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Stars Oh My! The JupiterResearch Constellation Report is Here

“Ouch. That hurt. A lot.”

This was the response from some search engine marketing agencies last week when the 2006 JupiterResearch Search Engine Marketing Agency Constellation report landed with a thud. The rising stars, however, immediately sent out press releases citing “edge-of-the-seat” passages as if it were a movie review.

The power of a single published opinion has always perplexed me. Having served time at an SEM agency, I can tell you firsthand that such studies can make or break a deal. I’m also willing to bet that at least one person in the industry is fired over the report – or at least locked in a dark room without food for awhile.

Even more troubling is the how the rest of the world responds as it makes decisions on which SEM to select, work for, invest in or acquire. One search marketer suggested to me that a particular firm’s poor performance would lead to its eventual death in the industry.

Opening Weekend

The mere existence of the constellation report is the result of a saturated, yet undifferentiated market. Indeed, one attendee at last week’s Search Engine Strategies show in San Jose asked me, “How can an industry support so many firms who do exactly the same thing?”

Enter the critic.

In March 2006, JupiterResearch conducted a formal survey of 317 qualified search marketers and 103 SEMs. By May 2006, only 15 SEMs were invited to participate in the paid search constellation and 13 SEMs were invited to participate in the natural search constellation. The first step required participants to complete survey, followed by the opportunity to meet with JupiterResearch analysts and demo technology.

Don’t Believe the Hype

With very good marketing, even a bad firm can attain solid sales during opening weekend. Word of mouth, however, can do a film in. At least five clients of each SEM were interviewed by JupiterResearch. This data was also paired with the responses from the 317 marketers surveyed in March.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. According to the report, search engine marketing clients are not seeing so many blockbusters. While they are relatively happy with the SEM’s account teams, only 57 percent approved of their agency’s ability to execute on paid search and only 58 percent approved of their agency’s ability to execute on natural search. This proves that even with a brilliant cast, a film can still be a bust.

Furthermore, 32 percent of marketers will switch their SEM if it fails to deliver against expectations set for the search campaign. For the midsized marketer, this feeling is intensified. After all, the smaller clients are the first to be neglected when resources are tight.

Rotten Tomatoes When all is said and done, one must remember that the 15 or so reviewed firms are still that: the top 15 of 103. And while even I found some of the rankings a bit off, the gap between each player represents very little differentiation. For those of you who are skeptics, Forrester Research’s report is coming soon to a theater near you.

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