Lee Odden

Bye Bye Marketing Sherpa’s SEO-SEM Buyer’s Guide

For the past 5 years or so, Marketing Sherpa has published a buyer’s guide for SEO and recently, SEO/SEM firms. The initial guide ranked the search marketing companies which caused a bit of a stir, since it’s hardly a consistent industry to measure. What followed was a report that was less of a guide to SEO and SEM firms per se and more of a guide about the industry and tips for choosing an agency. The listings for each SEO/SEM firm were self reported.

Mike Murray recently wrote on the Fathom SEO blog that he thought there won’t be any future guides being published. I emailed Anne Holland and she confirmed this was true, saying that Marketing Sherpa will be focusing their efforts on the Benchmark Guides and because of the inherent difficulty in providing qualitative evaluations of each SEO and SEM service.
She also commented on the Fathom blog:

Mike, Thanks so much for your kind words about our Buyer’s Guides. We decided to discontinue the line of Buyer’s Guides this year because while the information was valuable, it wasn’t precisely what customers wanted. They wanted ConsumerReports style verified ratings of each firm’s performance. That’s an impossible task for a technical service industry. So, this year we’re retiring the line and considering ways to re-tool it so it’s useful to customers as possible while keeping the data true and real. PLUS, for data hounds, we’re broadening the scope of our annual Search Marketing Benchmark Guide (currently weighing in at more than 200 pages of stats) to include more firm info.

A follow up post on the Fathom Blog provides more info as well as an invitation to give Marketing Sherpa feedback.

So it looks like the SEO/SEM Guide is no longer going to be published, at least in it’s current form. If you haven’t seen the SEO/SEM Guides, you can read previous posts from OMB or visit the most recent guide page at Marketing Sherpa’s site.

A question for search marketers is, “Does it matter if this guide isn’t published?” I’ve read debates about this in the forums, where many report not having heard of the guide or haven’t received any new business as a result of being listed.

However, TopRank’s experience with being listed in the SEO Guide the past 3 years has been positive to say the least. I’ve had it happen in several prospect meetings on sizeable projects, where the marketing VP or director literally pulled out the print version of the SEO guide, pointing out how impressed they were that TopRank was listed. Several other clients have mentioned seeing us in the guide as well.

The SEM Benchmark Report that Anne mentions in the comments is not meant to be a replacement for the SEO/SEM Guide, but it is a fantastic report and exceptionally useful for client-side marketers as well as agencies. Here’s a link to last year’s Search Marketing Benchmark Report. A new survey to capture data for an updated Benchmark report was run recently so be sure to watch for a review here in the coming months.

Also, for companies looking for resources on selecting and hiring a search marketing agency, see this post, “Finding a Search Engine Optimization Company“.

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (No Ratings Yet)

Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Ed Kohler says

    It’s great for businesses included in the guide, and provides good guidance on how to shop firms, but I think they’re right that an objective measure of firms would be nearly impossible to create.

  2. I’m sorry to see it go. While it was a bit pricey on the consumer side, it was nice to be listed on the firm side and I do recall getting a few RFPs from potential clients who had found us in the guide.

  3. Hm, interesting, but the question is: I don’t want to hire the whole marketing agency, I would prefer to work with an individual, where to find one?

  4. Andreas, to find individual consultants, I would check out search marketing forums and also visit our BIGLIST of seo blogs as there are many individual consultants blogging there.

    In the forums you can post a query for referrals and work from there.

    However, I am curious why you don’t want to hire the whole marketing agency? An individual can only do so many things well. Individual consultants have to wear all hats leaving a lot less time for production than a group of specialists who may end up costing you about the same or less in the long run.

    Your question has given me a great idea for a blog post, thank you!

  5. Avatar Stoney deGeyter says

    The 2007 guide was the second one I had purchased and the first one I had read. I was actually quite impressed with the information that preceded the info on the SEO firms. I think the biggest “problem” with the guide is that you really had to take all the information with a grain of salt. Each SEO could answer questions in a way that puts them in the best light, not necessarily what was true.

  6. Lee,

    Thank you for the update on this. It’s a very interesting development.

  7. This is why I commented a few months back that Topseos.com is a joke–the inability to procure qualitative data based on core competencies and strategic expertise, as well as consistent execution and measurement. I know he is a client, Lee, but the site is nothing more than a marketing ploy.

    Do you have any personal insight as to why Top Rank ranks #9 currently? Based on what?

    As for the guide, if Anne gets enough feedback, maybe she will reconsider.

  8. topseos.com is a lead generation site for internet marketing services and does not give the companies it ranks specific metrics. I don’t think there’s any mystery to that.

    Lists always drum up interesting reactions because of inclusion/exclusion.

    Why is TopRank listed at #9 specifically? It might be that we have several Fortune 20 clients both with over $80bn in revenue, have been in the biz since 1997 and are considered a thought leader in the space by the likes of The Economist and U.S. News & World Report. It certainly has nothing to do with our web site design. 🙂

    TopRank has also been included in Marketing Sherpa SEO/SEM Guides for the past 3 years and it has also served as a lead generation tool, no different than topseos.com. Bringing back the guides in a different form might be a better option since it is so hard to qualify information for each SEO/SEM firm.

  9. Easy on the coffee, chief, I don’t think you feel me. Based on your exceptional visibility in this space, I see TopRank as a TOP THREE firm, rather than a #9.

    Now you state that Topseos.com is no different than Marketing Sherpa’s guide after writing a story that states that Marketing Sherpa was unable to rank SEO and SEM firms.

    Are you an advocate of lead generation sites that can’t support their claims?

    Based on your experience, how would you rate the leads generated by Topseos.com?

  10. Tom, you’re stretching things a bit I think. What I stated was that both topseos.com and Marketing Sherpa have served as lead generation tools for us, not that they are “no different”.

    topseos.com and Marketing Sherpa use no more or less of a qualification process I suspect than the often cited list of SEO firms on the SEOmoz site, which has ALSO been a source of leads.

    We’ve received good and bad leads from all three sources and we rely on none of them and never will since our own site rankings, industry visibility and word of mouth generate the vast majority of new business for our firm.