Legal Clause Limits SEM Campaigns Before They Start

What does a professional services contract have to with driving qualified traffic to your Web site? When it comes to search engine marketing (SEM), a single pernicious clause can hobble a campaign before it starts.

A clause your lawyer will insist be added to your vendor agreements can be the difference between moderate success and wild, screaming success.

Your lawyer doesn’t get it and never will. You must lobby for the clause’s removal from all vendor agreements. It’ll be the fight of your professional life — and worth every drop of blood spilled.

Where Lawyers Get Their Direction

Corporate attorneys have one job: to protect their companies’ interests. But the legal department works for you. They must, within reason, follow your guidance. They’ll need guidance on this issue. It will likely come from the marketing VP or CMO.

Legal Language That Limits Success

Many of our large clients insist we add a specific clause to our services agreement. It requires we not mention them on our Web site, in marketing materials, or in public presentations. In short, we may not benefit from any association with their brand. We call it the “do not utter our name” clause.

Among other things, it prevents us from linking to our clients from our site. Neither can any of their vendors. Our one link won’t change their lives, but the cumulative impact of thousands of lost links equals lost opportunity on a gargantuan scale.

The restriction may once have made sense for branding reasons. In the Internet age, it’s counterproductive. The benefits are outweighed by traffic and, therefore, the revenue it costs clients.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ve heard of “PageRank” and link popularity. Consider this from Google:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B…. Google… also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”

Google’s Craig Silverstein explains a Web page’s link popularity is calculated on a page-by-page basis. Every page of a site is graded individually, based on its own link popularity.

You need lots of links to more than just your home page to gain maximum search engine visibility and referral traffic. A prohibitive contractual provision deprives you of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of inbound links. You also limit the effectiveness of the SEM firm you hired to help with the problem.

Many big-brand companies require the clause for protection. It actually harms natural search visibility and severely limits their ability to drive qualified search engine traffic to their Web sites.

Smaller Companies Reap Rewards

I read several years ago that after a particular Fortune-100 manufacturer discovered “total quality” was its key to success, it issued a directive to its vendors: Show us your plans to compete and win the Baldridge award, or you’ll no longer be our supplier. Such is the influence some companies wield over their suppliers. When something is important to their success, they insist their vendors and partners jump through certain hoops.

Smaller companies usually aren’t burdened by the “don’t utter our name” provision. Many never considered such restrictions. Often, we suggest they exchange links with their vendors. Why not? Over time, these links impact the number of top-10 rankings our clients achieve and increase qualified traffic.

If clients realized the importance of links to a Web site, their contracts would demand all their vendors link to them. It can have that much impact.

Everyone uses search engines. All search engines measure links to determine a Web site’s ranking. Adjust for it.

Taking on Lawyers and Brand Managers

Measuring your site’s link popularity is easy. Go to Google and type: “link:www.your-Web-site.com” into the search box. Google will return a list of search results that contain only Web pages that link to your Web page.

Now, perform the same query on each of your competitor’s URLs.

If they enjoy higher rankings on important keywords, they’ll probably have more links than you. Even if they don’t, remember it’s not just quantity, it’s quality. They may have better links than you: links that aren’t available to you, perhaps even links from your vendors.

You may discover many of your biggest and best vendors don’t link to your site — at your request.

How many more rankings and how much more traffic would your site receive with a few hundred or thousand more links? More. Probably lots more.

Do Your Lawyers Make Marketing Decisions?

Why allow a lawyer to hamstring your SEM campaign by limiting how many links point to your site? Someone else made the decision; the lawyers simply follow policy. There may once have been a good reason. Is it now worth thousands of unique visitors to your site each month?

Learn why you have this provision in vendor agreements. How important is it compared to how Internet search engines work? If possible, remove these types of clauses from vendor agreements. At least adjust them, so linking to you is allowed. Develop a clause that requires vendors and partners to link to your site. It does more to protect your brand than that other clause.

Want more search information? ClickZ Search Archives contains all our search columns, organized by topic.

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