As with many other areas of the business, the decision to ‘make or buy’ applies to the search engine marketing function. Whether you decide to go with an outside agency, or develop and train a dedicated in-house team depends on whether search is considered a core component of your business. The SEMPO State of Search Marketing report for 2006 (published Jan 2007) showed that the trend for 2007 is that more and more companies will be pulling the search marketing function in-house:
“Over half of advertiser respondents said they plan to manage all of their 2007 paid placement spending in-house… Nearly two thirds of advertiser respondents said they plan to manage all of their 2007 organic SEO spending in-house.”
What are the benefits of an in-house effort?
When you have a team dedicated to your search marketing effort, all they care about are the results of the work performed for your site(s). Your team would ideally be subject matter experts, intimately involved with the processes, politics, products and services of your company, easily able to know what to promote, and when to push in a particular direction both internally and externally.
At conferences and on online forums, etc. there would be a person or people representing your company to the search marketing community. This networking can assist your company by keeping your team on the cutting edge of the industry by exchanging information with others who may have encountered situations similar to those that your team will face. There are groups out there such as the SEMPO In-House committee that assist in-house search marketers with the various challenges that will undoubtedly arise as their projects move forward.
From a control perspective, it is much easier to keep tabs on an in-house team, ensuring that the tactics they employ are the best, in the long run, for your campaigns and your company as a whole.
What are the challenges?
From my experience, and from talking to others building up their teams, one of the hardest parts of building an in-house search marketing team is to find the right people. Again, your corporate strategy will determine the direction that you will want to move in. Do you want to pay for already experienced search marketers, or do you want to bring in fresh, eager, sponge-like minds, ready to absorb all that they can about the field? Of course, if you have an aggressive deadline then you may not have a choice, as it takes time to train up a team and for them to gain experience in what works, and what doesn’t.
In a similar manner to the tech boom at the end of the last century, the demand for search marketers currently outstrips the supply, so the chances are that at some point you may lose staff. Even though the work may be challenging, the pay competitive, and the resources abundant, for some people the grass is always greener on the other side. The only way to counter this is to plan for it, ensure that your processes are documented, and that there is always at least one other member of staff cross-trained in a particular discipline.
Getting your staff trained correctly can also be an issue. Depending on the direction of your in-house effort, you may need SEO training, PPC training, analytics training, tools training and so on. You have to determine which training is going to be right for each member of your team, preferably ensuring that the person you send is able to then train those who didn’t attend the training. If yours is a large organization, you can most likely get training done on-site. For smaller companies, you’ll have to send your people out to where the trainers are.
Scalability is also a concern, as an outside vendor may be able to ramp your project up much more easily than you would be able to if, for example, your requirements suddenly change due to a situation such as a gap in the market being identified that you need to take advantage of immediately.
Given that search marketing service providers tend to be expensive, are potentially not focused on your goals (should you not be one of their larger clients), and may use tactics that you wouldn’t want used, why would you want to hire them? Well, as outlined above, if your schedule dictates a quick turn-around time, then you may not have a choice, at least initially. It could also be that your company decides that while SEO and analytics are core business components, PPC is not, so why not bring someone in to perform that function while the in-house team specializes in areas that you want them to concentrate on?
Even if you decide to go fully in-house and your internal effort seems to be going well, you may still want to pull in an outside vendor to do an audit on your SEM effort to ensure that the team hasn’t missed something that they didn’t know about.
Just remember that when you do pull in an outside vendor, you still need to have staff managing that relationship, facilitating cross-team conversations, and setting expectations on both sides to ensure that the SEM effort works as best as possible. The person that fills that role should also be the internal champion for the SEM effort. So, even if your company goes with a vendor for absolutely everything for the SEM function, you’re still going to have at least one in-house person.
Simon Heseltine worked as an in-house search marketer for a medium sized Virginia company before moving over to work as Director of Search for RedBoots Consulting. He also organizes the Virginia SEM meetup group. The In House column appears periodically at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.