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 situation. I’ve run a digital marketing agency for the past seven years in Columbus, Ohio. Beforehand, I was in-house running the SEO for a major car insurance company. There are pros and cons for both, which I have listed below based off of my experience.

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 you are selling. When the efforts are in-house, there is a better understanding of what is taking place.
  • Allocate more time to projects
    • 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.
  • Collaboration
    • 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.

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 investment.
  • Benefits
    • When a business engages with an agency, they don’t have to pay employee benefits. I never realized how important of a factor benefits were in a company deciding whether to go with an agency versus keeping it house.
  • 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 Resources
    • Even if you want to bring an SEO specialist in-house, do you have development resources on your team to execute the on-site recommendations and the technical components? 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 they 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.

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. If you work for a company that has development resources in-house along with a team of writers and digital PR specialists, you likely don’t need to outsource your efforts. If you are strained for time and don’t have the SEO expertise or the technical expertise, an SEO agency might be the right fit for you.