Train Wreck Scenario: Search Marketing

A cold harsh inevitability of your career in digital marketing is that you will come across a disproportionate number of people who know a lot less than they should about subject matter that falls into their responsibility.

Search is one of those subjects about which many people are less-than-informed and you’ll need to learn how to deal with those folks. You’ll need to deal with less-than-ideal client scenarios and really bad ones. To be aptly equipped you’ll need to know the difference between good, bad and train wreck.

To be clear, this is not a discourse on whose tactical objectives or overarching strategy is best. Execution, delivery, technological solutions and tactical roadmapping with leading edge strategy driving the engagement are all assumptions of a successful engagement. This is about something else…dare I say it’s about relationships?

In A Perfect World

Differentiating criteria notwithstanding, let’s talk about the ideal client interaction with an agency. The core ingredient is mutual respect. I know this should go without saying in the modern world, but I’ve seen this one all over the place.

In large companies, there are many internal and external constituents to be served and you have to remember that one or more of the folks behind the scenes may not have wanted you. Beware the axe grinding peripherals.

Volumes of text have been written about what makes up the perfect client relationship. The short version in search is a relationship where your client is engaged at a mutually agreed upon order of magnitude.

In the olden days when Don Draper walked the agency hallways, fee structures were understood and there was a large line drawn between what was and wasn’t your responsibility as an agency. Well, in spite of the sheer volume of people waxing poetic about the misogynistic and smoke-filled rooms of the Mad Men world, the days of the long engagement with clear cut roles are history.

The reality today is that relationships will require constant vigilance in maintaining a clear understanding of what is expected of you. A good client will understand that a partner who is constantly going out of scope probably doesn’t have time to mind the road map. Constant education and minding the plan are the new rules of the road.

In A Challenging World

The search marketing world seems like an island of misfit toys. Some people are really good at it, others are really good at selling it and still others view it as a necessary evil that any idiot can own. It’s been my experience that entirely too many people think they are experts. Search marketing is one of those unique disciplines in which half stupid is 10 times as dangerous as total ignorance.

Usually when the sh*t is about to hit the fan, there are certain telling signs or subtle indicators you’ll see coming your way. Here’s a short list of yellow lights:

  1. Someone sends you a request for the complete account history out of the blue.
  2. On your weekly call, client suddenly asks you to “share” data with a new person you’ve never heard of before that moment.
  3. Client starts dropping hints they are hiring people who might know about search (or fill in your area of expertise).
  4. Having a full 5 minutes to study Google Analytics, a new guy draws the wrong line between search and display.
  5. After a full 30 minutes with the upgraded analytics suite, new guys start using terms like “cannibalizing organic clicks” and reviews his entire CV while on a call.

There are lots of warning signs for when a relationship is starting to go bad. Sometimes it will be your fault; sometimes it will be someone else’s, the only saving grace in a bad situation is how you handle yourself.

Even if the other guy is acting like an infantile silly idiot, keeping your cool on the downslide will go a long way to helping you keep your dignity in the long run.

Remember, a yellow light may turn green or red. You must decide which direction you want the engagement to go, that is, if you still have some influence.

In The World’s End

Some days, no amount of preparation can help you and you just need to take a step back. At times like these, I’m reminded of Billy Bob Thornton’s depiction of a very bad situation from Michael Bay’s 1998 timeless epic masterpiece, “Armageddon.” “Basically the worst parts of the bible,” was the description of what it would look like if everyone on earth suddenly became aware of their impending doom.

Not long ago, I was asked to review a series of contracts and otherwise loosely-defined agency relationships. No less than two senior staffers thought their efforts with partners were doomed from the word start. They expected the effort to fail, so guess what happened?

People also sabotage professional relationships by playing to internal politics, fulfilling the need to satisfy their own petty childhood issues with authority or to simply hire people they trust.

The dynamics of search marketing change pretty fast and change may come from simple confusion that has manifested itself in the form of discontented misplaced wrath.

Not every client engagement should be a doomsday scenario, but with a little help, you’ll be able to avoid the rock coming toward you. Now, don’t let that asteroid hit you in the bottom on your way to digital marketing bliss.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column


About The Author: is CEO of Motivity Marketing. Motivity ‘s focus is helping companies in the world of connected marketing move forward with greater impact and return than they may ever have thought possible. Kevin takes an active role in guiding the day-to-day strategic execution of client initiatives.

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  • paul_forcey

    I always wonder how much info to share. I wrote out a nice spec for a client and then when I did a follow up they admitted they had given my spec to someone else who undercut my quote while also adding a thousand high PR profile links to the mix..

  • Pat Grady

    or the unexpected announcement…
    “Everyone, meet C.C. Cannabell.  He’s gonna make our sales reports rock!”
    “Oh, hello there.  What’s the C.C. stand for?”
    “Cross Channel, why do you ask?”


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