In earlier years, most companies didn’t know the first thing about search engine marketing, and as a result, almost all of them outsourced their Internet marketing campaigns to dedicated firms.
However, as search engine marketing has grown in prominence in the business community — and more information about search engine marketing has become available online — more people have become knowledgeable about the basic SEM principles and strategies, and more companies are attempting to run their own Internet marketing campaigns in-house.
The merits of running an in-house campaign, as opposed to outsourcing, vary from company to company, and situation to situation. The answer to the in-house v. outsource debate is likely to be different for each individual company.
However, if you are trying to determine whether to outsource or handle your companies’ SEM campaign in-house, there are some guiding principles and arguments you should be aware of.
That’s what this whitepaper focuses on.
II. The In-House Approach
The in-house SEM approach capitalizes on the familiarity internal employees presumably have with a specific project, as well as their physical proximity to day-to-day operations of the company.
There are numerous benefits to running your Internet marketing campaign in-house:
In-house employees likely have a better feel for the verticals and brand messaging of your company. Therefore, they may be better positioned to identify relevant search terms and keywords.
In-house staff also may be better positioned to ensure that a SEM campaign is being run in-line with other parts of your company. Indeed, they can be in the room to give marketing opportunities a voice as new initiatives are formed and planned-out.
In-house staff also only has one SEM campaign to run. In cases where a company can afford dedicated Internet marketing staff (which isn’t always the case), they may be able to dedicate more time and energy to the campaign than an outsourced company handling multiple accounts at one time.
In-house staff presumably has a better feel for how the internal politics of their company operates. While outsourced firms are sometimes frustrated to see recommendations unadopted, in-house employees may be better at identifying potential roadblocks.
Finally, return of investment aside for now — something we’ll cover in more depth later — in-house SEM campaigns may be cheaper to execute. This is especially true for longer-term projects, that run for a matter of years.
However, there are also some drawbacks to running your SEM campaign in-house:
To start, in-house staff may have insufficient SEM knowledge and expertise. While it may be easy to grasp the main principles of search engine marketing, there is still a great deal of subtlety involved. This lack of information can be a dangerous thing.
If companies elect to try and train their in-house staff in Internet marketing, such training can be costly and time-consuming, and come without guaranteed results.
Even if a company has in-house employees with requisite SEM expertise, they may also fail to grasp how to construct a full Internet marketing campaign. Staff may struggle more than dedicated professionals when it comes to structuring their efforts, and assigning a priority and price tag to each item. When time is money, this can be very costly.
And finally, though it is true that in-house employees may be able to better spot potential pitfalls in inter-office politics, they’re also more likely to fall prey to these same traps. Much more, for instance, than a detached and professional firm.
In conclusion, there are certainly some benefits inherent in in-house SEM campaigns, especially if you can find expert staff that are cost effective in the long run. However, dealing with more moving parts with presumably less collective training, there are also some inherent risks.
III. The Outsource Approach
The outsource approach to search engine marketing capitalizes on hiring SEM duties out to dedicated professionals, ensuring they’ll be completed as planned and freeing you up to do what you do best.
There are numerous benefits to outsourcing your search engine marketing campaign:
To start, outsourced Internet marketing firms likely have people with wider SEM backgrounds. Good firms are, for example, Google Adwords Qualified, Yahoo Search Ambassadors, or otherwise certified. These firms — with a better feel for tools such as keyword data, SEO statistics, and SEM software — are more likely to provide expert services.
Dedicated firms are also more likely to be up to date with the latest SEM trends, such as social media marketing (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and the latest changes to the search engine algorithms. They’re dedicated professionals, who can afford to live and breath Internet marketing.
Outside SEM firms also don’t have a bias about a particular company, or a specific company website. As a result, they may feel more free to give accurate and unbiased advice.
SEM firms are more driven by return on investment, cost per action, and/or cost per lead. Therefore, they are more likely to sustain constant motivation, and deliver faster results.
Outsourced SEM firms have a broader understanding of link-building campaigns, and have significantly more resources to execute them. They simply have access to more manpower, and are less limited in what they can do.
SEM firms also have a better understanding of “black-hat” tactics that are now strictly penalized by Google. More than in-house employees, outside firms are likely to help you avoid costly mistakes.
Finally, dedicated Internet marketing firms can be a more cost-effective option, especially on short-term or large-volume projects. They also are likely a source for a better return on investment on all projects, something we’ll discuss in more depth later.
However, despite these benefits from outsourced SEM firms, there are also a few drawbacks and risks inherent in hiring one:
To start, SEM firms don’t always have a direct stake in the success of their client company, and therefore may be more likely to drop off-task, or lose momentum on a project.
Internet marketing firms also don’t have the same access and personal understanding for the company. They therefore may lose some face-to-face opportunities, as well as have to start from square-one in learning the search verticals for a company.
Finally, there’s no denying that there are a few fly-by-night Internet marketing firms. These firms often advocate poor — if not illegal — SEO strategies, and will do way more harm to your company than good. Of course, there are ways to avoid hiring these firms, and the chances of getting burned by them are relatively small, but it’s still certainly a risk at least worth considering.
In conclusion, there’s a slight risk to outsourcing your SEM campaign, and a couple small drawbacks inherent in bringing someone in from the outside. However, there are also many potential benefits to hiring the experts, both for the sake of your campaign, and for the sake of your company at large.
IV. The Numbers
After going over the specific benefits and drawbacks to both the in-house and outsource approaches, how can unbiased numbers inform the decision?
The one statistic that jumps out to me comes from a 2007 Marketing Sherpa report, which found that businesses who outsourced their SEM campaign increased their traffic by 50% more than those who kept it in-house.
“…marketers who outsourced SEO saw a 110% lift in overall site traffic within six months, whereas marketers who handled SEO in-house saw a 73% lift. In short, if you hire an expert, you tend to get significantly better results."
For us at ComCorp, this is a matter of return on investment (ROI). And as you know, matters of ROI are often matters that distinguish successful companies from unsuccessful companies.
The Marketing Sherpa report confirms what we’ve seen time and again at ComCorp: that you get more for your money when you outsource your Internet Marketing campaign.
As I said in the intro, there’s likely no black-and-white answer to the in-house v. outsource debate. In this debate, as in all of search engine marketing in general, one size does not fit all, and the final answer should be determined by your individual circumstances.
Indeed, for smaller companies making a long-term commitment to search engine marketing, who have access to top-notch SEM talent, may be best served by handling their campaign in-house.
However, for any company, and especially for those not meeting all of the criteria directly above, I highly recommend hiring a dedicated SEM firm.
The professionalism, experience, and expertise you gain through doing so oftentimes outweighs any inherent risks, or any benefits you would otherwise gain in running an in-house campaign.
Above all, outsourced SEM firms are likely to give you the best return on your investment. These dedicated search engine marketing firms are simply your best bet to get the job done, and make the biggest impact in your online presence.