Search Engine Reps: Friend or Foe?

Search engine marketers have a love/hate relationship with search engine representatives. On one hand, SEO (define) and SEM (define) firms are largely responsible for demonstrating search engines’ monetization value. On the other, search marketers often feel they’re treated like unnecessary middlemen who can be disposed of once search engines’ reps have learned enough of the trade.

Which brings me to this week’s column. I’m tired of search engine reps constantly trying to steal my clients. On behalf of my colleagues who have the same problem, here are some ways I’ve worked with clients to provide the big picture.

Position-Checking, Web Analytics, and Search Engine Reps

The following situation happened (again) last week. One of our e-commerce clients emailed me, saying a Google ad rep had contacted her. The rep told my client her site’s positions had slipped. Then she presented AdWords’ typical sales pitch.

Whoa! Did I read that email correctly? Did a Google rep say she was position-checking? Doesn’t Google frown on position-checking? Granted, I frown on position-checking as well, but this email ruffled my feathers a bit.

Time to fight fire with fire.

I asked my client to review her Web analytics software to determine if her site was losing qualified search engine traffic from Google. As usual, the answer was no. If her qualified Google traffic was fine, why did she take the word of an ad rep over her Web analytics data? Data, I might add, no Google ad rep has access to.

Then I asked her how well her Web site was converting visitors into buyers. If Web pages weren’t converting, it would be time for more usability testing and analysis. Did the ad rep’s email mention anything about usability? How many salespeople have education, training, and experience in Web site usability?

Needless to say, my client’s site wasn’t having any problems with conversions or qualified search engine traffic. She assumed, incorrectly, that since a real Google representative contacted her, her site must have search engine problems.

Working in the Clients’ Best Interests

Tip: remember who signs the paychecks.

Search engine ad reps work for the search engines. They try to make the most money for the search engines and their own sales commission. They don’t look out for my clients’ best interests.

On the other hand, SEO and SEM firms look out for the clients’ best interests. If we feel a site would benefit from both optimization and search engine advertising, we’ll recommend those strategies. Very few sites rely solely on SEO to receive search engine traffic, especially when a fast turnaround time and a guarantee are required.

Additionally, many SEO firms use search engine advertising in a variety of ways to support optimization campaigns. For example, after usability testing potential design templates in the lab, I’ll often run an AdWords or a Yahoo Search Marketing campaign to verify the lab results.

Educating Search Engine Reps

I’m picking on a Google ad rep primarily because this particular situation occurred very recently. Ad reps from other search engines have tried to steal my clients throughout the years. I remember being very, very embarrassed when Yahoo updated its paid inclusion program. I contacted my clients who used paid inclusion to go over the changes. Yahoo reps had already gotten in touch with them, making me look like I was out of the loop. Grr.

I’ve been rather silent about search engine reps and SEO/SEM firms because I prefer to work with the search engines. However, it’s extremely irritating when search engine reps make factually incorrect statements. Here are two of my favorites:

  • If you buy ads, your natural search engine rankings will increase. Even Google says this statement isn’t true in its Webmasters section. Perhaps HR departments should more thoroughly train their ad reps.
  • If your site isn’t ranking for a specific keyword, it’s losing valuable search engine traffic. My goodness, even search engine spammers deliver this pathetic sales pitch. The only way to determine the effectiveness of any SEO/SEM campaign is to analyze, test, and measure. Any qualified SEO/SEM firm will help you create content groups in your Web analytics software to measure ROI (define). Sales reps will always pick specific keyword phrases just to close a sale.


We have ad reps from all the major search engines. If we have a question or problem, we don’t hesitate to call or email to get an answer. If a search engine updates a product or service, we don’t hesitate to share the update with our clients if we honestly feel it’s in our clients’ best interests.

We’ll also share any information we encounter about search engine spam or click fraud. Why? It’s in everyone’s best interest when search engines deliver timely, accurate results.

Search engine reps, remember this keyword phrase: mutual respect. If you expect SEO/SEM firms to respect your terms and guidelines, respect our terms and guidelines. That means not trying to steal our clients.

Meet Shari at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago, December 5-8, 2005.

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