Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most efficient but also most complex online marketing channels for the acquisition of new customers. For many companies who want to and can acquire new customers via the Internet, SEO can be the most efficient customer acquisition channel if its particularities and complexities can be coped with continuously.
The SEO channel can either be tapped into with one's own employees – so called in-house SEOs – or by working together with a SEO agency.
But how should one approach it? Have one or more in-house SEOs or collaborate with a specialized SEO agency? Or does a combination provide crucial advantages? How does one get to good, reliable and sustainable SEO?
A combination of those two options is not only possible but recommended if SEO is an important marketing channel for the respective company.
Let's look at the arguments for both options and hints on how to find the right mix for your own SEO.
Reasons For In-house SEO
A SEO in steady employment will try to implement projects as fast as possible. After all, he is motivated by promoting the SEO channel and convincing the company about its importance.
An agency, on the other hand, is often paid per time so there is a risk of it artificially expanding the extent and length of projects. The only way to minimize this risk is to explicitly address the issue during the process of becoming acquainted.
When comparing hourly rates the cost for an in-house SEO is lower than that for a SEO consultant. Additionally when working together with an agency there are costs for communication and coordination since the agency first has to get to know the company as well as its products and services.
SEO can be regarded as the most integrative marketing channel. Unlike other online marketing channels SEO doesn't just send new customers to special landing pages that may not even be integrated in the regular product and website of the company.
Without solid interaction and integration between product management and IT, it's impossible to deliver good SEO, and it's obvious that an in-house SEO can get acquainted with colleagues much easier than an agency can. A core task of an in-house SEO is to establish a certain consciousness and awareness for SEO topics within the company’s collective body of thought, and someone who is permanently present is likely to succeed in this task.
The in-house SEO must know about every change on the website to be able to deliver information on what the impact of these changes could be from an SEO perspective and also how certain amendments in specifications may have to be executed in order to achieve ideal results for SEO.
It's crucial that someone is responsible for the improvement of SEO in a company. An in-house SEO is very likely to care more for the advance of the SEO efforts than a SEO agency.
5. Development of SEO Competence
If a competent SEO is permanently present in a company he is likely to raise the whole company's knowledge regarding SEO. If IT, product management, marketing department and executive develop a good basic knowledge of SEO, new potentials and ideas can be uncovered in the respective departments which even the in-house SEO wouldn’t have been able to expose.
For example, every aforementioned department has contacts to many service providers and customers who would be happy to help the company with valuable links or complex marketing strategies where applicable.
6. Competence Regarding Products & Customers
An in-house SEO is more acquainted with the products and services offered by the company as well as with its customers. He is therefore likely to be faster and more skilled when it comes to SEO-specific tasks like keyword research.
Some methods and strategies regarding the acquisition of links and social signals can practically not be outsourced to an agency. Those can only be acquired by an employee or sometimes even only by the C-level.
Reasons For an SEO Agency
1. Avoid Organizational Blindness
Since the in-house SEO mainly deals with the company's website it gets harder in time to completely avoid organizational blindness. In order to discover problem areas as well as new chances it can be helpful to consult a qualified SEO agency on a regular basis. Though the in-house SEO could have also discovered these flaws and chances, he is sometimes too much trapped in his daily routine to notice them.
2. More Extensive & Multilateral Expertise
The in-house SEO tends to just keep an eye on his own company as well as on its direct competitors. Employees of SEO agencies on the other hand often work on many different subjects in many different countries. Therefore the SEO agency can provide a completely different service than an in-house SEO possibly could.
Over the last years a distinctive excess demand regarding the job market in the field of in-house SEO could be stated. Nowadays it's not that easy to get a good in-house SEO.
Most companies have difficulties in evaluating the qualification of applicants for internal SEO job vacancies. This, too, is a field of activity in which a SEO agency can help out.
Some companies don't pay much attention to SEO so for them it is hardly possible to keep an employee fully occupied with it. Our experience shows that one should rather rely on an external professional in such a constellation than on an employee who is much more familiar with other topics and does SEO as a side job and with doubtful quality.
When collaborating with a SEO agency that works sustainable, it's even possible to completely dispense with SEO investments for a couple of months in difficult times. Later on, these activities can be continued afresh.
A SEO agency of at least average size has quick access to a wide variety of different resources to improve the company's SEO.
A good SEO agency is able to scale smoothly. For example, due to its network of contacts and its experience it is easier for the agency than for an in-house SEO to increase the monthly SEO budget over a year and still invest reasonably.
8. International Perspective
Very few in-house SEO have broad experience with international SEO efforts. While they can often handle the on-page part well based on what they know from their home country the off-page part looks a lot different.
The different possibilities and habits for link acquisition are quite varied from country to country. Specialized agencies can help avoiding pitfalls and getting the best local links fitting the industry sector, language, and country.
9. Focus on core business
Every basic book on business studies mentions that all successful companies do focus on their core business. In SEO context this means that the company should let a specialized SEO agency take care of all SEO topics that can be outsourced.
10. Continuity and certainty
An in-house SEO is often the only person in a company who has a lot of know-how concerning SEO. It would therefore have a serious impact on the company if that person were to quit his job. A well-sized agency with a good employment structure, on the other hand, guarantees continuity and as a consequence a high level of reliability.
The Ideal SEO Situation
A collaboration between SEO agency and in-house SEO. When it comes to weighing the advantages and disadvantages of in-house SEO and the cooperation with an agency against each other, not every point has the same importance for every company.
Many factors (e.g., the size of the company) play an important role in the process of decision-making. Furthermore the role of SEO in the whole marketing mix and the age of company have to be taken into account.
But not only specific points of view that can differ from company to company play an important role in the question: “In-house SEO or SEO agency?”. In fact the different domains – on-page and off-page SEO – should be evaluated separately by the management.
Having an in-house SEO is often advantageous when it comes to on-page topics in order to enhance technical optimization measures and to integrate SEO processes in the whole company's conception. Off-page SEO on the other hand is often better conducted by an agency than by an in-house SEO.
The collaboration with many successful online companies has shown that a combination of in-house SEO and agency conveys the best results provided that the company can afford to finance both. This way it is possible to enjoy the advantages provided by both options and also to make use of synergistic effects.
This article presented the arguments for a collaboration with an in-house SEO and an agency respectively. However, as made clear in the article, there is no such thing as a general “best practice”, whether one is working with an in-house SEO or an agency. Every company has to evaluate that on its own behalf.
Meet Andre Alpar at OMCap SES Berlin, taking place on Oct. 11, 2012.