At Majux, we’ve worked with scores of law firms over the past decade – boutique firms, single-attorney practices, regional firms, and larger law firms bordering on corporate size. Some of these offices have a full marketing staff, some have a singular marketing manager, and some have only an attorney and paralegal.
In this article, we will share everything we know about the pros and cons of bringing your marketing in-house vs. hiring an agency. We will talk about costs, output, lifestyle considerations, and more.
The obvious purpose of outsourcing any function is to make your business function better than it already does – but many companies end up making their situation worse by selecting companies that don’t work out. I overhear the horror stories at client onboarding meetings. Situations like a company hiring a ‘marketing expert’ whose end product was convincing the company that their lobby needed to be redecorated and then helping them do so. Stories like marketing companies who outsource every aspect of a campaign and then have no answer as to why things aren’t getting done on time. Stories like a ‘guru’ selling a company on an SEO contract and then only pushing out press releases out through PR websites. The list goes on and on – you’ve probably heard your own fair share.
If your firm does decide to bring in an outside agency, there are also some tips to avoid an outsourcing nightmare.
If you’d like to chat about SEO for attorneys or other inbound channels, we hope you’ll get in touch.
Is Hiring an Agency More Expensive Than an In House Team?
No, hiring an agency is not more expensive than an in-house marketing team. Some agencies charge $10K/mo+ for digital marketing, and even then it’s usually cheaper to outsource. There is an exception to this: law firms spending $1M+ annually or so on attorney PPC advertising. At that point, your management fees may exceed the salary cost of a decent specialist.
Here is a cost benefit analysis for agencies vs. in-house teams.
Creating a List of Marketing Tasks You Will Need to Address
We will organize these tasks into three lists: SEO, development/website management, and paid media. This is not a perfect organization of your marketing needs, nor is it exhaustive, and there is lots of overlap among lists. But this is a good starting point.
Firstly, the SEO list:
- Identifying and executing backlink opportunities
- Building local citations for local SEO
- Google My Business optimization
- Writing and optimizing content, at least on a weekly basis
- Optimizing your website for Google
- Reporting on SEO performance with various tracking tools like CallRail and Google Analytics
Now the website management list:
- Publishing blogs and new pages in your CMS
- Making website revisions
- Design tasks
- The more technical side of search engine optimization, like site speed and adding schema markup
- Creating new pages or designs for conversion tests
Third, the PPC advertising task list:
- Building campaigns in Google Ads, Bing, etc.
- Setting up conversion tracking and reporting systems
- Monitoring and optimizing the PPC campaigns daily
- Making real-time adjustments based on results and budget considerations
- Constant testing of new creative
Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but you will need people to at least fulfill these roles.
The Positions You Will Need to Fill and Their Cost
First, let’s talk about your editorial staff – you will need a law firm content strategy to be able to rank on Google and generate leads. If you bring a writer in-house, you will probably need to pay at least $50K or more. You will also need to to hire from time to time, as legal content writers are often post-grads in a transitory stage of their career.
Editorial Team Costs
If you choose to outsource your writing to freelancers, which is not a bad choice (more on that below), you will need an editor in-house. This editor (probably paid $55K+) will need to manage the stable of freelance writers, assign topics, edit the incoming content, and most likely contribute a few pieces of their own each month. As an attorney, you do NOT want to manage your own staff of freelance writers.
The Cost of Bringing Your SEO Team In House
Secondly, you’ll need an SEO team. The SEO professional will need to conduct keyword research to identify topics for your content marketing efforts, edit visible and backend items on your website, edit your blog posts/pages to be Google-friendly, and perhaps most importantly, build backlinks. For agencies, backlinking usually accounts for a salaried position in of itself. For a talented individual who can perform all of these tasks with a high degree of competence, you are probably looking at $65K-$70K+ in salary.
Cost of Hiring a Law Firm PPC Specialist
Experienced PPC professionals usually command $85K + in salary these days. Agencies usually charge between 10% and 20% in markup fees, so you will need to weigh the cost depending on how much you plan to spend on PPC advertising.
Your PPC professional will be setting up and editing search campaigns, display campaigns, building audiences, and running YouTube ads if you have video creative on hand. They will most likely set up your attorney LSA account as well.
Web Development and Design Professionals
Unless you are a corporate firm dealing with constant technical updates, designs for email campaigns, and things like that, it would be hard to justify bringing a designer and web developer in-house. If you do bring your marketing in-house, you may want to consider having your internal marketing manager work with a developer and designer on a contract basis.
