Market researchers like Forrester and iMarketer are estimating 20+% growth per year over the next 5 years. The field is changing rapidly with Google and Yahoo changing algorithms for natural and paid search. Social networking is creating rapid change in how companies can reach and retain potential customers.
With so much growth and change, should you go in-house or hire an agency? Depending on the size of the company and the ad budget, there is a mix of answers. If you are going to invest any decent level - at least $10,000/month, then having an agency in the mix is essential.
- Expertise: Search agencies have multiple clients frequently from a wide variety of industry. This creates strong bonds with search engines as well as a push to know as much as possible about the industry. We have clients in medical services, consumer products and software as a service. Due to our business volume, search engines beta test PPC algorithmic changes with us. Our own clients inform us of things they learn. New firms like blog rating and aggregation firms are contacting us. In addition, we are attending and presenting at the top industry forums.
- Technology investment: To ensure clients reach maximum potential, search firms invest in technology - either on their own tools or from tools firms. Due to experience with a variety of clients, agency teams can apply best practices from one industry to another and then embed that in technology. Clients could purchase the technology themselves, but unless they are very large will not know the underpinnings of it in detail. Imagine letting a black box manage your money without understanding how it works. I'd rather have a skilled operator who knows what the underlying algorithm are and how to modify them.
- Operational processes: The best firms have operationalized their processes and are continuously innovating. This allows the agency to provide top notch services along the wide range of services that make us search marketing. The range of competencies include online strategy, ad creative, media planning & buying, bid management, web technology & development, analytics and project management. There is serious complexity in getting the best people and getting them to work together efficiently and robustly. Each client has a different strategy or industry, therefore the process has to be robust enough to deliver results in a customized manner. We measure every step in detail to learn and improve.
- People and Turnover: Top marketing, technology and operational people are attracted to agencies because of the variety and the ability to be on the leading edge. They enjoy the training and the learning experience. In addition, there's the opportunity to try new things. Imagine getting paid to play on Facebook? Or developing cool algorithms to model bid pricing behavior? Or writing copy for rock band texting one day or source code optimization software another? Agencies can hire people across niche competencies and create a symphony through robust processes. Unless a company is large, hiring the variety of talents is impossible. Even then, how would you get the experience you get from variety. This is why almost every firm hires outside counsel. In addition if you hire in house, you are subject to turnover. While there is turnover in agencies, our processes are designed to retain client knowledge through multiple levels from executive to client manager to deliver manager. We know there will be turnover, so we build systems to retain knowledge.
- Value and cost: The best search agencies have operationalized their processes to provide value from top notch people, processes and technology. Well designed processes should provide a cost advantage vs. going in house. A copywriter will cost at least $50k/year. An SEO specialist starts at over $60k. With our worldwide infrastructure, we go a step further. We can provide a whole staff for the cost of a full-time equivalent knowledge worker. For many firms, our client manager is equivalent to VP of Online Marketing and reports to the President. On top of that there's a whole staff behind them that executes.
Are there reasons to go in-house? Yes, but not completely. Many times in larger companies it makes sense, especially if there are large groups to coordinate or multiple products. I would not recommend completely going in-house because of the loss of leverage from industry knowledge.
So these are the main advantages of a search marketing agency vs. going in-house: expertise, technology, process, people, value and cost. With so much change in this new exciting media form, you cannot afford not to use a top, results oriented agency.