In-House PPC Versus Outsourced PPC

I talk to a lot of people who do paid search management for a living. Some folks work in-house, and some do agency work. I’ve been on both sides of the aisle myself – I started out at a PPC agency, but have since moved on to a series of in-house gigs. Both have their merits and drawbacks. Here are a few of my personal observations that might help you if you’re planning a career in PPC, or if you’re a business owner trying to decide whether to outsource your efforts or hire someone to do your PPC work in-house.

In-House PPC

Pros – In-house PPC is all about diving deep into specific problems. You’re devoting all of your time to one account (or several accounts owned by the same company), so you don’t have to worry about constantly switching gears and thinking about the problems posed by different industries. Also, all of your web development, marketing, and production are usually handled in-house as well, so it’s relatively easy to get initiatives pushed through from other departments in the company (for example, getting IT help with setting up landing page testing).

Cons – When you only work on one account, things can get a little monotonous. Once you cover a lot of the easy wins, you might get stuck with routine maintenance on an optimized account. You might end up as the sole PPC practitioner in your company, so you won’t be able to rely on second opinions before you experiment with something new or do some analysis on a completed test.

Outsourced PPC

Pros – Working at an agency (or working with one) can be fast-paced and exciting. You’re working with a lot of different companies and industries, so you can learn what works on one account and apply your knowledge to another one. There’s no lack of other folks to bounce ideas off of. And if you’re a business looking to outsource, sometimes it can be cheaper and quicker to hire an agency with a lot of PPC experience rather than struggle to find someone with the proper skillset in your city.

Cons – Some agencies give their account reps too many accounts to manage. This is bad for the account rep (trust me, it’s no fun juggling 20 different accounts that need help each week), and bad for the client. If you can’t devote more than 2-3 hours per week to an account, you won’t be able to do any substantially beneficial work. For some small businesses, it just makes more economic sense to hire a new entry-level person that will be able to devote 40 hours per week to the cause rather than pay the same amount for an agency that will only be able to squeak in a few hours of work. Also, at agencies you’re often so crunched for time and resources that you can make only the most superficial changes – deep dives into complicated problems just aren’t feasible.

Personally, I tend to favor the in-house approach. Of course, I’m biased since I’ve built my career around it, but I do think that the time and resources to be thorough generate better long-term PPC results. If any of you agency workers out there would like to offer an opposing viewpoint, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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One Response to In-House PPC Versus Outsourced PPC

  1. Good assessment Shawn. I’ve also worked both sides of the aisle and prefer the in-house approach. Here’s my own observations.

    I agree that when you’re the sole in-house PPC practitioner it can get monotonous. However, depending on the needs of the company there may be opportunities to branch out into other specialties. For example, I’m a heading up a growing affiliate program in addition to running the mature PPC channel.

    You’re right, some agencies have a rep working way too many accounts, that’s usually the case when their clients are mostly small $500 / month spenders. I didn’t have this issue because I worked on large accounts at my last agency. However I still felt there was a disconnect between our actions, optimizing to a CPL when the sale for most of our clients happened offline. Only one of my clients bothered to provide us weekly data on closed sales from keywords.

    The problem is you could have sub-par performance even with a good agency if you don’t provide them with good back-end data like margins or closing ratios for keywords. So you still need a smart in-house person to manage the relationship and setup those processes.