PDA

View Full Version : Disturbing Trend or SEM Industry Growing Pain?


bhartzer
05-23-2005, 04:07 PM
This is kind of related to SEM Industry Growing Pains (http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?t=5680) thread, but I wanted to start a new thread about this.

I'm starting to see what I think is a disturbing trend among Search Engine Marketing firms. I see more and more SEO/SEM firms doing a great job at selling SEO services--but when it comes to actually delivering those services they fall short--much too short. In most cases, they're glad to take someone's money but end up not performing for the client. Clients are getting frustrated and moving on to other SEO firms. Then the client signs up for SEO services again which are, again, not being done. And then they move on to yet another firm.

When I say 'disturbing' I mean that it's disturbing to me that clients are having to move from one SEO firm to another and then another--just because the SEO firm couldn't perform for the client or they took on too many clients and couldn't properly do the SEO work.

I'm not an SEO firm nor do I work for one. So, as an 'outsider' I can see this trend happening more and more. The SEM industry is growing so fast that the SEO firms cannot keep up with all the work.

The bottom line is that this trend doesn't look good for the Search Engine Marketing industry as a whole. Is anyone else seeing this trend or is it just me?

Is this a disturbing trend or is it just 'growing pains'?

Jill Whalen
05-23-2005, 06:20 PM
Yes, I definitely see this trend, although I'm not sure how new it is.

I believe there are a few reasons for it, not all of which are the fault of the SEO company.

One reason that clients are moving from company to company is that their expectations may not be realistic. They expect one thing, which the SEO company may or may not have promised, but the company gives them something else. It's vital for SEO companies to be very up front with what the client can expect and not expect. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that they should underpromise, so that they can then over deliver.

Instead, too many over promise and then under deliver.

Part of the problem is also that clients are looking for companies to move them from position 7 to position 3, or from position 3 to position 1. Although that's a nice thought, imo, it's not what today's SEO is about.

Unfortunately, too many SEO companies refuse to tell a client "no" because the lure of their money is too great.

randfish
05-23-2005, 06:57 PM
An excellent reply Jill. I believe you've hit the nail right on the head.

I would say that more careful contracts are neccessary between SEOs and their clients, along with better education of clients BEFORE they sign up for services.

Mike Grehan always makes the point that it's very important that SEOs can explain to their clients HOW the search engines work and how they return results. Often, this means reading lots of nasty white papers and research documents and watching boring videos where a guy from Google explains how Google works to a class of IR students. I think that being able to explain technically how search engines return and rank results is critical to a successful relationship over the long term between and SEO and their client.

Jill Whalen
05-23-2005, 07:05 PM
Often, this means reading lots of nasty white papers and research documents and watching boring videos where a guy from Google explains how Google works to a class of IR students.

Well, I certainly wouldn't go that far! ;)

I do believe we have to educate our clients, but it really depends on the client, and what they want to know.

I know that I dislike wasting time at my dentist's office when he has to use his cool new tooth camera to show me (prove to me?) exactly what needs to be done to my teeth. As far as I'm concerned, he's the expert and I really don't care. Just do it, and don't hurt me too much!

But I do understand that some of his patients probably like know exactly what he's doing and why, making his little machine well spent. I have to remind him each time that I don't care, and would prefer to simply go home rather than look at my teeth close up!

Really the same for search. Only hopefully, we SEOs make it less painful than pulling teeth! :D

I, Brian
05-23-2005, 07:45 PM
One reason that clients are moving from company to company is that their expectations may not be realistic.
Indeed, the sheer degree of market ignorance means that unwary businesses can be unable to differentiate between the unrealistic promises of some firms (ie, offering to be #1 on Google with autosubmission), and the unrealistic expectations of some clients regarding how search engines work (ie, wanting to be #1 on Google within a few days).

I guess the only real solution here is general consumer education, but it's going to take pan-company organisations such as SEMPO, SMA-UK/EU/NA, etc, to help develop consumer awareness.

