To Build or to Partner, That Is the Question

Marketers need a complex and diverse set of skills to meet business goals. When should you partner for marketing and technology support and when should you bring those skills and talents in-house?

Hammer, screwdriver, wrench, tape measure, paint brush construction tools on wooden backgroundMarketers need a complex and diverse set of skills to meet business goals. When should you partner for marketing and technology support and when should you bring those skills and talents in-house?

This critical question touches many issues including the organization’s historical leaning, how that function will benefit (or not) from brand access and proximity, how able are you to recruit the right talent, how effectively can you manage those resources to their optimal capabilities, how integrated are they with other key functions in partners, how sensitive these skills are to constant update and access to other subject matter inputs, how committed are you to this effort long term. Whew.

It’s not just more headcount for all the kingdom builders out there. It’s additional functional responsibility for everything from hiring, training and development, to vetting and maintaining the best tools and resources, all the way to organizational integration and reporting and analytics. Most importantly, it is an extension of the core mission of your team. Is it the right one?

To answer this complex question, work through these three steps:

Review Your Core Mission First

Even if it is a high profile project or sounds like a blast, you might be better served by outsourcing to a consultant, agency or other expert partners if this fills a need far different from your group’s current role. There may also be a competency gap if this is requires a set of a complex, specialized or rapidly evolving skill sets that aren’t currently in residence in your team. Using outside help allows you to keep your focus in your areas of key contribution instead of getting ramped up in unfamiliar territory and distracting your team from their critical initiatives. It also takes advantage of the specialists who have put in their 10,000 hours and who by virtue of their specialty stay current on trends, tools and best practices that will ultimately support your success.

However, if this function or effort is an extension of your core activities and is skills compatible with your current team, then adding new competencies with training is great for morale and for team development. Make sure you are not overloading your teammates and allow them realistic training time and access to materials and education to help you collectively to succeed. If you do bring in new talent to expand your overall capabilities take the time to onboard them with the existing team so they can function as a cohesive unit working against that core mission together.

Examine Your Motivation

Do you believe this would be a boon to business goals if this were an in-house function? If it is boredom or competition or resume building that is the motivating factor behind your recommendation to bring something in-house then don’t do it. Build your team only if you are convinced that the critical brand insights that come from working inside are key to success or that the efficiencies, time or budget savings more than offset the risk, overhead and labor costs that building new teams and capabilities entails.

Look at Your Time Horizon

If you’re just testing a channel or approach, now is not the time to make a long term investment. It makes good sense to rely on and learn from your expert partners at least until you have a good enough understanding to be able to assess your ability to manage this successfully in-house. Is this a regular and critical part of your company and departmental mission or is it an intermittent activity? Will you have a long term commitment from your organization to keep this team in place? It may be disruptive and ultimately unfair to both the existing and new teams if the decision is reversed. Don’t underestimate the time to ramp up to reach your goals.

Sometimes a mixed approach is in order. You may need a high powered thought leader to help guide your direction but can execute internally. Or, you may need help in some highly specialized areas or infrequently to help your group complete their tasks.

In some cases results suffer when you split the locus of certain functions. Be hyper aware of creating gaps or obstructions for information sharing and collaboration. For instance, don’t create a barrier between functions that share a budget and need to optimize together or, when feedback loops inform decisions in other teams like social listening or management and social content planning and development. They may be different skill sets and teams but they need to work closely together for the best impact. If you disconnect the feedback loop you lose something precious. It is still possible to create that feedback between an internal team and an external partner but it’s hard to keep it as close or as seamless.

When external partners begin to seem expensive or divorced from the brand goals make sure you have the right partner and that you are sharing the resources, insights, info, access and time that allows them to truly deliver before you consider building internally. If you still determine that a new hire or new team are the way to go, make sure you factor in all the things you take on when you bring a new function or team in house and that you have a solid and defensible rationale behind the decision.

Should You Outsource Your SEO Copywriting? 5 Ways to Find Out

Last month, I discussed how to successfully bring your SEO copywriting in-house. However, what about businesses sitting on the other side of the in-house versus outsourcing fence?

