When he first decided to create an ecommerce store to expand his Chicago-based retail business Seats and Stools, the first consultant Allen Hilder hired was someone to create a website at SeatsAndStools.com. The second hire was an agency to help with SEO and search marketing.
"Between managing the website and the business, things were pretty hectic in the beginning," he says. "I quickly realized that I couldn't learn everything on my own, so I looked for help."
Marketing was such an important priority for Hilder that he took care to hire a consultant right away. In fact, when his first consultant wasn't producing results, he switched to a second marketing agency.
"Without much experience, this wasn't something I could handle alone," he adds. "I looked for paid search consultants that had a strong attention to detail. Several elements were critical to our success: well-managed and optimized bidding strategies, being anal about negative keywords, and properly testing every ad."
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Consultant
In my previous article, Online Sellers See Positive Return with Paid Ads, I passed along opinions and tips from businesspeople who pay for advertising to improve their visibility on Google and elsewhere on the Internet. Several respondents said they hire marketing consultants to help manage this effort rather than trying to do it all themselves. The question is, should you, too, consider outsourcing your online advertising campaigns?
Mike Dash, president of New York-based CarPartKings.com not only has a consulting agency managing his company's paid advertising, but a full-time staff person designated to managing the many activities that go into building visibility on the Internet: blogging, link building, content creation, outreach to discussion forums, marketing and SEO.
Dash says his company is also pursuing two types of advertising campaigns: a brand campaign, which promotes the Car Part Kings brand online, and a competitor campaign. "A competitor campaign involves building content or bid on keywords that have a direct correlation to your competitor (for example, Coke going after a Pepsi keyword). We are doing both right now. They are both very easily managed within Google AdWords as they are not as extensive as large built out intricate campaigns."
Melinda West, president and CEO and founder of America's Online Curtain Superstore, Swags Galore, has a different view of hiring consultants.
"I have had many SEO firms and consultants work on the SEO and the advertising campaigns in the past. Some work out better than others, but I find, I do the best job - it seems consultants and firms are never as passionate as an owner."
One PPC management company managed SwagsGalore's AdWords, product search and Bing accounts for $2,000 per month. "Although they did a pretty good job, these companies are always limited by their actual knowledge of your business and the products you sell," says West. When results started to go down, she took over the work and improved results herself.
The consultants she encountered typically charged between $1500 and $2000 per month, though she once had a bid of $8000 per month plus 10 percent of sales from one company.
Even if you do hire someone to manage your campaigns, that doesn't mean you are "off the hook," she cautions. "They are not really monitoring your feed, so you still need to monitor at least that, so if there is a problem, you can take action."
Nothing produces great results like great organic placement in search results, West adds. "Stay away from PPC (pay-per-click advertising) management companies. They don't know your business, they get paid on spend, and they have no problem spending your money. They don't take any risk."
She passed along a few tips to businesspeople willing to manage their own advertising on Google AdWords and other sites:
- Don't bid or spend more than you can make. "In other words, spending $3 a click for something you sell for $10 just doesn't make sense."
- Stay deep and narrow. "To compete with the larger players, you have to have a super narrow niche to compete."
- Lower placement in search results isn't necessarily bad. "Usually the top slots got to the big players. I do find being in a later position, you might get less traffic, but the traffic you get is more qualified."
- Use Facebook as a retargeting option "Only display Facebook ads to those who've previously visited your website or individual products."
Graduating to an In-House Pro
At what point to you move to the next stage - from working with a consultant to hiring someone to manage your advertising in-house full-time? "I don't think there is a formula as to when you need to bring someone in house," says Dash. "I think it's a matter of doing a cost-benefit analysis: comparing what you are currently spending on agencies and bringing someone to do what they do full-time."
He continued, "You know what your results are working with an agency after a few months, so if you think someone using the same techniques and working full-time for you will obtain better results, it's worth it to have them in house."
Seats and Stool's Allen Hilder passes along this tip to businesses thinking of hiring a consultant: "Paid advertising is still a mystery to me, but I would give this advice to any ecommerce business owners looking to hire an agency: only work with someone you can trust. That means someone who knows your business inside and out, who you can sit down with face to face, and who is available on the phone. These were all things that were severely lacking with my first agency."