What’s it Worth to Ya?

In my role at Distilled, I am usually the first point of contact for new clients, and inevitably I am also the person who lets them know how big a dent our fantastic service will make in their wallet. This usually starts a conversion regarding realistic expectations, return on investment and assurance that we are not committing highway robbery. While most of the potential clients I speak to understand that they need search marketing, many don’t understand the amount it might cost to invest in something that is going to provide strong and sustainable results. As someone who has worked in both online and offline marketing related jobs, I thought I would write a blog post or two that shines some light on the value of online marketing and why it really is worth that little bit more for a great campaign. My first post is going to discuss the ever-important themes of ROI, targeting and value for money. I know all of these are popular topics so if you have any comments or links to add, please let me know!

Show me the ROI!


When I worked in magazine sales, one of our hardest challenges was proving the return on investment for our clients. We could show that 80% women who read our magazine also liked to go shopping for women’s clothing, but we couldn’t quickly and cheaply prove that those same women would see our client’s ad and be driven to buy that exact product right away. Research needed to be carried out, sales tracked, and assumptions made. At the end of the day, it was never an exact science. But then again I’m not sure that it should have been. Magazine and TV advertising are not about direct marketing and immediate results; they are about building up brand identity and establishing a clear place in the market—creating a culture.

In a post credit crunch diminishing sales market, however, accountability is becoming increasingly important, and all forms of marketing and advertising are trying to prove that magic selling point of ROI. Since its beginning, this is where digital has been able to run a head of the pack. You want to know who is on your site? Look at the traffic. Are they buying? Check your analytics. Do they like you? Check your feedback. The potential for monitoring, analysing and, most crucially, knowing what your visitors are doing, what they want and how they respond is one of the fantastic things about internet-based business and marketing. The key is knowing what to look for, getting it set up and demanding access to the knowledge.

Proving fantastic ROI is where strong search marketing agencies can stand out from the rest of the crowd. The very first and most important thing I focus on when beginning a new project is my potential client’s perception of strong ROI. What do they hope to get out of search marketing, and are their expectations realistic? Even though search engines are at the core of what we do, search marketing campaigns should never strive to just get to the top of Google. I find sitting down with a client to discover their long term business goals can help establish what actually needs to be done, and how search marketing can help them to achieve those goals. It may be that they get more results from building up a bespoke but targeted following though social media or that they could really benefit from some immediate PPC to help get them some exposure and increase awareness. Managing clients’ expectations and setting clear measurements for success are two of the most important steps in the very initial stages of any marketing project, especially in an industry where people can sometimes get distracted by the means to the end, rather than remaining focussed on the end itself.

When kicking off a search marketing campaign, I always ensure potential clients have a clear understanding of what they are going to get back from their agency and that they set realistic key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs do not always need to be traffic and sales growths and are not the only ways to show strong a strong ROI. Search marketing is still an organic process, and although it is very easy to see its impact over a period of time, you have to give it a chance to work. Discuss with your agency what you expect to see in the first few months. This may be research into your marketing, a review of your website, or a summary of all the hard work they are doing to ensure that an uplift in results is just around the corner.

Less is More


When trying to establish what you want to achieve from search marketing, it’s crucial to focus on what is actually important to the overall growth of your business and make sure that your search agency has the same goals in mind. If you are selling antiques, who cares if you have 50,000 people a day on your website if none of them are interested in antiques and they got there by mistake? Online marketing is extremely adept at reaching small but valuable target markets (this is where I am obliged by the industry to mention the long tail), and it would be shame to waste a lot of money reaching out to people who have no interest in your business. We are currently doing a lot of work to increase conversion rate optimisation for our clients, and often this means ensuring that all of our marketing efforts are going to where they will be the most receptive and in turn the most profitable. That being said, there is a time and place for numbers (online newspapers, pubic services bodies and politics, for example) but for the most part it’s always nicer to have an intimate conversation than to shout at a crowd.

How Would You Like to Buy a Bridge?


When the States was still a brand new country, there was a con artist in New York called George C. Parker who would approach people right off the boat and ask them if they would like to buy the Brooklyn Bridge. Being new to the “Country of Opportunity” apparently some innocent immigrants succumbed to the hoax. Unfortunately, those new to a market are always going to be targets and there will always be people out there who are looking to make a few pounds off of someone’s lack of experience. The wild west of the online world is not immune and there are cowboys out there who try to sell very “cheap” search marketing. I get a lot of clients who have had that experience in the past and they are still smarting from getting ripped off from the last guy. It’s always sad to hear about people who have had the misfortune of working with a less than scrupulous agency, but it’s also a bit shocking to find out how little they paid to supposedly ‘get to the top of Google right away’. Like everything else in this world, in search marketing you get what you pay for. If you don’t believe online marketing services are worth much, how can you expect them to generate large business benefits? Search marketing that is done well can be very successful and could possible revolutionise your business results. But it takes time and a lot of hard work and research. A talented team will devote the care needed to understand how to grow your business and those man hours are what you should be paying for. That’s not to say you can’t find a good value out there, but just be wary, discount SEO may leave you in a worse state than you started in.

