Are You In or Out?
In the August 2018 CMO Survey by Deloitte, the biggest weakness is the ability to measure the success of digital marketing activities and working with external partners. Yet another study, this one from Bannerflow, shows that 91% of brands are bringing their digital marketing in-house. Hmmm… there seems to be a gap in what CMOs need (measurement) and what they have (lack of internal talent with analytics acumen). Let’s explore when it makes sense to outsource your digital marketing and when it’s time to bring select capability in-house.
An Objective Point of View?
You may be wondering if this article is objective. Obviously, we are an online marketing agency. We’d love to work with you. Yet, we know that many of our clients have in-house marketing departments. There are some functions where it makes sense to have an internal and dedicated person managing marketing activities. We’ve also worked with clients as their outsourced marketing department. There’s another subset of clients where we provide deep expertise in one or two areas (e.g., link management, data analytics). As we look at the issue of outsourcing to a marketing agency versus insourcing, our goal is to be objective. We’ll provide you with details so you can make your own determination about what’s right for your organization.
We also believe in educating our clients while we work with them. Not only does it make them better marketers, doing so keeps them informed on how to move their business/organization forward. We also insist that a client own their accounts, data, and the work we complete on their behalf. Being held a technology hostage is never a good idea. As a client, you’re never sure if your online marketing agency has your best interests at heart. As your online marketing agency, we need to be a strategic partner based on trust. Hence, our motivation to be objective and forthcoming as we explore
The Pendulum Swings
As mentioned previously, the Bannerflow study cites that 91% of brands are bringing their digital marketing in-house. Outsourcing and insourcing generally tend to fluctuate depending on economic conditions. At 91% this is a significant shift. With U.S. unemployment at all all-time low, finding the right marketer for the right position can be a challenge.
Opinions often flip-flop between outsourcing being in fashion and out of it. Digital marketing is still relatively young. And it evolves quickly. It’s only natural that companies test what’s practical to perform internally and what isn’t.
The Market Matures
In the early days of SEO, it was like the wild west. New trails were blazed. Anybody who understood HTML and meta tags called themselves an expert. SEOs actively tested search engines’ ranking factors and exploited technical shortcuts (e.g., link farms, guest blogging). As each grey-hat technique was shut down by Google, marketers gained perspective on how to play the digital marketing game.
Now marketers better understand the available digital marketing channels and their corresponding strengths and weaknesses. For example, SEO is a long-term strategy that builds over time with content and links. Paid search gets traction more quickly and can gain faster results, but can be expensive. As new channels emerge and existing ones mature, the digital landscape continues to shift. And with that evolution, all types of skills are needed — content writing, data analysis, social engagement — to keep pace and succeed. However, it’s a rare individual who is adept at all those talents.
Why Wouldn’t You Outsource?
Outsourcing is a great way for companies to grow quickly with flexibility. If you’re starting a new enterprise, or you’ve just undergone a large period of growth, you might be tempted to hire a few new people. Yet hiring people is more complicated than just finding the budget. First, you have to find the right person. Then, you need to onboard them into the company’s culture and train them. Next (hopefully) you plan for their future development. So “getting someone to do your social media” isn’t as easy as posting a job opening on LinkedIn or Indeed.
Outsourcing can be a much simpler process. Armed with the right questions, you can find the right agency or consultant to fill in any marketing capability gaps. Once hired, you can spend precious time solving your marketing problems rather than technical training. That said, be prepared to spend a little time in on-boarding your online marketing agency (e.g., share documents like positioning statements, target personas, or graphics standards) and granting access to your digital marketing systems. As you work together, you’ll find the right cadence in working together and receiving the reports you need to monitor progress. And, if the time comes when you need to say goodbye to the agency, you end the contract. No redundancies, no hard feelings, no trampled dreams.
Why Would You Outsource?
As a business your staff should be your biggest asset. Training a member of your team, planning their future and sorting out their dental insurance shouldn’t be an annoyance. It should be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship that grows your company as well as the employee. An employee that understands your company and your products will always be better at selling that product than an external agency or consultant. While an agency will be able to offer insights that perhaps a staff member can’t see, thorough and insider’s knowledge of your products or services is impossible unless the agency is onsite. Even an online marketing agency that specializes in your industry won’t have that same perspective.
