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MarketingSherpa Report: Challenges To Bringing Search In-House

MarketingSherpa has just released the fourth annual edition of its Search Marketing Benchmark Guide. The Guide is a comprehensive benchmark for all things related to search marketing, including things such as expected search spending for 2008, how search ROI stacks up against other tactics, difficulty in SEM staffing, new ways to evaluate clicks and click fraud, and many other topics.

One interesting aspect of the research this year focused on the challenges to bringing search in-house. If you’re thinking about bringing your search engine marketing in-house, how hard is it? The report features answers from 247 marketers who did just that in the past 24 months, a subset of the 3,053 search marketers who took our August survey.

We asked marketers who stopped outsourcing what successes (or failures) they’ve seen since. The process was more involved than many thought, and they told us how long it took before they were truly up and running, as well as what problems popped up along the way.

We also looked at why it’s so hard to find good search employees and how staffing ranks against other SEM concerns, why these jobs are so mobile, and salary ranges in various parts of the country.

The allure to bring SEM in-house is growing stronger for many marketers, although the number of organizations getting outside help actually increased over the past 12 months. However, it’s becoming more common to use outsourced assistance as part, not all, of the overall SEM effort.

The debate to stop outsourcing your SEM and bring it in-house is a complex one, with pros and cons on both sides.

More than a quarter of marketers we talked to were dissatisfied with their agencies’ performances, while 40% expressed ambiguous feelings. Still, others said they were very happy with their agencies and saw this as a potential waste of time and money. For those who decide to make the move, they’ll find filling SEM-related positions, especially SEO specialists, to be one of the biggest challenges: almost a third of our respondents say it is “very difficult” to attract these employees.

We asked search marketers whose organizations had brought SEM in-house in the past two years about their motivations for doing so. Nearly half thought they would achieve better results from the move. Interestingly, of the 125 organizations in that camp, so many were still ‘in process’ that we were unable to get a good read on their success in optimizing SEM. However, in several post-survey interviews we learned that the reviews were mixed, with a general sense that the decision was a good one but that the move was more involved than expected.

We asked organizations who had made the recent move from outsourcing to in-house SEM to estimate the time it took to implement the change. The median and average aren’t too far apart (three months vs. four months, 11 days), so there’s a good reason to think that the reality is in that range. The fastest moving companies manage to get started within a month, but they’re in the minority and the move for some was to make contractors full-time employees, which is naturally less painful than the alternatives.

We also found that for more than half the organizations we polled, filling SEM-related roles was more difficult than filling other ones in marketing. Of these, SEO specialists were the most challenging, with almost a third of organizations reporting that it was ‘very difficult’ to attract them.

What about training in-house? Someone with media experience might get brought up to speed in between one and three months. Successful agencies have made in-house training a priority. One smart agency president has established a network of stay-at-home moms to do account management—they don’t get stolen by competing agencies and working from home is the most powerful fringe benefit going.

Although the desire to bring SEM in-house is strong, the number of organizations getting help from outside actually increased over the past 12 months. However, it’s becoming more common to use outsourced help as part, not all, of the overall SEM effort. So, while the share of companies using a consultant, agency, or Web design firm for assistance appears to have grown, their role in SEM hasn’t necessarily grown with it.

For those with large SEM budgets, the use of SEM agency assistance is naturally more common than for smaller spenders. The difference is most pronounced in paid search, where more than half of the big spenders use full-service search agencies.

Copies of the 2007 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide are available at the Sherpa Store.

Stefan Tornquist is Research Director of MarketingSherpa Inc.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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