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Help yourself help yourself: consolidate (or at least integrate) your online marketing efforts

December 2nd, 2010 | | SEO Management

Working in an agency setting on several types of internet marketing campaigns for a while gives you an interesting insight into how different businesses handle their marketing strategies, as well as some of the complications and benefits that can arise as a result of each method.

Some of the structures we’ve seen companies employ include:

  • Handle all online marketing channels in-house, with the option of either having one person handle all online strategies or splitting strategies between a team of two or more.
  • Keep more familiar marketing channels or channels with which the company has seen more success, in-house while outsourcing the less familiar or successful, or sometimes just more time-consuming, to outside agencies or freelancers.
  • Outsource all internet marketing strategies to an outside agency, or to several different agencies or freelancers.

While these are all perfectly viable options and they all work for different businesses, when it comes down to it, the most efficient and beneficial long-term way to manage all of the online marketing activities an organization engages in is to find a way to ensure that the activities engaged in for each strategy can feed into one another and provide benefits outside the strict scope of PPC, or SEO, or social media etc. In other words, the strategies have to be consistent with each other, and helpful to one another, or you’re wasting time, money, and possibly creating a poor long-term foundation for your brand online. Consider some of the complications that can arise from having too many hands in the internet marketing pot:

  • Inconsistent branding- such that when potential customers interact with you via various online channels the messages they receive about your company and its culture, values, and goals are different.
  • Development of projects that have the potential to damage other online marketing strategies- for example, if one part of your website is modified by your SEO company, what impact will it have on your PPC campaigns? Will your web developers be prepared to handle the extra traffic generated by a successful social media campaign?
  • Duplication of projects- because your online presence, though channeled through distinct strategies, is actually a whole, and that whole is based on improving user experience with your company, it may be that the most beneficial projects for PPC are also the most beneficial for SEO. In that case, the time and money wasted by having two agencies or two individuals working on those pieces separately could be substantially reduced.
  • Violations of company policy or deviations from company direction- specifically if communication between the company and outside agents is not well-defined, for all agents, there is a risk in giving creative control to someone else. They may create a marketing plan that is outside the scope of your company’s ultimate plan for the future, or they may create creative elements that are in violation of your industry’s marketing policies. There is no way for someone outside of your company to know what you want unless you tell them, so it’s important to do so regularly.

Some of the most common ways to address the issue of confusion amongst internal employees, or between agencies/freelancers and organizations and their internal employees and reduce the likelihood of the above complications, are as follows:

  • One person takes high-level, directional control of internet marketing strategies and ensures that the activities performed in one strategy are consistent and beneficial to the others, including relaying communications and project details between parties. This is the role that an internal marketing manager might take in directing either several in-house employees or one or more agencies, and it can work very well as long as the marketing manager has the time and capability to oversee and communicate with multiple teams, can effectively distribute information about overall marketing direction, and can facilitate collaborative work between different teams.
  • Multiple outside agencies or freelancers are responsible for communicating with one another about ongoing and upcoming projects and coordinating to ensure that they’re consistent and will benefit, or at least not harm, one another. This can also work, but it relies on several factors, including excellent communication between interagency teams (which can often be very challenging, as agencies or freelancers have different communication styles and are also frequently reluctant to share detailed information about their projects with others). The other consideration is that if an internal agent of the company is not overseeing all project coordination by outside parties, the company’s goals, restrictions, and overall direction must be communicated very clearly, preferably in an official document or documents, to all involved parties before they begin work. Essentially, an internal party still needs to be substantially involved in the overall process, but may not need to take so much day-to-day responsibility if a company has identified outside agents they trust to work together to execute their internet marketing strategies.
  • One outside agency or freelancer is responsible for all elements of internet marketing, with varying levels of communication and direction from the company. This structure sounds ideal, from the perspective of maintaining consistency, simplifying communication, and offering the ability to create projects that are multifunctional for more than one area of online marketing. The complication comes in when you consider that “the best” agent or agency for any one particular strategy may not be “the best” at another…and you want the best, don’t you? As such, unless you find an individual or company that has demonstrated strong capability across internet marketing channels, it can be difficult to put all of your projects with one agency or individual. However, if you can identify an agency you are comfortable with handling multiple strategies, the efficiency, cost, and communication-difficulty savings can be great. One caveat of this method is that sometimes if all internet marketing responsibilities are outsourced, internal communication with the outsourcers can become a smaller priority, which is fine to the extent that you are comfortable giving the agency freer reign over your branding and revenue generation efforts. Regardless, to maintain a good long-term fit between the company’s direction and the agency’s marketing plans, discussions of any relevant internal audience data, company direction changes, etc. should be scheduled and held regularly.
  • One internal person holds responsibility for the planning and execution of all internet marketing strategies. This is how many companies begin in internet marketing. Their marketing officer, sales person, or even CEO, depending on company structure and size, begins dealing with marketing online. This obviously offers substantial benefit in terms of ensuring that projects remain consistent and in line with company goals. The primary disadvantage that most companies with one-person internal internet marketing departments find is that the scope of activities available is too wide for one person to fully take advantage of, especially in combination with other job responsibilities. This can lead to a lot of missed opportunity, as well as a lack of proper oversight to best optimize the channels that are being operated. Unless an internal agent is well-educated in terms of internet marketing, it is hard to replicate the expertise of an outside agency or expert freelancer with an internal employee, regardless of how much easier it makes communication and seems to make day-to-day operations. Some companies, after outsourcing their online marketing strategies for a time, do decide that the expense of hiring an expert internal person or team to handle solely internet marketing is their ideal combination to address communication and direction issues without sacrificing expertise, and that method is more promising than assigning the responsibility to an internal employee with other internal responsibilities.

Essentially, any method can work, but any method can also go very wrong. The important thing is to consider your company’s structure, internal expertise, and capability, research outside options, and from there create a plan with strong direction that integrates all strategies as one, rather than considering each channel as an element separate from the others.

Jessica is an Account Supervisor at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.

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