In fact, SMA-UK have their inaugural meeting (http://www.sma-uk.org/news/meetings/showevent.asp?id=5) on June 1st at SES - this is the sort of issue that might be worth raising as something to develop.

seobook
05-23-2005, 07:48 PM
I know that I dislike wasting time at my dentist's office when he has to use his cool new tooth camera to show me (prove to me?) exactly what needs to be done to my teeth. As far as I'm concerned, he's the expert and I really don't care. Just do it, and don't hurt me too much!
I know a kid who had 3 teeth cracked in a single sitting at the dentist :eek:

also one time a dentist did not give me novaine until after the screwed up and cut my gums open and had blood everywhere.

I think showing IR books and whitepapers is beyond the call, but there should be something that says this is what we do and this is how it works.

randfish
05-23-2005, 08:55 PM
But I do understand that some of his patients probably like know exactly what he's doing and why, making his little machine well spent. I have to remind him each time that I don't care, and would prefer to simply go home rather than look at my teeth close up!
Exactly,
While each client is different and requires a different level of education, it is important that they can have confidence in your ability and your limitations regarding what can be done.

I don't think this means that you have to explain how the SEs work to each client, but that you can provide detailed, honest, informed answers to any question on the subject.

Aaron - Obviously, I wouldn't show the CLIENT any of these materials. They pay us to understand, interpret, explain and apply that knowledge, not to hand it to them...

Sadly, Brian, the organizations thus far have been largely unsuccessful in this endeavor. Let's hope the future is brighter.

Jill Whalen
05-23-2005, 11:17 PM
Why do we need organizations for that? What's wrong with the forums and newsletters we already have? I've spent the better part of the past 5 or more years doing just that...educating people about search marketing. (And so have tons of others.)

I, Brian
05-24-2005, 05:24 AM
Why do we need organizations for that? What's wrong with the forums and newsletters we already have? I've spent the better part of the past 5 or more years doing just that...educating people about search marketing. (And so have tons of others.) Certainly it is our own responsibility to educate, as best we can, according to the mechanics of search as a business as we understand it.

However, there still remains a wider sea of confusion, misunderstandings, and plain misinformation.

On the one hand, some online forums set up to discuss SEO are left for very inexperienced members to try and advise each other, leading to very ignorant advice and astonishing claims being provided to querents.

Additionally, as anyone here who has touched on the local market may well have experienced, a lot of businesses are simply clueless about the internet itself, with having a website often regarded as necessary, yet without any proper understanding as to why.

Is it the job of SEMPO and the SMA's to help educate the wider business community? If they are to represent the search industry to any degree, then I should hope it at least forms a part of their remit.

nuthin
05-24-2005, 11:50 AM
I just love when you optimize a client, do all the leg work and tell them that it's just a matter of time before you start to rank for your industry leading keyword phrases.. only for them to 'leave you' for lack of results... in the first year and then a few months later there domain comes through dominating top positions all over the place :(

had this happen a few times to me!

with the way Google's been letting new sites rank after 6-12 months, I now categorically say if you are a new domain / site, you really can not expect to rank under your leading keyword phrases straight away.. all the leg work is done in the first year and your site is likely to flourish in the 2nd.

of course obscure industries can do well right away.

heh, try and get a sales person to sell based on that! quite difficult.

most of our client base is local SME's, educating them is quite difficult, but they are learning that we are there for the long term and help guide them through the short term pain.

perfect case; we had a real estate client complaining after 3 months that they are not ranking on Google for there property related phrases, said yeah.. yeah.. wait, keep the faith. Quite a struggle if you know what real estate agents are like ;)

After about 9 months of initial deployment of SEO, gathering a few directory links and Google's now non-routine update, god almighty.. there sites hit every phrase they wanted on Google!

now that sites more than likely going to be there for years to come, thus long term results and nice ROI over and over.

The client is happy and now heavily promotes his website offline, "Advertise your property with us, we are highly featured at Google under.."

my motto 'short term pain for long term gain'

don't let clients expectations outweigh the reality.

bhartzer
05-24-2005, 02:02 PM
don't let clients expectations outweigh the reality
That's why SEO firms have to do what Jill is suggesting--they have to educate the customer so that they know what to expect. Once they are educated and they know what to expect, clients won't be wandering aimlessly from SEO firm to SEO firm.