Don’t Forget the Cost of Software
Competitive SEO teams need tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Keyword.com, Linkody, and others at their disposal. You may even need to test tools like ClickCease and HotJar if you are running PPC campaigns. These costs can creep up to $500+ per month.
Agencies use these tools for many clients, so the cost makes sense. For in-house teams, a full MarTech suite (in addition to your case management software) could be a bit overwhelming.
Going Halfway: Outsourcing Your Marketing to Contractors
You can either hire directly or use a service like Creative Circle to find SEO, PPC, dev, and design contractors, but you will need to direct their work, manage them, and track performance carefully. These roles are paid hourly, so the contractor’s goals are not aligned with your business goals (it’s not the contractor’s fault, it’s just a symptom of the contractor arrangement).
You could find decent people for under $40/hr. But the output, workload for you, and cost don’t really make sense in a competitive field like law.
Will You Get Better SEO and Digital Marketing Output From an In-House Team?
You might get better output in-house IF your marketing payroll is $200K+ and you are able to hire folks who have agency experience, preferably law firm-specific agency experience. If you are a corporate firm or large regional law firm with a high average case value (personal injury), you might get a decent return on an in-house team.
But generally speaking, your output won’t be as strong if you can’t hire talented marketers with agency experience. Experience in different practice areas, geographic regions, and with numerous tools and strategies makes a marketer much more valuable, and that experience is par for the course in a busy agency.
Should Your Law Firm Hire a Marketing Director?
Yes, once you reach a certain size, you will benefit from an in-house marketing director. You will need someone to hire and manage your agency partners and vendors, track KPIs, and keep an eye on the quality, not just the quantity, of your leads. A good marketing director will also drive your overall strategy – how much you should invest in PPC, organic, top-of-funnel channels like outdoor advertising or video, and more. Marketing directors will also explore captive advertising options and niche-specific DSPs – basically, they will hunt for growth opportunities and hire vendors (like us) who can make it happen.
As an agency, we often help build small personal injury practices where our main point of contact is a partner in the firm. This works with newer firms because the caseload isn’t too high. But as the firm grows and the partner’s attention is diverted to litigating, talking with leads, hiring junior attorneys, or organizing referrals, they rarely have time to focus on marketing.
Red Flags to Consider When Hiring an Outsourced Agency
1. They Make Promises that No One Else in the Industry Makes
There is a reason why every spam SEO email you receive looks nearly the same. It’s because these people have to promise outlandish, unrealistic things in order to get someone’s attention. That’s because they are are on the outside of the industry trying to work their way in. I would advise any company to be wary of a provider that promises anything, but especially those that promises things that no one else in the industry would come close to expressly stating. A promise has to be true 100% of the time or else the the promise has not been fulfilled. Very little in the business world is truly 100% guaranteed and any company with experience with clients would realize the potential consequences for guaranteeing things that they cannot fully control. They would not (and would not have to) make promises for the sake of getting attention.
What to Look For: If you find yourself considering a company based on a promise that they make in their marketing materials, do an exact match Google search for the wording in that phrase. If the search returns a good amount of results that look like they are coming from less than trustworthy companies, take it as a huge red flag.
The Bottom Line: If you receive an email or call that sounds too good to be true, it definitely is. If you don’t believe me, it never hurts to get a second opinion on a boastful claim. Contact an established industry leader and ask them if what this other company is promising can be done.
2. They’re Not Down in the Trenches
Considering a digital marketing agency to help with your visibility? Check the SEO footprint of their clients. Considering a consultant for a PR campaign? Google the names of their clients to see where they get press placed. Considering a company for local marketing? Google their clients, see if they come up in the map pack. After you have done all that, check the respective discipline for the company itself. Those are probably the same strategies and tools that they will be using in your campaign. Make sure you are comfortable paying for that. If nothing comes up, they may not be actively doing that type of work.
What to Look For: Make sure that the company you are thinking about hiring for a specific task actually performs that task for its clients. If it is a new offering or a situation where they added experienced staff in order to offer that function, they should be upfront about it.
The Bottom Line: Companies that publish content on a topic that is outside their core offering sometimes may not have the experience or portfolio to warrant your hiring them. Unless you are confident in their abilities and expertise generally, it might be better to go with someone with experience rather than paying someone to figure it out on your dime.
