I'm sure it’s wrong to choose solely between an agency and an in-house team because there’s still one more option—agency plus in-house. If you opt for the best for your SEO and PPC advertising, let's consider the pros and cons of each approach to help you make the right decision. And if you've already made a choice, we'll point out the aspects that need your close attention.
I would like to share what Netpeak has come to over the years in SEO and PPC advertising.
Why choose an agency?
Agency is a brand. Dedicated specialists and trusted people. Look how many case studies they have! Look at their company reviews, their reports, and their commercial offer! If it is not the choice of a business owner, but, let's say a marketing director, some agencies can offer a kickback scheme.
But, after all, this is not the most important. For the most part, they choose an agency to shift the responsibility to some "experts" outside. At the same time, they may expect a catch in the contract, a deception, or inflated prices. Whereas other problems, that are more objective and do not concern the good faith of both parties, are often not even considered.
Only a few are looking for consultants and partners for their business represented by the agency. And only a few agencies can become such a partner.
Why isn't agency as cool as it may seem?
This may come as a shock to some of you, but all agencies (all the people and companies in the world) have their flaws:
- Template-based approach. Every business wants to optimize its processes to be more efficient. Marketing agencies are no exception. Patterns with the 80/20 rule emerge. There's nothing wrong with that because this maintains a high level of performance, but this also prevents you from thinking outside the box and innovating new ideas when necessary. Every agency has its own boxes.
- Lack of understanding of business specifics. Agency specialists know how to acquire traffic using special marketing tools. But every business is unique in its processes, its target market, and the way it interacts with its market.
- Communication. Of course, it all depends on the manager on the agency side. The work of the agency and the business often run in parallel, with no overlap and no effective business communication. The client does not understand the need to do that. They have high expectations (they’re never low, by the way). They feel like they’re not aware of everything and have a vague idea of the promotion strategy.
- You still have to work. You can’t just give money to the agency and wait for the result. Not enough conversions? Here are the recommendations for website improvement. Not enough search traffic? Here's our SEO audit report, please implement 23,000 edits in order of priority, and let your copywriters write texts for the queries. Not sure where your sales come from? Here’s a call tracking script, the e-commerce code, and your funnel and attribution model. You need to implement that.
- Not enough time for the project. Usually, the agency specialist has several projects to work on. They are not always ready to make or respond to changes at lightning speed. With lots of automation tools, streamlined processes, and the possibility to consult a more experienced colleague in a problem situation, there's nothing to worry about. But the client wants more, based on a formula: more time = better performance.
- Intermediate metrics instead of the final result. Yes, yes, all those CTR, CPC, CPM, coverage, and total visibility for key queries. When businesses pay agencies, they are making an investment. Despite the fact that everyone talks about ROMI (return on marketing investment), it's hard to measure it properly in terms of analytics and time (i.e., money) needed to collect data.
Why choose an in-house team?
The above disadvantages of working with an agency, lead to the idea that it is worth hiring a specialist to promote a website. Here are a few more reasons:
- Money. An employee actually costs more than payroll. Yet, you keep feeling that you can get more for the same money. YOu might think that if the person's on payroll, it can solve a lot of problems. But in addition to other costs, I will mention below, it may turn out that you need not one person, but an entire department.
- I know my business better than anyone else. The client often considers agency managers incompetent in their business matters. He is confident that he will build better and more effective communication without any intermediaries.
- Fear/Concern. Probably the most common reason. With an in-house specialist, the employer himself is more confident in the working process. But, there's no control of the agency specialists. And the client becomes doubtful.
Why isn't an in-house team as cool as it may seem?
When you work with an agency, you can delegate a lot of organizational issues. I mean, the agency takes over these processes, and the client pays for them. Each agency handles its tasks differently, and each client decides how much he is willing to pay for it. But if you work with an in-house team, you are responsible for all the competencies and processes the agency would take care of:
- Time (money) to organize and monitor business processes. Comprehensive control over a specialist's work is sort of an advantage of the in-house departments. But the need to keep track of many aspects becomes one of the main problems. Control, planning, motivation, setting goals and tasks—everything's on the client's side.
- Employees. It’s not only important to find good specialists but also to provide them with modern equipment, invest in their training, and track their performance. In case of dismissal or illness of an employee, it will take time to find a substitute.
