Ahh...the dreaded "we only work with large agencies."

Just got off the phone with a prospect we had been working with last year. The contact was new, having taken over the role of "SEO-seeker." We had made a formal proposal last year and they never went with anything. So I got on the phone and was asked the usual due-diligence type questions. "Tell me about the company," etc... When we got to the fact that we only employ just over a dozen people, there was a noticeable shift in the conversation. This ended up with a "we prefer to only work with large agencies."

Now this is a legitimate top 5 business in a very competitive and popular industry, so I can sort of see why they may take such a stance in normal relations with an agency. SEO is not yet "normal" enough to be lumped into this, in my opinion. The majority of the "successful organizations" in this (SEO) business are probably less than 20 people, if not 10 or 5, working very personally with a client for about 6-12 months and then shifting into a maintenance mode thereafter. In my opinion and based on my experience, that is really what breeds success in this field, as many tasks are managed together by one to five people in order to ensure continuity in a project.

So really, if you are even a Fortune 100 company that is seeking SEO, I would have to highly recommend the established "boutiques" out there. I am not saying that some of the larger SEO firms are incapable of good results. They would not have grown to their size without success in the past. But I am speaking of agencies that are large but do not have their own established SEO departments yet. I feel what will happen is that many of these non-SEM or SEO-specialist agencies are simply going to outsource to a smaller firm, and the client is going to pay a hefty middleman fee in most cases.

As I said in the last post, we work with agencies in this manner, so I am speaking from experience. I wonder how many other SEO’s are out there that have experienced this same kind of “small-fry rejection?” If I was more insecure I would rush to jump to a large firm. It seems that many of the bigger SEO’s are in fact hiring at a rapid pace right now, perhaps partially because of this need for “size” (and also because of the increase in paid Search popularity – see below). I guess size does matter in the eyes of many organizations. Too bad for them, and good news for smaller SEM clients.

One more thing…I have recently noticed an obvious shift towards the popularity of paid Search. We have been getting far more leads this year for that than for SEO. Perhaps recent research and projections (buoyed by media cost included in the total anticipated spend in the field) have pushed SEO back a little, both in the eyes of marketers and the eyes of SEM’s that realize that good results are much easier to attain quickly with PPC. I am not saying that SEO is no longer the first proposal that comes out of my mind when dealing with most prospects, but I have been much more likely to highlight the merits of PPC lately.

Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?

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