In-House vs. Outsource: The Dirty Paid Search Debate

By Kayla Kurtz | @one800kayla | Senior Digital Advisor at Hanapin Marketing

The Internet marketing industry has doubled in size in just a handful of years and is expected to surpass $55 billion in revenue by 2014. That’s only two years from now! What’s more is that this year, online ad spend is forecasted to exceed print advertising for the first time ever (see the photo below). These statistics likely do not surprise many of our readers, but if you haven’t been considering paid search, you probably are now after seeing those kinds of numbers!

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Whether you’ve forayed in to the paid search medium yet or not, a very common question that arises upon deciding to venture to PPC or to increase performance on a current account is: can we (keep) doing this in-house or do we need an agency?

There are three arguments that seem to hold up the bulk of the in-house side of this debate:

“We want to keep our Internet marketing in-house so we can control all messaging and networks with consistency.”

This is typically a huge hang-up with businesses of any size when considering outsourcing, as they have most assuredly put time and resources in to branding their company in a specific way. The client wants that brand to stay consistent across all marketing channels and keeping all or most channels in-house allows the control of that, paid search included. Keeping this in mind, the managers at Hanapin take the extra step to funnel ad/landing page copy or new strategies through the client first, to be sure all direct messages are accurate, and if we’ve found new opportunities, we let our client’s know so we can replicate those wins across new or existing paid search engines. What’s more, we use an online project management system to log all changes, optimizations and/or additions made to an account, allowing these changes to be tracked back for consistency in those more typical account maintenance tasks, such as bid changes, ad reviews, etc.

“We just don’t have time to train an agency team member or team in our industry and vertical specifics.”

Ahhh, time. The ultimate game changer when it comes to marketing. It is going to take time to find the right paid search traffic, and even more time to test out optimizations on that right traffic to keep improving performance. It will require some communication from the client to keep the account manager abreast to any industry information that is deemed relevant or necessary for account success, but I find our clients find comfort in the following statement: PPC account managers are huge nerds. All of us. To a fault, even, in that we become enthralled in our client’s competitive landscape and industry to the point of obsession. To an agency account manager, the addition of a new competitor is a challenge to be accepted and won! Once you bring an agency in for your paid search marketing, your industry becomes their industry and your account is managed as such. If you start adding on the algorithm and feature changes in the individual engines, plus the differences in formatting and management across the many engine options, you’re quickly looking at multiple people working full-time in-house to keep up with all the changes and actual account maintenance. Performance will suffer eventually, especially with account expansion. Oh, and then there’s testing, as I mentioned briefly before. Talk about time consuming! Keyword research, ad writing, testing…expansion is measured in days or weeks, not hours. Delegating a task like this to a single person in your marketing department could backlog your work in other channels.

“We can save a lot of money by hiring a paid search intern, rather than pay agency management fees.”

At the risk of sounding brash, you COULD save a lot of money…COULD. Here’s why: running paid search marketing campaigns start to cost money from the first click. So, enabling an account with the wrong keywords, or even a few wrong keywords, could rather quickly rack up an ad spend over your monthly budget in a few short hours. Experience is a huge factor in PPC management and even the best taught intern is lacking that experience. The great part about an agency is they are truly only as weak as their strongest player. Having as many minds as possible to wrap around your account goals and strategies is a priceless benefit to the agency relationship. Further, that intern will be done with school one day and will be looking for a full-time job. If you can’t give it to them for budget reasons, they’re going to leave. So now you’re back to your last point of taking time to re-teach your PPC and/or business goals to another in-house marketer. Consider that time taken year-over-year and the dollars invested in your personnel searches. Multiply a monthly management fee over a year and compare it to the money you put in to seeking out and hiring a full-time, experienced PPC manager in-house every time one leaves and you’ll probably come out surprised to see the agency experience is much more cost-effective.

It would be irresponsible of anyone to say that in-house or agency management is steadfast the way to go across the board for all accounts. The truth is, it depends on your business size, vertical, growth potential and a plethora of other factors. What I do recommend is you sit down and old school the process with a pros and cons list for each after you’ve determined your short and long-term paid search goals. Give both options a fair shake and then you’ll be sure whichever you choose is the right one for you and your business!