When making the jump into digital marketing, many businesses aren’t sure how to handle their marketing needs. For starters, they need to figure out whether to hire a single marketing expert, build their own in-house marketing team, or hire a digital marketing agency. As with any business decision, there are no easy answers.
We understand navigating this whole journey can be a huge headache. That’s why we’ve fleshed out valuable insights and takeaways to ensure you’ve got everything under your control. Let’s first dive into a breakdown of the difference between freelancers vs. in-house vs. outsourced digital marketing and then some useful questions and tips to keep in mind.
Here’s a quick rundown to help you out:
Freelance Digital Marketing Expert
Some companies just want to dip their toes into digital marketing without committing to a full in-house team or agency. These companies will often seek out a freelance digital marketing expert. This is usually someone who works in the marketing field and now advertises themselves as a one-stop-shop for all marketing needs.
- Easy communication: Working with an individual expert makes communicating about your business’s needs and initiatives significantly easier. Any questions can be answered by that one person.
- Lower costs: Paying a single person to do all your marketing work is clearly cheaper than paying for an entire in-house team. Additionally, this person can most often work from home, so you won’t need to accommodate them in your office space.
- Better flexibility: Marketing teams can often have their preferred way of doing things and can be resistant to change. Individual experts may have more freedom and flexibility to tailor their approach to your business strategies.
- A lot of (perhaps too much) responsibility: There’s a reason marketing is usually done by teams—there are a lot of things to juggle. Relying on a single person to accomplish all of those tasks can be risky.
- More delays: When your marketing expert is overwhelmed, you will feel those repercussions with long delays, which can be costly.
- Stale tactics: Search engines are constantly improving and changing their algorithms, which can be a lot of information for a single person to take in. Therefore, working with a lone expert could lead to outdated practices.
In-House Digital Marketing Team
When you need to hire a full-time digital marketing specialist, the decision mostly comes down to what your goals are and what type of business you are running. If you are running a business where internet sales bring in a good portion of your income, you may need a full-time marketing specialist working for you.
- Your marketing team is your own: You will have dedicated specialists to focus on your business’s needs. They can take the time to learn the ins and outs of your business and work alongside your web development team.
- More control: An in-house marketing team works for you and you alone—they won’t ever be caught up in another client’s work. Therefore, you can have significantly more control of your team’s schedule and strategies.
- Better long-term planning: Many companies hop between marketing companies until they find one that works for them. Hiring a long-term in-house marketing team produces better stability and may help you stay on top of your industry for years to come.
- Slow start-up: If you want to hire an in-house team, you’ll likely have to start from scratch. That means looking for new employees or hiring from within, depending on how much marketing-related work your employees have done in the past. It will take a few months before you have a team that starts showing results.
- Less cost-efficient: It will likely be more expensive to run your own marketing team. Instead of paying on a project-to-project basis, your marketing budget will require hourly wages and salaries. Not to mention, your company will need to pay for various digital marketing tools if you want to gain a genuine competitive advantage.
- Risk of bloat: Many companies will over-hire new teams to cover all their bases. But in that attempt, they will likely hire a few redundancies. To cut down on this bloat and increase efficiency, they may need to lay off some of the team in the future, which can be discouraging for those left on the team.
Outsourced Digital Marketing Agency
Hiring out your digital marketing services to a specialized agency offers incredible advantages. After all, many companies have seen impressive results in the past. But of course, we would say that (we’re pretty biased towards agencies). Humor us as we try to take an objective look at outsourcing to a digital marketing agency.
- More cost- and time-efficient: Perhaps the biggest difference between working with a digital marketing agency vs. an in-house team is how it fits into your budget. In short, you pay for the project, not the people. This helps keep overall costs down significantly. And while your outsourced agency is churning out optimized content, you can focus on other ways to make your company more profitable.
- Access to top talent: Marketing agencies are always looking for the best strategists and creators to join their teams. When you work with those agencies, you get to reap the rewards of those experts.
- Minimal management: Agencies are self-managers. All you need to do is establish expectations at the beginning of your professional relationship, and the agency will take care of the rest to deliver lasting results.
