SEO, paid search and social media: for obvious reasons, it's difficult, if not downright impossible, for companies to thrive online without them.

Given their importance, one might expect that a growing number of companies would be eager to bring their SEO, PPC and social media activities in house, but according to SEMPO and Econsultancy's State of Search Marketing Report 2011, just the opposite is happening.

The report is based on a survey which polled 900 client-side advertisers and agencies. It found that the number of companies handling SEO exclusively in-house fell from 51% in 2010 to 44% in 2011, and the number handling paid search in a similar fashion dropped from 47% to 38% over the same time period.

Even in the realm of social media, where companies are often encouraged to empower the voices within their companies, outsourcing is on the rise. In 2010, 62% of companies kept social media in-house. In twelve months, that has dropped to just 55%.

What gives? Why are companies increasingly looking for outside help with crucial online marketing activities?

For SEO and paid search, SEMPO and Econsultancy found a number of drivers: from a lack of in-house skills and time, to a lack of tools and technology.

Reasons for outsourcing paid search activity (company respondents):

Reasons for outsourcing paid search

Some advertisers and agencies, of course, also cited an economic benefit to outsourcing. For social media, time is the biggest factor, with 37% of respondents saying that social media is simply too time consuming to keep in-house exclusively.

That's good news for specialists and focused agencies (eg. search and social media agencies), who in all three areas are preferred over more generalist providers, such shops that aim to be one-stop shops.

But is the growing amount of outsourcing good news for the companies choosing this route?

Obviously, outsourcing in and of itself isn't bad. SEO, paid search and social media are only getting more sophisticated and competitive, and given that they basically constitute the digital marketing mix for many companies, the notion that they should be handed off, at least partially, to experts is easy to buy into.

And if this year's State of Search Marketing Report is any indication, the trend of companies buying into this notion isn't likely to reverse.

At the same time, companies need to exercise caution. To effectively manage outside vendors, and hold them accountable, investing in the development of some in-house resources is highly desirable. As we learned from J.C. Penney's paid link nightmare, knowing what your vendors are up to is a must, and it's hard to do that if you don't understand what they're doing.

That's something the growing number of companies outsourcing their SEO, paid search and social media should keep in mind.

Patricio Robles

Published 21 April, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (9)

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John Robinson

John Robinson, Director/Web Developer at webZplus

I think that companies outsourcing SEO and Social Media tasks need to be mindful of the long term consequences of any comments or postions put forward by the outside vendors, this is not like buying a billboard or writing ad copy where you can remove the offending piece if it doesn't work, many social media streams survive the passage of time and have a habit of turning up again when they can do the most damage.

over 7 years ago


Leo Nelson

Leveraging the skills, technology, tools and resource of a carefully selected specialist agency can be hugely cost-efficient. However, collaborating closely on setting the strategy is a must, question everything and challenge rationale so you know exactly what they're getting up to and why. Insist on regular - weekly for multi £m accounts - face-to-face two way update meetings ideally on your turf to discuss not just the good, but the bad and the ugly too. And... where possible, keep analytics in-house to ensure agency data is doing more than justifying their existence!

over 7 years ago



As an employee for an SEO agency, I'd advise to any company who is looking to outsource to do their homework. The amount of clients that come to us after using a company who promised them number 1 rankings but ended up causing more damage than good.

Also, use an agency who knows onsite as well as on site, and we get best results for companies who are willing to listen to our recommendations.

over 7 years ago

Ed Lamb

Ed Lamb, Client Services Director at Propellernet

Interesting piece - I can't help feeling that those claiming to manage SEO in-house may not have a full understanding of the skills required for SEO. Perhaps they see SEO as a technical exercise in getting the structure of the site right, and submitting to the right directories. As understanding increases that those type of tactics are hygiene factors and the real value is in creative link building, I can't help thinking that the 44% will come down (a lot) further.

Equally, it really surprises me that the proportion of companies running PPC in-house is lower than SEO - PPC is a skill that's easier to bring in-house because it covers a far narrower breadth of skills than SEO.

At Propellernet, we have several clients managing PPC in-house but only one who is even considering taking SEO in-house. Even that client would agree they have some major cultural challenges to overcome before being able to move SEO entirely in-house successfully, but they have run PPC with good results in-house for years.

At the moment, for maximum results SEO requires agencies to come in and move all the relevant departments to the same level of knowledge so that they can work together effectively. The agency has a lot of communication and change management work to do as well as search deliverables. For that reason I'd encourage companies to outsource to start with, learn all they can, and when they have a thriving creative link building campaign that is driving top positions in Google, to start to consider how they might bring part or all of SEO in-house, depending on their capabilities.

For most companies - even those who rely on search rankings to drive their businesses - that time is many years away.

over 7 years ago



Doing SEO or PPC in house may be cheaper but probably less effective than outsourcing it to experts. Decent SEO or PPC companies are difficult to find and like one of the early posters in this thread, some SEO/PPC companies can kill your online activities stone dead.
Many people still think online is something like print or brochure territory...BIG mistake!
Always happy to give an opinion...that's what a Web Critic does best!

over 7 years ago


Wedding Blogs

I agree with some of the others who have posted here re using an agency for SEO. You need to be very careful. One of the companies that I worked for outsourced their SEO to an agency, who bought links and got the site penalised in Google. Overnight we lost all our traffic and revenue and it never really recovered - it ended up costing a lot in terms of opportunity cost of lost revenue. I would always look to hire in house expertise for SEO.

over 7 years ago

Ed Lamb

Ed Lamb, Client Services Director at Propellernet

I completely understand the nervousness of some commenting here about outsourcing search to companies who use dodgy tactics, which ultimately negatively impact the client's brand, not to mention revenue.

But I would also add that the problems came down to sourcing the wrong company that didn't use sensible tactics, rather than the outsourcing itself.

Agencies focused on search, and SEO in particular, have a long way to go to educate marketers on ethical approaches. While knowledge of quality long-term SEO practices remains limited amongst marketers (yes, I realise I am generalising massively!) those proclaiming to be experts but using dangerous short-term tactics will continue to win work, but that will reduce over time.

With increased education will come better agency selection and an eradication of the horror stories that have been outlined above.

over 7 years ago


Home Outsourcing Jobs

SEO, PPC and social media these are communication oriented medium. So outsourcing is necessary.

about 6 years ago


seo builder

people who have plan to hire an SEO should be careful to avoid breakdown and damages to their business. they should choose professional SEO to ensure that the given services really works and effective.

almost 6 years ago

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