My SEM agency – PPC Associates – has lost clients before, that’s just part of the business. In most cases, I’ve found that clients leave because they either a) bring the business in-house by hiring their own SEM team, or b) conclude that SEM is just not the right channel for them. And yes, occasionally they leave because they just aren’t happy with the service my team is providing.

In only a very few instances, however, have we ever lost an account to another agency. For whatever reason, our clients seem to conclude that going to another agency will not make their life better, or their results more stellar. Of course, that doesn’t stop other agencies from trying to “poach” our clients. And really, I don’t think poaching is inherently bad, it’s just part of the dog-eat-dog world of business.

I do, however, have a problem with deceptive poaching, and this brings me to the case of a newcomer to the SEM world, Meltwater Reach. I don’t know much about Meltwater, but according to their Web site they seem to run about a dozen businesses, ranging from social media monitoring to hiring software and, yes, SEM. The SEM thing is a recent expansion of the Meltwater empire – around October 2010 to be precise – which means that my eight month old son has been alive about twice as long as the Meltwater SEM business.

So today I got an email from a client, forwarding along an email he had received from a Meltwater Reach SEM sales gal. To protect the client, I’m going to change some names here as well as change the keyword mentioned in the sales pitch. Otherwise, this is an unedited snippet of the email pitch:

I have tried to reach you a few times by phone in the San Francisco office, but I heard you just moved over here and I figure an email may be a more respectful method of getting your attention.

I’m writing from Meltwater Reach which is a Paid Search Software provider and Consultancy in the Bay Area.  I initially came across one of your paid search ads on Google for the search for “blue widget headbands” and saw that the ad copy could be a lot more targeted (you may not even want to be displaying your ad for a query like this given what you’re offering on your website).  Knowing that this is a very competitive arena in the PPC space, a more compelling ad copy would allow you to lower your CPC and CPA in the long run (see screen shot below).

Having seen this, I performed a further analysis of the consumer-facing aspects of your PPC campaigns, and found some major areas of improvements that will make a substantial difference in their overall performance (particularly in the ad copy targeting and the use of broad match).  I’d like the opportunity to share my findings with you and talk with you about Meltwater’s approach to paid search.

Do you have anything available on your calendar this week or early next week?

I’m sure you get sales people reaching out to you all the time, but I promise you that even hearing the recommended changes will be worth your time.

Suffice to say, the client – who most definitely does not sell anything “headband” related – was quite concerned to discover that we were buying such a ridiculous term on his behalf. Surely this indicated ineptness on our part, and insight on the part of the friendly Meltwater rep.

So my team and I investigated. After all, the client doesn’t sell headbands, so why were we buying that term? Well, here’s my response:

The mistake is that we don’t sell headbands, right? Our process is to buy a keyword like “blue widget” and to allow Google some leeway to match us on related queries. When we see data that suggests a related query is not performing, we exclude the query. If it performs well, we add it to its own ad group with targeted ad text.

So, in addition to blue widget headbands, we also show up for “blue widget matt” and “blue widget meltwater.” But if these queries don’t drive significant cost and impressions, there’s no point in really spending much time negativing them.

My trusted team member, Peter, did a little more research on this egregiously broad and irresponsible term and discovered a little more interesting data:

It looks like your account has been matched to only one query related to headbands in the last 90 days, and it is exactly the one they brought up:  “blue widget headbands”.  It has 1 impression and 1 click, 100% CTR!  I wonder if Meltwater usually clicks on the ads of potential clients…

So not only did we have a good reason to buy the term in question on broad match (well, if you must know, broad match modified), but it turns out that the only click – nay impression! – to ever show up for the query in question came from the Meltwater rep, who by the way cost the client $5-$6 in the process.

What I had hoped to do at this point in the blog post was to show several examples of Meltwater SEM clients showing up on ridiculous terms by appending “headband” to a normal query. Alas, Meltwater doesn’t disclose any of their SEM clients on their site, and given the aforementioned fact that they have only been around since the start of the most recent NHL season, they may not have much of a client base to talk about.

I would, however, like to issue fair warning to the SEM agencies who represent Kayak, Quicken Loans, and Dell Computers; you are showing up for queries like “new york hotel headbands”, “mortgage rate headbands”, and “laptop computer headbands” – Meltwater Reach may be knocking on your clients’ doors soon!

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15 thoughts on “Underhanded SEM Sales Tactics 101, Brought to You By Meltwater Reach

  1. Great that you took the time to post this. We were cold-called endlessly by a Meltwater rep 2 years ago for their media monitoring service.

  2. A firm that is inherently unethical is more vulnerable to those types of tactics that yours. Undoubtedly you would find customers in their base perfectly willing to cross over because they did not live up to expectations, or they have other ethical shortcomings that only become known after you are a customer.