So, the TL:DR (too long, didn’t read) of Outsourcing vs Insourcing: If you need things to get moving quickly, need to enhance your team with specific expertise, or want the flexibility of a team with broad experience, then outsourcing makes sense. If you want to grow things for the long-term, and you’re happy to invest in new skills throughout the relationship, then bringing your digital marketing in-house is a sound strategy.
What Do You Need to Know?
Online marketing is a vast topic so we’re not surprised that 56% of companies feel they lack the skills to cover it themselves. So some recruitment will need to be done if you want to bring your marketing in-house. Hiring one person to try and cover all aspects of digital can be difficult. It’s a rare marketer that has both the creativity and data science chops.
We’ve categorized digital marketing into five main areas that your team will need to address if you decide to build an employee-based team:
- Content creation & optimization
- Link monitoring & maintenance
- Technical website management
- Social media – content curation, creation & engagement
- Paid Ads (PPC/SEM)
- Website maintenance
Of those five, at least three (Analytics, SEO, Social) are integral. However, PPC is a separate beast as each platform has its own nuance for management strategies that drive efficient and profitable conversions. We think PPC is an important element in a balanced digital marketing diet. Be prepared to hire a specialist (either an employee or agency), as dabbling in paid ads requires skill and experience. The final aspect, website maintenance, falls in a grey area between marketing and IT. You might have a developer, or a webmaster who keeps your site up and running, but they will need to work closely with your marketing team because anything that appears to the public is their domain.
Having a basic understanding of analytics is a critical component of modern marketing. Similar to reading a P&L report for managing a profitable business, your analytics reports will show your digital marketing health and progress.
Your marketing hire needs to be able to grasp the basic metrics of online marketing and know where to find them. When it comes to digital marketing, there’s no shortage of data available. The key is to zero in on those metrics that help you with decision making. Your go-to marketing person needs to be able to filter out the background noise and vanity metrics. They should focus on the statistics that matter to you. At a minimum, they should be comfortable using Google Analytics and Search Console. Ideally they should know how to set and monitor goals and be able to use more sophisticated tools like Data Studio or HootSuite to help explain your stats to those who are less ‘data minded’.
SEO is complicated. Even as an online marketing agency with more than a decade of SEO experience, we are always learning new things. Remember my comment about the digital landscape continuously evolving. As artificial intelligence and voice search infiltrates search engines, the SEO world will continue to get more complicated.
Therefore, expecting one member of your team to be an SEO expert, along with all the other skills we’re going to mention, is a completely unrealistic. However, they do need to have an understanding of these essential SEO components:
- Website optimization for mobile and desktop performance
- On-page (Content) optimization
- Off-page (Links) optimization
- Internal linking of content to show the relationship between pages
- The significance of keywords, search intent to matched content, and mapping customer journey and conversion paths
- Advanced technical SEO like microdata (Schema)
These basic SEO aspects are the underpinning of much of your marketing strategy. For example; if your marketer isn’t aware of keywords and search intent, they will not effectively optimize your content. In turn, that means your page won’t have the signals (keywords/search phrases) search engines need to match visitors to your website content. Nor will visitors take appropriate action once they read your content. As you can see it’s a waterfall effect.
Of all of the parts of digital marketing we’ve mentioned so far, this one is probably the most “creative” in a traditional sense. Content creation is a vitally important part of digital marketing. Whether it’s creating main navigation pages for your website or writing a daily blog post, you will need someone on your team who can write. Ideally, that person will be able to write regularly and at a consistent standard.
Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. The perfect content marketer needs to be reading an abundance of articles from a plethora of sources. They need to be able to generate ideas, create editorial calendars, and write both short- and long-form of optimized content. Planning your content is as important as writing it. If you don’t have a goal in mind, you might as well be shouting into the void.
And once the content is written, you need to analyze its performance. A true content champion will be able to review the content they’ve created and dig into Google Analytics and Search Console data. The beauty of the web is that you can edit on the fly. If something doesn’t work, change it. The trick is figuring out what’s wrong first. Sometimes simple A/B testing does the trick; a minor tweak like changing the call-to-action button color could drive more conversions versus a total rewrite. The point here is your content marketer needs to be adept at writing, editing, optimizing and analyzing.
Inbound links are like votes of confidence from other websites. Links are the most powerful signal to search engines; they indicate implied integrity and influence of the website as well as the specific content it’s linking to. Think of inbound links as superhighways that transport visitors to your website from other websites. A quality link — in reputation, relevance, authority — will bring you qualified visitors interested in what you have to offer.
