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Efficient SEM Management

SEMs as Employees

Getting the most out of your SEM requires proper management, but “proper” depends on the type of agency you’ve hired.

Consider the following metaphoric employees, let’s call them Bartleby and Sergey:

Sergey arrives bright and early and stays late. Given direction, he takes the ball and runs with it, thinks of innovative solutions, and tackles projects without being asked. The results he produces speak to the quality and care of his work.

Far from being a self-starter, Bartleby will only work on tasks that are laid out for him. Directional guidance is not sufficient, he requires explicit instructions from soup to nuts, and once he finishes a task, he stares off into space until another project is explained to him.

Managing Bartleby takes a great deal of effort. You must come up with detailed task lists, and generate more lists as those get completed. You have to check his work for mistakes. You have to have him send back lists of projects completed so you’re certain nothing gets dropped. Not only does that management take up your time, it means that Bartleby is contributing no insights of his own to the business.

Managing Sergey should be a breeze. You point him in the right direction, give him the benefit of your wisdom, pull him in for an occasional brainstorming session, but basically you let him do his thing. Giving him that freedom allows him to bring his unique skills and insights to the business, allows you to devote more time to other projects, and makes the business more money.

Handling Sergey like a Bartleby would be bad for business. Not only would it take more management time, it would throttle his ability to innovate and bring his insights to the table. Indeed, he could never perform beyond the skills of his supervisor because all his time is devoted to completing tasks the way the supervisor wants them done.

Handling Bartleby like a Sergey would also be a bad idea. Problems would fester and performance would slide.

How should you, as a retailer, manage your SEM firm or any other vendor for that matter? The answer depends on the vendor. Are they more like Sergey or Bartleby? How do you know?

The most cost effective way to find out is to try “letting go of the reins” for a month and watch what happens to the numbers. Does the performance:

  1. Get Better? If so, perhaps you’ve been throttling a Sergey. Continue letting them run and keep watching the performance. Run periodic audits to make sure the numbers are really as good as they seem.
  2. Get Worse? If so, you must have hired a Bartleby. Either go back to task lists, or consider replacing yours for a more Sergey-like agency.
  3. Stay the Same? Interesting case! If your time and energy managing your vendor doesn’t impact the results either way, perhaps you’d add more value to your firm working on other projects.

It’s important to judge the results by the performance numbers, not by the number of tasks completed. As I discussed previously, you can spend all kinds of time on projects that will have no impact on your PPC programs.

If your management style is already pretty hands-off, how healthy is your program? For a step by step guide to assess the healthy of your PPC program visit this link.

To see how RKG does on the Bartelby or Sergey test, check out Triple your growth rate: let your SEM run.

Quick tip on performance evaluation: ultimately, most companies want to maximize sales without crossing some sort of efficiency metric. Seasonal fluctuations can make it difficult to assess the top line sales performance in this kind of test. However, an interesting down-and-dirty metric to track is the fraction of your total website sales attributed to non-brand search. This percentage may be a more stable benchmark for evaluating SEM performance over time.

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  1. [...] I’ve made the argument that similarly: if a company has to micromanage its paid search vendor it’s time to find another vendor. [...]