Inspired by Lucy L’s use of colourful analogies in her posts, I have created a fun little analogy to further illustrate my point (sorry if it’s a bit feminine biased):


You have dry skin and are looking for a new face lotion and you have a choice of two lotions.

One of the lotions is in available in Boots. You see it on the shelf and hear about it from friends, and they let you test it on a part of your skin to see how nice it is. The ingredients are right on the box, and you know from the brochure exactly how it works and what results you can expect. It may take a few weeks to work, but the results of regular application are consistent.

The other lotion is sold by a man who comes up to you on the street he saying he has this great new lotion. It will do everything you want and more and you will get results right away, but he can’t tell you how or what’s in the lotion because “it’s a secret formula”. He claims that all of the other pretty people are buying this lotion, and you want to make sure you don’t get left behind. You must have it and you must have it now, and he will sell it to you for a very special deal. Cheap as chips.

Now guess which lotion is the most likely to give you a rash, or spots, or do absolutely nothing at all because it’s really just watered down hand lotion.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some companies who will offer great rates, but it’s always important to read the label before you buy!

Searchenginejournal has a great post on warning signs and what to make sure you avoid when starting a new SEO campaign.

Caitlin Krumdieck

Caitlin Krumdieck

Caitlin Krumdieck is our Global Director of Client Development and looks after the Distilled Client Development Teams in London, Seattle, and New York. Caitlin is originally from San Diego California and moved to the UK after getting her Degree in...   read more

Get blog posts via email


  1. Hi Caitlin,

    Great and detailed post.. I perform the bus dev function at Bloom and your points are spot on. I wonder if you guys ahve considered any payment on results based fee structures?

    We have found that with the right client (and it must be the right client) that this is the perfect way to enable the discussion about spend Vs return and ensure that the right KPI's are measured. I have found that this guesture of confidence really convinces clients that you believe in your service.

    One of the main benefits comes from the freedom this has generated in the services we are able to apply to our clients. Rather than having to convince clients that reputation management should be looked at, or that social media is relevant, because we only earn money if it works the client lets us get on with it, provides us the support we need and is delighted when we show the returns. The trust that builds in the raltionship has been an amazing by-product of this way of working..

    I've posted on this topic on our own blog would be interested to hear your thoughts...




    reply >
  2. Thanks for this great post Caitlin.

    I fully agree with you that it is particularly important to sit down with the client and engage in a fruitful yet realistic dialogue about what SEM can and can't do for you.

    In most cases that will in all likelihood involve offering the client 'SEM/SEO 101' training and opening up new possibilities beyond SEM/SEO (online reputation management and social media marketing immediately come to mind).

    I find that we are reaching a stage where SEO or SEM efforts cannot be dissociated any more from the overall online strategy that the business in question in following - if they happen to have one thought out in the first place!

    reply >
  3. @ Alex and @ Oscar
    Thank you very much for your comments on the post.

    As both of you have pointed out, it is too easy to fall into the "SEO silo" of the marketing mix, without also examining the additional potential for growth and development across the whole of the client's marketing activity. As online marketing changes, so should our role in the marketing mix and the type of benefits we can provide for clients. It seems like on a daily basis that I'm asking Will about a new online marketing idea and checking - Can we do this? Is this something that can be justified as part of Search Marketing? Can we do it anyway? I think the further we expand our ideas and our marketing activity for the client's benefit, the better for both client and agency!

    Alex - I have read your post and agree that it is always worth looking into any opportunity to work with clients in a way that will provide them with the type of marketing they need to see strong business wins. In regards to pay-on-results based campaigns - this is something we would consider for the right client and in the right situation. The only concern we have is when we get clients asking us for this model or a revenue share based campaign, when they haven't fully considered all of the elements of structuring the campaign for mutual growth. Some clients think that a revenue share model is a cheap way to get strong SEO and are just trying to get a discounted campaign. Fortunately, we are getting very good at separating these deals with genuine opportunity. It is definitely something worth exploring further and another example of how digital marketing is leading the way in return on invesment for marketing and advertising campaigns!

    reply >
  4. Caitlin,
    Your article is to the point and clear headed.This is an essential feature of an actual market performer.
    Client orientation is the one and only way you can win 'client loyalties' and keep them with you for a long time to come.
    Secondly what the client wants is no doubt of utmost importance but what the client 'actually' want is to be known based on your understanding of the market.

    reply >

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>