Is search marketing a core competency at your company? It may not be.
Now that I got your attention, what I'd really like to prove here is that the black-and-white designations of in-house versus outsourced don't really make sense anymore. While attending a conference this week, I talked with several large Google advertisers who are "outsourced" to an agency yet have a team of more than six people in-house managing that relationship, as well as executing sophisticated landing page testing, copy testing, and other site-side experiments. Similarly, I've talked to "in-house" SEM staff at advertisers of all sizes who make heavy use of consultants, as well as in some cases rely heavily on the "tech support" they get from their technology providers (often called bid management).
Reality is, if your spending is over $10,000 per month, you probably are already outsourcing some elements of your paid search advertising campaign, just as a business often outsources some aspects of accounting, traditional marketing, and legal work some of the time. You might have an agency managing your campaign, you might be using paid campaign management technology, or you may occasionally use a consultant. Large marketers and smaller Google advertisers often come up with fascinating excuses to describe their ambiguous campaigns as in-house. Some of the more interesting excuses have been:
Rather than debunk these excuses or point out that those people making the excuses for in-house SEM are in fact partially outsourced (perhaps in some of the most critical areas), let's look at some myths about outsourcing that in reality can be big benefits:
1. Cost. Big businesses can afford to maintain in-house marketing departments including in some cases doubling up on several critical positions to assure that when an employee gets lured away, they don't leave with the only copy of the critical knowledge of a campaign. For small businesses, however, an in-house search marketer is a money burner. If your business spends less than $100,000 a month on Google, adCenter, and online display, there's a very good chance that you can save money by outsourcing your search and online advertising management operations. Do the math. Figure out how many hours your employees are devoting to Google-related activities, calculate how much you're spending, and compare the amount to the plans offered by several marketing providers.
2. Productivity. Search management is a time-consuming activity. With this burden removed, your employees can focus on doing more productive things, particularly, focusing on conversion rate improvement and other profit-maximizing tasks. Those tasks when completed often provide additional bidding leverage on keywords. If there is nothing for those online advertising professionals to do (rarely is this the case), you may even be able to trim your staff's size.
3. Accuracy. Marketing mistakes can be painful. A good marketing services provider is less likely to make a serious error than your in-house staff because at a well-structured agency, there are teams in place where members check each other's work. Furthermore, if a big mistake is made, you can seek financial restitution from the provider - something you can't do with your own employees.
4. Reliability. In-house marketing activities function as reliably as the people doing the work. With a search marketing service, output speed and quality won't vary in accordance with vacations and illnesses. You also won't have to spend time helping new hires understand your business' search campaign.
5. Speed. Because search marketing providers are specialists with vast technical resources at their disposal, they can process even the most complex campaigns at lightning-fast speed. Unlike most employers, they can also accommodate a temporary increase in seasonal activity without acquiring new employees.
6. Insight. A good search-services provider will know all the ins and outs of search. Your employees could try to achieve the same level of understanding, but it would take a considerable investment in time and effort.
7. Accountability. If your campaign is mishandled, it's the service provider's responsibility to fix things. If the provider can't (or won't) remedy the situation to your satisfaction, you can sue. You can also switch to another service provider in a snap. Try firing, hiring, and training an in-house staff in anything less than a month.
8. Flexibility. Boring, repetitive search work can act like an anchor on your business. Your staff, when freed of these responsibilities, will be free to focus on other, more creative work.
9. Worry. There's a lot to be said for the peace of mind that outsourcing marketing services can bring to a business owner or manager. No headaches, no hassles: you're left to focus on running a profitable business.
With all the above said, it is still possible to pick the wrong agency, wrong technology, or wrong consultants to assist you. Not all agencies train their staff appropriately, hire great people, or have great campaign management technology at their fingertips. Some campaign management technologies look great in demos but aren't appropriate for you due to the size of your spend, the industry you are in, or the type of campaign you are running. So, when you do select an agency or technology, put in place within your contract a reasonable out-clause of 90 days.
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Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.
Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.
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