The proliferation of tools for content creation, measurement, audience tracking, social media interaction, and SEO in the past few years has created an atmosphere of “buyer beware” or at least “buyer be informed.” Up until now, the onus for asking the right questions and finding the right tool has been placed solely on the customer. But brands are finding that it might be less costly to send a prospect on to another provider than to begin a partnership that ends in a poor customer experience.
Whose responsibility is it to make sure an SEO or marketing intelligence platform is the right fit for the customer? How do brands ensure they’re creating a positive customer experience? And how do SEOs and marketers find the right solutions to content marketing and SEO challenges?
The shared responsibility: customer and tool provider
While creating positive customer relationships is generally a goal of most SEO and marketing platform providers, the responsibility for making sure the customer is choosing the right tool does not rest solely with the vendor. Before you go looking for a solution, you should have a list of core requirements and a few outcomes you’d like to achieve as well as a list of some things that haven’t worked well for you in the past. Getting the most out of conversations with platform providers requires that customers do a little soul searching in advance.
Some questions to ask yourself and communicate to the platform provider:
- What are your goals?
- What problems are you trying to solve?
- Who in the organization will be using the tool?
- What hasn’t worked well in the past?
- What’s your budget?
Before you start looking for solutions, know what type of solution you need. Do you need a service, a platform, or a combination of the two? Base your decision on the internal resources you have, or don’t have, and the amount of expertise your team can bring to the solution.
If you decide to go with a platform that your in-house team will be using, look for a vendor who will be honest with you about the fit. While you may never find any one platform solution that solves all your current needs and all your future ones, your roadmap and the vendor’s roadmap should match up. There’s a difference between a platform that’s not a good fit, and a solution that may be a stretch now, but has a roadmap committed to providing you with all the features and functions you’re looking for moving forward.
If that’s the case, there are often discounts or non-contract terms you can discuss with the vendor that allow you to be an integral part of the tool development cycle and to ensure you get exactly what you’re looking for. Be sure that any agreements are clearly stated up front in terms of current capabilities, future capabilities, and future product feature time lines.
Once you enter into a conversation with a platform provider or an agency, that organization should be able to tell you whether or not your challenges and current business model are a good fit for their product or service.
According to Erin Robbins O’Brien, President and COO, GinzaMetrics, “One of the things I enjoy about having face-to-face interactions with all of our inbound customers is that I can tell where we’ll be able to help and where we won’t. I want to be up front and if I don’t think we’re going to be a good fit, I try to steer them in the right direction. We tend to create a better, happier customer base that way.”
How does the trial account compare to the actual platform?
In general, the trial account you get from a platform provider is going to be scaled down from any offering at full price. In addition to getting the tool at a reduced scale, there may be some advanced features that won’t be available during your trial. Be sure you know exactly what will be offered, and how that offering is different from the platform features you’ll get once you sign a contract. You should expect, however, to get all the core features of the platform and the ability to input your own parameters to see your data in action.
The increased competition in the SEO platform and marketing platform markets has given rise to a competitive free trial market. The larger platform providers offer longer and longer free trial periods while passing those costs on to their customers. While a free trial may be free to the customer, it’s not free to the platform vendor and those costs need to be recuperated somewhere. Be aware of the cost of the platform and the length of time the platform provider is offering for free. You may notice a correlation in platform prices and trial account offers.
“I think doing trials is a good idea. However, I think the free trial war I’ve seen developing over the past few years is dangerous because the costs associated with enterprise platforms is rising to make up for all the free time prospects are given,” notes Erin.
In some cases, platform providers may offer a sandbox account instead of a free trial. The problem with access to a sandbox account is you’re not seeing how the platform reacts with your data. Using a sandbox account doesn’t give you much more information than watching a video or seeing a product walkthrough.
Depending on your budget, you may want to find a platform provider that offers a short term free trial account and negotiate for a longer period with no contract, or a reduced price. You may find that you and your team get more out of a paid trial because you have some skin in the game, motivation to log in regularly, and an incentive to use the platform the way you’ll use it when you’re under contract.
