Editing for a SEM research journal reveals a great deal about the industry and what agencies are experiencing. This past year I attended some great conferences and made a few observations about keeping up with change in the industry
A few general observations regarding the industry in 2009:
1. The rate of change of information that search marketing agencies must keep up with is accelerating.
2. The rate of change of people learning about SEM and then entering this industry is accelerating.
3. The number of companies wanting search marketing services is accelerating.
4. The number of engineering papers, behind the scenes, being published is accelerating.
5. The number of patents being filed in the industry is accelerating.
The combination of the above items will cause further exponential growth of information in the search marketing space. Is it possible, in the near term, that the number of agencies that can provide effective full-service search marketing services may not keep up with the demand coming from the number of companies that will be requesting these services? For established companies it may appear like there are too many search marketing companies and too many newcomers entering the industry. I think there’s plenty of room for effective full-service search marketing agencies. As businesses become more educated through books, conferences, and online information they naturally will begin to filter out the good from the bad and find the appropriate company for their business. So education is a postitive factor within any market. It removes the inefficiencies of doing business because good companies do not have to work as hard to land new clients. Most likely your clients have already spoken with others or done some reading before they arrive at yours.
To keep up with these changes search marketing agencies should begin to plan and budget for an R&D person or team on the front end of their company going forward. A search marketing agency has a difficult task to perform. It needs to look at a moving target, which it has no control over (the WWW), and break it up into tasks the company can perform for its clients and show real progress to them based on agreed upon, high-level key-performance indicators (KPIs). Taking a highly creative, and always-changing task, and then breaking it into tasks (that you can perform each day so that you can make progress) is difficult. It requires an independent, creative, and analytical type of person. There is little room for people within the company that expect to be told what to do next: People that behave like “traditional employees.”
How a search marketing company defines measurements, what the tasks are, and the tools and techniques they use to accomplish the tasks ultimately determines the company’s real value to its clients. All of these elements are typically the intellectual property (IP) of that company. Thus, the sometimes secretive nature behind the exact implementation of the tasks they define internally. When clients know about the general elements and terminology this will make the SEM agency’s job much easier to explain. There is a balance between educating clients versus jumping into implementation strategies, tools, and techniques. In some cases too much education will cause analysis paralysis in the decision making process. In most consulting agencies, to gain new business, companies will typically highlight their experience, the clients they have worked with, and the results. If these are impressive enough then this will likely be the beginning of a working relationship, assuming the client’s budget, timeline, KPIs, and other elements are in agreement.
If small search marketing companies are struggling to keep up with industry changes can you imagine their clients’ confusion? In publicly traded companies analysts usually expect to see a certain amount of a company’s revenue going into R&D. Investors like to see this because it means their investment, long-term, is being protected in a sense. It indicates that a company is staying on the edge and that it will not become stale and easily replaced by a new company or emerging technologies. If you value the long-term success of your company then you would naturally have the same concerns as an outside investor.
Having this R&D team on the front-end will also enable your internal team members to stay focused on what they do: Implementation of the tasks you are doing for clients. Eventually, of course, the people implementing the company’s strategies will need to be educated on the changes and why the decisions are being made. To stay ahead however, having the right type of person on the front end looking at new opportunities will go a long way in helping the company keep up with and stay ahead of changes.
An R&D team typically looks for strategic instead of tactical ideas. Your clients will most likely want you to perform strategic actions for their company. Strategic ideas are usually ones that will have a long-term effect and are broad in nature. Tactical ideas are typically short, narrow, and easier to discover. Many SEO techniques are tactical in nature. You could spend a lot of time and energy implementing them and then have their utility vanish overnight. There are countless examples failed tactical ideas in the SEM community.
Going forward I encourage you to consider how much time your company is devoting to R&D and how this process works. With the continued accelerating of information in this space you may be wasting valuable company time instead of making real progress. It is easy to become distracted in your attempt to keep up with it. Yes, even for something as undefined as R&D you can put some type of process in place to keep pace with the changes in technology and get the discoveries pushed into the internal workings of your company, a difficult task. Taking time to think about this process may leapfrog your company ahead of the competition.