Designation for Compliance in Search Doesn't Cover It All

Danny Sullivan: Sporting a New Logo Is Not Going to Cut It

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The good news: There's a program from the Internet Advertising Bureau and the Direct Marketing Association designed to identify "best-practice-compliant" search-marketing companies. The bad news: Companies sporting the program's new logo might not be that compliant at all.

I appreciate the effort. I really do. I'm often asked by those new to the industry how to know which search-marketing firms to trust or which are competent. Newcomers are easily confused by jargon, sales pitches and pricing that can vary widely between firms.
Danny Sullivan
Photo: Jason Meyer
Danny Sullivan has been covering the search-marketing industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of

For years, the search-marketing industry has talked about establishing standards, but the efforts have gone nowhere. Now two major trade associations have stepped up to make it happen. The program comes from the U.K. chapters of the IAB and DMA, so U.S. search marketers need not apply. Hopefully, it won't jump the pond in its current state. That's because right now, it's not hard for anyone to get a logo complete with checkmark making them seem competent.

Want to be compliant? You need two employees dedicated to search, to have been in business for six months, have gained accredited status from Google and have joined a trade group such as the IAB, the DMA or the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, Sempo.

Sounds good? Having two search employees doesn't mean they know what they are doing. Joining a trade group simply demonstrates you've got money to spend. The hardest requirement -- showing Google-accredited status -- only proves you read all the Google AdWords help pages and spent $100,000 (perhaps incompetently) with Google over a three-month period.

Admittedly, the program is a first step with criteria that might grow or become more stringent in the future. Nevertheless, it's also billed as raising the bar on best practices, and those logos will be used by companies to prove they somehow know search when in reality, the program doesn't assure that at all, in my book.

Search marketing is understanding the paid listings and the free ones. Search is also mobile, local and video. Finding a competent firm doesn't require black magic. You should ask for several references and then call them. Do your homework and listen to your gut. If a firm feels iffy, look for someone else.
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