Singapore Search Engine Marketing: In-house VS Outsource

Some of you may find the title of this article strange and wonder why i raise up this topic at this point in time.

The reason is fairly simple. If you follow the industry closely (Search Engine Marketing Industry or Online Industry in general), you may notice that there is this particular topic going on about whether Search Engine Marketing should be done in house or outsourced.

The issue is not particularly popular in markets like Singapore or Southeast Asia since Search Engine Marketing is still very new in the region.
However, it’s always beneficial to start looking, planning ahead, to see what’s happening in mature markets so that hopefully we don’t commit the same, old mistakes and more importantly leveraging on those experiences to optimize our own Search Marketing campaign.

What happened
Before i start, let me give you some brief history of this hot topic:

It all started when Search Engine Marketing Professional or SEMPO published an article on 11st Jul this year about 6 Reasons Why In-House Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is Ineffective
The article was written by MarcelMedia, however SEMPO puts it in the Learning Center, as one of the editorial guidelines.
The article highlighted the following reasons as to why in-house SEM is ineffective:

  • SEM and SEO campaigns are time intensive
  • SEM requires dedication
  • SEM is very competitive and the market drives costs up
  • Successful SEM campaigns demand accurate thinking and analysis of effectiveness
  • In-house SEM programs are often unaware of search engine policies
  • In-house SEM programs do not have support.

For the complete article, please refer to the link above.

The Reactions

While some of the points mentioned are accurate and worth considered, the decision made by SEMPO to publish the article as one of the editorial guidelines causes numerous reactions from In house SEM professionals worldwide. In Search Engine Watch forum, there have been articles debating on how the “6 reasons why in house Search Engine Marketing is ineffective” should be interpreted and to what extend it should be considered.

If you want to follow the discussion, i suggest you go to Search Engine Watch forum as well as Search Engine Roundtable, there are number of articles dedicated to discuss about the pros and cons of doing Search Engine Marketing in-house / outsourced.

What i plan to discuss on this post is how to apply what we learn from the recommendations /discussions to practicing Search Engine Marketing in Singapore.

80/20 rule

First of all, as many SEM professionals mention that whether advertisers practice SEM in house or outsource it to someone else, there are always someone who does the educating and convincing jobs. More likely than not, 80% of the time is spent on convincing the CEO or managers of what should be the best practices for Search Engine Marketings.

For Singapore context, this is even closer to home. Knowing that even the mighty Google is only 9 years old, Search Engine Marketing industry still continue to grow and change, there are no doubts that main stream marketing managers, directors are having a hard time of understanding the need of having Search Marketing campaigns.

To be realistic, with the lack of SEM professionals and the small scale of SEM operation, it might make more sense for most SMEs and a big portion of MNCs to outsource their Search Marketing campaigns to agency.

The numbers

Let’s hang on a minute and take a look at what the numbers are:

Assume your budget for Search Marketing is around SGD $20,000/month:

  • If you outsource the work to agency, they probably charge a couple of thousands Singapore dollars (can be $3,000 $4,000 or at most $5,000/month). The range is taken from my working experience so far.
  • If you take Search Marketing in house, with the same cost of not more than $5,000/month (cost to run the Search campaign), you probably can hire only 1 or 2 Search marketing Specialists full time.
  • I am not going to comment on the quality of the in house team that you have currently however, with limited financial resources, the problem of how dedicated and qualified your staff are will definitely be asked.
  • The industry is growing and changing so fast. One can’t guarantee that one or two people can keep track of the current moment, let alone being able to understand and apply the knowledge to Search Campaign. Hence, if you look at the issue of “in-house vs outsource” from this angle, the article by SEMPO did offer some good insights.
  • Furthermore, by employing third party agency, you will be able to leverage on their expertise (they probably have a handful of experts), heritage and on some cases proprietary technology to optimize your Search campaign.

Which agency should I work with?

But again, advertisers need to choose carefully a good agency to work with. The criteria to choose a good SEM agency is beyond the scope of this post. However, there a few points that i think are crucially important:

  • Does the SEM agency offer both Pay Per Click service and Search Engine Optimization Service?

It’s inadequate if they only offer one solution. Even though you may choose to invest in either Pay Per Click or SEO, the agency needs to have working understanding of both fields since they are closely related.

  • Search Marketing is indeed time intensive so advertiser need to be sure about the dedicated account management the agency provides.
  • How many keywords are you using for your campaigns? (anything less than 60-70 keywords in Singapore context is inadequate, in my opinion)
  • Reporting, campaign analysis, meeting up (how keen are they of meeting up with you) etc… Reporting doesn’t mean just ad impressions or clicks. It needs to be more about the key performance indicators that you set at the beginning of the campaign.
  • etc…

Should I bring Search Marketing totally in-house?

On the other end, if you spend a substantial amount on Search Marketing campaigns like $300,000 or $500,000 on a monthly basis and you are looking at bringing the the whole operation in house, my first reply is: you definitely should have in house dedicated team members for Search Marketing.

  • From my opinion, it would be better to have members from Marketing team, Business development team, Web Master team and Search Marketing professionals to form a well rounded Search Marketing operation.
  • Spend time to make sure that the CEO, managers in charge understand the fundamentals of Search Marketing and have both long term and short term plans for SEM.
  • Now you have an in house team, you will have better control over how you want to run your campaigns. Things may move much faster and in actual fact, most agency people won’t be able to understand your business model, your target audience, your products/services as much as your in house team.
  • Having complete access to company strategic information, marketing and PR activities, cutomers’ data, inventory forecast etc… may prove to hold considerable advantages over online agency work simply because the overall online strategy may be more custom made for the current company situation, immediate and long term plan.
  • Communication can be easier. Since SEM is done in house, any time you need any report, analysis, feedback or just any out of the blue question, you can always ask your team members.


To me, for the top notch MNCs in Singapore and Southeast Asia region, it might be better to have a hybrid solution, taking the best of both worlds.
While hiring the best people you can find and within your budget, one can’t deny the value added services that an experienced, high profile agency can bring. It simply means having more people to guide you, giving your feedback and suggestions in this ever fast changing online marketing landscape.
A dedicated agency can not only help bringing your search marketing campaigns to the next level but also uplifting your online presence as a whole.

Don’t forget the added benefits of using agency technology, heritage and the willingness to share with your internal team any new development, updates with regards to your industry, your competitors or simply about the Search Marketing industry.

However, do take note of the communication channels and the expected level of services. If you are spending a lot of money with an agency, you should start asking for their staff – client ratio? or simply finding out who should be the main contact point from the agency in case you have any urgent request.

I guess the real challenge is to find the dedicate balance between in-housing and outsourcing, the relationship between in house team and agencies.
Debate over this topic will continue to raise again, but all for the better good of this young and dynamic Search Marketing Industry.
There are many other aspects to this topic that we can zoom in but i guess it ‘s best that i stop here and give chance to the readers, should they have any comments.

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