WPP Merges SEO Firms

WPP Group is consolidating its search engine optimization/marketing firms, combining Webster Group International with Outrider.

Both companies had been units of the Tempus Group PLC, which WPP acquired in November following a bidding war with Havas and much controversy. (For one thing, WPP attempted to back out of its 555p per share — about $620 million — bid for the firm, citing an excessive valuation after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.)

The newest move is intended to roll St. Louis-based WGI into the larger firm, which is headquartered in London, has presences in North America, Europe and Asia and also runs a burgeoning e-mail marketing practice. The combined company will retain the six-year-old Outrider name.

Formed in 1995, WGI brings clients including Procter & Gamble’s Tampax, Robert Bosch Corporation’s Blaupunkt unit, Merck’s Medco division, and the State of Florida Tourism Department, while Outrider handles work for Pfizer , Aetna and UBS Paine Webber , among others.

Former WGI President Chris Copeland, who becomes Outrider’s vice president and managing director for North America, described the consolidation as a win for clients, amid the increasing importance of search engine marketing services.

“As the Internet matures, search marketing is moving to the forefront of online advertising options,” Copeland said. “Clients are turning to Outrider for much more than top engine positioning. They are looking to us for the best return possible on the leveraging of the products and brands. Through this merger we are able to offer the highest level of service and return in the market today.”

The news continues WPP’s efforts to consolidate assets purchased through its buy of London-based Tempus. In December, WPP merged media planner and buyer The Media Edge (which had been under its Young & Rubicam brand) with Tempus’ CIA to form Mediaedge:CIA.

Outrider also said it had partnered with The Digital Edge, the online arm of Mediaedge:CIA. It’s expected that The Digital Edge will upsell campaign planning clients on search engine optimization and e-mail marketing.

The developments also continue alongside heightened tensions among the major paid-placement search engines. Earlier this month, pay-for-placement engine Overture sued upstart Google for patent infringement.

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