My previous post discussed considerations in contracting with an SEM consultant, and concluded that you should (1) ask how the firm trains new and old employees and (2) interview the people who will actually work on your account. Here I address criteria for hiring in-house.
My 2003 article “SEM: In-House vs. Outsourced” published at SEMPO.org (Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization) is still well worth reading. It’s executive summary states:
“SEM (Search Engine Marketing), which consists of the distinct activities of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and paid placement, requires exceptional linguistic and technical aptitude, at least six months of experience, and ongoing research and training. Therefore, a manager who would like to have SEM expertise in-house should expect to allocate at least $50,000 (in the US) towards employee salary and training. Good programmers rarely make good search engine marketers, because of the highly linguistic nature of the work, so that a manager should be cautious about using existing web programmers for SEM. Marketing personnel may have the linguistic and product knowledge, but they need to have substantial technical knowledge of web programming relating to search engines. Even in SEM firms, it is rare that one person possesses sufficient mastery of the various fields of knowledge that impinge on SEM, and people who do have this mastery are likely to cost more than $50,000 per year.”
I then discuss the core aptitudes required of an SEM employee, in order of importance: linguistic aptitude, research skills, brains and education, technical aptitudes and experience, SEM experience. The only change to that priority I would make now is to move SEM experience up one notch.
I also discuss the kinds of business situations that warrant hiring.
Consider the problem of needing less SEO work after year one and the lack of synergies when using just one SEM employee. In theory, if any one facet of search marketing will cost more than, say, $80,000 in labor per year, you’re better off hiring in-house. However, the various parts of search marketing these days work best when synced together with several synchronized people each commanding distinct disciplines within search marketing. Such a team can deliver far more synergies than a single employee. Also, many SEO tasks require a majority of the labor in the first year, at least on a single web site that doesn’t undergo major changes each year, which means that an in-house expert would eventually run out of cost-effective jobs.
The tendency is to not hire soon enough because most businesses aren’t qualified to project the ROI of search marketing, and many firms have been burned by unscrupulous or incompetent SEM firms in the past. I advise paying an SEM firm well to assess the ROI of hiring in-house vs. contracting an SEM consultancy. If you don’t pay the firm well for this work, you may end up with a proposal disguised as an objective study which concludes that, what do you know, you should engage that SEM firm.