- Automation and software. Using the software that a professional needs to perform his or her duties is much easier for an agency to recoup than for a single project. Whereas the lack of automation and software nowadays will affect the performance.
- Routine and burnout. Working for a long time on the same project turns into a routine, which may cause professional burnout.
- Professional development. Providing conditions for personal growth and training of an employee without other projects and senior colleagues is a hard and expensive task. In addition, there is a risk that investing in employees will not pay off, because they may leave the project for the reason mentioned above.
- Lack of expertise. Is it always possible for the client to evaluate the agency’s performance and see the mistakes in time? — Only after obtaining the results, but then both time and money will be lost. Even the pros can make mistakes and become less creative when working on the same task for a long time. And there will be no one who can advise you on the matter.
So what to choose?
- It’s difficult to develop an effective in-house team. I mean it’s more difficult than finding a good agency and building a successful partnership. There is only one objective reason to build your in-house department—if SEO/PPC advertising is one of your key competencies. If your business won’t be successful without SEO/PPC advertising. Like all kinds of aggregators and huge content projects with a focus on marketing services or niche search engines. Their task is to fill the search results with the links to their website for relevant queries and redirect traffic to other websites for a commission. Their business is all about traffic. Traffic acquisition is their key competence. Outsourcing traffic acquisition means outsourcing business.
- If you want more time for your project, there is a simpler (though more expensive) solution—find a specialist to work with on an hourly basis. Thus, you won't have to deal with lots of organizational issues, and get a fixed amount of time to spend on the project. Some agencies (including ours) have dedicated teams that work on one project only.
- If you are not happy with the agency or in-house team performance, it is much more effective to organize the work based on the in-house + agency scheme. Let me deal with this point in detail in the final part of the text.
In-house team, agency, and in-house team + agency: a detailed comparison
In the financial and legal spheres, the in-house + agency scheme has been operating for a long time. Almost every company has its own accounting department, but certain issues require the help of consultants (taxes, auditing, etc). However, when it comes to marketing, this option is rarely considered.
The advantages of this approach seem obvious to me. All the shortcomings of the models, mentioned above, are overcome by each side of this model. The only problem here is to make it clear to everyone involved that they are on the same team.
I tried to organize and structure the information and made a table. Not for an article, but to share a link and avoid wasting time answering the same questions.
I usually share this table with colleagues, friends, and acquaintances to save them time to make a decision and help them make an informed choice. In this table, I tried to take into account all the pros and cons of different approaches:
- working with a digital marketing agency in normal conditions, when the agency specialist leads more than one project;
- working with an agency and hiring a dedicated employee;
- a normal in-house team—a team of 1-2 people;
- a large in-house team—4-6 people;
- synergy: an in-house specialist works together with an agency specialist.
Agency + in-house team: a perfect work format?
As we know, there are no perfect formats or universal solutions. But there are good ones. In any business, a good solution is the one with less risk (all else being equal).
In case of the synergy of in-house specialists and the agency, you will save yourself from:
- communication problems between the business and the agency, since the communication bridge are not only the agency manager but also your in-house specialists;
- problems of employee monitoring and control; An agency will provide you with reporting and monitoring solutions. Your specialists will exchange their best practices and secretly compete with agency specialists, which will promote professional growth and motivation for both sides;
- problems with automation tools and software. The agency has (must have) everything needed;
- problems with replacing an in-house specialist or agency. The agency will be able to back you up while you're looking for a new employee, so the work will not be interrupted. Or the in-house team will take on the main load while you are looking for a new agency;
- problems with the amount of time allocated for the project. Your specialists devote all their time to the project and are ready to respond to urgent tasks at any time. Agency employees perform routine work without any rush.
To wrap it all up, here are the three main ideas I want to convey in this article:
- An in-house team is likely to cause more problems than benefits if SEO/PPC advertising is not a key competence for your company.
- If you choose an in-house team just because you want more time and attention from a specialist, it's much easier and more productive to find a specialist to work with on an hourly basis.
- If SEO/PPC advertising is one of the key competencies of your business, then the synergy of in-house and agency teams will be the most effective format of work, since the combination of different approaches eliminates the shortcomings of each model.
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