Does Hiring a Search Engine Marketing Firm Cost or Save you Money?
I love this question! I see it asked over and over; at conferences, in forums, in blogs, and in articles. Of course the answer is multifaceted but I believe the right question should be - does working with an SEM company MAKE you money.
Whether through website optimization for search engines or paid search advertising, a good search marketing company is focusing on conversion (i.e. Making Money). To get to conversion someone needs to keep up with every little algorithmic change (again paid or organic) in order to optimize the campaigns. They need to keep up with all of the tools available from the vendors and the industry. They need to have the tight connection with the media vendors, and talk with them daily about contracts, IOs, budgets, opportunities, new products. They need to know all the ins and outs of the media vendors' user interface. They need to daily bid manage! They need to daily budget manage! They watch the competition's results. They educate in-house marketing teams on SEM hoping for better optimized content and input on the keyword strategy. They pull together the tracking systems to get accountability. They fine tune the campaigns and recommend website changes to produce the best results from search marketing. They look for new search marketing opportunities. They make the educated guess on what the best strategy will be for upcoming quarters. If 'they' resides within the marketing department in a company, 'they' will be pulled in a ton of directions, will cost the company $100K's year, get sick once and awhile or maybe, heavens, go on vacation, and will probably not be in a position to keep in touch with the ridiculous pace of the search+ (+ being contextual, PR, Blog search, mobile, local, video, other stuff from Google and Yahoo) industry without cloning themselves a few times.
Companies that ONLY do SEM for a living are the answer to cloning marketing managers. They are an extension of the marketing of their clients. They are the experts with experience, not only with one company but with multiple companies over multiple years, thus being able to apply, real-time, lessons learned across the board. They are focused.
Another aspect I hear presented is from the SEM companies themselves. They proudly state that they will SAVE the client money by helping them not 'throw' their money into search marketing with reckless abandonment. They will apply sound tactics to lower the client's cost-per-lead (sale) therefore causing the client to spend less money (even with the management fee tacked on). This is backwards. When we take on a new client we lower their cost-per-lead so much (even with the management fee tacked on) the budget doesn't go down - the lead flow just goes up. And in turn the client actually wants to spend MORE.
A disclaimer statement - we make our customers money!