So far back as 2018, Huspot found that 75% of EMEA and 79% of North American companies had adopted inbound marketing. Yet despite this, 51% of companies still say it’s a challenge to create content that generates quality leads. (And 43% are still struggling to create content that even resonates with their target audience.)
So while the case for inbound may be settled, how to deliver effective inbound marketing isn’t for most companies - meaning the debate between going in-house vs outsourcing to an inbound marketing agency often rages on for many businesses.
For inbound marketing to work effectively, websites need to be a 'living, breathing thing' and not just static content repositories. Content needs to be constantly developed, measured, optimised and distributed online to engage existing customers and attract new ones.
All of which means there are many skills to master and often the expectations of in-house marketers are very high. They’re expected to be a jack of all trades as this typical job advert shows (breathe deeply before reading!):
But the reality is that no one person is going to be a master of all of those skills, meaning the alternative is to hire “more heads” but that can quickly get too costly. Which is just one of the reasons that many organisations choose to outsource their inbound marketing to an agency.
Of course, whether to go in-house or hire an inbound marketing agency depends on a number of factors - each brings different benefits but also limitations. Here’s a few to consider:
Realistically, who can beat the content insights that your inhouse team can provide? The years of industry experience, indepth product/services knowledge and perhaps even professional education of your in-house team - especially your subject matter or “knowledge” experts?
However, great inbound marketing content requires much more than knowledge alone. It needs to be tailored to:
- your buyer persona’s pains and challenges
- the buying cycle stage
- the purpose - whether that’s to educate, entertain or persuade.
Agency copywriters are skilled at researching a topic so that they understand what “stand-out” content should look like. They know when the knowledge of your in-house experts will go over the heads of buyers versus when your prospects will devour “geeky” high-level detail. They’re used to crafting blogs or landing pages in a way that propels your buyers and prospects towards the actions you need.
Your in-house team’s industry, product/services and technical knowledge will always be unrivalled. But in terms of content creation, an agency copywriter can often make up for the lack of in-depth knowledge - and should know how to draw on your in-house experts. This is an area where it’s generally best having a relying on a mixture of both.
Conversion Rate Optimisation
A lot of work goes into optimising copy on sales pages, landing pages and CTAs to ensure that it drives people to take the action that they want.
Conversion rate optimisation requires analysis of a range of tools - from Google Analytics and end-to-end-marketing software such as Hubspot, to customer heatmaps and behaviour mapping tools like Hotjar and social listening tools such as Bombara and Sales Navigator.
Then it’s time to put those insights into practice with conversion copywriting, optimised graphics, A/B testing and tweaks.
Conversion copywriting is a very different skill than content writing and conversion-led design often leaves graphic designers silently seething because what works may not be what looks perfect brand-wise. Conversion rate optimisation specialists are therefore in high demand and this is reflected in their salaries.
If you want to maximise the conversion from your lead generation efforts, then it’s usually more effective to outsource this. Not to mention more budget-friendly by the time you pay for tools and specialist skills that aren’t used that often.
With inbound marketing agency retainers typically costing in the region of £3,500 to £6,000 a month, a common assumption is that they’re often more expensive than in-house teams.
In fact, this is one area where inbound marketing agencies almost invariably “win” over in-house solutions.
As mentioned before, you’ll need to draw on a broad range of specialist skill sets but what you will require at any given time ebbs and flows in relation to campaign needs. More often than not, it’s not cost-effective to do so in-house.
Or as Rand Fishkin points out, an agency can often do the work for a lot less hours than what you would have to pay a full team of specialised team members for.
Of course, if you will use certain specialised core skills daily and your employees won’t be sitting idle, that’s a different matter. However, that usually comes once you scale your campaigns - and is often limited to the core roles, such as content writing or social media management.
Hiring in-house is usually a false economy when you require specialist skill sets. Although inbound marketing agency fees may appear high in relation to monthly wages, they often work out more cost-effective - at least at the outset.
SEO is a vital part of any inbound marketing strategy as it ensures that your website is optimised so that people can find your content when searching for answers during the buying process. It turns push messages into the pull.
Speak to any content marketer or even inbound strategist and you’ll usually find that, although a lot of the work they do will help improve SEO, the thought of technical SEO is something they like to avoid at all costs!
So if you’re hoping to find an all-rounder marketing executive who also happens to be skilled at all things SEO - from website optimisation, to removing bad authority links and link-building campaigns - then you will almost certainly struggle.
Again, it’s not usually a full-time role, and will often account for 20% of an inbound marketing agency’s fee, depending on how optimised your website is to start with of course!
Of all of the skills not to keep in-house (unless you hire a full-time specialist), SEO is it. It’s highly technical and best left to the experts. Of course, you may already be using outsourced SEO help. If so, you need to ensure they can work with your inbound marketing agency to support the keywords you are targeting. In many cases, it may be easier to outsource your SEO and inbound strategy to one agency.
Social Media Channels
Inbound marketing relies on building brand awareness and social media is now the primary approach to marketing according to Hubspot’s Not Another State of Marketing Report 2021.
Employee advocacy posts have been proven time and again to be deemed more trustworthy, credible and authentic than the brand’s official social media channel - driving more engagement and leads. (Just take a look at these 50 Employee Advocacy Statistics (That Aren't Older Than Two Years Old!)
But you will still need someone to deliver the brand message. And who better to deliver the messages that speaks with your brand voice and values than your own employees?
As well as employees being much more likely to deliver authentic messages, they can quickly respond to fast-changing external and internal news. Employee advocacy and social media management take up a lot of time - from curating content for employees, to collating and posting content, checking responses and much more - meaning there’s usually more than enough to keep a full-time employee busy!
But, and this is a big but, you need to be confident that you have the right tools and training in place for employee advocacy to work - and for anyone in charge of social media management to effectively perform their job.
This is an area we would always encourage in-house teams to take ownership of but with the assistance of an inbound marketing agency partner. They can work with your in-house resources to provide cost-effective, scalable social media training for all employees - as well as access to tools and creative resources to assist whoever is in charge of social media management. (Because surely you don’t expect them to be able to deliver creative productions too for the larger social campaigns!)
Just like with content writing, anyone in charge of inbound marketing strategy inhouse will always have knowledge that an outside agency can’t bring. They’ll have in-depth knowledge of your industry, sector and key accounts - as well as understanding any competitive advantages and advantages they can utilise within any inbound marketing strategy.
Meanwhile, an agency brings the knowledge and extensive practical experience they’ve gained from working with different clients on their inbound marketing strategy. They’ve seen common challenges and success factors - those that go against the free textbook advice circulating online - and are constantly finetuning their strategy based on this.
For your inbound marketing strategy, you really need both: A marketing manager that can bring deep internal knowledge and expertise, along with a a high-view level of how inbound marketing should work for this, And an agency that can bring an outside perspective of what’s working currently in inbound marketing - helping avoid setbacks with their tried-and-tested approach.
The reality is that it’s often not a case of inhouse vs an inbound marketing agency. Often, businesses are best opting for a mix of in-house resources that then liaises with an external agency who can act as a trusted partner - one that takes the time to really understand the business and target audience. Once they’ve done so, their varied inbound resources and tried-and-tested experience can help the client forge inbound strategies and tactics to attract buyers throughout every stage of the buyer journey.