Is VCCP Search really the first agency to let clients see PPC keywords?

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  • February 22, 2009

VCCP Search are in Marketing Week with some very bold claims.

Apparently they are the first agency to give the IP rights of PPC keywords to their clients.

VCCP Search, the search arm of Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, is offering its clients the opportunity to retain their intellectual property rights.

The agency previously kept the rights of any search keywords it purchased on behalf of the client, but in an effort to retain clients, it is now letting them retain those rights. VCCP Search says it is the first agency to offer such a service.

If VCCP Search are right then this means that no other agencies in the UK are letting their clients see what keywords they are bidding on.

Now I know for a fact that here at Branded3 we’ve been giving clients access to their keywords for years and since VCCP are only starting this on February 19th that would mean we were the first.

However it isn’t fair for me to claim the glory without doing any research, so, if you are a PPC agency and you allow clients access to PPC keywords please leave a comment below and we can see just how many agencies are handing over IP rights.

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • Andrew Girdwood

    Many months ago I sat in an IAB search council, explained that bigmouthmedia has always and would always consider keywords to be the property of our clients and pushed strongly that all other agencies agree.

    Since then almost every other agency has agreed.

    I think VCCP are one of the LAST not the FIRST to do this.

    I was so angry on Friday when I read this at first. It’s all recorded on Twitter. However, it’s been pointed out to me that it make be a mistake rather than a VCCP claim or Marketing Week bias/reporting issues. So I’ll phone them on Monday and find out what’s up.

    Please note; these are my personal opinions and reactions to this and not necessary a reflection of what might employer might think.

  • Jonathan Beeston

    At Efficient Frontier we’ve always let clients retain their search engine accounts. We’ve always seen the accounts as the client’s property to begin with, and never ours. Been doing this since the company started in 2002.

    But to add a bit of detail to the debate, I don’t think VCCP were not letting their clients see the keywords at all. Presumably even if their clients couldn’t access the accounts, they could see detailed enough reports to know what keywords were being purchased.

    The big issue is allowing clients to keep the same accounts if they wish to change agencies. With click-through rate and quality score history being so essential, starting a new account can cost thousands as you try to build that history back up.

    Many agencies allow their clients to retain the accounts, you will get several respondents to this thread. There are some notable players that don’t, or at least kick up a hell of a fuss, both SEM specialists and larger network media agencies.

    Finally, it’s a rather curious article in Marketing Week as this is described as an ‘effort to retain clients’. Seems like this kind of change makes it easier for the clients to leave!

    My advice to any advertiser is that you should:
    – have access to your SE accounts (not just get reports, but have logins so you can see what’s going on)
    – have the right to retain the SE account should you wish to move agency
    – own the billing relationship with Google

  • Jim Banks

    We used to let clients see all keywords we were buying way back in 2002. We gave them logins to all the accounts because ultimately it was a partnership, we couldn’t add value to them without them sharing knowledge of their business practise and they couldn’t add value to us without us doing the same.

  • Andrew Girdwood

    I may get such a slap for this tomorrow – but in the heat of the moment on Friday when I first read this – here’s the record of my diatribute.

    * Bring me the head of Marketing Week
    * Nonsense
    * Calling out to journalists
    * … and more
    * planning a response
    * Latitude and Efficient Frontier want to see the ‘crime’

  • Nick Wilsdon

    You’re right Patrick, that is completely ridiculous. As far as your question, we charge clients for the initial keyword research so naturally that information belongs to them. Our contract also state that (where possible) the account will be set up in their name and logins/data handed over to the client if they stop working with us. All standard clauses in a PPC services contract.

    Someone ought to have a word with Marketing Week, did no one question this claim when the piece was being edited? I’d expect them to get away with this in non-industry publications but here? Seriously?

  • Tom Jones

    Lazy. lazy. lazy. Someone, somewhere didn’t do much research at all.

    Here at iCrossing we’ve always allowed clients to retain their data.

    I actually wrote about best practice guidelines on the very subject a little while ago

  • Simon

    Client speaking: make sure any contract ensures all IP, logins, passwords, etc are with the client, do this at the pitch stage, any later and you could have problems. If the agency says ‘no’ walk away from them. Any good agency will ensure their client has full IP and if they are doing a good job they don’t have to worry about being sacked.

  • kelvin newman

    it was vccp on the panel at ses where they asked the room if agencies granted access to clients and a bunch of people put there hands up and said yes, if i’m not severely mistaken?!?

  • Rosenstand

    At Concept Interest we have always allowed clients to retain their data. Actually I cannot see any other way to do fair businees.

  • Kevin Gibbons

    Kelvin, yes that’s exactly what happened. That’s why I thought Marketing Week may have misinterpreted quotes from VCCP at SES, does seem to be a very odd claim otherwise.

  • DangerMouse

    On what possible basis can there be IP rights over a keyword? That’s clearly absurd.

    Account structure… maybe, but keyword? I’d like to see some evidence of this please.

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  • Dan Horton SEO

    Not anything new from our perspective, all logins, keywords etc rest with the client tends to avoid any problems later on.

  • Dom

    If you don’t let clients see keywords, how can you provide detialed reports on the campaign? It makes no sense!

