12 Reasons Why You Might Never (Ever) Want to Hire an In-House SEO

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Why You Might Never Want to Hire an In-House SEO | SEJ

Hiring decisions are always tough. Making hiring decisions about SEOs are especially challenging. Deciding between an in-house SEO and an agency is tougher still.

There are a long list of pros and cons on either side of this debate. In the end, you have to do what best meets your needs and achieves your goals.

Here are a several reasons to consider one perspective — not hiring an in-house SEO.

What is an In-House SEO?

According to DigitalMarketing-Glossary, “In-house SEO refers commonly to SEO operations which are achieved within a company by a dedicated team or specialist. In-house SEO may also refer to the employee in charge of internal SEO.”

It’s an endless and sometimes silly debate. The fact is, you can have an in-house SEO and an SEO agency. It’s not always an either/or issue.

If you’re trying to make the decision for your business, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. An In-House SEO Might be Too Expensive

According to Indeed.com, the average SEO salary is $76,000.

Why You Might Never Want to Hire an In-House SEO | SEJ

Rand Fishkin’s article (published in 2011) puts the range at $45,000-$100,000.

This may sound like an enormous sum, especially when you’re factoring in the year-over-year payroll costs plus the extra cost required to keep an employee (taxes, healthcare, etc.). However, the cost is only part of the decision. What truly matters are the results.

That’s where you may get better results from an agency, while paying equal or lower fees. Agency SEO fees vary widely. According to Jayson DeMers, the typical retainer cost for agency services is $2,500-$5,000 (in late 2013), which comes out to a lot less than a standard SEO hire.

I want to be clear, though. Don’t make the decision on cost alone. To quote DeMers:

For most businesses today, SEO is the highest ROI marketing effort. The benefits it provides exceed the value of other marketing approaches.

Cost is one factor among many that you should consider.

2. The In-House SEO Doesn’t Have a Broad Enough Skillset

SEO today encompasses a lot of things. It’s unlikely that a single SEO has all the skills necessary to take a comprehensive approach to your business’s search marketing strategy.

There are three main categories of skills SEOs have. Each of these may have several narrower niches within it.

  • Technical SEO: This brand of SEO takes a highly technical view and is able to optimize the most advanced features of site speed, optimize code-to-text ratios, and fine-tune your SSL.
  • Onsite SEO: The onsite SEO is especially skilled at the features of content that boost rankings. From optimizing title tags to tracking down 404s, they have total domination over the back-end of content optimization. Plus, they’re able to perform keyword research and keyword mapping with an astonishing level of mastery.
  • Link SEO: Every SEO will admit that backlinks have a significant impact on search rankings. This SEO is a link genie, helping sites escape from link penalties, building powerful backlinks, and curating a perfectly optimized link profile.

It’s rare to find a single SEO who can fill all three roles. Agencies usually hire enough SEOs to make sure all these categories are covered.

3. Your Site Might Not Need a Full-Time SEO

If you have a website that consists of just a few pages, you might not need a full-time SEO.

This isn’t to say that SEO is any less important. SEO is still critical, but it takes less time to optimize and maintain the optimization of a smaller website.

Some huge websites — those that contain tens of thousands of pages — might require several in-house SEOs and agency help.

4. Someone In-House Can Already Do SEO

Standard search engine optimization is no longer a dark and secretive art. Most people in the internet industry know the basics of SEO.

If you have a small website with limited SEO needs, you might already have someone on staff who has the SEO skills to help you rank.

5. An In-House SEO Can’t Fix the Bigger Time-Consuming SEO Problems

SEO problems range from the tiny (add a rel=canonical tag to the page) to the massive (complete content audit).

If you have a single SEO on staff, but an SEO to-do list the length of War & Peace, then you may have more work than a single mortal can accomplish in a lifetime.

Some websites, for example, are in need of a totally new keyword strategy. Plus, all the pages (say, 45,890 of them) need new title tags. Is this a one-man job? Hardly.

When you hire an agency, you’re hiring more than one person to do the work. If you have a major task that needs accomplishing, you may be able to muster large forces within the agency to help you out.

6. The Search Strategy May be in Shambles

As competent as a single SEO is, he may not be able to create a comprehensive SEO strategy.

