“GoogleClick” and “MicroQuantive”: Good News or Bad News for Agencies?

(Edited version appeared on Search Engine Land today)

One month ago I mused about possible impact of Google’s DoubleClick acquisition on SEM agencies and bid management tool vendors. This week’s Microsoft acquisition of aQuantive sheds an interesting new light on the situation.

As I reported, DoubleClick (and now Google) sells a powerful PPC bid management system called DART Search. Features include one-screen management of ad campaigns on Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, Microsoft adCenter and other services. It also allows automated bid price management according to rules set by the advertiser. So, for example, bid prices can rise or fall depending on position or ROI goals.

aQuantive is owner/operator of Atlas, a provider of digital marketing technologies, which sells, among many other things, the venerable Atlas Search (formerly Atlas OnePoint), one of the best-regarded bid management tools available. Its feature set is similar to DART Search.

I hope that Google and Microsoft enter into a healthy competition to provide these powerful cross-service bid management tools to agencies and advertisers – preferably at no cost, the way Google now provides Google Analytics. Why would either offer a tool that makes it easy to manage ad campaigns on their competitors’ platforms? Same reason that Google AdWords and Analytics allow conversion tracking of non-Google advertising now: to cement brand/product loyalty.

So that’s the good news; now the bad news. The acquisitions have placed Google and Microsoft squarely and imperiously in competition with SEO/SEM agencies. Microsoft’s aQuantive owns Avenue A | Razorfish, which bills itself as “the largest independent interactive agency.” And Google’s DoubleClick owns Performics, one of the largest SEO/SEM firms worldwide.

Will the acquisitors hold on to their agencies despite the fact that doing so might alienate some of their biggest customers? (Microsoft may be more vulnerable than PPC-leader Google – who’s gonna stop advertising on AdWords?) Or will each spin off their agency property to avoid conflict? Microsoft and Google: bribe me with a free bid management system, and I’ll begrudgingly accept your competing with my relatively smaller agency.