Just One Agency Point of View

In this new column, I hope to be able to provide an insight into the world of big agency workflow processes, of course without ever being so specific that I’d get myself in trouble, especially with regards to clients. I imagine I’ll get to occasionally brand our successes, but we do leave more of that to our weekly newsletter, Avenue A | Razorfish’s Search Marketing Trends.

I chose the title for this column as a bit of a double entendre. We are a large agency, and I am but one cog within it. Without the knowledge and ideas that I hear from our account managers, engineers, and analysts every day, I would probably be still stuck in SEM 2004. I cannot stress this more.

In my regular course of duties, I am fortunate to get to work with many departments and have daily discussions with a variety of people in our Philadelphia offices. Ideally, the high level content and takeaways from many of those discussions will make their way into these bi-weekly insights into big agency SEM.

I’ve sliced the ideas I hope to cover into key categories that will likely come up often in this column. Also, I am going to provide some baseline introductions to some of the language I will be using. For those that know all this, I ask that you humor me, read it anyway, and suggest any areas you think I could improve.

I really do count on this help from the community, especially as things change. However, this and all my columns will not be comment-enabled. Instead, we will establish threads at the Search Engine Watch Forums in order to further discuss ideas.

SEM – The Big One

OK, so no one really expected me to lead off with creative, did you? My definition of search engine marketing (SEM) is as follows: SEM = Paid Search + Organic Search + Wildcards. SEM can also be used as a noun to describe a search engine marketer, or professional in the field of search marketing.

I will often use the following acronyms which are sub-sections of SEM:

  1. PPC or “paid search” = pay-per-click advertising. Generally referring to the major portals, from Google and Yahoo to smaller providers.
  2. SEO = search engine optimization. It’s not rocket science, but equally difficult to learn and to master. One thing rocket scientists have going for them is that physics rarely changes – while organic ranking algorithms regularly do.
  3. PI = “paid inclusion.” The first of the wildcards, this specifically means Yahoo Search Submit (Pro) or any forthcoming product from another major engine that closely compares.
  4. Feeds. This wildcard refers to comparison or vertical directory-type listings which accept automated delivery of content on a regular basis, such as product feeds for shopping. Examples of this would be GoogleBase or Shopping.com.
  5. OneBox. The area above the organic results but below any top paid search listings. Although it is a ‘Googlism’, it may be used to refer to similar areas in other engines. The OneBox generally houses the majority of the unique wildcards.
  6. PR. Unless I spell out PageRank, PR means public relations…old school!

That should do it for that glossary. The exciting part starts in two weeks, when people begin to realize the insight and collaborative opportunities that exist when the largest paid search agency in America meets a crack team of highly specialized SEOs. Ideally, this will serve as an area where some of those members can test theories against practical experience.

This column will not focus just on tactical discussion, however. The expanded commentary will involve broader issues which clients and agencies working together must face.

The Client

From success stories to unimplemented recommendations, the importance of communication between agency and client lies in the success of every single advertising creative and execution strategy that exists. Rand Fishkin once wrote at SEOmoz that therein lies the difference between working with small-to-midsize businesses and large, multi-national corporations.

Clients are obviously the most important consideration for all employees of an agency. The more team members that understand that, the better off an agency will be. The worst mistake any agency can make is to underestimate the value of each client. Spending an hour on the phone with a specialist on the client side can sometimes be more valuable than two hours with someone in the same direct organization (team).

Not only do these factors weigh into the client/agency synergy, but so does the next major category within the agency world.

The Vendor Partnership

Large corporations tend to work with many valuable and successful vendors. Handling communication between different vendors can sometimes be challenging, especially if some goals contradict others. And if the relationship and trust doesn’t exist from the onset of the campaign, it cannot be quickly established. Very often, SEMs must forego fundamental preferences in order for marketing (especially SEO) and creative teams to provide world-class deliverables.

In an agency, the vendor partner classification doesn’t only mean outside groups, but also teams in other specialties and offices. It is especially crucial in these circumstances that information flows smoothly and freely, such as when a West Coast based PPC and feeds client partners with the SEO team in Philadelphia on a new project. Having this kind of process in place will help ease future communication across projects. Again, the golden rule is that the (internal) client is always right. Even in some cases when this is not true, this will avoid feathers being irreparably ruffled within an agency.

The most important vendor partnerships from an SEM perspective are the providers of analytics, tracking, measurement and reporting. I list them all because each of these is a specialty within our world that bears careful consideration. Some may think it frivolous to own multiple means to accomplish many of these tasks. Hopefully this column will occasionally provide a spark for further discussion into why it may be important enough to use every single method available to track and measure the behavior of visitors, the uber-important clients’ clients.

The Everything Else Bucket

Working with an agency like AARF has its perks, like access to creative minds that can come up with wonderful ways to paint some rather dull subjects. The increasing desire to keep up with ever-changing technology is evident in the new Advanced Marketing Solutions team, who will hopefully also regularly contribute to this column.

Additionally, developers and IT professionals will decide for themselves the value of creating a custom crawler and supporting portal to benefit SEO, PI, feeds, and other SEM activities, based on feedback from our product development team and some stories of their successes and challenges.

All-in-all, I hope to be able to convey what life is actually like as an SEM in a huge agency. Again, I will look forward to comments and suggestions from our valued readers, which can start right away with this thread dedicated to “Just One Agency Point of View” at the SEW Forums.

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