  • Paul Mead

    Guys, sorry its taken a while to get out there and respond. A morning packed with client meetings! Great debate been sparked by this one, and I welcome all these comments from agencies who say they’re already doing this. When we talked to Marketing Week about the story, the idea was that it would spark the debate and get comments from other agencies and clients on what is a really important issue, especially with the number of pitches going on.

    To be clear, this is not about logins or access to a Google account which should be standard (even though in some cases its not!); its about ownership and the right of an advertiser to do what it wants with that Google account. We all know there are agencies out there who don’t play ball, and have a contractual set up which causes serious issues when an advertiser wants to move.

    The idea behind this is to find out where everyone stands and get some real clarity on this issue. Hopefully will be some good follow up pieces, I’ve just posted about this in more detail on our site and if anyone wants to give me a buzz directly fee free!

    Our website

    • Patrick Altoft

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, much appreciated.

      I guess the main point here is that if the client owns the login (ie it’s under their email address) & pays Google directly then it’s their account. However if the client is paying the agency and doesn’t own the logins then there are going to be problems.

  • Paul Mead

    Cheers Patrick.

    Absolutely and I think that is a key point in the post-BPF world. What’s the benefit of a client billing via an agency? The benefit to the agency is the ‘turnover’ or ‘billings’ figures which can then be released. What’s the benefit from an advertisers point of view? From our perspective a client should own the account. As far as the account is concerned, changing agency should be as simple as the client logging into their account, disabling the old agency’s login and setting up a login for the new agency.

  • Alex Hoye

    Hi Patrick, thanks for taking the point on this one.

    I am CEO of Latitude and we agree with you that the foundations of long and mutually beneficial client relationships are built on transparency and trust. This is why Latitude, along with a number of other digital marketing agencies – some of whom we’ve heard here – offer clients the opportunity to retain the rights of the search keywords we purchase for them.

    For a few more thoughts, see my blog post:

  • Paul Mead

    It’s been great to see the reaction from around the industry to what is a really important issue for advertisers in search and thanks to everyone for all the calls and emails.

    I think we have clarified that this move goes beyond ‘transparency’ in terms of logins or ‘allowing clients the right to retain the rights to their search keywords’. It also cuts through all the talk of best practice in terms of how agencies should behave when transferring a client’s account to a new partner.

    In future, I think we’ll start to see clients insist that Google accounts are set up in their name. They will own the billing relationship and their account will simply sit in their agencies MCC. Right now, that’s just not the way that the major search or media agencies are set up. Agencies may well be transparent and allow their clients the rights to their own keywords, but that doesn’t go far enough and the only way for a client to be sure of this is to own the billing relationship. It’s a fundamental power shift in PPC from agencies to clients.

    We have made that move and I’d be interested to hear if anyone else shares this view, has this set up or is planning to offer their clients this option.

  • kelvin newman

    Again I thought this was common practice! Damn never know a USP til it’s gone 😉

  • Jonathan Beeston

    To repeat my earlier comment above, at Efficient Frontier our clients have always owned their accounts and billed direct with Google. We don’t like to have it any other way, so that’s the way we’ve done since 2002.

    It’s good that VCCP is moving over to what we’ve considered best practice for the last seven years. Agencies that don’t give clients complete transparency will wither on the vine.

  • Paul Mead

    Thanks Jonathan. I guess EF as a bid management technology vendor primarily is coming at this from a slightly different angle than a traditional search agency. Your clients will more likely be in-house teams who are set up with a direct Google account anyway and use your technology platform for bidding, rather than an advertiser used to outsourcing the whole process to an agency (although I appreciate you’re doing a lot more of the latter and the line is blurring!).

    Either way, the issues are the same though and I entirely agree with your point about transparency. However, as this debate has demonstrated , one person’s transparency means a keyword report, anothers means account logins, anothers means a professional way of conducting an account transfer. I think this is an area where advertisers need help in terms of exactly what they should expect from a partner.

    There’s no question that the optimal position in terms of transparency and the whole IP issue is ownership of the Google account by the advertiser and direct billing.

    Talking to Google and speaking to our competitors in this space, I think we’re still very much in the minority with that view.

  • Andrew Girdwood

    Hi guys,

    Glad to see that the conversation is on-going. For very many years now we’ve been signing papers, legal foo, etc, to ensure that all the data/IP/structure belongs to the clients (although that’s not always been necessary).

    I’ll happily agree that many agencies don’t do this. Equally, I can happily prove that many agencies have been at this level for years.

    VCCP aren’t the first but hopefully all this drama will shine the spotlight brightly and force everyone else to keep up!

  • Mark Mitchell

    interesting. nothing new here.

    transparency is key here. Clients should have access where possible.

    if the client leaves they should have access as well to previous data as should the new incumbent agency on historical data.

    always nice to see a good old search debate here and there :-)

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  • Dave Thomas

    Wow what a statement!!! Why would agencies keep hold of this info, what use is it hiding from the guys that pay their wages?? At Vertical-Leap we mangage clients accounts for them on their behalf so here is no confusion and complete transparency, and we have been going since 2000. Maybe we should have mentioned this earlier ?!!

  • Dave Carruthers

    What a joke, we give clients access to their PPC keywords the whole point of campaign setup fees is to cover this IP.

    I do know a of at least one of the bigger agencies that is still not providing clients with completely transparent PPC reporting, as they showed us the reporting they are currently receiving.

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