What Size Company Should You Hire?

If you haven’t already read the first three parts of this series on hiring a professional search engine marketer, you may want to take a moment to check them out: Farming Out Your Search Marketing, Reviewing Service Offerings and Prices and Finding a Reputable Company or Consultant.

Now that you’ve learned what to look for in a company and where to find a company, you’re getting to the point where you’ve found some firms to consider. Now you'll need to move to the next stage in the decision process; deciding if you want to work with an individual consultant, an SEM-only firm, or a marketing or web design firm that also offers SEO services. The decision can be a difficult one, and there are pros and cons that go with each option.

(Keep in mind that the following comparisons aren’t meant to provide sweeping generalizations, but rather some of the potential pros and cons that can come with hiring different types of professionals. Any one of the three options below could end up being the best one for your company, it all depends on what you are looking for in a search marketing vendor.)

Individual Consultants

Working with an individual consultant can be your best option in quite a few situations. Some of the most well known search engine marketing professionals in the business are solo artists, many of them even working out of home offices. You’ll want to take the following points into consideration when thinking about hiring an individual consultant.

Pros to hiring an individual consultant

  • Individual consultants may be more affordable than hiring a firm. Since they often work out of their homes, and have no employee salaries to cover, they have lower overhead and can often pass these savings on to their clients.
  • Many individual consultants are highly specialized in a particular area of SEM. You may find an amazing organic SEM, or a highly specialized PPC consultant that knows more than an entire team of hires at a larger firm.
  • Individual consultants are an excellent choice if you wish to take on much of your search marketing in-house. A consultant can help guide you through the process and will often be available via phone and email to answer any questions that you have along the way. While their hourly rates may be more than a firm would charge to do the work, the fact that they can act as your own personal encyclopedia of search marketing information may mean that you pay for fewer hours than you would if you simply hired someone to complete the project.

Cons to hiring an individual consultant

  • If an independent consultant gets sick, has a family emergency, or decides to quit, there’s no one else to serve as “back-up” and complete the project.
  • An independent consultant that takes on a large number of clients may not have time to personally support your business by delivering the amount of one-on-one contact that you feel you need. You’ll need to make certain that you and the consultant are on the same page when it comes to the amount of time they will be spending on your project.
  • In many ways, it’s easier for an independent consultant to pass themselves off as something they are not. They are rarely registered with the BBB and can easily reinvent themselves under a new “company name” if they run into problems with clients.
  • Since you’ll be dealing with one person exclusively in your marketing relationship, you’ll need to make certain that you hire someone that you get along with and that can communicate with your web designer, copywriter, etc…

SEM-only Specialist Firms

Working with a specialist firm that offers purely SEM services can be a great way to know that you are hiring someone who has the time to focus on the industry and to become a highly specialized expert. Some of the best-known SEMs are part of solo, or very small promotional companies and are quite skilled at working with the web designer, copywriters and other marketing professionals that may already be working on your web site.

Pros to SEM-only Specialist Firms

  • Firms that specialize in search marketing often feature some of the best and brightest minds in the industry. Because these firms have a team of individuals working on accounts, it’s easy enough to have one person who specializes in keyword research, one who specializes in ROI analysis, and so on.
  • Specialized firms usually are able to take on large projects and complete them quickly, because they have entire teams of staff to devote to single projects.

Cons to SEM-only Specialist Firms

  • Large (or even small) teams of employees don’t come cheap. The overhead that it takes to run a multi-person company sometimes means higher prices than you might find with a solo consultant.
  • Sometimes firms that specialize in SEM have difficulty seeing the larger picture and can have trouble working with other areas of your marketing team to mesh their efforts together into a cohesive strategy.

Large Marketing Firms

As SEO services grow in popularity, it's becoming more and more common for web design firms and full service advertising agencies to add optimization services to their list of services. More and more firms are realizing the importance of presenting a complete integrated marketing package and in learning how to tie together the performances of search marketing, email, print, and other types of marketing campaigns.

Pros to Large Marketing Firms

  • Large firms often have the budget needed to keep their employees fully up to date on the latest information when it comes to search marketing and pay per click advertising management. These firms may require their employees to seek continuing education and attendance at industry conferences.
  • A firm that offers a wider range of services and truly understands integrated marketing can be held more accountable for the ROI of the project as it's suddenly more difficult to point figures at why a particular campaign may have failed.
  • If the person in charge of optimizing your web site is already working with the person who will do your web design and copywriting, you avoid the hassle of searching out experts in all these areas that can work well with each other.

Cons to Large Marketing Firms

  • If you are considering hiring an agency that offers a broad range of services, you need to take extra care in researching the experience of their in-house SEO specialists. It's not uncommon for a web design firm to claim to offer SEO services and then to deliver nothing more than a few meta tags and search engine submission.
  • With large agencies often comes large prices. While you may find that your overall marketing services are best handled by one firm that can do it all, you may not wish to go this route if you simply wish to hire out the SEM part of your marketing plan.

Whomever you hire, make certain that they speak to you in a language that you understand. If they are not willing to clearly explain each step of the process to you and answer any questions that you might have, give serious consideration to selecting another vendor. SEM can make or break a web site and working with someone that you can understand is essential to the process.

No matter what type of professional you choose to hire, you'll want to carefully check credentials to be certain that you aren't hiring someone who is just getting started and using your web site as their guinea pig. There can also be problems meshing your search engine marketing strategy with the rest of your marketing plan and web site goals if the professional doesn't approach the job from the proper angle. It is essential that search engine optimization efforts be considered part of your overall marketing strategy and that the professional you hire is able to make this happen.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
May 2, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > How to Hire a Professional SEM - Part 4