    Just sayin’

  3. Hi David,

    Thanks for sharing your finding in your blog – a blog that our team frequently reads. In full disclosure I’m the Executive Director of Meltwater Reach.

    You are absolutely right, your son was born before our team officially launched in April 2010. As a business we are relatively new to search marketing. However, key members of our team aren’t. There are several industry veterans on our team, and we have spent a lot of time and effort educating the rest of the team in this exciting field. Our experience and dedication to professionalism is proven by the results we are delivering to our clients.

    To address the example you are referring to above…. To go as far as saying that our practices are “underhanded” (ie dishonest or insincere) is something I don’t think is accurate. Hence this response.

    There is nothing dishonest about the approach by our sales rep. Our strategy, which has been very successful for many clients, includes a sharp transition away from broad match keywords. As a result, it logically follows that our sales team will look for opportunities where prospects are using a lot of broad match. That being said, we appreciate the feedback and we will strive to approach potential clients with increasingly relevant value propositions.

    It’s against Meltwater’s policy to click on prospective clients’ ads. If there is an instance where a sales rep does click on an ad, it would be in contrast with how s/he was trained and instructed. We entered the search marketing field to help clients increase returns not increase costs.

    At Meltwater Reach we have a lot of respect for what PPC Associates have accomplished over the years, and we don’t have a poaching strategy in place. We are, much like any other business, trying to identify companies where we believe there is a win-win outcome when working together.

    If you have additional feedback for us or would like to meet up / talk on the phone, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and we can continue the dialogue offline.
    Have a great weekend.

    Jonas Oppedal

    • Jonas, thank you for your response and I’m glad your team reads my blog.

      While I commend your focus away from broad match, it goes without saying that broad match still has a place in SEM. To completely abandon broad match would be tantamount to claiming that you know 100% of the queries a potential customer would enter in to find your client. Moreover, the addition of broad match modified (which is what we use instead of traditional broad match) makes it easier to hunt for new and profitable queries while limiting Google’s ability to matching you on the ridiculous ones.

      So with that in mind, I still question the strategy of scouring SERPs for strange broad matches and using this as a basis for attracting new clients. In this particular case, it appears that your search representative really dug deep to find a totally irrelevant and obscure broad match query to prove her point. I guess on one level that speaks to the quality of our negative matching, but on another, it speaks to the sales rep having a pre-defined narrative to prove that this client was showing up on “bad” keywords.

      And ultimately, that’s why I believe this is an underhanded tactic. I guarantee you that I can find some strange or irrelevant queries for any AdWords advertiser on the planet. For example, my team noticed that a search for “meltwater headbands” results in a Meltwater ad showing up as the only advertiser. Do you sell headbands? If not, aren’t you concerned that you might be spending money on clicks that have no chance of converting? Hopefully you see my point.

      As I said in the original post, I am not against poaching. If you can provide a client with better results than another agency, by all means, win that business. I do, however, feel that cherry-picking obscure queries as evidence of AdWords incompetence is a tactic designed to confuse rather than inform, and that to me is underhanded.

  4. Let’s hope their shady tactics melt away. Definitely one company to keep an eye out for!

    They are however appropriately “bidding” on “meltwater shady sem” :)

  5. I have worked with these guys on their media monitoring tools. I have ton more than one trial of the service with them and, suffice it to say, the tool was slow, the interface was horrible, their sales people were super aggressive. So I am not surprised by this.

  6. Ok, Liam, you’re comment was funny, and David, you are right – let’s get this post to show in SERPs(!)

    David, great post – I must admit I was in a runoff with Meltwater Reach and I lost to them. A post-loss conversation with the advertiser informed me that Meltwater told the advertiser they could hit specific aggressive performance improvements. So, I guess that’s one way to get an account – predict the future and then hope like heck you can deliver.

    About 3 months after losing out to Meltwater, I was cc’ed on an email from the advertiser to the vertical Google team, saying “I have been having a lot of problems with our [Google AdWords] account and my support requests have been completely ignored.” Which begs the question – why is the advertiser putting in support requests to the Google vertical team instead of getting support from the agency, or having the agency put requests into the Google reps?

    Jeeze, maybe I should call that advertiser again!

  7. Ok, Liam, you’re comment was funny, and David, you are right let’s get this post to show in SERPs(!)David, great post I must admit I was in a rufonf with Meltwater Reach and I lost to them. A post-loss conversation with the advertiser informed me that Meltwater told the advertiser they could hit specific aggressive performance improvements. So, I guess that’s one way to get an account predict the future and then hope like heck you can deliver. About 3 months after losing out to Meltwater, I was cc’ed on an email from the advertiser to the vertical Google team, saying I have been having a lot of problems with our [Google AdWords] account and my support requests have been completely ignored. Which begs the question why is the advertiser putting in support requests to the Google vertical team instead of getting support from the agency, or having the agency put requests into the Google reps?Jeeze, maybe I should call that advertiser again!

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