Freeloading An SEM Audit Will Cost You

I recently got introduced to the Director of Marketing at a very prominent travel company with an equally impressive SEM budget. The director wrote me an email stating that he was “very interested” in talking and wanted me to come to his office right away with an audit of his campaigns, the people that might work on his account, and pricing information.

Needless to say, I was pretty psyched. My team and I did a thorough review of his campaigns (and found tons of low-hanging fruit), put together a beautiful PowerPoint (insofar as that is not an oxymoron), and walked away from our meeting with the director confident that it was only a matter of time before we would win the business.

Over the next few weeks, the director continued to talk to us about his account, frequently asking for specific feedback on tactics for his account, but we could never get him to commit to moving forward with a business relationship.

All the while, it was clear that he was taking our suggestions seriously – we could see our ideas being implemented in his account as the days went on.

One Does Not Simply Mooch…

Eventually, we began to suspect that our potential client had no intention of actually working with us, but was more than willing to keep getting free advice for as long as we would dish it out.

Indeed, after the director asked one of my team members to once again meet him “to discuss the contract,” I instructed my team member to avoid giving out any advice and focus instead on when we could start managing his account. When the potential client got shut down trying to get free info – as expected – he informed us that he was planning on building an in-house team and didn’t need an agency.

I am, of course, a little bitter about this chain of events, mainly because I don’t like getting duped and because it cost my team and me a lot of time. Ultimately, however, I contend that the person who will be hurt the most in this case is the travel company.

The cost to me was probably something in the range of a few thousand dollars of my team’s time. In that time period, I provided tens of thousands of dollars to this man’s company in the form of free advice. The changes he implemented no doubt improved his account dramatically.

‘Fish For Today’ Is Not Enough

But here’s the rub: fantastic search engine marketing results require long-term strategy and tactical implementation. A two-hour PowerPoint (however awesome it might be) will provide “fish for today” but will not “teach you to fish for a lifetime.” The audit recommendations we provided this company were based on a quick evaluation of their account; actual management of his account would have helped us discover many more opportunities for improvement.

On top of that, let’s not forget that search engine marketing does not stand still. Think about your approach to SEM a year ago and your approach today; did you care as much about mobile bids as you do today? Did you have a well-thought out PLA strategy? Were you using broad match modified? Someone once said that three months of Internet time is equal to one year of actual time — and that means SEM advice becomes obsolete much more quickly than most feedback.

Knowing Is Not Doing

And let’s not forget that there is a big difference between knowing the right answer and actually implementing a strategy to get the right results. If I spent a few weeks reading a manual on how to fly a 747 airplane, would you trust me to fly you to Europe? Like any trade, SEM takes a lot of practice and expertise; simply telling someone to “create targeted site extensions,” for example, does not mean that they will know how to actually do it.

In other words, my friend at the travel company may well have thought he was pulling a fast one on me and getting the milk without paying for the cow, but I’d argue that all he won was a Pyrrhic victory – short-term gain at the expense of long-term, repeatable success.