Last month, I discussed how to successfully bring your SEO copywriting in-house. However, what about businesses sitting on the other side of the in-house versus outsourcing fence? Yes, outsourcing means “relinquishing control” of your copywriting. However, getting outside help can make a huge impact on your campaign—plus it allows your in-house team to focus on your core competencies rather than SEO copywriting.

If you’ve been wondering what to do, consider these five “You should outsource if …” scenarios.

… You need new marketing content—fast!
Strategic outsourcing can help you reach your content marketing goals faster, even if you have an in-house SEO copywriting team. Consider what writing makes sense to keep in-house (such as important branding pages,) and outsource the rest. For instance, writers can quickly add keyphrases to existing copy and make your pages more “search-engine friendly.” Finding freelancers for a short-term writing fix is a smart, strategic move.

… Your team has no idea how to write optimized content—and doesn’t want to know.
Some marketing departments eat up SEO copywriting theory like candy and relish every training moment. Some prefer to stay far, far away from it, keeping within their copywriting comfort zone. And that’s OK. Just because you can DIY doesn’t mean that it’s a smart move. You’ll make faster progress if you let a professional make your optimization dreams come true. Besides, if you don’t want to write something, it’s easy to let it fall off your desk … and your site’s search engine rankings suffer as a result.

… Your team tried writing the content—but something isn’t working.
Maybe your conversions are tanking and you can’t tell why. Or your rankings dropped after Google’s May Day update, and you’re not sure of a safe next step. In this situation, outsourcing your content marketing provides you two huge advantages. From a SEO standpoint, an expert copywriter can “see” opportunities (and yes, challenges) that your team doesn’t. Rewriting the content will allow them to revisit your keyphrases, check your strategy and tighten up your SEO. Secondly, a fresh perspective can lead to some amazing discoveries. You may have thought that your site copy was just fine—but your copywriter can show how to make it even better. I’ve seen some amazing transformations (and conversions) when a company lets an outside copywriting take the reins.

… Your content screams for a strategy—and you need an expert to help.
Too many companies launch their content initiatives willy-nilly without asking themselves a simple question: “Why?” Rather than launching everything content marketing-related, a strategist can help you decide what to focus on now and oversee the process. Your in-house team would still be doing all the work. But you’d be focusing on the right work for right now—and your strategist would be helping you every step of the way.

… You need a fresh start.
I hear, “I hate the content, but we don’t know how to fix it” way more than I’d like. It’s sad how companies wear their site content like a bad haircut: They know it doesn’t flatter them, but it’s what they’re stuck with. Just like you’d (hopefully) visit a new hairstylist if the old one continued to give you a “bowl cut,” a new-to-you SEO content writer can take your existing writing and make it better, snazzier and more SEO-friendly. Imagine: You can actually start to like your content again, rather than apologizing to prospects. How would that feel?

Outsourcing your SEO content marketing will cost you more money as compared to keeping everything in-house, true. But at the end of the day, “relinquishing control” and letting someone else master your messaging can drive some impressive revenues—and create content that you finally enjoy. It’s well worth it.

Successfully Bring Your SEO Copywriting In-House

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

So I asked her, “Have you ever thought of bringing your SEO copywriting in-house?”

And I could almost hear the light bulb flickering on above her head.

The reality is, SEO copywriting is one task that can often be brought in-house. With the right people and a little training, your existing team members can produce your content—and your company will save money on your search marketing campaign.

If this is the direction you want your company to go, here are some things to consider:

Decide who does the writing. This may seem like a no-brainer, as it’s easy to think, “Well, we have five people in our marketing department, plus all of our sales staff. They can all write copy.” However, some folks are more qualified to write than others—and choosing the best writers will help make your campaign much more successful.

Try to pinpoint possible in-house SEO copywriters by:

  1. Experience: Print/online copywriters and journalists are the easiest to train.
  2. Being realistic: Just because someone is an awesome salesperson doesn’t mean he knows how to write. Review a person’s past writing and be very, very honest about his capabilities. You can train a good writer in SEO copywriting. But you can’t train a naturally bad writer to write better copy—at least, not without putting in some major effort.
  3. Interest: Some folks don’t like to write. Period. They’ll do it when they’re forced to, but the results are less than stellar. Giving writing tasks to these folks won’t help you a bit.

