Search Marketing Campaigns: Outsource or Bring It In House?

Sara Holoubek wrote a great article over at DMNews entitled The buy vs. build argument for SEM. The question at hand is what’s more efficient: partnering with a search agency and handing over your search marketing campaign to them, or trying to build that competency for yourself inhouse?

When you’re talking about running a paid search campaign, I think it depends on three things: The amount of time and money you have to spend, how many keywords you’re trying to target, and the amount of sleep to which you’ve grown accustomed.

If you’re a small to medium-sized company only going after a handful of keywords, then I think it’s totally feasible to try and build your competency inhouse. Put someone in charge of running your search marketing campaign, lead them to the education resources, set them up an AdWords/Y!SM/adCenter account and then turn them loose. Trial and error works wonders and there are plenty of bid management tools out there that will help them manage their campaigns. There’s no better way to learn about or get an appreciation for the industry then to jump in feet first and learn to swim.

And like I said, if you’re a small company or running a modest search marketing campaign, then I think that approach will be fairly successful at helping you bring in conversions, increase ROI and maybe even help you find new keywords to target in your search engine optimization campaign. At least, initially.

It’s when your campaign gets bigger and more competitive that things start to get a bit complicated. I think most search marketers know that once you start collecting more and more keywords, the battle to decode that little black box they keep the quality score algorithm in becomes harder and harder. This isn’t five years ago where site owners could just buy their way into the results. In 2007, it’s not about how much you can afford to pay, but who has the most relevant ad. And there are any number of variables that all go into determine how relevant your ad is deemed to be, things like ad copy, landing page content, etc. This is where the expertise and experience of a search agency really becomes invaluable.

This point is also where bid management tools become less than effective, and turn search marketers into reactive little bots instead of savvy, proactive marketers. Instead of working to generate demand, they don’t act until their ad starts to lose its position. The other downside of relying on bid management tools is they don’t care about user intent. Good search marketers do.

Once your campaign gets to this point I think the best approach to take is a hybrid one. Putting that inhouse pay per click expert in touch with a reputable search agency can help you to create better, smarter ads. Ads that your customers will be more likely to click on, thereby increasing their relevancy in the eyes of the engines. For me, this is really the best solution.

I don’t think it’s a matter of inhouse search marketers not being able to (over time) replicate the knowledgebase these search agencies, I think it’s just a matter of why would they want to? You may plant the pretty flowers in your garden to make your yard look nice, but do you cut down the 25 foot tree sitting square in the middle your front yard or do you call someone else to do that? You probably call someone else. Not because you can’t do it but because (a) you have better things to do and (b) you want it done right. It’s the same with your search marketing campaign.

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (3)
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3 Replies to “Search Marketing Campaigns: Outsource or Bring It In House?”

The Search Engine Optimisation agency I work with is by most standards an affordable SEO company.

I really admire the efforts of those who try to promote SEM for charities. It’s something I’d like to get into as I get more established. organisme de credit le moins cher

Outsourcing is the most convenient way to introduce your business and your company…It cost less than the usual way or the old fashion way.

Your comments relative to businesses “outsourcing” their SEM or “keeping it in house” is right on. What strikes me about this topic, however, is how SEM parallels traditional marketing in this way.

Like a pendulum will swing, so will movements within the corporate marketing culture to “outsource” marketing budgets one minute and the next bring them “in house”.

There are two things to keep in mind: money (which is motive) and control. First, marketing managers must justify their existence and one tangible way to that is by managing their marketing efforts (traditional and internet)”in house”. By controlling the SEM initiatives “in house” managers can direct underlings to develop and manage SEM as they see fit with little or no input. The problem with this is that most corporate marketing managers don’t really know enough about SEM to keep it “in house” and the smart ones know that. The danger of managing SEM “in house” (with so few real experts in the field) is tricky and can be an abyss of wasted money and time.

This leads us to “outsourcing”. It seems to me that in this given point of time, “outsourcing” is the way to go for any business. But the rub here is money. If you, as an SEM expert, manage large budgets you are probably making a fairly good income (depending on your commission). The numbers are easy to crunch and the marketing manager who outsourced his/her budget to you for your services KNOWS THOSE NUMBERS TOO! Chances are you (as the outsourced company or individual) are making more money on that one account than the corporate marketing manager makes all year. THAT CREATES FRICTION AND BEFORE YOU KNOW IT SAID MARKETING MANAGER DECIDES IT’S TIME TO BRING THE SEM BACK “IN HOUSE”.

And so the pendulum swings. Right now, SEM experts sit in the “sweet spot”. It’s the law of supply and demand. There simply aren’t enough bona fide experts out there right now who can really, truly deliver great SEM. Those same marketing managers I mentioned earlier are feeling tremendous heat from their bosses to develop a meaningful marketing presence online. That means they’re out there looking for people who have highly desired information from a very small pool of talent.

Smart money says that will change over the next five years so let’s enjoy it now while we can. More experts (college grads) will flood the SEM industry and things will get right. It’s called competition. Clients will be harder to come by and
they’ll start to squeeze SEM commissions etc.

The SEM industry will mature just like it’s predecessors of print, radio, and television. But, for now SEM is the new kid on the block (which is a great position to be in) so let’s enjoy the ride.


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