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In-house vs. Agency SEM/SEO - Danny Sullivan Interview

October 16, 2007

At High Rankings, we’ve been working with more and more companies that are
interested in bringing search marketing in-house and/or educating their
marketing teams face-to-face in a small group. Jill’s been traveling to
provide in-house training to marketing departments who are interested in
finding out from an expert if they are on the right track and also how they
can improve their search efforts. This is in line with Jill’s typical
generosity and willingness to share her knowledge and experience with others
interested in search marketing.

 

We thought it would be interesting to get Danny Sullivan’s view of the
various nuances between SEOs/SEMs within search marketing companies like
High Rankings and those with in-house SEM roles.

 

Unless this is your very first day in search marketing, Danny Sullivan
doesn’t need an intro. But just in case…he is *the* thought leader of the
search marketing industry. There’s more about Danny here. - Pauline

 

—-

 

 

PK: Danny, I’d love to hear your view on the in-house search engine marketer
and how that affects search marketing consultants and companies out there.
What do you see as the difference in the level of experience and expertise
between an in-house SEO/SEM and a specialist working at a SEO/SEM firm?

 

DS: As an in-house SEO, you largely see what’s happening only within one
particular type of site — and likely, a site with some solid content. Now
compare that to an SEO working with affiliate sites. The tactics both use to
promote their sites will revolve around the type of sites they are in the
first place. An in-house SEO talking about not needing to buy links might
sound naïve to the affiliate SEO, who finds no one will link to their
affiliate site. But the in-houser may have content that indeed makes
purchasing links unnecessary. In another example, an in-houser might think
the idea of a sandbox for new sites is absurd. But someone from an SEO
company might be dealing with a wider range of sites and actually witness a
sandbox effect happening. So, as the case often is with SEO, the “right”
answer can depend on a variety of circumstances. And, as is often the case
with SEO, we sometimes like fighting more than measured discussions of why
both “sides” might be correct.

 

PK: Many large corporations are starting to integrate search marketers into
their marketing departments, but we’ve also worked with many in-house search
marketers within small- to mid-size companies. So, do you think most
marketing departments will eventually include a seat for the search marketer
rather than just piling on more work for the current marketing manager in
the near future?

 

DS: Any marketing department big enough to specialize — TV, radio, print,
outdoors, etc. — will likely view search as an independent and important
fundamental marketing medium. That’s because it is!

 

PK: How long before the typical C-level realizes that search is an
imperative part of the marketing budget? It seems some of the in-house
marketers we work with are still spending most of their time trying to prove
that search marketing is a necessity.

 

DS: I think we’ve already come a long way (baby!). Anecdotally, I think
search has already won lots of acceptance. But I’m sure it’s going to take a
few more years and lessons where companies see their competitors starting to
pull ahead in search to wake up those higher-ups.

 

PK: In what ways do you think in-house search marketers and SEO/SEM experts,
consultants, etc. can work together?

 

DS: Some aspects of SEO make sense to do internally. Link-building, I feel,
works better if you have an advocate inside the company going at it. So too
does the establishment of procedures to ensure content is search engine
friendly from the time it is created. But tapping into an outside consultant
is helpful if you want the assessment of someone that has seen a portfolio
of sites — and thus the weird things that can crop up that a single-focused
in-houser might not recognize. Plus, it may be that it makes sense to
outsource the paid side and focus on SEO internally (or vice versa)
depending on a particular company.

 

PK: As far as building their knowledge base and gaining experience in search
marketing, what side do you think an entry-level search marketer would
benefit more greatly from, client-side or agency-side?

 

DS: By client-side, I assume you mean working within a company as an
in-houser rather than for an SEO firm. That’s hard to answer. If your goal
is to do SEO for a variety of companies, you might choose agency-side. I
mean, some SEOs want to have their own firms, so getting in with an agency
makes sense, if so. But if you wanted to start your own firm yet didn’t have
the experience to get on with an agency, going to work for a company might
be the answer. The hardest thing about being an in-houser is the lack of
perspective you get from looking across a range of sites. But if your goal
is to really focus only on in-house work, there’s no disadvantage that I can
see.

 

PK: Do you believe there is enough work out there for both in-house and
agency-side search marketers to stay as busy as they are? What about in 5
years?

 

DS: I think there’s plenty of work for everyone now and in 5 years. Search
is strong and will continue growing, as it is one of the best marketing
activities out there.

 

PK: I read in Aaron Wall’s interview with you that you’re trying not to
work on weekends. How is that working out for you? Do you at least check
email?

 

DS: I started working more again this year until about two months ago. I’m
happy to say the computer is back to staying off. I occasionally do a quick
email check if I’m on my phone and in town on a Saturday or Sunday (we have
no cell signal at home). Otherwise, the computer doesn’t go on, and I trust
that things will somehow survive until Monday rolls around again.

 

PK: Thanks, Danny!

 

Pauline Kerbici
Director of Marketing
High Rankings

 

[Jill’s additional comments: Thanks, Danny and Pauline, really great stuff!
Something I’ve been noticing as I’ve been going to consult with and educate
those at larger companies is that for many online marketing managers, search
is sometimes just one part of their job. Very often these folks know a ton
about SEM/SEO and they know what they need to do to implement it, but they
simply don’t have the time or the buy-in that is necessary to do it right.
Although they may be extremely well-versed on search-marketing issues, they
often need to bring in an outside expert in order to gain the validation
they need, and to get things on the right track. Since search marketing
(especially SEO) needs the support of many different teams including the
developers, the writers, and the PR team, it often takes an outside
consultant to bring them all together. The great thing is that once you do
that, and get a comprehensive strategy worked out, the online marketing
manager can finally start to get things moving the way he/she has wanted to
all along! - Jill]

 

What do you think?

 

(P.S. If anyone would like to republish the above interview, please email
your request and where it will reside, and we’ll send the appropriate
credits to attach to it.)