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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!