Hiring an SEO Agency vs. Keeping it In-House [Pros and Cons]

A tough decision businesses constantly battle with is whether to hire an SEO agency or keep the efforts in-house.

I have a unique perspective on this decision based on my experience.

I started my digital marketing agency, The Media Captain, back in 2010. SEO is a core service we offer to our clients.

When our agency was in its infancy and we didn’t have many clients, I would go into the office of a large car insurance company two-days per week, where I managed their SEO. I was able to experience first hand the importance of being in-house and communicate directly with key stakeholders. There were also pitfalls, such as being dragged into numerous meetings each day and not being able to crank out content and projects.

Podcast: How I got into the SEO industry and helped a billion dollar company recover from a Google algorithm update

There are pros and cons for hiring an SEO agency along with keeping it in-house. There is also a hybrid solution for relying on an agency for its expertise while they work directly with an in-house marketing person.

Keeping it In-House [Pros] 

  • Better understanding of the product or service
    • When an agency is brought on-board, there is a learning curve for them to truly understand what the client is selling or the service being offered. When SEO efforts are in-house, the person managing the search engine optimization over time will have a better understanding of the core business, which is helpful in deploying the right strategy, writing about industry related content.
  • More Time Allocation 
    • If you keep marketing efforts in-house, this is the employees full-time job, meaning they can allocate 40-hours a week to SEO related projects. An agency wouldn’t be able to dedicate this much time because they are split between numerous accounts.
      • Note: It’s very important if you are considering hiring an agency, the business has an understanding of the time and resources the agency will be allocating towards their account.
  • Collaboration & Access to Key Stakeholders
    • When you have all of the resources under one-roof for product development, IT, marketing and customer service, it is easier to get approval on projects and collaborate. Overall, there is less of a communication barrier if all of the efforts are in-house.

Related Blog: Downside of Outsourcing SEO Efforts Overseas 

Keeping it In-House [Cons] 

  • High Turnover
    • According to AdWeek, turnover in the advertising industry is higher than related industries. There is a lot of time and training that goes into teaching a new associate the ins and outs of a business. If a marketing employee for your company only stays around for a year or two, this likely won’t be worth the time investment or financial commitment.
  • Benefits
    • When a business engages with an agency, they don’t have to pay employee benefits.
  • Cost
    • Between a full-time salary and benefits, the cost of hiring in-house could outweigh hiring an agency. This completely depends on which agency you hire but typically, businesses take the agency route because there are less expenses involved.
  • Lack of Experience 
    • If you want to bring an SEO specialist in-house, they may not have the experience to come up with a strategy from scratch while properly overseeing the process to ensure your business is moving in the right direction with its SEO strategy. That’s the scary thing about SEO. You can put a lot of time into deploying SEO but if the strategy isn’t correct, it could all be for nothing.
  • Lack of Resources
    • A lot of businesses think when they are hiring an SEO person in-house, they are a jack of all trades. Someone can be great at writing blogs and updating content but they likely don’t have any development skills to tackle the technical side. Development expertise goes a long way with SEO, which is where a business could get handcuffed if they keep the efforts in-house.

Hiring an Agency [Pros]

  • The Right Direction/Strategy
    • An established SEO agency has likely worked with hundreds of clients, which means they have a lot of data and insight at their fingertips to know which route to take for your SEO strategy. Even if they can’t allocate as much time as a full-time employee, the right strategy could make you work smarter, not harder.
  • Unique Perspective
    • When you are not involved in the day to day activity, you have a unique outlook on a business and can provide insight that might miss from being so entrenched within the business.
  • Accountability
    • When it comes to working with an SEO agency, there are deliverables based off of an agreement that they need to get done each month. While an in-house specialist might have every intention to write blogs and do outreach for backlink opportunities, meetings and other daily activities can get in the way.
  • Expertise and Resources
    • An established agency will not only have SEO specialists on their staff but they will have developers, designers and paid strategists. The development component is crucial for on-site SEO. With additional resources, you can always expand the project scope if you want to dabble into social media or paid advertising.

Hiring an Agency [Cons]

  • Locked into a bad contract
    • There will be some agencies that make you commit to a 12-month agreement. Don’t do this. Make sure to get a 30-day or 45-day opt-out within the agreement in case you aren’t seeing results. If they are unwilling to include a way for you to get out of the contract, see if you can get a 30-day consult to at least get the strategy mapped out.
  • Shady Practices
    • There are a lot of SEO “firms” that will try and take shortcuts. I can’t tell you how many businesses we’ve worked with who beforehand, had an SEO company build shady backlinks to their site that were outsourced through India. In terms of deliverables, the “agency” didn’t actually work on SEO tactics that would move the needle in terms of search engine ranking position. Make sure you ask for 3-5 references before moving forward with an agency and do you due diligence.
  • Lack of Time 
    • There are some businesses that need at least 40-hours of work (or more) committed to SEO.  A Client/Agency relationship isn’t going to work if there is the expectation that the agency is going to be at your disposal 24/7/365. The agency shouldn’t over-promise on time/deliverables and the Client shouldn’t have this expectation.

HYBRID APPROACH

We’ve seen some of our most successful client/agency relationships when there is a hybrid approach. The business utilizes the agency for its strategy and oversight and the client is able to assist with providing the agency with key information.

A perfect example is our work with a local attorney client. They have a full-time marketing person with an SEO background. She’s been helping our agency get key information directly from their team of attorneys that takes a lot of man hours to gather.

On their practice area page, we added the most frequently asked questions customers have when calling into their firm. We also listed out all of the steps that need to happen after someone has been injured (meeting, documentation, timeline, etc). The in-house person got this information by setting-up meetings with over 5 attorneys. She then fed our team the key questions and we were able to better expand the content on some of the most important pages on their website.

This is an example of when the hybrid approach works perfectly. If we weren’t in the office of this law firm, it would’ve been very tough for us to collect this information from each attorney.

DECISION TIME 

There is no right or wrong answer on whether to bring your efforts in-house or hire an agency with an established track record.

There is also the hybrid approach of having an in-house SEO specialist while consulting with or working with an agency.

The most successful SEO campaigns happen when there is a contact point within each company that can answer questions, approve content and oversee the process.