The disturbing problem I see is that SEO firms in this industry are not doing what Jill suggests--which is to educate clients about what to expect. They do not know how search engines work so they end up drawing unnecessary conclusions about how long it will take to get rankings.

And since the SEO firms are not doing their job of educating their clients (and even their potential clients) about the SEO process, the SEO organizations are left to do the job that the SEO firms didn't do.

That's I feel organizations like SEMPO, SMA (SMA-UK), and DFWSEM are extremely important. This industry is very new, and the SEO firms aren't doing their jobs of educating clients and potential clients--someone has to do it.

Jill Whalen
05-24-2005, 03:44 PM
That's I feel organizations like SEMPO, SMA (SMA-UK), and DFWSEM are extremely important. This industry is very new, and the SEO firms aren't doing their jobs of educating clients and potential clients--someone has to do it.

Why should I expect someone else to do my job for me? If I sign on a client, and I want to keep them, it's MY job to make that happen, not SEMPO's or whomevers. If I lose them at some point, it's also MY fault, not anyone else's.

bhartzer
05-24-2005, 04:05 PM
You're right, it's definitely your job to take care of your clients. If a firm doesn't educate their clients and do everything they can to keep them the firm definitely deserves to lose the clients.

What's disturbing to me is that I'm seeing SO many clients jump from firm to firm to firm--perhaps it's not due to education but due to the fact that those firms cannot deliver what they're selling.

I truly believe, though, that the key to keeping a good client is to educate them about the whole SEO process right from the beginning.

As an industry, though, what can we do to stop clients from jumping from firm to firm to firm? Do we educate the clients or do we educate the SEO firms?

Or do we just "keep out of it" and let the firms who don't take care of their clients go out of business? Perhaps.

If it's not the job of SEMPO, SMA (SMA-UK) and DFWSEM to educate the clients and the SEO firms then do we need them at all?

Jill Whalen
05-24-2005, 04:22 PM
If it's not the job of SEMPO, SMA (SMA-UK) and DFWSEM to educate the clients and the SEO firms then do we need them at all?


Personally, I've never been able to figure out why we do need them. (Although I wouldn't put your local Dallas group in the same category, as I think local organizations do serve many purposes.)

I, Brian
05-24-2005, 04:43 PM
Why should I expect someone else to do my job for me? If I sign on a client, and I want to keep them, it's MY job to make that happen, not SEMPO's or whomevers. If I lose them at some point, it's also MY fault, not anyone else's.
Indeed - but it can only be helpful when there are industry bodies, who can help educate businesses as to what constitutes a good decision when shopping for services.

For example:



What is SEO?
What can SEO reasonably achieve?
What should SEO reasonably cost?
What should I ask before buying?

These aren't questions with absolute answers, but if answered, can help businesses better connect with SEO services that serve their actual needs, rather than errant perceptions.

2c, anyway.

shorebreak
05-24-2005, 10:11 PM
I think 95% of SEM/SEO firms are little more than an idea to latch onto the growth of the SEM/SEO space. As was the case during the 97-00 internet bubble, all anyone has to have to sign clients is... a pulse.

That'll change - I see it starting to change now, with some vendors capable of defending themselves and many others simply caving on price. What disturbs me the most personally, is the extent to which even the bigger firms have little in the way of unique, advantageous capabilities.

-Shorebreak

Nacho
05-25-2005, 01:02 PM
I'm not an SEO firm nor do I work for one. So, as an 'outsider' I can see this trend happening more and more. The SEM industry is growing so fast that the SEO firms cannot keep up with all the work.
I believe there are 3 levels:

Individual or Small
From what I'm hearing, individual (expert) SEOs are probably at their comfort level and therefore might not want take on new jobs to keep production standards at its best. That are earning good income and understand the challenges of the increasing competitiveness of search engine's updates and competing against more documents on the index. They rather produce good results for a few than bad for more than they can handle. It's a smart approach. However, these are probably not complaining as much about these growth problems other SEMs are seeing because they deal with less politics.

