Top 5 SEM Industry Frustrations

Search marketing is up; the rest of the world is down. That means now’s the time for non-stop excitement in the world of information collecting and connecting.

It’s also a fun time to be a writer. Sometimes, people accuse me of being a blogger (though, to my knowledge, I’ve only blogged four or five times in my life). Every time I put something out there, people share their opinions with me.

Sometimes the opinions I get are helpful, sometimes they’re thuggishly anonymous. I’ve been spending a great deal of time with SEM people lately and none of them are running short of opinions.

In the spirit of anonymous rants written by and for the people, here’s a smattering of the top “frustrations” (substitute, “challenges” or “opportunities” if you’ve just read a motivational book) I’m hearing from practitioners in the trade:

Recurring Nonsensical Communication

This one’s big in the agency world, particularly among middle management. The complaint most often heard lies in the vein of “having the same conversation eight times with no resolution.”

If you want your people to work harder and stronger, give them guidelines for their own success. Middle managers need counsel on just how to do this, and junior people need specific guidance.

Forward-Button Management

This is a big one, particularly with middle managers in the search realm. “Forward-button managers” (FBMs) are renowned for forwarding endless e-mail strings with 2,000-word comments. These are often sent to teams that have no time to read them and don’t include specific direction. The antithesis of the U.S. Army’s old “Be All You Can Be,” this management style is just about as useless as one can be in almost any environment.

A new tool from Google might remedy the situation. Still in beta, Google’s new FBM counts the number of times a manager “forwards” an e-mail string and, through a complicated series of mathematical equations, calculates the actual value of a manager’s contribution to the work environment. The new “FoBumRank” is then sent to human resources at layoff time.

OK, so “FoBumRank” doesn’t exist, but if it ever does, I’d like 25 cents every time a calculation is made. Think before you click the buttons people.

Layoff Drop-off Syndrome

Companies are letting people go in order to thicken up those thin margins. The problem: folks remaining behind still have to do the work.

Seems this phenomenon is relatively new to the search world. The workflow increases and the headcount drops. The people left to do the work aren’t happy and, even in a down economy, there’s still plenty of demand for search talent.

If the remaining folks have any kind of brains, they’ll usually jump ship. I wonder what that will leave you with?

Magic Service Disorder

When people get desperate, they start making stuff up. Most often, we see this occurring in emerging arenas. Relatively few people understand the power and magnitude of social media, so it’s easy to add-on “magical” services to pad contracts. Other relevant keywords tossed into the mix include the magical and mysterious world of mobile search.

While quite a few trade professionals take social media and mobile seriously (and do it well), simply fluffing up a client contract with terms like “mobile” and “social media” while asking your existing people to do the work will have the same effect as Layoff Drop-off Syndrome.

Outsourced Service Psychosis

Profits are running short and the work is getting more complicated in the search marketing world. When the going gets tough, the tough apparently go offshore to for the really complex stuff. While we all know exploiting third world labor is a favorite pastime in “These States United,” we might want to spend a little more time calculating total cost of ownership here.

All too often, when the work comes back in from the “offshore drilling site” it has to be transcribed, translated, and transmogrified. Time zones, differing work ethics and standards, holidays, and a million other little hiccups can be costly. I can’t believe this still happens, but in the time it usually takes your in-house labor to correct the problems, you could have trained a local team to the job right the first time.

Times are tough, people. It’s time for search marketing agencies to toughen up too. Despite the flaccid economy, search marketing has a great chance to get through this recession with limited damage and emerge strong. But that’s not going to happen if we can’t forego the bad habits of mediocre middle managers, desperate salespeople, short-sighted bean counters, and unmotivated staff.

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