The Search Agency Mandate: Differentiate Or Die!

Search agencies: Do you offer a free consultation? Maybe even a free AdWords audit that normally costs $5,000? Do you have a vertical specific case study? Client success stories? Award-winning agency culture? Does your executive team have over 35 years of combined search experience?

Sorry, it’s 2015. Your free consultations, audits, case studies, client success stories, company culture & executive experience are no longer enough to truly differentiate your agency.

Are those aspects of your agency helpful in closing new business? Absolutely. Are they true differentiators to help you stand out from the sea of other search agencies? Absolutely not.

Your clients have never had more agency options available to them, which makes acquiring and retaining ideal clients extremely difficult. This flood of competition makes your agency strategy far more important than your tactics. Agency tactics can be learned, but true agency differentiation is earned.



So how can you differentiate your search agency in 2015? Here are three quick ideas:

Inbound marketing. Your content can absolutely differentiate you from your competition. While your competitors hire interns to post a new Top 10 ______ List for Beginners every week on their blog, you can instead focus on your clients’ biggest problems and create in-depth content that clearly demonstrates your agency as a leading thinker. Consider making the three pillars of your in-house content production credibility, authority, and value. Invest heavily in your blog, whitepapers, & webinars, which are often the first touchpoint for future clients. Is your agency actually cutting-edge? Then prove it with your content.

Consistent client experience across departments. A lot of agencies have individual superstars, but fail to create a consistent experience across every client interaction. An agency is only as strong as its weakest link (or weakest dept.), and seasoned clients can sniff out a junior team member from a mile away. From marketing to sales to launch to delivery, your clients have to feel like their time is valued and appreciated throughout the entire process. Agencies who aren’t committed to ongoing training and education will have trouble retaining their client base over the long haul.

Clear channel-management strategy. Most agencies are forced to start in a small niche and build out as they scale their operations. The short-term opportunities start to add up, and suddenly it’s easy to fall into the trap that your agency will start managing social on the side. Then a client asks you to take over their email campaigns -- and, hey, since email is a piece of cake, why wouldn’t you take that “low-hanging fruit” as well? Once your sales team hears about the new service offerings, they start upselling new clients, and your marketing team updates your agency website to help the sales team close more deals. Everybody wins, right?

It depends on your definition of “winning.” If you define winning as weakening your overall market position and jeopardizing the future of your agency, then you are a HUGE winner! In all seriousness, this is an easy trap for an agency to fall into. Your overall agency positioning should be reevaluated on a frequent basis to make sure you still have agency/market fit.

All these ideas help develop a brand identity and personality that will distinguish your search agency from all the others. So many places look, act and sound the same, it’s easy to play along. But the field remains wide open, always, for distinguishable, differentiated agencies. The rest are just taking up space.

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