SEM Setup Kit, Part 3.5.
There's a common practice in the SEM world, and you should be alarmed by it - the use of 3rd party landing pages for Local Search Marketing (LS), and Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC).
In this blog, I'll explain what 3rd party landing pages are, how they actually work against you, and why you should avoid them.
Some SEM firms will try to convince you that a 3rd party landing page is a good idea - They may even charge you extra for it; however, this arrangement serves them, not you.
This blog will likely elicit questions. We are aware that we're stepping on toes, and we're challenging what some think to be true about 3rd party landing pages. Please contact us if you would like more information, or add a comment below and we'll be happy to respond.
I've mentioned this many times, and it bears repeating: We want you to win online!
What is a 3rd party landing page?
Some SEM firms employ their own landing pages for clients' campaigns.
When they set up a Local Search page for you, the page links to their landing page, not your website. This is also done with Pay-Per-Click campaigns.
The landing page is likely designed for you, and perhaps even customized, but you don't own it.
These pages are controlled by the firm, and owned by the firm: Your money promotes their landing page - If the SEM campaign is successful, the page becomes more and more prominent: The landing page itself becomes a more valuable tool for Local Search and PPC campaigns, and also for organic searches.
Your investment turns the landing page into a valuable asset, and that's the problem - You don't own that asset, the SEM firm does!
How do 3rd party landing pages hurt you?
If you ever leave the firm, you leave the landing page behind, and that WILL hurt your online marketing for several months. It will take time and money to recover from this situation, because you will have to start building prominence for your own website - perhaps for the first time. IE: It's hurts to leave, and because of this, many companies choose to stay in this negative relationship. In the words of a cynical consumer, "That's how they get ya!", except in this case, it's true.
What's worse, the firm could use this same asset against you by giving it to a competitor - another client of theirs.
(Using 3rd party landing pages for PPC and Local Search) also hinders the prominence of your own website. Consider this - by promoting a 3rd party page, the SEM firm is literally creating a competitive website, and your marketing dollars are going toward the promotion of that competitor.
While your money is promoting their page, your own website is being virtually ignored.
It's reasonable to call this a predatory arrangement: The firm uses your money to build up their website while marginalizing yours - They are simultaneously building value in their assets and trapping you into a situation that helps them and hurts you in the long run.
One might ask, when is a good time to get out of a bad situation like this?
The best answer is, 'One year ago'.
The next best answer is, 'Right now!'.
How do you tell if your firm is using a 3rd party landing page?
Not all firm-owned pages qualify as a 3rd party page, so here's a simple test. If you answer 'no' to either of these questions, you should be concerned:
- Is the landing page part of your primary website? If so, they are directly promoting your site with the campaign, which gives your site a long-term benefit. That's good!
- Can you take the landing page's URL with you if you leave? Some firms own the website address (URL) simply because they provide the registration service. If they let you take the URL with you if you decide to leave, then it's okay to promote that URL with your marketing dollars.
If the answer is "no" to either of these questions, you are likely in a predatory relationship with your SEM firm - And guess what? You're not the predator.
I'd suggest severing the relationship as soon as it's convenient.
You may recognize this quote from a classic movie called War Games, with Matthew Broderick:
"Interesting game. The only way to win, is not to play."
Just say no.
These predatory relationships are so one-sided in the SEM firm's favor, I don't expect them to last as a common practice in the industry much longer. Online Marketing is a relatively new business, so common practices are still being sorted out. I was appalled when I learned about 3rd party landing pages 3 years ago, and since that time, I referred to them as Predatory Landing Pages. The title is well-deserved.
If your SEM firm is using a 'Predatory' landing page, you should walk away. It will hurt at first, but you'll be in much better shape in the long run.