In House vs. Agency SEO: Pros and Cons (Guest Post)

The following post is written by Sam Butterworth. Sam is a digital marketer and content manager based in the north of England. When he’s not working for Fusewave and JTC Consultants he writes fiction, plays in a rock ‘n’ roll band of varying quality and hangs out with his family.

Thanks to the ever-snowballing power of Google et al to catapult business growth forward in leaps and bounds, SEO is rightly today recognised as a real cornerstone of any effective online marketing strategy.

In short, it’s an area of specialisation that nobody in the business of establishing and growing a brand can afford to ignore – that much, at least, has been abundantly clear for some time.

What’s often rather less clear is the best way to approach SEO for your business.

Given that most CEO’s aren’t also digital marketing specialists with the necessary time and expertise (they’d need a lot of both) to pilot their firm’s entire SEO approach single-handedly, who should they turn to get it done? In many cases, the initial question quickly boils down to one basic but important choice: in-house vs. agency.

For pretty much any company, regardless of industry or business model, deciding if it’s best to outsource those core digital marketing strategies to an external specialist – or alternatively, to bring them entirely in-house – involves making a few key judgement calls. Chief among these will be the budget available for online brand development, and a clear view of precisely what you hope to achieve as a result.

Depending on your answers to those questions, both in-house and agency options will offer various potential advantages and drawbacks in terms of matching your goals to your resources:

In-House

The obvious big advantage of bringing your SEO strategies fully in-house is that you now have your own full-time unit, dedicated entirely to the needs of your specific brand. Assuming you’ve recruited well, this gives you unfettered daily access to an individual or team with expert SEO knowledge – and one that’s also fully attuned the subtle and complex needs of your company. Kudos! It’s certainly a promising start.

In addition, your SEO recruit(s) will presumably be based on-site for the most part, making it easier and more efficient for them to liaise across multiple departments: a fast track to building strong working relationships with key figures in IT, marketing and all those other important teams.

Because they’re embedded with the firm, they’ll be especially valuable during periods when the business is just starting to define and build its branding strategy from the ground up. And to top it all off, it’s costing you significantly less per hour than most of those expensive agencies seem to charge.

The immediate downside, of course, is that this isn’t a per-hour deal: it’s a more permanent commitment that, over any sort of reasonable contract length, will likely add up to a bigger investment than sporadic use of a contractor. You’ve also got to buy in and license the full suite of tools they’ll need to keep up to speed, which is seldom cheap in a field that’s evolving almost daily.

Incidentally, how many of these busy bees are you hoping it’ll take to get the job done well? Hint: it’s not going to be just one. There are so many diverse elements to developing a coherent in-house strategy – social media, content marketing, AdWords, PPC, conversion, penalty recovery etc – and most skilled marketers specialise in a couple of them if you’re lucky.

Moreover, unless you’re a huge company with an ever-shifting set of targets, priorities and challenges, you’re likely to be re-hiring every couple of years. These are inherently creative roles for people who relish a regular switch of focus; few strong candidates will be happy to plug away at the same set of keywords for the next decade, no matter how great your coffee is.

Agency

Ok, so you’ve bitten the bullet and decided to go with an agency. The first thing you’re probably noticing is that they can seem kind of expensive. And that’s fair comment. They can. Thank goodness this isn’t a full-time arrangement, right?

You’re also probably concerned that there’s a lot of stuff you want them to do for you, but that they’ve obviously got other clients on their books. Will they be able to fully imbibe the culture of your specific corporate approach, and have time to prioritise your needs? On the first count, arguably not as well as an in-house team. On the second count, absolutely – provided, of course, that they’re a good agency who take on client workloads responsibly.

Furthermore, they’re able to bring a whole host of specialist skills to bear across the full range of issues you need addressing, because they’ve built their own successful enterprise around one of the key tenets of good digital marketing: diversification of talent. Their continued success depends on keeping abreast of every little Google algorithm tweak, so they seem to know what’s going on across the full SEO landscape almost before it happens. Having dealt with a range of different clients before, even relatively small agencies or individual consultants will already have case studies lined up demonstrating proven solutions to many of the issues you’re dealing with.

You may have noticed that the folks at the agency with the really glittering resumes seldom get assigned to work with you directly as a client – they always seem to be too busy batting for the agency itself. Again, fair comment. The upside, of course, is that those are the very people responsible for the strong relationships the agency has developed with the advertising platforms themselves. Handling multiple client accounts that are collectively worth considerable amounts of money to the platforms appears to earn the agencies much closer attention from the likes of Google and Facebook – more responsive account supervision, speedier customer service, and so on. Heck, it’s almost as if the platforms want these agencies to do well for their clients!

Conclusion

To be fair, ‘conclusion’ might be pushing it here, because – as stated earlier in this piece – the best solution for you is going to depend entirely on your specific budget and goals. That’s really the only honest conclusion that can be offered to any business wrestling with this predicament; to suggest otherwise would be misguided, if not downright misleading.

Ultimately though, whichever approach you decide on, that’s only step one on the road to mastering your SEO strategy. Step two is just as important to get right: whether building an in-house team or choosing an agency to team up with, you’ll need to be diligent and highly discerning in seeking out the right matches for success.