The dual agency duel: How not to do search marketing

When it comes to search marketing, are two agencies twice as good as one? Or are two agencies actually worse than one? Some believe that a diversity of opinion gives you better ideas. Others think that each agency will work harder to compete. But as someone who recently worked at an agency, I have my own opinion.

First, I’d like to thank Mike for this guest blogging opportunity. I’ve been following his writings for some time now, and I’m very excited to have the chance to contribute.
During the past year or so, I’ve been focused primarily on search engine optimization. One of the most common questions my clients were asking was, “How are you going to work with our PPC provider?” Now that I’ve left that agency, I feel like this is the best time answer that question with the least amount of bias. Here it is: I don’t want to work alongside another agency. It’s inefficient, full of back and forth, and it limits each vendor’s ability to give their best work. It’s my opinion that the dual agency approach to search management leads to a disconnected search campaign.
The first problem is that both agencies don’t always work well together. Each agency would love to get that additional revenue from the client, but then everyone involved is forced to play nice. Playing nice tends to result in a product that is much more limited. I have seen and heard horror stories of bad work coming out of competing agencies, and it’s not fun to take the blame for poor results. Things like this lead to tension, finger-pointing, and increased inefficiency.
Furthermore, by moving to a unified approach your company benefits from integrated reporting. Both SEO and PPC have essentially the same goal. Drive high quality traffic at the best price. When one agency is managing the whole search program, they can report on and take responsibility for the successes and failures of the whole campaign. Getting reporting like this also makes things much easier for client-side marketers who have to base decisions on complete, integrated data.
The final and maybe biggest benefit of using a single agency is that it eliminates a huge amount of overlap. A page optimized for organic rankings is a page that is focused on a single premise. Ad groups targeting aligned terms will be able to drive more efficient traffic because they will have an increased quality score. Destination URL paths will end up being obvious and making sense. Keyword research will be more thorough and data driven. And finally, both client and agency can commit less staff to the total project as a result of the increased efficiency.
I can understand the thinking that two heads are better than one, and by spreading the business between agencies you’re mitigating risk, but I’ve yet to see two agencies treat a client better and show better results than a single well staffed agency.

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