Small Business
These do see your point ("keeping up with all the work") as the biggest challenge because there is not enough amount of SEM professionals to hire out there. (For example, my good friend Stacey Williams provides great recommendation about hiring stay at home moms.) These firms are most likely breaking their heads dealing with training and project organization that meets time deadlines. Ugrrr... deadlines... this messes up everything! They want to keep up with the industry’s latest, but they have way too much work to read it all. Many transitioning from marketers and webmasters to becoming businessmen/women by focusing more time on running the show. Will it last forever? NO. As they grow in accounts, get organized and with the right staff they become a factory-like manufacturer with good production standards. Enough growth and it kicks them up a notch to the next level of SEM size.

The Large SEM
This is hard for me to see, because our small firm hasn't reached this level but we work with several large ones as their outsourcing solution. I believe their biggest growth (aka growing pain) is moving to newly untapped markets and competing at international levels. Their clients want more, more and more. They want to rule the SERPs for the entire world in all search engines -- whatever it takes since budget is not a problem but gaining SE real estate is. They are at levels that now compete with large interactive agencies that offer TV, radio, print and whatnot which they really don't want to get into. Some of their clients are not sure if they should deal with them direct or with their ad agency. There are big fights for budgets and revenue sharing. Search engines don't help much because they run the show and call the money shots when it comes to Paid Search by not kicking back standard marketing commissions. Their biggest internal growth problem is breaking down the company into departments and making them profit centers. They are looking and industry consolidation amongst the big players or acquisitions from bigger companies. They can't be missing on that boat, so they focus a lot of attention in getting finding that M&A. Once it happens, then it's making it work. During all these times what happens to the client and it's results? They must seek balance and its tough.

That's the way I see it. All part of good healthy growth pains.

Daria_Goetsch
05-26-2005, 06:12 PM
I think that being able to explain technically how search engines return and rank results is critical to a successful relationship over the long term between and SEO and their client.

Great post randfish. Setting expectations and explaining the basics of what the goals are and how it will work are essential.

There are those clients who are never quite satisfied with what's been done. We've had clients come to us because they have used other SEO's and have not been happy with results. In my experience understanding the client's current expectations and guiding them with information on how the process works, what to expect and what not to expect goes a long way to help solve some of those problems. Knowing how to work with individual clients at their knowledge level of SEO (technical, non-technical) is equally important.

toprank
05-31-2005, 03:25 AM
Outside of the perception of rankings, traffic or conversion goals not being met, a few of the most common reasons companies switch SEO/SEM firms is due to communication and/or client staff changes.

It's often tenuous when a client company makes staff changes and a new VP of marketing has his/her own ideas about what vendors to keep on board. Often times, regardless of performance.

I just read an article citing the most common reason companies change search marketing agencies is that the agency is not proactive enough in ongoing communications. (am looking for it and will link later)

So I agree that upfront client knowledge qualification and education is necessary along with proper expectation setting and contracts. However, the education doesn't stop after the sale is made. To some degree, it's an ongoing effort.

St0n3y
05-31-2005, 05:09 PM
We've recently gained quite a few clients that have come to us from other well-known SEO firms. Most of them fall into one of two categories 1) the SEO firm didn't produce results, or 2) the SEO firm got them banned from Google. Now, I have to admit I've lost a client or two over the years because the "results" were not what the client expected. I had one that would call me every three months or so whenever the phone volume went down a bit. The rankings stayed consistent, and of course we analyzed the campaign, but the client had a hard time realizing that there are other factors than just rankings involved. Talk about client education, we went through the same thing every three months.

The client eventually left and signed up with another firm. We've been checking on their rankings from time to time and have not seen any "improvement" in that regard.

I think the biggest problem, and I've said this quite a bit recently, is that the amount of information out there all tends to make SEO look easy. Problem is, while SEO may be easy to implement, implementing successful SEO is another deal altogether. Sometimes a little goes a long way and sometimes much more depth is required. Because we don't over promise, we often lose potential clients because they go with somebody who does. And even still, an SEO can do everything right and still find that a site is "sandboxed" or whatever.

