Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

We manage search engine marketing services for medium and small businesses. And we get solid results. Because we do a bang-up job, we keep our clients. We have full-time dedicated PPC managers that focus exclusively on interactive search marketing. We pay well and hired the smartest folks that we could find. In addition, we manage off-line advertising and media buying. Automotive and ski search marketing are two of our specialties. Because we're smaller, you work directly with search engine marketing experts—no account reps. That's it! While we hate to disappoint, we're not going to lay out some glossy sales pitch.

Any agency that says they’re the best choice for any/all client(s) is just full of it. You best choose the right partner to represent your paid search—we suggest finding a hard working small team with personalities to fit for the long-term. Successful businesses work closely with their agency in order to understand how to help them do a better job. Getting to know our Clients’ industry and all the small little things that work best takes time and hard work.

How SEM wound up in Dirigo's DNA

It was 1998 when a small 25-person start-up named GoTo.com began to allow advertisers to bid on keywords. Shortly thereafter, David Addison began managing GoTo ads for his clients. Jamie Ippolito and Ryan Smith (both Dirigo staff) also began to manage search marketing in the early-days. At the time GoTo only sold banner ads. It was not until late 2001 that modern day ads became available on search engines. Local brain vitamin seller Talk America—owners of Focus Factor—quickly became our largest client. How we loved GoTo. It was a straight-up bidding system. By paying the most, a brand was immediately elevated to the first ad position on a search engine landing page. The early GoTo system had complete transparency from a bidding perspective, but it lacked good analytics. There was no way to easily attribute sales to advertising spend. More on this in a bit.

Google’s system took a different path. Google built a black-box bidding system where the ad placement was a calculus of quality, click through rate, budget and cost per click. We can't help but wonder if GoTo's patent forced Google away from the simple bidding system. Google's black box turned out to be a better mousetrap. It's truly epic how bad Jerry Yang screwed-up Yahoo! They had all the makings to be what Google became. As Yahoo and other ad systems came and went, Google rose. Google's total advertising revenues topped $42 billion in 2012. Today the Google AdWords program offers pay-per-click advertising, cost-per-thousand-impressions or cost-per-mille (CPM) advertising, and site-targeted advertising for text, banner, and rich-media ads. We tend to fixate on Google because they have the largest and most effective ad platform on the internet—more than 60% of your sales/leads will originate from Google (that is, if you're a normal search engine marketer).

In addition to PPC, Google offers Doubleclick ads on what was once called the DART platform. DART is now called DoubleClick for Publishers—it automates the administration effort in the ad buying cycle for advertisers (DoubleClick for Advertisers or DFA) and the management of ad inventory for publishers (DoubleClick for Publishers or DFP). DoubleClick increases the purchasing efficiency of advertisers and minimizes unsold inventory for publishers.

We worked heavily with GoTo, Google and DART in the early days of the industry and perfected a direct response PPC advertising model. As early as 2000, David was managing $50k/month in ad spend. This was the pre Google Analytics era when Webtrends and log file crunching were the predominant sources of information. Tracking conversion was next to impossible without a custom solution. So we did what all good programming shops do, we built a PPC tracking attribution system for internet as well as telephone sales. The foundation of the tracking system is a proprietary session and page logging system that captures referring querystring and session data. Over the years the Dirigo paid marketing tracking system has become pretty complicated and very interesting. We can track sale and lead generation on the telephone to the keyword level (we call this DNIS tracking). Many instances of the Dirigo tracking system are still used to this day. Dunkin Donuts, Bentley College, Talk America, and Women to Women were early adopters of our system. Today, all savvy marketing groups use a combination of Google Analytics (or Omniture) and proprietary session/log based analytics. The proprietary tracking has helped us to develop data warehouse models—something the industry has recently termed "big data". We've been gleaning actionable insight from bid data for more than a decade.

Back to the past—in the summer of 2004 we began experimenting with auto bidding platforms after reviewing the work of the Rimm-Kauffman Group and GoToast. We used GoToast for a short duration, but, found that auto bidding could not outperform human bidding. To this day, smart humans can still outperform automated systems. In the mid-00s we spent around 6,000 hours building reporting and bidding systems. The platforms never went commercial because they are too difficult to integrate and scale. So we integrated with a few and went about building multi-million dollar web businesses. We've never advertised or gone out searching for search marketing clients/work. Jobs and clients just materialize. We take those jobs that interest us and turn others away.