Before you start a trial period on any platform, narrow your focus to just one or two that you’re seriously considering. Attempting to try too many platforms at the same time will, most likely, result in data deluge and confusion.
Getting the data, analytics, and insights you need
Knowing what you need and what problems you’re trying to solve will help you to have better conversations with platform providers about what to expect once you start using the platform. Communicating what you’re looking for and matching your needs with the vendor’s offering will take the guess work out of making the right choice when it’s time to sign a contract, especially if what you’re looking for requires specific customizations. Be sure to make all your needs known up front and clarify what, if any, additional costs will be associated with your requests.
If you’re looking for a platform to inform SEO decisions, you’ll want to clarify how often data is processed. If the platform you’re considering only provides weekly results, you’ll have only four data points at the end of the month. On the other hand, platforms that provide daily tracking and daily fetching will net you 30 data points a month on every search criteria you’ve established and give you the data, analytics, and insights you need to make real marketing and search decisions.
How long it takes you to get the information you need depends not only on how long it takes the platform to populate that data, but also how long it takes to learn to use the tool. Understand the time and resources required to get up and running by asking these questions up front:
- How long does it take to learn the platform well enough to use it?
- How intuitive is the user interface?
- How many training tools are available?
- Who helps with the onboarding?
- What kind of on-going technical support is available?
- What kinds of thought leadership materials are available?
Getting the price up front with no surprises later
Naturally, your budget is going to pay a large role in the SEO or marketing platform you ultimately purchase, so leaving the pricing conversation to the end is a waste of everyone’s time. If pricing is available on the website, make sure that your budget and the platform pricing are in line. While there may be room for negotiation, no vendor is going to discount their product by 50 %, or even 25%, so don’t expect it.
For some platforms, the pricing is not listed on the site and you must call or contact a sales person to get platform plans and pricing. In those cases, you can assume that the prices are enterprise-level and probably start somewhere above $1,500.00 per month. Before you waste your time, match your budget to the type of platform vendor that will able to fulfill your needs within the budget you’ve allocated.
When you budget for a new platform, factor in the internal resources and costs it will take to use the platform effectively. You might also prepare a list of the tasks currently being performed internally, such as data aggregation, analysis or reporting. If you’re preparing reports in a specific way or if you need specific data included in the reports, you’ll want a tool that allows you to structure the data the way you need it. If you can’t eliminate some of your current manual tasks with a platform, you’ll want to know if the platform provider can customize the platform to take over those tasks and if there will be additional costs involved.
According to Erin, “It’s a mistake to pay for a platform that makes it necessary for you to perform data aggregation or reporting separately because that means you’re not matched up very well with the platform. It’s important to know, up front, how much your platform provider is willing to customize for you.”
If you’re investing in an enterprise SEO and marketing intelligence tool, there should be some flexibility within the platform. You should expect to see data and analytics in a way that makes sense for your organization and not have to change how your organization works to fit the needs of the platform.
Finding the right SEO and marketing intelligence tool
You know you need solutions to your SEO and marketing challenges. Your first decision is whether that solution will come in the form of hiring an agency or purchasing a platform and using existing personnel and resources. Once you’ve decided that you have enough in-house resources to use a tool daily and gain the benefits of all the insights, recommendations, and reporting capabilities available, it’s time to find the right platform. Do your due diligence by knowing your needs and your budget. Look for a vendor that will be honest with you about what they can provide now, what additional features are planned for the future, and any costs beyond the standard monthly plan.
“For vendors it can be hard to admit that their tool isn’t going to meet the features or budget needs of a prospective customer. Platform providers and their sales teams need to factor in the long-term benefits of creating really happy customers who stay with you for a long time and tell everyone how great you are as compared to the long-term brand damage a few very unhappy customers can cause,” states Erin.
If you’re looking for solutions to your SEO and marketing challenges, we may be able to help. Check out this pre-recorded 30-minute video to see if we might be a good fit.