2014 for Search Agencies : Problems, Solutions & The Future


We all know that search has gotten the biggest disruptive changes in 2013, both in organic and paid, and has evolved to better and bigger platforms today. While this is all great, search, as a marketing channel, poses numerous challenges than ever before, to search marketers today.

Agencies are going through a challenging phase today, some with identity crisis, some trying best not to get stuck in time and the rest trying best to convince brands to put in the money. Testing times for sure, but all this is a part of the wobble effect in the industry, brought in by the disruptive changes as part of the search evolution. So, how are search agencies coping up with all the change and what does the future look like?

Here are my personal opinions.

Search Agencies

Image courtesy – Studio DM

The identity crisis faced by Agencies

Be it PPC or Organic, changes that has kicked in as part of the search engine evolution recently has really put agencies that focus on SEO or PPC in to an identity crisis. Clearly, SEO alone as a service is a thing of the past (not saying that there are guys doing it really good). Organic search has evolved in to many branches today, with content taking a lot of the limelight, people are pretty much educated today in realizing that mere on-site optimization is not a scalable solution. You would need a larger team with a strategical approach and a long term plan to define success in SEO.

PPC is not different. With enhanced campaigns and rising average CPC’s there is a big need for sophisticated approaches to PPC bidding strategies and sometimes even bigger team requirements.

At this point, agencies that were offering SEO / PPC services alone are faced with an identity crisis. Whether to pitch for either solution alone or go for a “full agency” approach. Obviously, there’s got to be a larger picture painted to convince the client, and agencies that run on old strategies got to break out from the cocoon.

The blurring lines between marketing channels & the compartmentalized agency

The market trends of today demands much more than SEO, PPC and even Social. There is a heavy demand for a consolidated, streamlined approach between channels and many traditional agencies, still work in a compartmentalized fashion. There would be a PPC specialist who’ll do his/her thing exclusively with the budget, there’d be a SEO specialist who’ll do his SEO magic focusing on keywords and ranks and there’d be a social team, which would be all about managing Twitter and Facebook accounts (throw Instagram in).

What’s missing here is a streamlined, cohesive approach that’ll help the brand/client win digital overall. Clients today are exposed to multiple channels and would demand the same for their product, and when agencies work in compartments, they’ll miss the big picture. Having said that, there are several agencies that get it and work together as a team with all the specialists with one focus. That, indeed is the way to go.

The fact is that, the lines are blurring between marketing channels, and it all depends on the brand and their objectives as to what goes in to the mix. There is no right and wrong approach today, but probably a mix and match, customized strategy is what makes sense in most cases.

Agencies got to understand this, and in 2014 and beyond, put the focus on the client, his brand and objectives rather than on processes within the agency. All successful brands today, do it the cohesive, streamlined way leveraging the brand, and that is, in my opinion, the future.

Agencies stuck in time

It probably would be unfair for me to classify everyone into the “agencies” term here. There are obviously small, medium and big size agencies out there, each with unique and different set of dynamics and outlook. What I will refer here to are agencies that aren’t updated with today’s market. There are small, medium and big guys here and we’ve all seen them. Big problem.

You know your agency is from the 2000’s when they list out “Meta tag optimization” in SEO deliverables. Startling, but true. There are even big folks who do that, I’ve seen it. Sad state of affairs.

I can only see these agencies withering out in time.

All they have to do is educate themselves, update and catch up with the rest. All this might sound too obvious, but trust me there are folks who’d resist it.

I asked one why they do Meta tag optimization now, when both of us know that its a waste of time and he replied that not many clients are aware of it, they demand it.

That’s fair enough, but my personal opinion is that, agencies should not let themselves get stuck in time, or else it will be too late to update.

What’s the future for Search agencies?

The future for search is clear. What’s happening in the market today are hints to what is to come.

Focusing on any one channel isn’t a good idea

Organic getting less and less transparent but sophisticated and inclusive with other channels like content, media and social. Agencies have to scale their teams and work in tandem setting common goals in order to win this space.

Bigger budgets will reap better rewards

CPCs will go higher, bigger budgets are the need of the time. Some brands understand it, but not everyone. Agencies will have to work on bigger budgets and convince clients to put that money in, in order to win their spaces. Bigger budgets should always mean better ROIs, unlike before where things were more in the air and not specific.

Embrace the multi-platform world with the right technology

Traffic sources are getting more and more diverse. Strategies that will look at them from a holistic perspective only, can make the right interpretations from data . Agencies got to gear up with the right tools and technology to understand this multi platform world in order to help brands/clients make the right decisions.

Set goals & ROIs in black and white

A big turn off for brands is when ROI in search are not measurable. Earlier, search marketers had to deal with a lot of “educated guesses” but with updates like keyword data not being available, this is  a chance for agencies to give realistic goals and count the numbers in black and white specifics – not guess work. This way, brands will be more confident in putting the money on the table.

Gone are the days of onsite optimization and off-site optimization. Its all going inbound. Agencies got to embrace inbound marketing to move forward and scale up their teams to make it possible.

Success is defined differently by each brand today. For one it might mean more eyeballs on social media, for another, it might mean more footfalls at their local store.

Either way, a good agency should be able to identify the pain points, understand client goals, define it in numbers, measure the KPIs, set crisp goals and provide the right team that’ll deliver the results cohesively.

This, is the future.

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Mani Karthik

I can talk about Marketing and SEO all day long. Passionate about blogging, SEO & Online marketing. Perpetual learner.

Comments 1

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  1. Working in an agency (actually just gave my notice of moving into an in house position in June) I can relate a lot to this article. I think in the agency life there is a large silo effort between the paid vs the organic team. I think both sides are constantly trying to one up each other in every month report which both as a stand alone really does not take the full picture into account.
    I strongly believe that using multi channel funnels and becoming more of a search marketing agency rather than a PPC and SEO agency is the future.