You may decide that you have to hire someone on a full or part-time basis to handle some of the writing. That’s OK. Better to hire someone with experience to fill in the gaps, then transform people into writers who, well, really shouldn’t be the ones writing content for your brand.

Make sure your writers have time to write. SEO copywriting is not an “other duties as assigned” gig. I’ve seen the best campaigns go bad because the SEO copywriters had other tasks to complete—and those duties took precedence over creating content. If you want your SEO copywriters to churn out premium content, that means they need the time to write. And that means good, uninterrupted time-free from meetings, phone calls and e-mail. If you honestly can’t give your writers space to write, you may see better (and faster) results from outsourcing.

Get the right training for your team. This step is crucial. Yes, it is possible to train your writers in SEO copywriting best practices. Yes, you can train folks to write benefit-rich copy that converts like crazy. But the operable word is training. I’ve seen too many companies send their writers to a conference with the task of “learning everything they can about SEO copywriting.” Guess what? I’m usually speaking at those conferences, and the information panelists can provide in 60 minutes or less is basic at best—and it’s certainly not customized for a company’s unique situation.

The right training depends on how much copywriting knowledge your writing team already has. If they are experienced online writers and strategists who just need to understand the SEO copywriting nuances, reading some books and taking a course like my SEO Copywriting Certification training should get them up to speed. If your company currently doesn’t have an in-house SEO copywriting strategy and your writers aren’t experienced online writers, a customized training that discusses copywriting theory as well as SEO copywriting is probably your best bet.

Whatever your company chooses, remember that it’s not fair to push someone into SEO copywriting who has no experience and no training. Not only will it be frustrating for your writer, it’s bad for your business—who wants Web pages written by someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing?

Determine your content marketing opportunities. It’s one thing to task people with handling your online content. It’s another to tell them exactly what they should be writing. I’ve trained a lot of in-house copywriters, and the key to success (other than training) is having a clear action plan. What initially seems easy, “We’ll just send out some tweets, create a Facebook page and start editing pages,” is actually much more complex. Questions to ask are:

  1. What are our analytics telling us about our current content? What keyphrases are working?
  2. Do we need additional keyphrase research?
  3. What do we expect to gain from (insert content marketing strategy here)? For instance, if Twitter is part of your strategy, make sure you know how you’ll actually measure success.
  4. What pages can be edited for keyphrases (some folks call this “on-site optimization”)? Which pages should be completely rewritten?
  5. Is the tone, feel and benefit statement focus still appropriate for today’s marketplace?

If your company doesn’t have a content marketing strategy in place, I would highly recommend hiring a content strategist who can help you determine your content marketing opportunities and figure out next steps. This person doesn’t have to be a permanent member of your team; bringing on an outsourced vendor is fine. But as I mentioned in a previous post on my business blog, these folks will “see” opportunities that a technical SEO person won’t (which makes sense—technical SEO folks focus on code, not marketing.) Yes, this will cost some money, but much, much less than outsourcing your content. Plus, you’ll have a step-by-step plan for how to proceed.

Create an editorial calendar. The best-laid plans mean nothing without implementation. It’s one thing to know what to do. It’s another to actually do it. Determine who is writing what and the deadlines, then work with IT to figure out when new/edited content will be uploaded. A monthly editorial calendar is a great way to stay on track—plus, having everything written down makes everyone accountable.

Keep the momentum going. I know how hard it is to keep the content marketing momentum going when business is booming and everyone is swamped. Even if you have more business than you can handle right now, I encourage you to stay the course and keep cranking out quality content—even a few pages a month is good. And if your business is going through a natural slow time, using that time to build content is a powerful way to prepare for the upswing. Think about it: There is a high probability you’re getting the business you are because of your content marketing strategy. If you start to pull back and push content to the back burner, you’ll lose momentum—and possibly allow a competitor to “catch up” with you. Just remember the formula Momentum = Money, and you’ll be fine.