Managing your website’s link profile is truly advanced SEO. A link-building professional will understand each search engine’s quality guidelines by heart. They will be hyper-aware of which inbound links help or hurt your website’s SEO. They don’t just look at the link at face value; they dig into domain authority, anchor text, and other minute details related to the link. They will also be comfortable in using multiple tools — many of them highly technical and sometimes experimental — to aggregate data to keep your profile clean as well as to identify new link opportunities.
Your link liaison needs to be ½ technician and ½ politician as they will be building business relationships that reflect upon your organization. So finding an ethical and astute link professional requires a moderate understanding of the SEO and technical ecosystem to find the right candidate. Often CMOs outsource this position to agencies like ours because proficiency takes time to build and ongoing education to keep current.
Social Media Magician
21.7% of CMOs reported they outsourced social media activities. It’s the channel where most CMOs haven’t effectively integrated social media into their overall marketing strategy. Yet, forecasted spending on social media is expected to accelerate over the next five years. And, in the last 18 months, the use of outside agencies for social media management has increased.
Social media management as part of digital marketing is maturing. Brands that take their social channels seriously have a dedicated person or community manager. If one of your target personas include Millennials, you should already be acutely aware of their communication preferences toward texting or using public social channels to communicate directly with your brand. So your social media point person needs to adept at communicating, using multiple interfaces, and navigating etiquette protocols that vary by channel. So if you think your summer intern could do this job, think again. Your social media manager needs to be fully integrated in your marketing team and on top of industry news and trending topics.
Good company social media accounts share content that is interesting to their followers, so your hire must be actively seeking content to share on your behalf. We say a good ratio is around 80/20. So 80% of the content is from other reputable sources, and 20% is your own content (e.g., self promotional). Planning and scheduling skills here are paramount. And if you want to stand out from the crowd? The best social media accounts — ones with growing followers that are engaged — have a sense of humor. Is that too much to ask from the Political Science undergrad intern whose mom works in accounting? Probably.
The icing on the cake. The cherry on top. The creme de la creme. If you can find someone who ticks all of the boxes above, ask them about PPC. If they know their way around Google Ads (or Bing Ads, LinkedIn ads, Facebook Ads, or ….) then sign them up!
Pay Per Click advertising is a great tool to promote your business, launch new product lines, or just drive traffic towards your website. Learning how to use it isn’t rocket science (although the interface can be tricky at first), but you’ll need a good head for data. Someone who is very comfortable with Google Analytics will probably be able to pick up PPC fairly quickly. But PPC management is more than data, they need to be able to write good ad copy and craft landing pages that convert and read the market.
Another important aspect of good PPC management, and all digital marketing, is the ability to look at what you’ve done already (data) and think of ways to improve on it: new ideas to A/B test, ad variations, changing the CTA wording, adding a phone number. Being able to think proactively and make small tweaks will gradually improve all aspects of your PPC performance. And those lessons can be applied to other elements of your digital marketing.
Your website will need some love and care to keep it healthy. Whatever platform you use to host your site (WordPress, Drupal, Shopify etc) you will need someone on your team who is able to get into the back-end and make changes and updates when required. These changes could be anything from updating the site, to running A/B tests for different CTAs.
This could be a marketer if they have a technical mind, but it might not be. Much like PPC, if you can find someone who has experience working ‘behind-the-scenes’ on a website, it’s an added bonus. Even if it is slightly out of the traditional view of what a marketer should do.
To Outsource Or Not to Outsource?
Now that you know what’s involved with the various aspects of digital marketing, you can decide if outsourcing or bringing in-house if best for your organization. Often our clients find a workable balance between full-time employees and using our agency. In our experience it’s rare to find all of the attributes and skill sets needed to manage the entire spectrum of digital marketing in one person.
When partnering with an online marketing agency, personality and skill are key components to an effective fit. You’ll be working aside your online marketing agency to tackle your biggest marketing problems and hopefully increase your marketing ROI. You’ll need a partner who can gather the data, help you interpret it, identify strategies and then execute them. Be prepared for some ramping-up time (getting things organized, setting the right communication cadence, solidify deliverables). Once everything is in place, you can then focus on getting things done.
How can we help?
What do your links and content say about your site’s SEO? What does your data say in Search Console?
We are Spectrum Group Online, and we offer strategic and tactical consulting so you can monetize your online presence. Call us for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss your website’s user experience and translate that into sales.