Search executives to publishers: Do-it-yourself doesn’t cut it

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Farming out search engine optimization and paid search management to specialty firms is often the most effective way to go, according to panelists who spoke at American Business Media’s It’s All About Search conference on Wednesday.

“A lot of people say, ‘We can do this internally,’ ” said Chris Hulse, VP-business development at, adding marketers and publishers would benefit from investing in outside expertise. “This is one of those things where you wouldn’t defend yourself in court.”

Hulse advocates using an SEO/SEM agency to maximize search investment. “We’re far enough along where, if the guy who is fixing your computer is also doing your SEO and SEM, it’s time to shop for a specialist,” he said.

A marketer who attended the breakfast said her company does outsource search marketing to agencies. “We primarily farm it out,” said Chantal V. Haberman, director, Internet marketing at Equity Research Services at Standard & Poor’s. She said the company has a variety of products it markets through search, some with paid search, some with Web site optimization and some products for which both strategies are deployed. Haberman said that while much of the reason to farm out the work “has to do with staffing and resources,” she has found the agencies that live and breathe search have a level of expertise and relationships within the industry that is hard to duplicate internally.

JupiterResearch published a report last week on search engine marketing agencies that highlights the increases in outsourcing search. The report found, among other things, that a large portion of marketers outsource at least one service to a search agency. So-called large marketers are the most likely to do so. Sixty-three percent of large marketers outsource to a search agency. Among midsize marketing companies, almost half (48%) outsource, and 37% of small companies do so.

“It’s definitely high on the marketers’ priority list,” said Sapna Satagopan, a research associate at Jupiter who was the lead analyst on the “Search Engine Marketing Agency Constellation” report. Jupiter surveyed search marketers and their agencies in March. The report includes an evaluation of 15 search engine marketing agencies.

For those who do outsource, though, a large number are unhappy with their agency choice, Satagopan said, and many are confused about how to choose an agency in the growing search industry. Three-fourths of marketers said they are dissatisfied with their current agencies. Just over half (57%) approved of their agency’s ability to execute paid search campaigns, and 58% approved of optimization strategies.

Panelist Andrew Pancer, COO of, said optimization needs to be consistently maintained and requires significant resources to be effective. “From a publisher perspective, SEO needs to be something you focus on every day.”

Satagopan said campaign tracking is crucial to selecting a search agency, since it provides a way to evaluate the agency’s capabilities. She also said that marketers should look for a mix of technological expertise, customer service and strategic services when choosing an agency.

“A big part of the winning agencies is [that they posses] a good combination of both,” she said. “A client is not going to be impressed by technology only. The agency team and their responsiveness are equally important to them.”

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