There comes a time when every small business has to decide to expand and grow, or stay where they are and keep things simple. For most entrepreneurs, the goal is to grow and expand, and companies that rely on the Web for presence, and even sales, are no different.
If you're considering expanding your online presence, but your skill set and time availability are minimal, it might be time to outsource that work and let someone worry about the day to day, while you look at the campaign's success with a "25,000-foot view," so to speak.
There are right and wrong ways to hire an outside SEM firm. Following some simple rules can make or break your ROI when you pay someone to manage your SEO, PPC, social media, and Web site content and design.
Formulate a Game Plan
Know what portion of your search marketing you're looking to outsource. You could keep Web site maintenance and design elements in-house, but hire an outside company to manage your paid advertising or SEO. You can also contract with an outside company to just handle one element, be it paid, organic, or social.
Having a plan for what you'd like to outsource means you can ask every company you talk to for the same thing. The end result is that you're comparing apples to apples when you make your decision -- and the cost, reputation, and ability of the company is much easier to focus on.
Do Your Homework
You can't enter into any contract or business agreement without knowing what you're getting into. It's extremely important to research what you're buying, what the effects are on your online presence, and if those techniques could possibly get you banned.
Outsourcing is for those who don't have the time and/or advanced skill set -- if you aren't going to invest time in grasping the ins and outs of online marketing, don't even go there. You'll end up being disappointed.
Know Who You're Hiring
Don't send a check to the first cheap company that comes along. In most cases, and definitely with SEM, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ask your prospective partner for references, articles about their work, links to reviews, etc.
You can look at SEMCompare.com for independent reviews about SEM/SEO companies, but as this is a newer site, many aren't yet listed. Remember, just because they're not listed there doesn't mean they aren't good. If you've done your homework, you'll be able to tell if the company you want to hire knows what you're talking about.
Listen to Your Gut
I've talked to lots of companies about outsourcing portions of our agency workload throughout the years. You get a feeling when you speak with people on the phone -- sometimes you like them, sometimes you don't. If you follow your gut and consider the companies that know what they're talking about, sound professional, and talk like they want you to succeed, you're going to be happier in the long run.
Set Clear Goals
Starting with an RFP is a great way to make sure the company you hire is on the same page as you. Spell out your goals, wants, and needs in this document and reinforce that understanding in the sales process.
That being said, be realistic about what you can achieve with the budget available. Make sure the company you hire agrees with the goals you've set together.
Hire a Partner
The most important piece in hiring an outside company to take over your search marketing is to hire a partner. Your goals and successes should be theirs.
A good company will offer help and guidance through the process and make sure you're buying something you're comfortable with, and ultimately will help you realize your goals. Being prepared is the key to moving through the process in the right way, and these tips are designed to help you do just that.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!