Bottom line, I think we've kept our clients 1) by performing better than expected, and 2) when the client's expectations differ from what we promised or what is dictated by reality, good old customer service and re-education. We recently did a survey and a majority of the clients responded that they feel as if they are a top priority. Of course, they are! :D

David Wallace
05-31-2005, 07:59 PM
SEO/SEM really just needs time to mature. It has been a gold rush in the last couple of years which has caused so many companies to sprout up and probably many of them do not really know entirely what they are doing. I remember back in 1997 when we got started and there was just a handful of us doing SEO (SEM didn't really exist at that time). Now everyone and their mother is trying to do SEO and SEM.

Probably about 1/4th of our new clients come to us because they had a less than pleasant experience with another SEO/SEM. It is always amazing to discover what they did (or didn't do).

Therefore I think it is crucial for those buying SEO/SEM to do their homework. If the firm they want to hire has been around since 95, 96, 97 even 1998, then there is probably a good reason for that - because they are good at what they do. But if the firm has only been doing SEO/SEM for a year, two years, maybe three, then the person wishing to hire them should thoroughly check them out before hiring them. Check their references, view their work, gain a clear understanding of what they will do for you, etc.

I think most often a company will get burned because they are either price shopping, got lured in by a good sales pitch or just simply did not discover exactly what the firm would do or wouldn't do. Due diligence before spending can avert many bad experiences.

Just this week, we had updated a web design client's site with some new content and when trying to cross-sell them an SEO package, they said they already hired a search engine marketing firm. The funny thing is that we control the site and not one change, modification or improvement has been done. It would have had to go through us since we maintain it. This of course led me to inquire as to what my client actually paid for. The response - "I'm not sure."

toprank
05-31-2005, 11:49 PM
It's both the SEO firm and the client that need to do their due diligence.

When we get calls from prospects that start out with, "how much are your packages"? We just pass. Fortunately, we receive an abundant number of inquiries for SEO projects and just don't have a place for "price shopping SEO" clients.

There are other triggers ranging from the number of SEO firms a prospective client has worked with before (more than 3? run fast!) to price negotiations at the close of the agreement, that are often tell-tale signs things can go bad once the project gets started.

While I've been fortunate to run into some exceptionally talented SEO consultants with only 3 years into the game, I would agree with David on how important longevity is in this business. If a SEO firm/consultant has been around for 5,6, 7 or more years, there is an assumption that they must be doing something right. Of course you should still check them out via client and peer references, etc.

Increasingly, we're getting decent SEO projects that were previously with a very large SEO firm that just didn't give the attention or results promised. From reading posts on this thread, that seems to be a trend.

massa
06-06-2005, 05:54 PM
Waiting on a call now and killing time when I found this thread. It so happens the call I'm waiting on is related to this thread.

I disagree with many of the assumptions posted so far. (no big surprise there). I understand their motivations and appreciate the insight being offered so I hope to not hurt anyone's feelings or make anyone feel defensive. I just think I can show a little different presective that may help.
For example:

>the client that need to do their due diligence.

The client doesn't HAVE to do anything other than have a need or desire and find someone willing to fill that need or satisfy that desire for a fee both parties can agree to.

>SEO/SEM really just needs time to mature. <
The concept of hiring a professional to outrsource a service to was mature back when contracts were written on cave walls. SEO isn't that different from any other service industry in that respect.

>I think the biggest problem, and I've said this quite a bit recently, is that the amount of information out there all tends to make SEO look easy.<

The same could be said of just about any other product or service. Carpet cleaning ads make getting your rugs sucked sound like a picnic in the park but it ain't!

> the most common reason companies change search marketing agencies is that the agency is not proactive enough in ongoing communications.<

I disagree. I think it is more that the client EXPECTED communication they feel they did not get. Not quite the same thing. In my case, I'll talk to a client all day, every day if he's willing to pay me.

>Setting expectations and explaining the basics of what the goals are and how it will work are essential. <

We can not set expectations. We can only alter them. We also can not explain the basics of what goals are. We can develop strategies to attain goals but we can't explain the basics of goals that a prospect has in mind. We can only explain where they are wrong if we don't agree and that enables you to convince a prospect that you are right and he needs to find another SEO. We also can't explain how " it" works unless we have the source code or the power to alter "it". We can only explain how we "think" it will work and that's not the same thing.

> I believe there are 3 levels<

I believe the deal is the deal and only the numbers change. Your responsiblity to the client is based on the deal you make and not the size of the company.