- Additional marketing services: If you ever want to delve into other marketing tactics, agencies will often offer other services for you to try. For example, Big Leap also offers content marketing, conversion rate optimization, marketing automation, and social media marketing services in addition to our popular SEO package.
- Difficult to coordinate: It pains us to admit, but it can be more difficult to coordinate marketing efforts with an outsourced team. Every decision you make must be communicated in meetings, which requires advanced planning to schedule since those marketing teams have other clients as well.
- Limiting contracts: The contracts you sign can be rigid. This is mostly to protect you and the agency—it ensures that you get what you paid for, and they don’t go unpaid for any extra last-minute work. However, dealing with those contracts means time spent in negotiations while you’re trying to figure out what marketing initiatives you want to pursue.
In-House or Outsourced Marketing—You Can Have It Both Ways
In some cases, you don’t even have to choose either in-house or outsourced marketing—you can have both. Many companies will use outsourced marketing agencies to augment the capabilities of their in-house teams.
These two entities can then communicate with each other to create a fully optimized marketing plan. Big Leap has done this dozens of times, including our optimization work with AlphaGraphics.
Partnering with the Right Digital Marketing Partner
If you decide to go with a blended team, like AlphaGraphics, or go all-in with an outsourced digital marketing agency, that’s great! But you still need to sort out a couple of key things:
- Agency: How do you know which agency to hire? Who’s the best fit for your business?
- Size: Will going with a small-sized agency be a good fit, or does going bigger produce better results?
11 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Outsourced Digital Marketing Agency
Hiring a digital marketing partner is a big decision. Making the right choice can improve the performance of online marketing channels and increase leads and sales. However, making the wrong decision may take your online performance in the wrong direction and fail to bring in the ROI you deserve.
Not all marketing agencies are created equal. The truth is there are unqualified, not-so-great agencies out there, which can make it challenging to find a trustworthy, reliable one. So we sat down and came up with a list of questions to root out the frauds and help you find the best fit for your business:
1. How Specifically Will You Improve Our Rankings?
All agencies boast of getting you the best rankings possible, but not every agency wants to be transparent about how they’ll actually do it.
Some agencies offer services like content optimization, keyword research, and competitor analysis. Others offer technical SEO services, which use more tech-savvy strategies like submitting optimized sitemaps to Google for indexing. Others still will focus on link-building strategies to help drive traffic and build up your domain authority.
It’s important to understand what specific services an agency can help you with. Ideally, choose one that can offer the best of all three worlds. If the agency doesn’t want to discuss specific strategies, run.
2. How Will You Help Me Get Backlinks?
Backlinks are an important part of SEO strategies. In fact, they’re one of the fastest and most effective ways to increase your domain authority and, thus, your ranking potential.
Not all backlink strategies are created equal, however. Avoid agencies who talk about private blogging systems, which are essentially link-building scams that Google will quickly root out and penalize you for.
3. How Have These Strategies Worked for Past Clients?
The proof is in the pudding. Ask for case studies. Search for reviews. Seek out client testimonials. A good agency has no problem sharing their wins and happy customers are delighted to spread the good word.
So make sure to do a bit of digging and let an agency’s clients speak for them. Along the way, you might stumble upon something not-so-flattering, but that’s good too. Knowing exactly what’s on the table is always better than being blindsided.
4. What Specific Types of Results Can You Get Me?
Desired results should always be discussed upfront. Some brands want to get first place rankings for the keywords they’re targeting. Others want more traffic. Others want an elevated ranking compared to where they are. Ask the agency what specific results they’ll be aiming for and what sort of growth you can hope to expect.
Once I saw an SEO agency promise to deliver first-slot SERP rankings for every keyword they targeted. Lofty goal. In reality, they proceeded to target irrelevant, long-tail keywords that no one was trying to rank for. They delivered on their promise but brought no value to the client.
So watch for the “guarantee” red flag. Any agency that guarantees top five Google placement for high-volume, high-competition keywords is full of it. No one can promise that. There are too many factors outside of their control.
