There’s an upside to the downturn!

So I reckon look on the bright side: the new and improved credit crunch is, if anything, an opportunity for digital business. The digital marketing industry was born during the slump and has grown steadily despite unfavourable market conditions because it offers what businesses really want: cost-effective services with transparent measurable ROI.

No matter whether you call the current situation a depression, a recession or a full-blown bloody disaster, the factors that have turned many digital businesses into successful operations remain exactly the same. That’s why recent arguments to the effect that the SEO bubble is about to burst just don’t make sense to me.

For starters, it’s not a bubble. Nobody would be more delighted than me if a sudden outburst of search marketing fever had sent prices rocketing sky high and made overnight billionaires out of us all, but unfortunately it didn’t happen like that. Boringly, like every other outfit in the sector we were forced to build the business over the course of a decade, steadily expanding against a continuous backdrop of education, results and a lot of hard work.

Some commentators are predicting doom because as the mists and myths surrounding SEO clear, they believe more and more customers will be taking their digital marketing in-house. I accept that it’s obviously not great news for agencies offering outsourced services when clients decide to take matters into their own hands, but by the same token it’s hardly unexpected.

In every one of the creative sectors from advertising to marketing, businesses face a choice between building up their in-house expertise or hiring outside help. It’s a well-established fact of life that the search industry just has to deal with and doubtless will. After all, did the growth of corporate press departments mean the death of the PR agency?

I learned an interesting German saying this week which, crudely translated, goes something like “If you need milk, do you grow a cow or buy it?” Sorry to go all farmyard on you, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that while it may well make sense for some businesses to develop their own teams, they will face a number of major challenges.

First and foremost they’ll be stepping into the most head-huntable market on the block right now, with an SEO staff churn rate in most companies that would make your eyes (and wallet) bleed. And don’t get me started on the ever increasing salaries for those staff that you really need or want to keep hold of …

For me, the best thing you can do with a client that wants to take their SEO in-house is to help them, because that’s how you turn a threat into an opportunity. Rather than trying to dissuade them, we offer the services of our own internal team of recruiters, who know every SEO expert in the market, their employment status and their ambitions, not to mention the positions, salaries and packages likely to make them tick.

These placement services have grown in popularity by 180% over the last year, as have the training packages we developed to ensure new employees have the skills to hit the ground running. Does the opportunity end there? Well, unless they’ve recruited a 25 person strong R&D team like ours, they’re going to have to turn somewhere for ongoing access to the latest industry developments.

If you’re prepared to supply the help and support they need, who do you think they’re going to call first if they decide to outsource again?

In the meantime, the best thing that any SEO outfit can do is concentrate on cutting costs, driving through efficiencies and raising the service bar. Consolidation will at some point become inevitable as the industry matures and when the dust finally settles, it will be the companies that have successfully refined their processes that will come out on top.

So come on industry – stiff upper lip.

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