When to Go In-House for Your SEM

Even the most talented and driven team needs leadership and input to make the biggest difference in an online campaign. Last time, we discussed ways to maximize your experience when working with a SEM agency. This week, we'll look into ways that an in-house presence can be similarly driven, and situations where it's the best move for your SEM needs.

In-House Versus Agency

Being completely fair going into this -- I'm an agency guy. While there's an asterisk dealing with the going rate for SEMs in your area, I'm a strong advocate for SEM as an agency function. I started my online life as an in-house team member; therefore I've seen the benefits of both sides.

Having a person on-premise day in and day out -- something even a great agency can't accomplish -- was a huge plus for our efforts. Determining the best course of action strongly depends on the size of your team, the resources that you have available, and the knowledge base of the team members you already have at your disposal.

Keeping your efforts in-house has a lot of upside -- if for nothing else than the fact that RFPs can be a nightmare. Individuals inside your organization will have a much better chance of impacting your entire team's efforts than even the most attentive agency.

If you have the patience and the right candidates, the Holy Grail would be growing team members into an SEM role. It's the smartest choice when considering hiring out, given their scarcity and the time it can take to onboard a new hire both officially (training) and unofficially (knowing how your organization truly operates).

Maximizing In-House Resources

The primary benefit of having an in-house SEM is accessibility. They can be plugged into any effort or decision-making process, and will be there to provide you with instant feedback on how to leverage efforts and promote initiatives in natural and paid search.

For in-house SEOs, this means including them in every discussion that involves changing or adding to the site, which will help prevent natural search issues and also allow your company to make the most of every new product, category, or press release you post.

For the PPC crowd, this means including them on all upcoming product releases and changes to begin pre-building campaigns. Bring them in on all overarching branding discussions, which will ensure that the company's voice is expressed in your PPC ads.

Capitalizing on the point even more, bring them both into branding discussions early on. The PPC team can quickly help test messaging with a large audience, and your SEO and PPC experts can help craft a message that matches the language and terminology that your customers use to find you and your products.

Keep Them Growing

For individual SEMs, a huge draw to the agency life is variety. You often work on multiple accounts in different verticals, get to try your hands at multiple lines of business, and are exposed to a wide range of people.

In-house SEMs, on the other hand, have a much more static work environment. The often monotonous work of managing a PPC campaign can quickly wear down an individual.

Avoid this issue and leverage the online know-how of these individuals by giving them a little room to run. Task them with testing new search outlets, get them involved in social media efforts (which can also carry SEO value), and let them flex their muscles in other disciplines, such as display media.

Making them responsible for educating the team on new online opportunities and giving them time to keep current on new opportunities (such as those that can be found at Search Engine Watch) will drive incremental value to their search campaigns, keep you abreast of new places to grow your presence, and keep them more engaged for longer periods of time. It's a win-win situation all around.

Common Roots, Common Challenges

Whether you're going the in-house or outsourced route, getting your SEM team informed and plugged into as many outlets as possible is the key to maximizing their value and the performance of your campaigns. Keep them engaged and challenged, and they'll be driven to find new and better ways to promote your brand and products online.

About the author

Herndon Hasty, senior SEO leader and evangelist at Range Online Media, is a key member of Range's search engine optimization practice. He brings to the team more than nine years of experience in online and offline marketing strategy — including five years in search marketing — for a wide range of travel, retail and luxury brands, including Macy's, Travelocity, Cole Haan, Wyndham Hotels and Godiva.

He is a regular columnist and blogger at Search Engine Watch, has contributed articles and quotes to publications such as DM News and Marketing Sherpa, and features musings on online marketing in general at Search Engine Snark.