Search engine optimization (SEO) is a complicated strategy with many interconnected components, including sub-strategies like content marketing, link-building, and social media marketing. Though it’s relatively easy to pick up SEO basics, and some website building options come with SEO features automatically enabled, the strategy is still technically complex, making it a good idea for you to work with a professional if you want to seriously rank in search engines.
The question is, what kind of professional do you want to work with?
You have two primary options: First, you can hire someone -- or a team of people -- to strategize and execute your SEO work in-house (or as an independent contractor). Second, you can enlist the help of a specialized SEO agency, typically on a monthly-retainer basis. Pros and cons attach to each approach.
So, how should you go about making your choice?
The case for staying in-house
Consider the advantages an in-house contact or team can have over an agency:
1. Greater control
First, you’ll have more control over the strategy and execution of your SEO campaign. Most agencies have a long history of execution -- which is a strength in most cases -- but that also means they’re less likely to accommodate your special requests. If you know what you’re doing, calling the shots here can help you get the specific results you need faster, but the trick is to actually know what you’re doing.
2. Tighter coordination
In-house workers are going to be far more familiar with your signature brand standards, which means they’ll be able to produce content and messaging that falls more into line with your company vision. (Or at least they will do so faster and more reliably than an agency.) Having an in-house team will enable your other departments, such as sales and customer service, to fall in line with your SEO goals.
3. Immediate communication
Though most agencies pride themselves on fast, efficient, always-available communication, there’s no substitute for having someone across the hall. An in-house team is always available for your questions, concerns and basic conversations about your strategy.
The case for using an agency
Now, here are some ways an agency trumps in-house SEO teams:
1. Access to specialists
There are plenty of free resources to help you learn the basics of SEO, but it takes a long time to become a master in a specific area. Hiring a specialist or a team of specialists can get expensive fast, but working with an agency will connect you at once to people who are expert in many areas, generally enabling you to see better results for less money.
2. Greater accountability
Agencies have a reputation to uphold. Since most operate on a retainer, they know customer retention is pivotal to their survival, and they’ll be desperate to keep you happy enough to keep paying that monthly rate. They’ll also do whatever it takes to earn you a high ROI -- and to prove that ROI. So, if something goes wrong, they’ll generally get on top of the problem immediately.
Many new entrepreneurs and marketers balk at SEO agency rates, most of which order in the thousands of dollars a month. On the surface, this may seem expensive, but there are two things to keep in mind. First, this rate is a substitute for a team of full-time workers, who, if permanent, would end up costing you far more than even the most expensive service plan. Second, don’t think of this as an expense: Think of it as an investment. In time, you’ll see a positive ROI, meaning you’ll bring in more revenue than you’re spending on your efforts in the first place.
Believe it or not, these aren’t the only two options you have. As mentioned, SEO is complex, so few strategic choices are black and white. For starters, you could forgo both full-time in-house hires and agencies entirely to focus on freelancers and independent contractors, who could piece together your strategic execution in different areas. But more importantly, you have the option of hybridizing your approach, declining to choose any single option.
For example, you could hire an in-house worker to work with both an agency and independent contractors to get the work done. Or, you could contract an agency for only a specific segment of work and use independent contractors to fill in the gap.
Ultimately, your decision should be based on your priorities. If you need to have more control or if you have the financial capacity to hire a full-fledged team, in-house SEO can be a wise investment. Otherwise, if you want a more cost-efficient, hands-free setup, but with less control over the processes, you'll find that agencies have the advantage.
Think carefully about what your needs really are, and make the choice that makes the most sense to you. If all else fails, you can always try a different approach.