In House: In, Out, or in Between?
Moderated by Jeffrey K. Rohrs. He asks speakers to briefly introduce themselves and give their backgrounds both in house and agency-side if applicable.
First speaker is Marshall Simmonds from the New York Times. He describes that his team at NYT is completely responsible for their search strategy , and is directly involved with all aspects of it. “Imbedded Strategist” role is imbedded into many different levels. They run SEO point, and work with company thought leaders. You have to alter SEO strategy to mirror company’s voice. If you do not understand the business model, you will fail. In the “Consulting” model, this is typically a validation. The consultants are there to validate the model that is in place, working with the existing team.
What can big brands do today? Organize. Hire an in house search specialist or SEO project manager, who should be a strong communicator along with a strong understanding of SEO. Establish an internal team, and include at least one person from technology, marketing, editorial/content production, product development, strategic planning, and sales. Then analyze the data and the roles,- the goal is to not become beholden to SEO consultants. Lastly, “educate,” and make sure to follow up and stay current.
When to seek outside help? For a core competency outside your department. If you do not have the time and resources, a “buy in from the top,” it is not worth the time to bring in a consultant or imbedded. There has to be a strong commitment from leadership to perform.
Bill Hunt from Global Strategies International and the SEMPO BOD is up next. He announces that he thinks his presentation sucks. (laughs) He describes that there are 3 options that should be considered to be the best model for the company. Either “all outsourced” (what most people do), “Hybrid,” and “all in house.” Remember that there is no one other than those in your team that has the passion for success. However, he says that “if their skin is in the game,” they may be more likely to perform better.
He advocates full integration for optimal results. Need to tie in all the major constituencies into the search planning. How do they get Search into the workflow of the other teams? Ask “what are we trying to get from search?” Most people can’t answer this question well, he has found. In many cases, there are not enough resources within an organization so they have to end up outsourcing.
People have started to think along the lines of “I can build a great team for the $2 million that I am spending on PPC management.” This is a growing problem for agencies that need to provide value. Another question to consider: “is the current model working?” For program management, ask if more control is needed, and if there is an advantage to having more control. What is the culture? Will vendors fit in, and how are they managed? For the execution, ask “what is the labor resource required? What are customized tools…do we “need something custom?” They have created lots of customized tools and it has been very valuable. And are there internal barriers that hamstring agencies? He relates that iProspect did a study that showed that very few recommendations ever made it to being implemented.
For cost efficiency, What is the total cost of each program? What are the barriers to implementation and what will the costs be to overcome them? In measuring/predicting time and success,, he feels that in the end some form of hybrid marketing will rule. He recommends going through all the above questions and answering them to be able to make sound decision
Jessica Bowman from Business.com is up next, and polls the audience to find out what they feel they will do, based on what they have learned so far this week. The majority of those that raised hands felt they would use a “hybrid” type model. She asks, do you think you can do it yourself? Goes through a scenario where a consultant would bill 15-20 hours a week. Can you do as much in that amount of time? She cautions that people will likely not be able to accomplish work as efficiently as someone who is experienced with working with lots of different types of sites.
You can do well completely in house, especially for the low-hanging fruit , like header tags, directory submissions, ALT text, unique page titles. Then there are more advanced things that may require help such as architectural issues and more advanced coding problems. So, if you are going with completely in house: spend time at conferences, understand you market share. What are you getting versus what your competitors are getting. She says Hitwise is a great tool for that. Recognize that in the beginning, the results are likely to be lower. You probably want to only be in house for two years before essentially losing interest and a “fresh perspective.”
Completely outsourced? It is nice to have someone to assign the work to, but you still need to remain educated, in order to not go in the wrong directions. Remember that you will also have to guide the consultant, especially for keyword selection and copywriting, as well as link building.
In between: you can manage the overall project. She feels the in between route is th best of both worlds. Remember that no matter which option you choose, there will always be in house work. There will be disagreements, and approval processes. Still need to work with IT to launch the changes. Remember to keep the projects in scope, and that reporting will likely require in house input for revenue numbers, for example. She provides a few links of what she likes to read. 80 20 rule of the in-houser: 80% of time is spent selling search marketing to the rest of the team, 20% actually doing SEM.. The larger the company the more complex the politics, usually.
Matt Greitzer, from Avenue A | Razorfish (my old company) starts with the slide titled “This is the slide where the agency guy tells you to use an agency.” The benefits of using an agency is the thought leadership that exists within it. It is hard to hire someone that alone has the same resources and experiences as the 2000 people coming up with ideas on a regular basis at A|R. The tactical leadership experience is obviously valuable as well. He has found that SEMs consistently drive better results than in house, based on campaigns that they have taken over. The other big reason to use an agency: track record of results.