>all anyone has to have to sign clients is... a pulse.<

True. Anyone can sell anything to anyone at any given time. We all have the ability to be conned one day and be shrewd consumers the next. Signing may be easy BUT keeping them paying month after month requires all parties concerned to bring value to the relationship or the relationship will die.Getting them is one thing but keeping them is quite another.

>Unfortunately, too many SEO companies refuse to tell a client "no" because the lure of their money is too great.<

I work VERY hard to never tell clients no. I do my best to find a way that I can service their needs or fulfill their desires. I do give a lot of referals, (for a finder's fee), because I don't think I have the resources to be the best solution for a client's particular situation but that's not the same thing as saying no.

Actually Jill had it exactly right in the first response when she said:
>
One reason that clients are moving from company to company is that their expectations may not be realistic.<

THAT is the problem. In my opinion, the ONLY problem and the answer is in a simple insertion order. A contract that explains what you intend to do, what results you expect in what timeframe and what you are prepared to offer if those results are not forthcoming. You sign it and they sign and then both parties live up to the agreement. You can guarantee a number 1 if you choose to and that is fine. IF you actually provide the #1 when you said you would.

Just about everyone had some really good points that are so close to the crux of the problem. Communication for example is very important but not as important as simply communicating under the terms of what you agreed to. We send weekly strategy reports because that is what we offer in our insertion order but I warn you, it's expensive to provide that level of service.

Educating your clients is not as important as some would think. Most clients don't come wanting an education. That is not the service they think they are buying. The important thing is getting the prospect to honestly tell you what their objective is. Only then can you truly project a cost and a price for services rendered. Objective and strategy is step 1. Period. Without that being done first, make that DONE FIRST, the entire relationship has very little chance of surviving 60 days.

I wrote as a mod at SEF years ago that most clients come with a desire to be #1 for a specific term when the reality is, that is NOT what they want. Only a fool would pursue a #1 for nothing more than bragging rights. What a client wants is profit. They just have the two objectives confused and think one is equal to the other. That is really the only educating I see a client needing. Years ago I fell for the "educating the client", (with my direct sales background, you'd think I'd have known better), and had to lose a few clients to competitors who knew when to shut up before I figured out that to start "explaining" search engine technology makes the client feel uniformed, maybe even stupid. How much have you bought from salesmen that made you feel like that?

The trick in my book is in helping the client set an objective, then offer a strategy, include it into a proposal, get it accepted by the client and then put the highlights into an insertion order. I would be happy to send anyone copies of examples of these items if they ask.

Here's the best tip I can think of to help. It's elementary and at first glance you may think it is so simple as to be worthless, but if you incorporate this simple little technique into your pitch, it can change your life by getting more clients to pay more money for more months.

How to get your client to state the real objective.
client: How much would you charge to get me to #1 for casino on Google?
SEO: so, you're in the gambling business? Great business.
client: Yes.
SEO: Would you be happy or dissapointed if the placements I got for you increased your downloads by 10%?
client:: Well, what would you charge for that?
SEO: you know more about your business than I do and I can tell just by talking to you your a smart person who knows their business. Is 10% too low or too high for what you had in mind?
client: Well, I would have thought 10% was WAAAYYYY too low.
SEO: so you intend to enter a very competitive field with an agressive push. Would you want me to go hi-risk, fast return or slow and steady?

Now, which ever way the prospect answers this last question, tells you what his expectations are. Let's assume the client said fast return.

SEO: So how many customers a day do you get now?
client: 2 or 3
SEO: so if I could double that would you be happy if the fee were less than 50% of that revenue?

From here I can't give you a word-for-word pitch because we're limited by time and space. The idea I'm selling here is simply the concept of asking qualifying questions to get the true objective from the prospect. Notice I never asked a question that the client could answer no to. That is important. Also notice I re-inforced the sales process by mentioning he was smart. That is something you can be sure the client will agree with you about. I've never had a single person I've told I thought was smart argue with me.

If you can get a prospect this far and they tell you what they really want to happen, now you can make a deal. From there just do the do.
Do the best job you can do.
Be proud of what you do
Do what you say you'll do and charge accordingly.

Hope that helps.