As someone who has helped search marketers build up their in-house search resources for years, you might think that there are never any reasons that I'd recommend using an agency. But you'd be wrong. There are always situations that require a different approach, and in most cases the right answer is a hybrid approach to search. Read on for why you might not want to do everything in house.

Most of you know that I spent eight years at, starting and then overseeing their search marketing program for much of that time. And you probably think that IBM is big enough to do everything in house. But we never did.

You might also know that today I serve as chief strategist for Converseon and we sell search services so now I must be this big time outsourcing proponent, right? Well, no.

In reality, it's hard to be a purist about doing things in-house or outsourcing. Most companies (yes, even small ones) eventually realize that they need to do a mix of outsourcing and in-house. If you try to outsource everything, you'll find that the agency you hire can't change your Web pages. They can't decide what keywords you should use. They don't know what products you sell.

But agencies have advantages. They are up on everything going on in search. They have contacts with all the search engines. They can help you understand best practices. They have people that get paid a lot of money--people you probably can't afford in-house.

Everyone thinks that they can hire people that will figure it out for them, but the truth is that once those people get really smart about search marketing, an agency will offer them more money to work for them. If that happens to you, it can be quite painful, at least in the short term.

If you can truly retain those highly-skilled folks, then go for it. You have the advantage that they will learn your business and they will be devoting all of their time to you. But most businesses find that a hybrid approach make sense. Hire an agency to help you with strategy and best practices. But make sure that your in-house folks are ready to implement what the vaunted search consulatnts recommend--they can't do the work without your team.

April 8, 2009

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Great point. Once people get REALLY good at something, especially something like search marketing, there is no way an in-house team can afford to keep them. You are correct. And if you are an in-house person doing this, I hope you love your job. My guess is that there is more money to be made by leaving. There is just too big a benefit from having a bunch of clients. I guess this is really the same argument that all outsourcing firms can make.

As someone who used to be in-house and now works at an agency, I'd generally agree that having some agency participation makes sense, provided that you already have a strong in-house team. Of the new accounts that we've taken away from the out-going agency, we've found some horrible work that was mostly overpriced snake oil. To be fair, the fact that a client comes to us gives us a skewed view, for the same reasons that an emergency room physician might get the idea that most people are wounded and sick. And the bigger the agency, the less likely they will have a senior person on your account-- the catch-22 here is that folks who are good will and do start their own shops. Which brings forth another catch-22-- if you already have great in-house SEO, then why go outside?

The trick to working with vendors is knowing when they have put your account on auto-pilot. SEO seems very prone to this approach.

You have to stay on top of the basics of the SEO game yourself so you know when you are no longer getting value out of the relationship.

Great article, Mike. Although I'm also a strong advocate of DIY SEO, there are times when 100% DIY just isn't smart.

I agree that a hybrid approach of outsourcing and in-house often makes the most sense sense. Keep what you can in-house - but take a hard look at what makes the most sense to outsource. Although it's easy to think that outsourcing costs more money than you want to spend, NOT outsourcing and running an inefficient campaign always costs more money in the long run.

Good info Mike, I do all of my own SEO now, but the rules of the game are changing and its hard to stay up

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