Outsource Search or Keep it In-House?

In this case, I’m not referring to traditional manufacturers and distributors that contract an agency to sell their goods and services through search.  Instead, I’m referring to online companies that possess the knowledge, ability and experience to maintain their own search campaigns and have done so successfully in the past, but are considering outsourcing search efforts to cut costs.

I tend to lean toward keeping search efforts in-house, but there are many valid reasons to consider outsourcing search.  Among those reasons are the costs and time of training, the increasingly specialized skills necessary for paid search and the possibility that an outside party can more objectively evaluate and optimize for products he or she has no emotional attachment to.
For a more detailed discussion of the arguments for outsourcing, I’ll suggest you read about them in this well-written article by Chris Pravato on Brandchannel.com.

So, in a time when many small companies are still feeling the squeeze of a lagging economy, why do I feel that keeping search in-house is a good option?
I’m glad you asked, and there are a few reasons I feel this way.

As a general rule, no one knows your products and services better than you.  Even a respected, trusted outside search provider will have some knowledge gaps and, consequently, some challenges in creating and optimizing ads.  The ability to fill in those gaps comes with time and experience, but in the interim you’re likely to see a dip, sometimes a significant one, in the effectiveness of paid search campaigns.
As I’m sure you’ve read here, one of the key benefits of sponsored search is control.  PPC advertising allows for complete control over keywords, costs, ads… total control over the product message being sent to customers.  Allowing someone else to run your search campaigns limits, or potentially eliminates, your ability to control them.  It also adds an additional delay to the time it takes to turn ads off, which can lead to unproductive clicks and costs.  For example, if I was selling Mark McGwire St. Louis Cardinals memorabilia, last Tuesday could have easily wiped out my budget for the month if I’d left all of my ads and keywords active and unchanged.  However, immediately adding the term “steroids” (and similar related terms) as a negative match keyword could have drastically reduced the number of unwanted impressions received.
As mentioned above, the timeliness of changes to search campaigns can be extremely important.  Whether it’s adjusting ads and keywords because of unexpected traffic spikes, or reacting to site errors or server problems, being able to edit or pause campaigns as quickly as possible is essential to keeping them as efficient and effective as possible.  If my web server crashes at 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday, the possibility of waiting for my search providers to get into the office on Monday morning to pause my ads is a waste of money and a negative experience for any potential customers who clicked my ads on Sunday.
Ultimately, while there are good reasons to consider outsourcing search, and it can often be the best available option, the benefits of retaining your own experienced search team and maintaining complete control over your campaigns cannot be overlooked.  I tend to think of the decision to outsource like it’s a home improvement project: If you can, do it yourself; if not, call someone smarter.

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