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Should You Choose a Generalist or Specialist Marketing Agency?

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When you decide to hire an outside marketing agency – either because you want to outsource your marketing entirely or supplement your existing in-house team – you’ll have a lot of decisions to make.

And one of the biggest will be whether to hire a generalist or specialist agency.

Let’s start by defining our terms: a generalist marketing agency is one that handles all kinds of marketing. These may include (but not be limited to):

  • Content creation and strategy
  • Social media management
  • SEO
  • SEM
  • Email marketing
  • Analytics
  • Media buying
  • Affiliate marketing.

A specialist agency, in contrast, will focus on only one of those channels. So they will do only SEO or only email marketing, for example.

So which should you choose?

There’s no wrong or right answer.

But as you might have guessed, each choice has its pros and cons.

Perhaps this is why some businesses end up switching from one to the other and then back again. They’re never entirely happy because they’re never entirely clear on what they need.

For example, we just lost a client because they wanted to transition to a generalist agency. Ironically, we actually took on this client five years ago because they wanted to transition from a generalist to a specialist agency!

By taking a closer look at the pros and cons – and by answering a few questions – you can hopefully make a decision that you can stick with for the longer term.

Let’s walk through some of them.

Q1: Do You Need All Marketing Channels Offered? Or Only One or Two Predominantly?

Does your organization need all of the marketing channels listed above? Probably not. Affiliate marketing isn’t a great fit for B2B companies, for example.

If you lean heavily on one marketing discipline for most of your leads, then you might be better off with a specialist agency, or perhaps two specialist agencies.

For example, PPC drives 55-70% of leads for some of our clients, which makes them a great fit for a specialist agency.

If they decide to put more emphasis on a different marketing channel in the future, then they might want to hire a second agency that specializes in that area.

You might assume that with a big agency your account team will be made up of specialists who are experts in your preferred marketing channels.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

This point came home to us recently when we were interviewing to fill a position on my team.

The candidate was working for a generalist agency. We asked her specific questions about PPC management (an area she supported) and her answers revealed a lack of deep understanding.

Concerned, we asked if she had a Google Ads expert on her team she could go to if she had questions. She did not. Instead, she would have to call the Google helpline for assistance.

Given our recent poor experiences with the Google helpline, this was also not encouraging.

What’s more, she noted that her agency had moved into digital about five years ago and was working to get caught up. Gulp!

Thankfully, this isn’t always the case. Some generalist agencies are good about hiring and assigning real channel experts to account teams.

Even so, we still get a fair number of clients coming to us from generalist agencies with complaints about a lack of knowledge in the marketing channels they needed the most.

So when you’re considering hiring a generalist agency, ask questions to find out who will be on your account team.

  • What is their background and experience in your preferred marketing channels?
  • How much turnover can you expect?
  • Who can they turn to for advice, guidance, and training?

And if they say the Google helpline, run!

Q2: How Big Is Your Budget?

Say you’re a small manufacturing company, and you create a specific product for a specific type of audience.

Your total monthly marketing budget is $1,000 per month, which leaves a small monthly budget of about $300 for your Google Ads program.

It’s unlikely that a specialist PPC agency will be willing to take on that account. It’s simply too small.

However, you might find a generalist agency (or marketing person) that will be willing to manage it for you.

Q3: Are You New to the Game?

If you’re a startup, it’s often best to hire a generalist first.

You want someone who’s solid, trustworthy, and can figure out just about anything.

Then, as you grow, you can start hiring specialists, either in-house or as agencies.

The original generalist will continue to run the department as you grow. And they’ll do it well because everything will have already passed through their hands.

Q4: Do You Prioritize Performance or Convenience?

In some cases, convenience is the number one consideration.

You don’t have time to meet with your SEO consultant, then your social media consultant and then your content marketer. If that’s the case, then a generalist is the way to go.

However, in many cases, performance is the priority. And is well worth the time it takes to manage multiple specialists.

Q5: Do You Already Have an in House Team, but You’re Lacking in One Area?

Maybe you already have a solid in-house team, but you can’t seem to nail down the right specialist in one particular area.

I get it! Sometimes, it’s really hard to find the perfect fit.

In those cases, an option is to keep your in house team but then bring in a specialist agency to manage that one marketing stream for you.

We have done this for companies before. Sometimes it’s for a short term (while they’re trying to hire the right in house person) and sometimes it’s for a longer term (they give up on hiring the right person and keep us on).

Whatever You Do, Ask Questions

As you can see, the decision as to whether to go with a generalist or specialist will depend on your situation.

But regardless of the decision you make, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Who will be working on your account? What are their specialties? Who can they go to for support?

And if you’re not happy with the answers, keep on looking.

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Dreamstime.com



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Google Search Console unparsable structured data report data issue

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Google has informed us that you may see a spike in errors in the unparsable structured data report within Google Search Console. This is a bug in the reporting system and you do not need to worry. The issue happened between January 13, 2020 and January 16, 2020.