There's some cool history here. GoToast was acquired by Atlas DTM which eventually became Atlas OnePoint and then Atlas Solutions. Atlas Solutions became part of aQuantive which was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6 billion. The Atlas know-how was used to bolster AdCenter, Microsoft's PPC system. Poor Jerry Yang—in 2010 Yahoo! transitioned its PPC system to Microsoft. In a strange turn of events, in Feburary 2013 Microsoft sold Atlas to Facebook who will likely use the Atlas know-how to build-out Facebook's advertising platform.

Our Ryan Smith (SEO Guru) helped to build marketing systems for Vanessa Fox at Nine by Blue (inventor of Google Webmaster Tools). That system was sold to the Rimm-Kauffman Group in the Summer of 2013. The industry has grown, but, the real movers and shakers haven’t changed much. We’re just older and wiser.

There's been a lot of change in PPC over the years and Team Dirigo has been there every step of the way. Jamie can give you an ear full about his industry experiences managing large-scale paid marketing budgets. We've spent thousands of hours managing and tuning campaigns. In the early-days of Dirigo, a disproportionate amount of our revenue came from paid marketing services.

We've grown and today manage huge ad budgets for scores of marketing outfits. Some things have remained constant over the years:

  • It is still about superior analytics and measurement.
  • Having a superior lead-gen or revenue model is paramount to success. Success requires access to gifted programmers and designers with direct response experience.
  • To do it right you need to track a lead all the way to the sale. This sort of tracking always requires a CRM and changes to offline business practices.
  • Auto bidding systems NEVER outperform bright well-trained analysts.
  • Paid marketing is a job for the brightest bulb. Put mediocre resources on a PPC project and it is sure to fail. Industry expertise is required. You are better off hiring an optimizer with a strong vertical focus.
  • Performance-based pricing does not work because it pays commissions on the wrong performance. At a high level, there are only three things to focus on: scalability, choosing the correct KPIs and selling more. Super efficiency is your enemy because performance metrics aren’t accurate—they're clouded by multi-device issues, cookie clearing, do-not-track, privacy and a host of other technical issues. Spending semi-inefficiently leads to higher revenue. Cast a wide net!
  • Successful PPC marketers don't use budgets. Spend as much as humanly possible to achieve an acceptable cost per order (CPO) or cost per acquisition (CPA). The goal is always to acquire a new customer.
  • Continuity and lifetime value (LTV) business models tend to win because these businesses know the value of a customer and can typically outspend others. Don't expect to be profitable on the first order. Better than half of the marketers that we work are upside down on their first transitions. That's okay! Profit comes from repeat business over the lifetime of the customer (lifetime value or LTV).

Are you looking to immediately drive traffic to your website? Need help getting seen in an ultra-competitive market? Pay per click (PPC) is your ticket. Pay per click is a component of search engine marketing (we get to that elsewhere on our website)—a big important component.

Since you've read this far, it's worthwhile to emphasize several more important points:

  • Almost every action you take to improve your PPC ad campaign should be based on conversion and goal data. Your conversion rate is the ultimate barometer of how well your keywords, ads and landing pages are working together to achieve your goals.
  • A campaign's ability to drive traffic to your site is worthless unless the campaign generates sales or qualified leads.
  • Tracking conversion data and fine-tuning landing page performance is what sets PPC apart from all other advertising channels.
  • Paid search marketing teams that can’t modify the website are at a disadvantage. Website optimizations are a required.

To be effective in PPC, an advertiser must have clear metrics (especially the CPO piece), well researched keywords, targeted/enticing ad copy, and effective landing pages with well-honed calls-to-action. Making it all work perfectly requires time and experience. Managing PPC is a full time profession. It is a distinct discipline that constantly changes. Gone are the days of setting-up a PPC campaign and letting it run for long periods of time. To get the most from PPC, constant attention is necessary.

We help brands to stay ahead of the curve through our experiences

We want to be the last PPC company you ever use. Our largest SEM client spends $1,150,000/year and our smallest $2,500/year. Size does not matter. SEM works for both. Contact us today for information and pricing about Internet Marketing. We're happy to meet with you to discuss your marketing goals. Contact: Victoria Kuhn, Partner, Tel: 207-347-7360 x210

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