What are the questions to figure out before hiring someone? “What is the staff t- client ratio?” “What is the employee turnover rate?” he feels that 20% in the agency environment is average. If anyone is vague about the answer, it may be a red flag. “What is the level of customization?” He says that A|R will pick up your dry cleaning if needed (laughs). What is the standard deliverable, and what will cost extra? How does process, training, and onboarding work? Lastly: Meet your team. At the end of the day it is about the people who are working with your business.
How to get more from your agency? Share data. It may take longer to become comfortable with sharing sensitive data, but when you can, it will improve performance. Invest in learning, and plan for long term gains. Reward success – structure something in the contract to give agency extra based on performance. Push for innovation and exceptional results.
Paul Elliott of eMergent Marketing \ Brulant, Inc. (my new company) starts with a comparative experiences list. He used to work with Things Remembered as in house, and now is the principle eMergent, which he sold to Brulant last year. At, Things Remembered, he was a 1 person SEO / SEM / affiliate marketing / email marketing / and partnership marketing “team” as part of the eCommerce department, and now with Brulant he is part of a team of 40+ SEM professionals. TR: Gained extensive insight into products and competitive landscape, but at eMergent worked diligently to gain product and industry insight for our customers, but rely on clients to leverage their expertise. Most importantly, he became bored with working on only one site, and now he never has a dull day 80-100 hour work weeks are the norm.
As a part of the team, he gets to leverage the learnings of the others on his team. He missed that on the in-house side. He loves to be able to bounce strategies off others internally, even while continuing to gain insight on clients’ industries. His personal job now is the project or relationship champion with the client. This avoids those natural roadblocks with getting stuff implemented, because the communication channels with the clients are better.
He gives a summary of the pros and cons of being in-house: Pros: Strong connection to the product / service offering and in depth understanding of the industry and top competitors. Concentrated focus on servicing just one client instead of balancing the needs of multiple clients. It may be less expensive to maintain internal resources, depending on the size and experience of the team. Timely and complete access to forecasts, sales data, inventory, etc. Better integration and coordination with other internal departments, including: marketing, merchandising, IT, and finance.
Cons to being in house: Many of the best SEO / SEMs are extremely competitive individuals, yet internal positions do not usually foster this competitive spirit. There is often a sense of boredom and eventual lack of motivation that comes with continually working on the same site as opposed to new challenges and opportunities. As part of a small internal team there is often a lack of informal learning opportunities which inhibits professional growth and the ability to deliver in a rapidly changing environment. With a single in house resource, you will be constrained to a single set of strategies, as opposed to best of breed solutions that result from an integrated team approach. SEM professionals are rarely equally trained or experienced in both organic optimization and paid search marketing (except me, of course :p). Therefore, you may be sacrificing by relying on one resource or investing in a larger team. It is often difficult to drive organizational change from within. Often times, external resources are needed to justify priorities, directional change, and budgets.
Decision factors that he would suggest: How competitive/dynamic is the industry? Will campaigns require constant adjustments and testing? How aggressive are the goals for the search marketing efforts? Have you allocated the appropriate budget to support your marketing costs plus the fees of a qualified internal team or external partner? How likely are you to be able to attract, recruit, and retain top search engine marketing talent within your company? How complex is your product or service offering? Is this something that only an internal resource can truly understand? Can you provide the appropriate level of data and insight to properly support an external partner?
He provides a chart which shows the different members both in house and on the agency side that will be important to the hybrid team. The two major players that he calls out on the in house team are the “Client Executive Sponsor,” and the “Client Marketing Liaison.” Paul recommends the use of an external partner, in order to: Introduce diverse skill sets and creative strategies; Avoid the need to attract, recruit, and maintain hard to find and expensive resources; Leverage best of breed tools and processes; Maintain focus on other aspects of the business; Potentially minimize cost risk by developing a performance-based partnership.
Usually do not cover QA, leaving that for those who attend the conference, but there was a nice “discussion” about the merits of an agency when it comes to keyword list development. Bill Hunt mentioned that he would want that to happen in house, and Matt and Paul both disagreed, saying that doing it in an iterative fashion with an outside POV works better. Bill wanted seemingly to hold back, but decided instead to raise the BS flag (in his opinion – btw he is a former Marine so I am not surprised he let his feelings be known). He said that he has seen mostly inadequate lists from agencies when he has taken over an account or consulted. He got the last word in, but it would be interesting to see if that particular subject gets more detailed at SES Chicago, should this panel still be on the list.
(This is live coverage of SES San Jose 2007, and some typos or grammatical errors may exist. If you were a panelist and you would like something clarified, please post in the comments or contact me through the system)