To be successful online, companies need to take SEO seriously, and it must be a priority.
As the founder of an SEO agency, I have dedicated the last 20 years to helping companies improve their search engine rankings. We’ve worked with small companies, startups and huge global brands. Regardless of size, they all have the same primary SEO goals.
Even if you have employees focused on marketing, SEO is complicated and requires a specific set of skills. Search engine algorithms change frequently, and it takes dedication to the field to master. So, when it comes time for your brand to hire a team of dedicated professionals, do you hire in-house help or contract out to an SEO agency? Here are a few keys to consider:
Your SEO Needs
Most people understand SEO as the vehicle that makes your web pages rank for specific keywords. This is true, but looking closer reveals a picture that’s much more complex.
• Technical Expertise
First, there’s on-page SEO. Whether your team is in house or contracted out, they should be able to understand concepts related to the content itself such as page design, keyword optimization (proximity and prominence) and user experience (UX), as well as backend SEO concepts like alt tags, metadata and specific features of the code such as header tags and markup schema.
These concepts, collectively, are extremely sophisticated because they communicate to a given search engine the content and organization of a page. If one of them is wrong or missing altogether, it could sink the page (and your site as a whole) in terms of its ability to rank in organic search results. There are also unique strategies for sites with little or no traffic that you should focus on when first starting out — as I discussed in a recent article.
• Holistic Experience
Your team also has to be experienced in what works and what doesn’t in terms of off-page SEO, which is more difficult to control due to outside factors. Things like your brand’s reputation (reputation management) and other sites that link to your pages (backlinks) can affect a single page’s ability to rank for a given keyword.
They also must understand the complexity of CRO (conversion rate optimization). Every business has unique goals, and it’s not enough to simply make sure your pages are ranking. You need to ensure your high-ranking pages are bringing in the right kind of traffic to drive conversions for your business. This includes understanding your audience through marketing research, as I outline further here.
If you’ve ever hired to fill a position within an organization, you understand the process of finding someone who fits the culture and possesses the necessary experience to get the job done right. While it’s unlikely that anyone within your organization already has all the skills required, building an in-house SEO team from the ground up allows you to evaluate your SEO needs as outlined above and hire for those specific skills.
An outside SEO agency, on the other hand, can hit the ground running as soon as you sign a contract because they should already have experts to cover the bases. However, once an in-house employee has become acclimated to your company, brand, team and overall SEO business strategy, they often add a tremendous amount of value.
The question to ask yourself is how much time you want to spend building a team. It could take months to assemble and onboard a team with all the prerequisites you’re looking for, but this might be worth having full-time employees with a deep understanding of your company’s unique digital needs.
Another consideration when finding a team to handle your business’s SEO needs is the impact on employment. I briefly mentioned hiring and training an in-house team, but there are also organizational hurdles involved with having SEO specialists on your staff.
An in-house team is made up of employees of your company. You’ll pay them a competitive salary (and remember, these are highly specialized roles that demand higher pay) and add them to the payroll, meaning benefits, taxes, 401(k) and more. As well, you’ll want to weigh the hidden costs of maintaining the department, including software subscriptions, equipment, cloud storage and IT security capabilities.
SEO agencies can also be expensive, many charging over $10,000 per month. It all depends on the scope and goals of the project, as well as other outside factors such as your site platform, limitations and even target audience. Be sure to get an estimate upfront so you can carefully consider your budget and options.
You can recruit an in-house SEO employee within your budget restrictions, but be careful; you get what you pay for so be sure to have a clear job description and thoroughly understand the employee’s capabilities and experience level.
Agility & Culture
When you elect to use an outside agency, you have instant access to a trained team. SEO and marketing agencies typically have a larger staff than in-house departments, so when someone leaves, there is usually a replacement waiting to take their place, which minimizes downtime.
Outside agencies also can grow or shrink the team they devote to your project depending on the size and budget, giving you more agility to handle large projects like global site optimization, or something simpler, like producing content to rank for relevant keywords.
On the other hand, having a smaller in-house team enables you to have more control over processes, maintain corporate culture and foster internal creativity among co-workers. Again, this comes down to evaluating the needs of your business and what you want to prioritize.
The Bottom Line
So, which is better for your business: in-house or outside agency? Only you can answer that based on your understanding of your unique needs.
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