The Great Career Debate: SEM In-House Team vs. SEM Agency

Agency vs. in-house search marketer. If you’re looking for another discussion as to which job is better, or which career is more challenging, you’ve come to the wrong place. The differences between the two work cultures are plentiful, and for a marketer just starting out in search, deciding which direction to take is a tough decision.

Although the list of unique challenges facing both groups is long, there are key distinctions worth evaluating before you take a job in-house or with an agency — the client, budget, and tools/resources available.

The Client: One vs. Many

Understanding the client’s demand as an in-house marketer is as easy or as difficult as the internal communication system for the company allows, since your boss is your only client. If your boss has clearly set out the goals and intentions on how to obtain them, then satisfying the client should be an easy task.

But having just one client means that in-house marketers are always working within the same industry. Creativity, at times, is stifled by the limitations of that industry. People that benefit from working toward long-term goals and enjoy becoming experts in a particular niche should be well-suited to in-house marketing.

Agency search marketers face a very different client experience. It is common for a client to change goals mid-way as the company shifts its energies. Often company’s outsourcing their PPC efforts are less in-tune with the multiple steps to each campaign’s success.

However, an advantage to agency work is the creativity that comes with shifting from one project to the next, and crossing over a variety of industries/companies. Marketers that enjoy short-term goal setting and dabbling in a variety of niches are usually more suited for agency work.

Budget: Stable vs. Negotiable

For the in-house marketer, “budget” is a daunting word that brings with it quarterly goals, reinvestment metrics, and so on. Although the budget is often tight and always needs defending, in-house teams have more input on how it is allocated. Also, if it ever does need to be reworked, it is usually done slowly, to prevent interruption of any current campaign successes.

When it comes to money spending and handling, if you are a diligent calculator, and (almost too) deliberate with your spending behaviors, then in-house marketing is for you.

Agency marketers view a client’s budget as a double-edged sword. When things are working, often those budgets can be increased quickly, possibly even doubled in a week’s notice, leading to some aggressive and exciting marketing strategies.

However, just as quickly as it’s given to you, it can be taken away. Agency marketers have to be ready to completely re-strategize at a moment’s notice, often without specific reasons to justify the overhaul. Money handlers with a detached nature and an adventurous approach to spending are likely to succeed in agency work.

Tools & Resources: Manual vs. Automated

Although this one really does depend on what company you work for, often in-house marketers have smaller budgets for tools and platforms to assist in campaign management. In-house tools are often created to streamline accessibility to the company’s site and API.

This is an advantage when you need something tweaked, i.e. a new metric introduced or a conversion goal enhanced. However, it can prove difficult to scale as keyword lists and campaigns grow. Also, in-house marketers often experience backlash from IT, as tech teams try to schedule in the marketing team’s demands. When it comes to improving campaign management tools, patience is key for in-house marketers.

Agency search marketers are often already aligned with a certain third-party tool or management system, and therefore it is part of the package deal to employ this tool for the client’s needs. The third-party tool sets are usually automated, and therefore easily scalable.

However, when it comes to manipulating a client’s Web page for A/B testing needs or exploratory research, agency marketers are usually left with their hands tied. If you work well with standardized tool sets, then agency marketing might be a good fit for you.

These are just a few key variables to keep in mind when it comes to deciding whether your work approach is better fit for in-house or agency search marketing. What’s important to remember is there are significant differences to how the teams operate.

Each company may be unique, but the daily challenges of an in-house search marketer and an agency search marketer are quite distinct. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which side of the Great Debate you fall on.

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