Successful In-house Search Marketing
By Paul J. Bruemmer, RedDoor Interactive
In 2004, Jupiter Research reported that two-thirds of search engine marketing services were performed in-house. Since then, the number of service providers, the size of marketing budgets and the complexity of search campaigns have all been growing exponentially — suggesting a need for more agency involvement. However, the in-house statistic remains basically the same today as in 2004.
Despite the fact that most search campaigns are managed in-house, many companies do not have a dedicated search marketing staff. Jupiter Research reports that most in-house search personnel share duties with up to five other job functions including Web design, email marketing, marketing communications, market research and other functions such as banner, print, radio and outdoor advertising.
Search Marketing Budgets
Search has gone mainstream as a line item in the budget. According to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) 83 percent of corporate advertisers plan for search engine optimization (SEO or organic search), and 80 percent plan for Search Engine Marketing (SEM or pay-per-click) in their 2007 search budgets.
Human Resource departments have added such titles as VP Search, Chief Search Engine Strategist and Senior SEO/SEM Analyst to their job classifications in company handbooks. As search becomes a dominant force in Internet marketing, in-house search marketing commands the attention of the CEO and senior managers.
Company Management Styles
First, let me say that if you work for a more traditional company, you will probably spend a significant amount of time educating top-level management on the benefits of search marketing and the importance of integrating search with traditional marketing strategies, not to mention justifying your job.
If you work for a more savvy company, you can avoid all of that because the CEO knows that search contributes to lifetime customer value (LCV), that organic and paid search listings create branding and direct response, and that combination of SEO and SEM creates a lift in clicks and conversions. You can spend your time educating and leading your staff to search marketing excellence.
Needs Assessment Analysis Is Decisive
Another important consideration when contemplating in-house search marketing is identifying the critical path items that must be addressed.
It is wise to conduct a professional, unbiased needs assessment analysis for in-house search marketing that will include both SEO and SEM. This will provide a solid and diversified search marketing platform with guidelines, documentation, procedures, policies, proven tools and methodologies for use by existing on-site search marketing managers, personnel and new hires.
Outsourced professional SEO campaigns can vary between $10,000-$50,000 per month, depending on factors such as keyword competitiveness, backlinking required to improve rankings, whether or not original content is necessary, current site ranking, technical and editorial factors hindering site ranking and length of time required to achieve improved results. SEO is a long-term, strategic investment rather than a one-time project. A needs assessment can help you decide whether or not inhouse SEO is a viable option and what is required to build the team within your company.
In-house SEM advertising campaign costs can vary widely depending on campaign goals, keyword price fluctuations, seasonality and the time necessary for monitoring campaign effectiveness and changing bids, ad copy, and landing pages to optimize campaign performance. Aside from managing and optimizing the in-house SEM campaign, the advertising spends with the search engines can vary significantly –— from $20,000-$2,000,000 per month. Again, a needs assessment can help you decide whether or not in-house SEM is a viable option and what is required to build the team within your company.
Assembling a Search Marketing Team
Your first consideration when contemplating in-house search marketing is: Do I have the staff expertise to perform SEO and SEM effectively?
Everything should point to your business goals. Your search team will be responsible for organic search, paid search, paid inclusion, optimized shopping feeds, click fraud monitoring, brand reputation management, link-building strategies, affiliate marketing, business development and viral marketing.
You will need people with excellent research and copywriting skills, technical expertise, and quick learners who are detail-oriented and have a high tolerance for change. People with an affinity for solving complex puzzles, multi-tasking and experimenting with different solutions also make good search marketing candidates.
Depending on company size, Search VPs may have to deal with millions of documents, hundreds of thousands of products, multiple regional or local influences, security walls, registration walls, paid subscription walls, editorial guidelines and management egos. Inhouse search marketing requires a leader with consummate ability to manage change.
Search marketing projects require integration and involvement across all units of the company’s infrastructure. The best methodology will integrate search into the daily workflow through a series of systemic changes that deliver significant results. In-house search marketing systems require support including a Wiki knowledgebase, a search hub, ongoing training, standardized reports, the best tools, technical and editorial checklists, search engine policies and authoring guides so that everyone participates in unity.
Training Your Staff
Once your team is assembled, they must be properly trained. Both quality and output of SEO and SEM performance is affected by the time allocated to perform those tasks. Well-trained, experienced workers are more productive and make fewer mistakes than a poorly trained staff. Therefore, successful, cost-effective in-house SEM production is dependent on a well-trained staff.
There are a number of resources and training options available. Your choice of options will depend on several key factors — company size, existing IT staff, editorial staff, search marketing staff, staff consolidation under one roof, product diversity, level of competition and current search marketing experience.
If company size and product diversity are broad, such as the big brands or a Fortune 1000 company, the best option may be to hire a search marketing training expert for the sole purpose of training your in-house staff on-site.
There is a huge knowledge and experience gap in the search marketing industry when it comes to organic SEO. Currently, there are few, if any, standards, licenses or authentic certifications available in SEO and/or SEM advertising. In addition, the continuity required for proper measurement of organic and paid search is seriously lacking in most professional business environments, despite the fact that search marketing results are measurable and accountable.
There is also a serious shortage of valuable and trusted search marketing professionals with the experience required to fulfill these tasks within a large inhouse search environment. Search marketers who may have worked at eBay, Yahoo or other well-known companies within a "search marketing" capacity will have a very focused and specialized skill set typically centered on the paid search environment with little or no SEO skills.
An alternative is to hire someone who will experiment in creating the fundamental policies described above, a sort of on-the-job training. However, for a company seeking immediate in-house search marketing capabilities this can cause unnecessary delays, redundancies and expenses.
A third option is to utilize online or off-site search marketing training resources.
In-house Vs. Outsource
After careful consideration, you may decide it is beneficial to maintain a dedicated in-house search marketing team to conduct your SEO and SEM campaigns. Some firms elect to keep SEM in-house while outsourcing SEO. I see this as a serious disconnect when it comes to measurement. Your paid and organic listings must be measured concurrently to maximize results and maintain synergy. There is no doubt SEO and SEM can be accomplished effectively in-house, but it takes the appropriate planning and allocation of resources to get the best results.
The latest MarketingSherpa search marketing benchmark report shows that marketers who used in-house SEO resources saw an average 73 percent boost in overall site traffic. However, those who outsourced SEO to an expert saw an average 110 percent
lift in overall site traffic. My recommendation, should you decide to perform search marketing in-house, is to hire an expert to train your personnel and get your campaigns running.
The Road Ahead
As a marketing strategy, search is currently the most popular Internet marketing channel — used more often than email and
banner ads. That’s because it is accountable and cost-effective from both a cost and ROI perspective. Search marketing budgets and the complexities of search campaigns continue to increase, requiring a well-trained and dedicated search marketing staff. Those companies who take SEM training seriously in the years ahead will remain strong and competitive in their market.
About the Author:
Paul Bruemmer is the Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive. For more information visit www.RedDoor.biz. Find sources recommended by Bruemmer for search engine marketing training at www.websitemagazine.com.