The top search services are readily apparent. Google and Overture are the most widely recognized and they also possess the highest volume of inventory. There are a number of other companies in the space, with the quality rather limited to about 6-8 total providers, but there are a number of other companies that have recently been pitching media buyers on their Paid Search Result programs.
After inquiring further about these services it turns out they are simply acting as ad brokers, entering into the fray by offering the same services as most agencies by purchasing the inventory, optimizing the copy, expanding the keyword lists and finding additional means of generating volume on the same paid sites that most agencies are already buying. Coincidentally, these are the same services that most of the sites themselves offer to the agencies and the clients who are executing the buys. So once again I ask, who owns the rights to these search results?
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m a card–waving Capitalist and I enjoy the spirit of competition that keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive, but this most recent development is simply muddying the waters for some people. Many of the companies offering these services are offering them as additions to other inventory they already manage. Some are rep firms while others have popped up almost out of nowhere to attempt to resell this inventory and take a minor mark-up on top of the bid prices for this inventory. On the flipside, some of the companies have recognized the potential of these search services and either purchased them outright or struck up significant biz dev relationships whereby they both offer these services as part of their sales repertoire (in a few cases, these are exclusive relationships). These relationships make sense to me as there is a clear line being drawn between these two companies, but the re-seller/ad broker model is not one that I find very efficient and I wonder why the sites themselves have not taken exception to them? After all, they’re simply doing what the sales divisions of these sites could be doing on their own? Drumming up new business and servicing new clients?
Most agencies, if not all, already try to ensure that their clients are taking advantage of paid search listings and there is more of an argument for having the direct relationship with the provider of these results than going through an intermediary. A solid media buyer has strong relationships with each of the search sites, and their client service departments are actually quite good. They are proactive at providing options and working to manage these campaigns on our client’s behalf. The added value that an agency, if it is to succeed, has to offer is that we are experienced at the types of campaigns that drive immediate results, whatever the metric. In addition, our relationships with these sites allow us to get changes made faster and more efficiently than if a client was to try and manage these campaigns directly. One other added value from the agency perspective is that the management of these programs is almost always bundled into the other types of campaigns that an agency would be operating for a client, so the reporting and analysis are aggregated into one place, with the optimization recommendations and learning applied across an entire campaign, simplifying the life of the Brand Manager or Director of Marketing on the client side. In the end, it's more than just immediate gratification, it is a learning environment with solid strategy behind it.
Another reason for the genesis of the question is that it is widely recognized that our industry is already far too complicated. It takes entirely too long for an interactive sales person to explain to a traditional company how to take advantage of the Internet for their marketing purposes. Now that we have all of these companies evolving into resellers of Paid Search Listings, it will only serve to complicate the issue and drive further confusion in the eyes of those traditional marketers. Search Listings work well for many advertisers, why do we have to confuse them?
I can certainly hear the argument already that the Search Providers don’t care since it's more revenue for them. I can also foresee the responses on the Spin Board and in my mailbox from the various folks that have been pitching these ideas for our clients. I see why you would offer these services, but the concern is once again of simplification of the industry. With the emergence of these companies, it now takes longer to explain what Search Results actually are to our clients and they come to us looking for the answers as their agencies and trusted partners. The agencies never profess to own the inventory that we are utilizing for our client’ s campaigns. Some of these resellers do not make it as apparent until a few pages down that they do not either. This becomes confusing for a new client to understand.
Therefore I ask the question, who owns the rights to the search services?