5. How Long Will It Take to See Results?
Unfortunately, some agencies happily drag clients along to milk a contract for all its worth. As you choose an agency, set goals and timelines. For example, “we believe these strategies could increase traffic/ranking positions by 15% over the next three months, and then up to a 45% increase within five months.”
Keep in mind, these are goals, not guarantees. But strategies should entail the length of time it should take before you can start to see results and traction.
6. How Will I Know When Changes Are Made?
Many SEO agencies will request access to your site in order to work directly on content and technical fixes. Because of that, it’s important to keep communication lines open and clear.
There are two ways to go about it:
- Require that they get your approval first. This may be particularly important for restricted industries that are bound legally or ethically. A site for a medication, for example, shouldn’t have its text changed just because the keywords could perform a little higher.
- Ask for a detailed log of any changes that are made after the fact so that you can review them and stay in the know.
Either way, keep careful track of what’s actually happening.
7. How Will Reporting Work?
SEO agencies are hired to get you results. Make sure you know exactly what they are. This is where things can get a little tricky. Great firms will be completely transparent in time spent, content written, backlinks achieved, etc.
Discuss reporting with the agency at the very onset of your communication. Ask what metrics they’ll be watching, what sort of reports you can expect to receive, and how often you’ll be given them.
8. What Does the Collaboration Process Look Like?
How often will your internal team need to be involved and to what extent? How many meetings will you have with the team? What’s their method of communication? How much will they need from you?
Gaining an understanding and setting expectations will be vital to a positive working relationship. Some agencies will require more hands-on engagement from their clients, while others handle most of the work themselves.
9. How Do You Handle Google Penalties?
If your site has any penalties from Google, it’s important to make sure that the agency has the experience and a system in place for getting those penalties resolved and overturned. Make sure an agency will handle this for you, ask what their process looks like and how long it may take.
10. How Do Payments and Contracts Work?
If you’ve made it all the way here, that’s a good sign. It’s now time to talk money.
Make sure you’re clear about what a contract entails. Is it a one-time fee and a month-to-month agreement? Is it a retainer that requires a set time commitment? Do you need to pay for a single month upfront? Six months upfront? How do you pay?
If you get to the contract stage, review it carefully. Take it to your lawyer and have them review it. Make sure that it works in your favor and isn’t just benefiting the agency. Many rogue agencies try to sneak in clauses that protect them and hurt their clients, so be careful.
11. Is There An Out Clause?
Let’s say you’re six months into the contract, and there are absolutely zero changes in ranking or traffic. Is there an out clause? If so, what does it entail? Do you have to cancel within a set time period?
Be clear on this, and make sure that you’re comfortable with whatever the company’s policy is. You don’t want to be stuck with an agency whose strategies aren’t working for you.
Choosing the Right-Sized Digital Marketing Agency
Among the many factors involved in your decision, you’ll probably notice agencies vary in size. Some agencies have 10 people, while others have 100 people. The size may give your organization access to different assets, which can impact the strategy, planning, and execution of your digital marketing efforts.
The main takeaway is to look at two areas when considering agency size:
1. Experience & Expertise
Some smaller, niche marketers may already have a comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape in your industry. However, they may also lean on cookie-cutter strategies and tactics in the name of profitability and scale, which may or may not align with your business goals.
2. Workflow Processes
Processes are essential in business. They support the scalability of a task or series of tasks. Larger agencies might have processes in place that ensure campaign execution, while smaller agencies might be more flexible in how they execute a campaign.
Sometimes rigid processes may not be compatible with your needs as a client. This is where a smaller agency might be a better fit for you. A smaller agency will likely possess the flexibility to provide you with a customized approach and be willing to grow with you.
Grow Your Business the Right Way
Finding the right digital marketing team requires looking at your resources and choosing what fuels your marketing goals with efficiency and growth.
If you feel that working with a digital marketing agency is the best course of action for your needs, then you’re already in the right place. Get in touch with the experts at Big Leap today!