Friday, February 09, 2007

Will General Atlantic buy an SEO firm?

I know "two moves" does not make a trend but let's pause and examine what the private equity firm General Atlantic have been doing lately.

Three days ago they announced that they're going to buy Network Solutions. It's a shame we don't get to find out how much Network Solutions is worth.

At the start of the month General Atlantic took a big chunk of the independent creative agency AKQA. I was fortunate enough to watch Michael de Kare-Silver present to a small audience once. He's good. You know you're in for a good presentation when the presenter produces two powered speakers and the video intro begins to roll.

If there is an investment firm who might be eying up an SEO agency then it is likely to be General Atlantic.

Are they a stalking horse? Could there be others?

Back in January Gord Hotchkiss mused whether SEO agencies were attractive for acquisitions. The conclusion seemed to point towards an uncertain new future. Personalised search worries people. However, full search agencies are about traffic and conversions rather than just position. The future for the best full search agencies is rosy.

In the same article Hotchkiss cited Aegis' acquisition of iProspect for $50 million. People remember the iProspect deal because it was the first big one.

Over at Search Engine Land it was Barry Schwartz who broke the news of the bigmouthmedia merger. The figure he went with was £150m. That's $300m today or about six times the iProspect deal. One again, "two moves" doesn't make a trend but this is certainly an increase. The bigmouthmedia deal wasn't a full service agency grabbing at search, it was one set up by Carlyle, who dominate private equity and was with Global Media another large SEO agency.

Carlyle is a trend setter. They are involved in deals involving SEO agencies and so others - players such as General Atlantic - are certainly considering similar moves.

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