Choose Your SEM Wisely… Power To The People!

Gold Fish Choosing A New SEM FirmI was talking to Will Scott on the phone last week; I found talking to a busy local seo on the phone a little like riding a NYC subway at rush hour… we later resumed the conversation by email; but before the rushing by of the proverbial trains, a very important topic came up: Will shared with me his practice of client exclusivity. He defined exclusivity as only one client per business type in each geographic area. I admired him for that practice and was interested that it was one of the first things he shared with me about his firm. I took that as an indication of how important he considered it to be.

David Ogilvy wrote in Ogilvy On Advertising, “There is a convention that agencies should not serve more than one client in any category. Some clients are fiercely jealous when when their agencies violate this convention to the point of firing them.”

Have times changed? Search Engine Watch published an article about iCrossing aligning their teams into verticals. It would seem to me this would turn the old notion on its head, rather than going to great lengths to protect a client’s information… great length’s have been gone to… to share it…and leverage it.

The world changes everyday… the complexity of advertising changes everyday… and heck, even us humans change everyday. However, human nature doesn’t change everyday… it doesn’t change at all.

Let’s say a certain SEO has had a client for years… and they now rank 3 for a hugely competitive phrase… all is good. They, then take on a client in the same industry and 6 months later that client ranks number 2 for the coveted phrase. Is that Ok with everyone… are both clients excited about client #2′s success? Hmmm…

How about paid search? Would it be any different, should they expect client exclusivity? This is a question that small business owners need to ask, for perhaps, the first time in history.

I recently found 7 advertisers listed in the same category in the same city in a popular IYP… who were all put there by the same SEM firm (copying the url and pasting it into an HTML editor reveals the name of the firm. I didn’t actually click on any of the PPC listings). Obviously, there is nothing going on that could be characterized as unethical… as I would expect they made no promise of exclusivity. But can this set-up really benefit all 7 advertisers?

First, a brief examination of the listings: 3 are on the first page and 4 on the second, all are paying additional money to have the listing in color (the same color) and a graphic to the right of the listing that reads “Click Here.”

Was there some test conducted in this heading that revealed this color/text combination revealed some benefit… and that that benefit was not reduced by having 7 such listings set up that same way. Has the knowledge gleaned by having so many advertisers in the same heading been leveraged to benefit them all? I have a hard time believing “click here” could provide that kind of inspiration to shoppers and that kind of insulation to its repeated use.

How about bid advice? Is this something you want as a small business from your SEM firm?

How should the SEM go about handling that? If little advice is given… well… maybe things could end up as they are… 3 on the first page and 4 on the second… I don’t know. But I would think in an IYP, where ad position is going to be a huge factor in the number of clicks received… a small business would want to work closely with their SEM.

However, if this firm felt like it is important to get near the top of the search results on the first page of an IYP (like I do), they could create a huge bidding war among their own advertisers. That’s a tough spot to be in… which of course would only be compounded if they charged their advertisers on a percentage of spend.

At a quick glance… I cannot see any benefit to being this firm’s client in this category.

Small business owners, you should insist on more. The internet empowers… no longer should you expect less… if GM would fire their ad agency for taking Ford as a client… so, I think, should you.

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10 Responses to Choose Your SEM Wisely… Power To The People!

  1. Will Scott says:

    Tim, it was great talking with you as well.

    It’s amazing how assuring a voice conversation can be (must be getting old).

    The great news for small business is there are now so many options for them, even at the most competitive price point.

    The remaining challenge is knowing the difference between a good product and a good pitch.


  2. Pingback: SEO Igloo Blog » Should SEO Contracts Be Exclusive?

  3. MiriamEllis says:

    Hey Tim,
    I’m so glad you and Will got together. He mentioned to me that he was hoping to chat with you soon. Sounds like you had a whirlwind conversation.

    I thought this was such an interesting post, I blogged a response to it over at the SEOigloo. Hope you’ll check it out!


  4. Will, you’re right about them having options… I wonder how much they realize… I think the reputation of the industry still has some problems, so they are looking for a brand, as above. I think those willing to take a little risk in choosing their SEM will reap big rewards.

    Miriam, thanks for the kind words… heading there now.

  5. Eric Pender says:

    I think the most ethical way to go about this is to be forthcoming with both the existing client and the potential client. If there are safeguards in place to maintain the integrity of a client’s critical strategic information regarding SEM , then I think both client-agency relationships can exist. The trouble is that for many small interactive marketing firms, these safeguards haven’t been established.

    As for your hypothetical example about having a client rank #3, taking on a new client and getting them to #2…I don’t see a problem with that. I think back to what Steve Jobs said at All Things D, that Apple didn’t need Microsoft to lose in order for them to win. It’s not a zero-sum game. What does it matter if one of your client is ranking #2 and another #3 for the same keyword? We must keep in mind that there will always be someone in the #2 or #3 spots, that is, whether or not I’m working with both clients or just one client, the competition will ALWAYS be there. And it might be different competition, but there will always be someone in that spot. If you are able to have multiple clients ranking for a competitive keyword in organic search, that’s a huge testament to your ability and skill as an SEO. And from the clients perspective, I think I would rather be with the agency that can get me competitive with my competition, then going with another agency that can’t get me competitive.

  6. Thanks for stopping by Eric… I agree being up-front solves the problem. But are the firms only up-front when they offer exclusivity and don’t even mention it when they don’t? Probably.

    If you’re advice were taken and the firm covered it either way… problem solved.

    Not sure that’s going to happen, so I think small business is going to have to be educated enough to ask the question.

  7. I work for iCrossing but before I started working for them, I ran a small paid search agency for years. Here’s my take on this from working with multiple clients in the same industry. They all had different budgets. They all had different goals. Most had just a slightly different spin on the industry that made them unique. Yes, I learned from account A and applied that to account B and yes, many of the keywords did crossover. But because of the differences in each account…I ended up managing each account very differently.

  8. Shelley, I appreciate your input as I believe this is a very important issue for small business… and in many ways its a new issue for them.

    Miriam Ellis at the SEO Igloo posted a response to this that is very similar to what you are saying. And I agree. Also, with Eric Pender’s comment above; about “being forthcoming.”

    This turned into a very interesting discussion and the 2 take- aways are:
    1) Be upfront with your client and
    2) Sell and service the client according to their needs.

    Sometimes the best lessons are the simplest!

  9. Pingback: Miriam Ellis Asks A Lot of Questions | Website Promotion is not Voodoo

  10. ALAMIN says:

    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.