For Better or Worse: Search Marketing Prenups


wedding_smallADOTAS – Last month I was the best man for my brother’s wedding in San Diego. It was a beautiful ceremony along the coast in Solana Beach. Although the bride and groom shed tears of joy during their wedding vows, it wasn’t too long after the ceremony when a few guests began trading jokes about divorce and prenups.

Crass perhaps but probably not unrealistic in our society. Based on current trends, it has been estimated that nearly 40%-50% of marriages end up in divorce.

Interesting enough, the agency-client divorce rate is actually even higher. Eventually agency-client marriages conclude, for better or worse. At a certain point in a campaign or relationship, it is perceived the agency can’t do any better and the client can’t do any worse.

Recently the agency I work for became engaged with two new clients. One client engagement is for search engine optimization and the other is for paid search services. Please no polygamy jokes.

Marrying the Family

It has been said that when you marry your spouse, you also marry his/her family. While dating the SEO client, we discovered the current campaign employs a lot of temporary links. In fact an analysis suggests the PageRank 4 links are really what is keeping the rankings on the first page. If these links are removed, the rankings will plummet and result in a corresponding reduction in leads and revenue.

A quick removal of temporary links increases other potential risks. Since links are usually recorded in webmaster tools, a quick removal acts like an automated signal to the search engines the client was likely employing paid links in their campaign.

Finally if this situation wasn’t problematic enough, the current agency did not disclose to the client which links are permanent and which links are temporary. In short, what other links will be removed once the divorce becomes final?

With our SEO client, we really did marry its family. Its family in this situation was the temporary links. As a result our SEO campaign responsibilities were immediately extended to include the rest of the family.

Who Gets the House?

Our client with the paid search campaign was also working with another agency before WebMetro. While dating this client, we audited their campaign and discovered it was poorly managed. For example, we discovered a number of high volume keywords that were successful in Google but were not present in Yahoo or Bing. In another situation an analysis of their Lost Impression Share Report found branded keywords were not appearing sometimes as much as 40% of the time, due to budget allocation – not a budget cap.

Sadly this marriage did not end amicably and required a bitter divorce settlement. After agreeing to an early termination, a problem arose about who gets the house in the divorce?

In this situation, the agency owned all the paid search accounts, not the client. Each month the client paid the agency a combined fee for the media and the agency services. The client did not have access to the official Google Adwords or other paid search accounts. Instead the agency emailed reports to the client regarding the performance of the campaigns.

When the client filed for divorce from their agency, they learned they did not get the paid search campaign. Since the paid search account was owned by the agency, the campaign and its assets did not automatically transfer to the client in the divorce. The only alimony provided by the agency was a copy of the keywords and creative.

Not owning the account history and quality score proved financially devastating to the client in the divorce. Not only must the campaign be completely rebuilt from scratch requiring several weeks of work, but the client will pay more for each and every click until the account history and quality score are restored.

Building the account history and quality score will literally cost the client thousands of dollars over the next few months. Historically we’ve found that new accounts can pay up to 50% more per click based on bid rank, match type, prevailing quality scores and other factors.

It is regrettable that this situation occurs in our industry but it is not uncommon. Agencies and clients get married but the client is unaware they don’t own the paid search account. In fact I’ve know some agencies to purposely retain account ownership as a client retention strategy.

For Better or Worse

As you read this article my brother and my new sister-in-law have come just returned from their honeymoon in Hawaii. I don’t think they have a prenuptial agreement and neither do my wife and I of twenty-something years. Perhaps we both are old fashioned and actually believe in the adage of “for better or worse.”

Nonetheless, I do recommend clients have some form of written agreement regarding ownership of the paid search campaign. In addition, I also recommend clients receive some form of documentation regarding the major tasks including a list of links developed as part of the SEO campaign. While I don’t think you need a 30-page agreement, a sentence or two in each pre-happily-ever-after agreement will work just fine.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here