Dear Community, although I work for an agency, this post is not as biased as you might think: Earlier in my career, I managed SEO in-house for a middle market firm, and later I did freelance SEO work for small businesses and startups. So I have a pretty well rounded perspective.
For marketing, a company has three ways to go: do it in-house, outsource or collaborate. Depending on the specific marketing activity and the company’s internal resources, one of these three options will make the most sense. For instance, creating sales collateral is a good candidate for collaboration — since the company has to drive content development but may not have adequate design capabilities in-house. For social media marketing, in-house execution is usually the best option, since authenticity and direct engagement are so important to that effort.
For SEO, outsourcing is almost always the best option. Here’s why:
SEO is complex, with best practices changing frequently and sometimes dramatically. In fact, we are on the cusp of a massive change right now: Google is about to implement a major change to its algorithm to put more emphasis on mobile-friendliness.
It is very difficult to keep up with best practices without being totally immersed in the SEO world. For most companies, it’s hard enough to keep their fingers on the pulse of core business practices, let alone a peripheral (but vastly important) activity like SEO.
Executing a campaign using outdated SEO methods, as many in-house efforts do, can be outright harmful to SEO performance. For instance, best practices for link anchor text have changed radically over the past few years. If a company creates new links improperly and fails to reclaim existing ones, its link profile will bring organic search visibility down rather than raise it.
Breadth of Skills
SEO execution involves a wide variety of on-site and off-site activities, some creative and some technical. An effective campaign involves technical specialists, strategists, researchers, copywriters, editors, content outreach specialists, Web designers, front-end developers and back-end developers — all familiar with SEO best practices. Only the largest of companies has the luxury of all this talent in-house. Proceeding in-house with missing components results in less than effective campaigns.
One qualification here: A certain amount of collaboration is always needed. An agency needs strategic inputs and content inputs from the client; otherwise it will be guessing about the campaign objectives, and publishing content that does not well represent the brand.
Google looks for continuous effort, not a flurry of SEO activity followed by months of inaction. Since companies have a tendency to go on-again/off-again with non-core business activities, they should be wary of entering an in-house SEO commitment that will require a steady and significant investment in human resources over the course of years. There are no shortcuts.
In contrast, an agency lives and breathes SEO. It is not only prepared for a long-term effort, it can quickly scale to put more effort in as time goes on and campaigns gain momentum. This is important: A well managed SEO campaign steadily improves as testing, tracking and analytics improve keyword focus and bring to light new keywords to optimize. Is your in-house program continuously improving and expanding? This is the ultimate question.
Overcome Fear and Loathing
Many companies steer clear of SEO agencies because they’ve had a bad experience in the past, or are put off by the confusing technical jargon some agencies employ when describing their services.
This is an industry-wide issue. “Black hat” SEO practitioners and other bad players have justifiably left clients with a bad taste in their mouths. However, these agencies are very much the minority. Most SEO agencies are competent, reliable business partners. The challenge, of course, is to choose wisely.