3. They’re Only Talking Heads
Many times the first place people turn when vetting marketing providers are to the companies most vocal in the niche. There are a ton of experienced outsourced service providers that are regularly providing valuable, fresh content as part of their marketing mix. There are leaders in the field that expose and set strategy trends. The problem here is that outside of those industry leaders, sometimes the people that have the most time to speak, write, etc., are the least busy. Live by the old adage that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. This is often because marketing service providers outsource their content creation/marketing. They may have great information on their website, but all of that information may build them up in areas that they don’t actually know much about.
Perhaps because we are in the industry, I often notice marketing service providers publishing content about new buzzwords or service offerings that I know they do not produce work product for. They seem to be writing about them in an attempt to keep up with the competition or chase the next check. These are the companies you want to avoid.
What to Look For: Look for agencies that spread article production and speaking engagements around within their staff. This is how you can tell that they are the ones writing about their own work product and that the staff is knowledgeable from the bottom up.
The Bottom Line: Always ask to see references and examples. An established, busy company with actual clients will be excited to share them with you. If they push back or don’t want to provide access to examples, they either don’t have any, or don’t have any that turned out well. This also leads us nicely into the next point:
4. That Your Outsource is Outsourcing
I want to preface this with saying that outsourcing in a transparent manner is completely fine. There are many disciplines and services that companies know they do not offer. Instead, they manage the outsourcing process by leveraging a valuable network of service providers that they have used for certain things before. Being a trusted point-person is something that any good marketing company should be able to be for a client. And further than that, there are many valuable project managers out there.
It only becomes a problem when a company touts itself as an expert or industry leader in an offering that it outsources in a non-transparent manner. The problem with non-transparent (or 100%) outsourcers is that 1. you are probably paying too much; and 2. ensuring a subcontracted company’s quality/availability is inconsistent over time. People get snatched up, get busy, and trends change. A company should be upfront when outsourcing an aspect of your campaign. You need to be assured as to the quality and priority of your project. That becomes somewhat muddy when your marketing company outsourced a project to someone down their outsourcing depth chart because choices one and two were too busy. Cut out the middleman in those types of situations. There are plenty of experienced companies that do things in-house and should be able to seamlessly work as part of a larger marketing team on specific aspects of a campaign.
What to Look For: If you start a project and all of the sudden start receiving emails and updates from people who do not seem to work at the company or have generic (Google or Yahoo) email addresses, this might be a red flag. Once you do get the names of the people working on your project, check them out on Linkedin to see if they say they work for that company.
The Bottom Line: Ask who specifically is going to be working on your project. Get names. If there is a hesitation, that might be a red flag. If a company is outsourcing aspects of a campaign, ask to be involved in the vetting and hiring process of that third-party.
5. They Have a Skimpy Portfolio
It’s understandable when a new company doesn’t have the world’s longest list of clients. Often, those companies can justify their ‘newness’ or lack of a list of client successes with experience in the industry. If a company you are considering is established, however, they should have a list of client successes.
While there’s no magic number that determines how many clients are “enough,” you should feel confident that your outsource has sufficient experience in a relevant field. You wouldn’t want to hire a brain surgeon to operate on your heart, no matter how talented they were. The same concept applies here.
What to Look For: Look for a company’s fingerprints. A comprehensive client list may not be available on a service provider’s website – but it should be available if you ask. If they have a portfolio on their website and when you click through to those clients, the marketing company no longer seems to be affiliated with that client – that is a huge red flag.
The Bottom Line: You should also make sure that those clients were actually happy with their results. Some number of satisfied clients are usually eager to provide an endorsement, while companies that do good work are usually eager to show off their abilities. If either seems off – especially when asked directly – it’s not a good sign.
6. They Don’t Practice What They Preach
Professionals should always be able to practice what they preach. If a marketer purports to be an “expert,” a “guru” (often a red flag in and of itself), or simply a professional, the work product for their own company should reflect it.
If a marketing agency claims an industry-leading web design focus but a cross-browser compatibility test shows that their own site won’t load in Firefox, that is a red flag. If they promise to ensure your site is optimized for mobile devices, then why is their site so cramped and unreadable on your iPhone?
What to Look For: Don’t feel bad holding a marketing company’s feet to the fire about their own marketing. Some of it might be explained with the ‘a carpenter’s house is never finished’ adage, but you should always ask.
The Bottom Line: You get the point – a competent and trustworthy marketing outsource will consistently meet the criteria it sets for its clients. If it doesn’t, that might mean that it can’t.
Call Us, We Can Help You Create a Marketing Strategy
We specialize in SEO for personal injury attorneys, criminal defense marketing, and other law firm growth strategies, and whether you would like to partner with us or chat about in-house hires, we would be happy to hear from you. Get in touch at your earliest convenience.