we’ve come out swinging.

“Nobody watches commercials.” “Who reads magazines?” “Your click-through percentage is what?!”

Who wants to hear someone crow about how great they are at the expense of colleagues and sister agencies? If search is going to come in and disrespect the work of others, why invite them to the party?

The recent economic downturn has really brought the message home that search can’t exist in its own silo. It’s also not flashy enough to be the leading agenda item for Fortune 500 CMOs. Search needs offline and display.

Kill ’em With Data

Instead of bashing other service offerings, use your data appropriately to build a case for search. Focus your discussion of search data around the specific industries, verticals, and tasks at hand.

Stay away from generic data, too. Sure, 70 percent of all Americans search for health related topics, but that type of general statistic isn’t going to sway a client that’s concerned with a specific product type.

A presentation of trend data showing more people searching for “childhood obesity and diabetes” and it’s relationship to that client’s product might be more useful. Another good tactic: explain when search marketing doesn’t make sense.

These are easy things that your agency and search teams can start doing today in the pursuit of better integration. In part two, we’ll talk about search storytelling, training, and how not to let search take a back seat.

Written by Joshua Palau of Search Engine Watch

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