Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Selecting a Client for the Google Challenge

As an active professor involved in the Google Online Marketing Challenge, I wanted to write about how to select a business for the competition. The 2010 Google Student Guide (page 8 specifically) provides general guidance for selecting and working with a business or organization. For the Challenge experience to be most rewarding, selecting the right business is critical.

In sum, Google advises students to select a
small-to-medium enterprises (SME), business or non-profit, under 100 employees, that has a website but does not currently use Google AdWords (and has not used AdWords in the past 6 months). Google has content guidelines and will not run AdWords on sites that promote inappropriate items such as academic aids, bulk marketing, counterfeit designer goods or cigarettes. Prospective clients should not have participated in the 2009 Challenge.

Below is additional guidance to help in selecting a suitable client. These tips reflect my personal views and past experience working with students on the Challenge. They do not represent official views of Google, the Google Online Marketing Challenge, or the 2010 Google Student Guide.

Dr. Theresa Flaherty's Top Tips for Selecting a Business
for the Challenge

  • Utilize your network of friends, family, co-workers, professors, and acquaintances to assist with initial brainstorming. Come up with at least ten different businesses that would be good candidates for the Challenge.
  • Seek businesses that are open to making some minor changes on their website. Either they can make the changes on their end, or your team can make the changes (if they are willing to provide you the necessary security credentials to modify their site). This is not a requirement of the Challenge, but something that is quite helpful. Typically I advise students to select businesses where the point of contact is willing and able to make minor modifications to the website on short notice if needed. If major modifications are needed to the site, it provides a great learning experience but creates an added layer of complexity to the project.
  • Meet with the prospective clients personally to get a feel for what it might be like to work with them. Are they hard or easy to reach by phone, e-mail, social media, etc.? Are they responsive to your questions? Do they seem genuinely interested in working with you? The more the client collaborates with you, the better the experience for everyone involved.
  • This is definitely not a requirement of the Challenge, but I believe a local business is preferable over a non-local business. One reason is that it is easier to meet the client in person when they are in close proximity. Another reason is that it assists in local/regional PR efforts and community outreach associated with your institution. Coming from a public, state institution of higher education, I believe it is important to support the local businesses in our area. Of course, a non-local based business is acceptable for the competition if the team has a great connection elsewhere.
  • Carefully evaluate the website of the prospective clients to determine if a basic structure is set in place to develop highly focused campaigns. Think about the different kinds of campaigns and Ad Groups you might run in AdWords and then examine the "landing pages" of the client to assess the overall relevancy. Here, you are seeking a strong fit between your online marketing ideas and the existing landing pages of the prospective client.
  • Select a business that has a lot of content on their website and does not use FLASH or other non-HTML technology.
  • Double-check that the business was not used as a client for the 2009 Challenge.
  • Double-check (and triple-check) to ensure that the client does not use AdWords and has not used AdWords in the past 6 months. I had two occasions where teams were told by the client that their business does not use AdWords, but upon further exploration the teams learned that the business did indeed use AdWords. Why does this happen? Sometimes the point of contact at the business does not understand AdWords. Sometimes the point of contact does not realize that another member of the business, often in a different department, is running an AdWords account. Sometimes the point of contact forgot that he/she tried AdWords a long time ago, and the account is still running.
  • Select a business that is willing to let you install Google Analytics on their site. Once the business has agreed to participate in the Challenge, get Google Analytics up and running as soon as possible. While Google Analytics is not required in the Challenge, many of my top performing teams from past Challenges found Google Analytics to be extremely helpful.
  • Finally, select a business that you like and understand. If you are not excited about the business and their products/services, it won't be a fun experience.
I have shared these same tips with my 2008, 2009, and 2010 Challenge participants from the Department of Marketing at James Madison University. If there are additional tips to share, I welcome your comments on The Marketing Bridge blog. Finally, a special thanks is extended to Dr. Jamie Murphy for his feedback on this blog post.


  1. Check out "Advice for Google Challenge Teams" - (via @AndrewCMiller)