Today I’m going to tackle the age-old question of whether you should manage your PPC (pay-per-click) advertising in-house, outsource to a freelancer, or outsource to an agency. What’s best for your business will depend on many factors. But mainly, it’ll depend on your ad budget, the complexity of your business, and in-house expertise. Furthermore, what’s best today, might not be best in a year from now.
I’m going to break everything down in terms of what’s most appropriate for each level of ad spend. Note there are always exceptions. We know freelancers that consult with Fortune 500’s for $1,000/hour and we know huge agencies that focus solely on sub <$5K/month ad spend clients.
DIY – SOHO – <$1,000/month of ad spend
DIY is an attractive option here. You are likely a very small team, or even solo, without a PPC expert on staff. A freelancer or small agency may cost you 50% or more in overhead to manage your campaigns on an ongoing basis, which really isn’t sensible. But, you might consider hiring somebody to provide an initial campaign set up or at least an audit and “fix up” of campaigns you’ve already built.
You or your very small team have intimate knowledge of your product or service offering and target market (hopefully). This gives you an edge in communicating your unique value proposition and benefits assuming you have some marketing skills. Because you’re doing this in-house, you are more likely to babysit your campaigns closely, and you’re only incurring “soft” management costs.
However, you are not a PPC expert and will likely struggle to run effective and efficient campaigns without professional skills. Expect lower campaign performance than a pro can provide. You will spend a lot more time managing PPC then you anticipate. You should consider taking some courses to up your game. Time is money, so while you are avoiding the cost of outsourcing, you are losing opportunities to work on other aspects of your business.
Freelancer – $1,000 – $10,000/month of ad spend
Hiring a freelancer is appropriate here. You will get professional management and better campaign performance. Increased ROI will usually more than pay for the outsourcing fees and you’ll be free to work on other aspects of your business. You could also do this in-house, but it’s not likely you can afford a true PPC expert which means paying to train an existing team member.
A Freelancer is usually an expert on one (often Google Ads or Facebook Ads) or a few ad platforms. Prices, experience, and skill sets vary widely thus you need to carefully vet your options. A good freelancer can usually get better results from your campaigns pretty quickly (a few weeks to a few months). Likewise, they will usually generate a better result than you when building campaigns from scratch. Freelancers tend to offer the lowest cost when it comes to outsourcing.
Freelancers won’t have prior knowledge of your products/services, and unless they have worked in your niche will need time and guidance to get up to speed. Having solid marketing prior to engagement is paramount to success. Unlike agencies, they generally won’t have as many professional management tools at their disposal and will do more manual work on your account. Since they are solo, it would be a good idea to understand how “available” they will be before engaging.
Small Agency – $2,500 – $250,000/month of ad spend
This is the sweet spot for small agencies (<20 people). While a freelancer might be up to the task, a small agency is a more reliable option here. They can offer more specialized expertise, more robust tools, and have a backup plan for when your account manager takes that month-long vacation in Nepal.
At the upper end of ad spend here you might consider hiring an in-house expert (going DIY), but this is still probably not a full-time job by a long shot. Whoever you hire will need to wear a few more hats; finding a true pay-per-click guru is unlikely. And, if you do, what happens when that person is on vacation? You are also getting into the range of larger agencies, but you’re probably not there yet.
A small agency will generally focus on a particular niche service such as PPC or niche market such as legal services. Pricing tends to be somewhat higher than individual freelancers, but not substantially higher. Most small agencies have professional tools for campaign management, reporting, customer relationship management, communications, and so forth. And, they can offer specialists for each service area they cover.
Small agencies tend to implement more automation to enhance performance rather than throw more hours at your account. It’s arguable whether an agency will get better results, on average, than a freelancer. However, it’s more likely they will when working with larger budgets where automation shines.
One downside of working with a small agency is that you might end up dealing with several different people. This can add time and complexity without adding much value. A freelancer, on the other hand, can provide you with a single point of care.
Large Agency – $100,000+/month of ad spend
A large (digital) agency (>20 people) will usually offer a full range of strategic, web design, content marketing, and advertising services. PPC pricing is typically significantly higher than from freelancers and smaller agencies (often 25% of ad spend). In addition to professional tools, large agencies will be process driven, require lengthy contracts, and will generally be slower and more methodical in delivering services. They will most certainly offer a team-based approach to managing your account.
Large agencies are well suited to work with larger budget clients across a myriad of different platforms including search, display, social media, video, native, and more. And they will tend to deliver campaigns via integrated tools designed for big brands such as Google Marketing Platform. They tend not to be very nimble and fees add up in a hurry if you want anything “out of scope” of your regular services.
DIY – Larger Organization – $500,000+/month of ad spend
Your business is a going concern and you have a team in-house taking care of your marketing.
You will have one or more in-house PPC expert(s) that fully understand your business offering. You may still not, however, have access to the same powerful tools that some agencies invest in. And, while your staff might be experts in Google Ads and Bing Ads, for example, they might not be as solid with Facebook Ads.
Despite investing in-house, you may still benefit from working with an outside agency on specific platforms, tasks, or strategy.
Note also, that large budget advertisers will tend to have direct access to platform reps (Google and Facebook in particular). While these people can’t replace an agency, they might provide enough support for your internal team to skip an agency.
There is a myriad of options when it comes to managing your PPC. In general, you should plan on investing more into management as your ad spend increases. While it can seem attractive to keep management in-house, consider the real cost of tying up those resources, lost opportunity cost, and most importantly, performance. Outsourcing will usually pay for itself almost immediately and continue to drive better performance over time.