The bug. Google wrote on the data anomalies page “Some users may see a spike in unparsable structured data errors. This was due to an internal misconfiguration that will be fixed soon, and can be ignored.” This was dated January 13, 2020 through January 16, 2020.

To be fixed. Google said they will fix the issue with the internal misconfiguration. It is, however, unclear if the data will be fixed or if you will see a spike in those errors between those date ranges.

Unparsable structured data report. The unparsable structured data report is accessible within Google Search Console by clicking here. The report aggregates structured data syntax errors. It puts all the parsing issues, including structured data syntax errors, that specifically prevented Google from identifying the feature type.

Why we care. The main thing here is that if you see a spike in errors in that report between January 13th and 16th, do not worry. It is a bug with the report and not an issue with your web site. Go back to the report in a few days and make sure that you do not see errors occurring after the 17th of January to be sure you have no technical issues.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.



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Google rolls out organic ‘Popular Products’ listings in mobile search results

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Several years ago now, Google made the significant move to turn product search listings into an entirely paid product. Shopping campaigns, as they’re now called, have accounted for an increasing share of retail search budgets ever since. More recently, however, Google has been augmenting organic search results with product listings. It’s in a product search battle with Amazon, after all. On Thursday, the company announced the official rollout of “Popular Products” for apparel, shoe and similar searches in mobile results.

Organic product listings. Google has been experimenting with ways to surface product listings in organic search results, including Popular Products, which has been spotted for several months now. The section is powered by those organic feeds. Google says it identifies popular products from merchants to show them in a single spot, allowing users to filter by style, department and size type. The listings link to the retailers’ websites.

Popular Products is now live in Google mobile search results.

Why we care. This is part of a broader effort by Google to enhance product search experiences as it faces increasing competition from Amazon and other marketplaces as well as social platforms. Earlier this week, Google announced it has acquired Pointy, a hardware solution for capturing product and inventory data from small local merchants that can then be used in search results (and ads).

In the past few years, Google has also prompted retailers to adopt product schema markup on their sites by adding support for it in Search and Image search results. Then last spring, Google opened up Merchant Center to all retailers, regardless if they were running Shopping campaigns. Any retailer can submit their feed in real-time to Google to make their products eligible in search results.

Ad revenue was certainly at the heart of the shift to paid product listings, but prior to the move, product search on Google was often a terrible user experience with search listings often not matching what was on the landing page, from availability to pricing to even the very product. The move to a paid solution imposed quality standards that forced merchants to clean up their product data and provide it to Google in a structured manner in the form of product feeds through Google Merchant Center.


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day to day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin writes about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.



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Google buys Pointy to bring SMB store inventory online

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Google is acquiring Irish startup Pointy, the companies announced Tuesday. Pointy has solved a problem that vexed startups for more than a decade: how to bring small, independent retailer inventory online.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Pointy had raised less than $20 million so it probably wasn’t an expensive buy for Google. But it could have a significant impact for the future of product search.

Complements local inventory feeds. This acquisition will help Google offer more local inventory data in Google My Business (GMB) listings, knowledge panels and ads especially. It complements Google Shopping Campaigns’ local inventory ads, which are largely utilized by enterprise merchants and first launched in 2013.

Numerous companies over the last decade tried to solve the challenge of how to bring small business product inventory online. However, most failed because the majority of SMB retailers lack sophisticated inventory management systems that can generate product feeds and integrate with APIs.

Pointy POS hardware

Source: Pointy

How Pointy works. The company created a simple way to get local store inventory online and then showcase that inventory in organic search results or paid search ads. It utilizes a low-cost hardware device that attaches to a point-of-sale barcode scanner (see image above). It’s compatible with multiple other POS systems, including Square.

Once the device is installed, it captures every product sold by the merchant and then creates a digital record of products, which can be pushed out in paid or organic results. (The company also helps small retailers set up local inventory ads using the data.) Pointy also creates local inventory pages for each store and product, which are optimized and can rank for product searches.

Pointy doesn’t actually understand real-time inventory. Cleverly, however, it uses machine learning algorithms to estimate this by measuring product purchase frequency. The system assumes local retailers are going to stock frequently purchased items. That’s an oversimplification, but is essentially how it works.

Pointy said it a blog post that it “serve[s] local retailers in almost every city and every town in the U.S. and throughout Ireland.”

Why we care. The Pointy acquisition will likely help Google in at least three ways:

  • Provide more structured, local inventory data for consumers to find in Search.
  • Generate more advertising revenue over time from independent retailers.
  • Help Google more effectively compete with Amazon in product search.

Notwithstanding the fact that e-commerce outperformed traditional retail over the holidays, most people spend the bulk of their shopping budgets offline and prefer to shop locally. Indeed, Generation Z prefers to shop in stores, according to an A.T. Kearney survey.

One of the reasons that people shop at Amazon is because they can find products they’re looking for. They often don’t know where to find a particular product locally. But if more inventory data becomes available, the more people may opt to buy from local stores instead.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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