Is Your In-House SEM Team on the Verge of Burnout?

    May 23, 2006

When SEMPO (the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) conducted its annual “State of Search” report in late 2005, it found that just about two-thirds of respondents planned to manage their SEM efforts in-house in 2006, rather than outsourcing the task to an agency.

Given this strongly-expressed preference for in-house management of Search, several industry pundits speculated that SEM agencies faced a diminished future.

But a report by Jupiter Research whose results were published last week suggests that there are some serious problems facing in-house SEM teams in Corporate America, the most serious being that an amazingly large share of people doing in-house SEM work share these duties with other job functions – up to five of them!

What kind of job functions overlap with those of in-house SEM professionals? Well, they vary widely, and include Web site design (58 percent), E-mail advertising (57 percent), Marketing Communications (49 percent), Market Research (44 percent), and Banner Advertising (38 percent). A few unlucky souls even shared PPC campaign management duties with Print, Radio and Outdoor advertising responsibilities!

These findings are a recipe for two really bad things. The first is employee burnout. The more hats these people have to wear, the more they’re likely to be experiencing burnout, which can cause all kinds of nasty things to afflict their companies, including loss of internal expertise, high retraining expenses, and low morale. The second is Search campaigns that under-perform because the people who run them don’t have the time, the focus, or the training to run them properly.

Unfortunately, the findings suggest that there’s a deep disconnect between the top-level executives in Corporate America (who know or should know that having competency in Search marketing is becoming essential to achieving strategic business goals) and the people further down on the org chart who are managing the day-to-day operations of these enterprises, hiring people and controlling HR budgets. These folks appear to regard Search as a simple, perhaps even trivial task to be added to an employees’ daily schedule.

This is not to say that there aren’t a few exceptional people out there who can do all of their disparate duties equally well, or that you have to have a full-time staff to do SEM competently. Small campaigns with limited objectives can certainly be accomplished with one or more talented full or part-time employees. Larger campaigns running hundreds of thousands of keywords through multiple search engines will naturally require a higher level of internal commitment, including an investment in technology to help with the number-crunching. Without knowing more about the size of the companies represented in the Jupiter study, it’s impossible to generalize precisely about how badly these internal SEM teams are under-funded or under-resourced. But the findings do suggest, very strongly, that Corporate America is being penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to Search, which is in my view a serious error which will come back to haunt the managers who let this situation continue.

I suppose that part of the problem is caused by the fact that exactly what a “Search Professional” does is poorly defined today. Even corporate HR departments don’t seem to know exactly what Search people do: over on Craigs’ List, you can find job ads for Search professionals in a hodgepodge of different categories, including Art/Media/Design, Business Management, Internet Engineering, Marketing/Advertising, and Web/HTML/InfoDesign. Those jobs requiring exposure to SEO and PPC run the gamut from Intern to Senior Executive levels. This confusion is probably unavoidable, given the youth of the Search industry. After all, it took years for the job category “Webmaster” to become established, and even today, what Webmasters do varies markedly from company to company.

As Search becomes more widely accepted as a strategic, not a peripheral driver of strategic business objectives, more senior managers will wake up to the fact that they are doing their stakeholders a disservice by under-investing in Search. They will then do one of two things: either invest properly in their in-house teams so that their members can apply the kind of steady, specialized focus required to deploy, test, and fine-tune smart PPC campaigns, or outsource this process to an agency with the analytical skills and technologies required to get the job done. While in-house teams will continue to handle many SEM responsibilities in the near-term future, many industry analysts believe that many forces point to increased outsourcing due to the escalating complexities of the marketplace and the highly competitive PPC bidding environments in the engines.

Mr. Frog is a leading Search industry visionary. Mr. Frog is a member of the Did-it Search Marketing team which accompanies him to most major
marketing conferences.