Are agencies or SaaS more ideal for SEM?

David Reeve
Marketing and public relations manager, WebVisible
Regular speaker on search tactics and technology

Often, small business owners are too busy to manage their own search engine marketing campaigns. Managing budgets, keyword bidding, and campaign analytics across each of the major search engines simply isn’t possible for a busy plumber or retail manager. Software as a service (SaaS) solutions work best in these cases because, for a fixed monthly cost, busy small business customers can get results without lifting a finger.

While we do offer a budget-based version of our services, the simplistic approach of our SaaS remains our most popular and affordable product. An agency approach can be more expen­sive if controls are not put into place to manage the costs. I’ve heard stories of agencies depleting a customer’s budget within the first few days of the month, or a one-truck plumber getting more busi­ness than he can handle for one week and then no business for the remainder of the month. SaaS allows marketers to spend the same amount of money each month and get new customers in more easily managed portions.

However, the two models — agency and SaaS — can coexist. The agency model is often best for businesses that have larger, more complex campaigns. These campaigns may have a variety of frequently changing variables or campaigns that only run for a few days. The SaaS version of the product can be best for the typical business owner who simply wants more customers walking through the door, without the burden of being an online marketing expert.

When evaluating an SaaS company, know which search engines your ad will run on and get access to the traffic reports with daily updates on your campaign performance.

Jonathan Shapiro

CEO of MediaWhiz
Former chief strategy officer for Double­Click and SVP of its Abacus online division

Search agencies are vital to the industry because they are often the thought leaders when it comes to the methodology of pay-per-click and search engine optimization. Also, they can almost always deliver a higher return on assets that justifies their cost than a company employee doing it internally. By using an SEM agency, an advertiser can leverage the agencies’ typically excellent relationships with Google, Yahoo and other engines, as well as the internal technology that agency has created that can enhance the advertiser’s search campaign.

An advertiser will also benefit from working with an agency simply because SEM agencies often manage hundreds of thousands of keywords in many different verticals and accumu­late a wealth of proven techniques and insights that an internal SEM depart­ment is not able to.

Furthermore, things are constantly changing in the pay-per-click and search engine optimization landscape and agencies will always be the first to know and the quickest to adjust to these changes. There is no substitute for the expertise you can get from a professional who has access to the tools and techniques that agency work provides.

SaaS provides technology that is supposed to be a magic bullet that will make any search campaign successful, whereas most agencies (if they are com­petent) will use technology to amplify their expertise. The bottom line is tech­nology is only as good as the expert who is using it. So many factors matter in search and there is simply no piece of technology that can nor ever will be able to do those things as effectively as a true expert.


Choosing a search service comes back to the size of a company and the importance of search in its acquisition plans. Reeve says SaaS is an affordable way to implement an easy keyword strategy and control spending — ideal for lower revenue businesses. However, Shapiro makes the case that the best insight and strategy can only come from agency experts, and that this makes all the difference for businesses with higher

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