I’ll kick off things with disclosing that I don’t have a very high opinion of BigMouthMedia. I worked there Jan 2005 – Jan 2006 and left fairly disenchanted with the company having had more than one disagreement with the powers that be about various things and some blog posts which ultimately led to them threatening legal action! Shame, would have been great link bait!
Matt (a former GlobalMedia employee who left around the time of the BigMouthMedia merger) wrote a post the other day about BigMouthMedia’s rankings on the back of a discussion about whether or not rankings = quality. Go ahead and read that – not worth me spending much time on the back story here as it’s covered well over at SEOtunes (but read my SEO agency copywriting sins article as well!).
What I thought I would do here was look at some of the reasons that BigMouthMedia have succeeded and touch on some of issues that can come with it.
Experience, experience, experience
One of the key issues that BigMouthMedia faced growing over the past years is finding experienced staff. I’d venture a question for you – was this intentional or just a consequence of their location / the state of the industry?
Probably a bit of both.
When i started in Jan 2005, BMM was only around 15 people – that was with quite a large client portfolio even back then (I don’t really recall, but guessing I’d say around 200 clients). Basically the company was a load of Account Managers (of which I was one), supported by some sales and tech staff (the tech guys being the core of SEO experience within the company). By the time I left in Jan 2006 the company was up to around 30 staff – the Account Management team had grown the most but the tech team hadn’t recruited any more experienced SEOs.
Not to take anything away from the people they did recruit who were all talented tech bods – they just didn’t have any SEO experience and needed to be trained.
During this time, the Account Management team had grown a lot but there was really only flirting attempts at serious training. Keep in mind, these are the people who are completing strategy documents for clients who paid £x,xxx (or more) for the document. I overheard some crazy stuff being told directly to clients in that time – just down to lack of training. The most non liable example I can think of is someone advising a big brand over the phone to make full use of “RSS CSS feeds”…
So where is BigMouthMedia now? Over 200 employees and probably over 500 clients I’d guess. But how many experienced “SEO hours” is each client receiving each month on average?
I don’t want to be too critical about the BigMouthMedia service as I am biased but I think a more general point can be made here. Despite an extensive client list I’d guess that *some* clients may be better off pound for pound working with a small agency or consultant. What do you think?
Does size matter?
I believe it does but I also believe there’s a point of diminishing returns (aka “growing pains”). Finding experienced staff isn’t easy, particularly in a field where someone with a couple years experience can go it alone and make more money than an agency would pay (well, BigMouthMedia weren’t helped along with the crap salaries they paid though!).
So with very strong marketing efforts, good rankings (resulting in good leads), big brands on the client list and a strong sales force led up by Steve Leach and the other company directors, BigMouthMedia found it easy to get clients. Well, not easy – just easier in comparison with other agencies – all the right boxes were ticked to get the sales process started and BMM had the key staff to close the deals.
But with growth comes more problems. I heard ’round the campfire that a year after I left the staff count had doubled yet no more experienced SEOs had been hired. Worse still, only a few had even made it to the interview process!
This could have been a critical point for BigMouthMedia – bad PR or an exodus of staff could have seriously crippled the business. And getting banned from Google around this time couldn’t have helped lol!
Merger to the rescue!
Along came the deal with GlobalMedia which probably changed the fate of BigMouthMedia. As I said before, BMM weren’t exactly forthcoming with liberal salaries (of course, it could have just been for me given I wasn’t exactly employee of the month much! ) – some people familiar with the business speculated that budgets were kept tight in order to make the company look more lucrative to investors – I’m not certain if this was the case or not.
There had been an awful lot of graduate / entry level career people recruited throughout my time (and the salaries matched the experience levels) and I reckon the GlobalMedia deal brought a more mature company model to what BigMouthMedia had become (which was essentially a small inexperienced company being held together by key members of staff). BigMouthMedia didn’t grow up well – the time between 12 employees and 50 employees didn’t have much structure. Everyone had “Manager” in their job title, and there wasn’t much in the way of formal training.
I have likened it to a glorified call centre before – I’m not certain if that is entirely fair or not though. I think I’ll leave you to judge that one.
GlobalMedia brought international offices (and not just shared offices used once a week *cough*) and the structure of a larger company to BigMouthMedia – I think more than anything that was the injection of life the company needed.
Big is best?
Well if you believe BigMouthMedia’s press releases, then big is best. But then again, there are so many press releases each day you might miss it.
Going back to the topic of Matt’s original article on SEOtunes, how does quality relate to success?
Do good industry rankings equate to SEO talent? To some extent I believe so, and I also believe good rankings also equate to good marketing efforts (which usually go unsung in this industry). Certainly I wouldn’t question BigMouthMedia’s top end SEO skills, led by Head of SEO, Andrew Girdwood who has been around for years and is very knowledgeable when it comes to SEO (as is JZ – dunno if he has a blog / public profile to link to though).
But in the same breath – I wouldn’t equate the experience of the rest of the company to that of these two people. There is a level of dilution of skills when you rely on key members of staff to carry a lot of others. While new or inexperienced members of staff could competently review some sites for SEO purposes, that’s no substitute for a high level of experience looking at the site. That for me is a problem if you are selling yourself based on the experience your staff have.
It’s back to that “do rankings = quality?” question again. They suggest quality (or at least skill / knowledge), just like big brands on the client list do. I don’t think they equal quality though.
The key to the success of BigMouthMedia has been the strength of their sales team and in my opinion one of the areas many SEO agencies undervalue.Â There are many other areas that they have failed on in the past (or continue to fail on by some estimations) – but sales isn’t one of them.
I know that could sound like a nippy remark (given the negative conations associated with “sales guys” sometimes) – it isn’t intended as such. Sales is a vastly important area of business and BigMouthMedia serve as a good example of how much benefit it can be.
Whether or not BMM “deserve” their success is another question. I’m *mostly* in the camp of “if they achieved it, then they deserve it”, which I feel is a fair assessment to a certain extent. On the other hand, some would argue that it’s not the destination that’s important – it’s the journey, and certainly BigMouthMedia have made some questionable decisions over the years.
Open your Big Mouth!
Spill the beans. What do you think?
Does BigMouthMedia deserve the success they had or do you hate them with a passion? Give your reasons – keep it clean (or email me the dirty secrets)! Are their rankings the secret of their success or a consequence of them?
I find myself in a weird position of knowing many negative accounts, and being weary of anything positive said. Help me free my mind!
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