One of the values of agencies or consultants is that they can reset and define a business’s search strategy.

In organic search, strategy is extremely important. The strategy must be flexible, however, because search trends are constantly in flux. As you make your decision, be sure to keep strategy, continuity, and flexibility in mind.

7. Your In-House SEO Needs a Fresh Perspective

Some SEOs can get locked into a certain way of doing things. In SEO, such tunnel vision can be harmful.

Agencies benefit from the perspectives of multiple SEOs from various backgrounds. The result is a well-rounded perspective that rarely suffers from being stale.

8. Sometimes, You Need a Second Opinion

SEOs are like doctors. They diagnose problems and prescribe remedies.

And, like doctors, they don’t always agree on the diagnosis or the prescription.

If you are facing a hairy SEO problem, you may want to get the opinion of more than just your in-house SEO.

9. You Might Not Get Instant Results

In-house SEOs have a limited amount of time just like anyone else on your team.

SEO agencies, by contrast, are scaleable. The bigger the problem, the more resources they can invest to solve it.

This means quicker results. Any SEO — in-house or agency — can get results. In-house SEOs, however, may not be able to achieve results in the same amount of time.

10. It’s Tough to Work Through Internal Politics

Let’s not forget the whole dynamic of office politics. It’s sometimes hard for someone who works for the business to work on the business.

There’s more at stake than just SEO success. There are employee/employer contracts, manager relationships, internal warring factions, and the shifting winds of office issues.

It may take an outside force to clear the political rubble and make changes. Many times, it’s the devil-may-care SEO consultant who is best able to implement sweeping changes that really get results.

11. The In-House SEO May Not have a Comprehensive Marketing Strategy

In-house SEOs are often great technicians, but inexperienced strategists.

SEO requires more than just a perfunctory performance of duties. SEO requires a comprehensive marketing strategy. It’s a rare SEO who is able to not only optimize pages and keywords, but also fit SEO within the marketing approach of the entire business.

SEOs spend their day in a myriad of small details, which is absolutely critical. As Aaron Bradley wrote, “I have long observed that success is search optimization is not typically the result of a single strategy, but of continuous attention to numerous small details.”

Point well taken. But let’s not neglect that single strategy component. If you choose to hire an in-house SEO, make sure you have a clear vision of your search strategy firmly in place.

12. Your Site May Not Receive a Series of Audits

What does an SEO agency typically do when you hire them?

They want to do audits. Although it sounds boring or even superfluous, audits are really powerful. Audits can cover the gamut of search features such as mobile optimization, content optimization, social media optimization, technical SEO, site speed, etc.

When an agency goes through these audits, they can uncover massive shortcomings in a business’s SEO.

In-house SEOs don’t work from the same template or audit-driven strategy as an agency or consultant.


I can see some convincing reasons ‘not’ to hire in-house SEOs. But to be completely fair, I can walk across the aisle and make a forceful set of observations to the contrary.

There are good (and bad) arguments for and against in-house SEOs. There are plenty of hybrid approaches that may be ideally suited to your specific needs.

Don’t let someone decide this issue for you. Decide for yourself by analyzing your resources, your strategy, your approach, and your goals.

Which route do you prefer — agency, in-house, or hybrid?


Image Credits

Featured Image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com
Screenshot by Neil Patel. Taken September 2015.

Neil Patel
Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs about marketing and entrepreneurship at Quick Sprout.
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  • R.Rogerson

    Multiple reasons not to become an in-house SEO;
    a) No one leaves you alone
    b) You are asked to do things that have nothing to do with SEO
    c) You are overruled by those without a clue
    d) You are expected to handle the work of a team of 5
    e) “Someone” keeps fiddling with your work
    f) “Someone” has a neice whose ex-boyfriends dog says that doing “X” is a doddle, and that last week you did “Y” completely wrong.
    g) Despite being highered for your experience, qualifications and proven track record, you’re often ignored, overruled or told to do something “wrong”.
    etc. etc. etc.

    Personally, I think it takes a good company and a good SEO to make the in-house thing work.

    You missed Independent and Triage SEOs 😀

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel


      You bring up some good and (sometimes comical points)

      I think it takes a culture that understands the importance of SEO to really thrive. Often times the work of optimization gets overlooked. Thanks for sharing.

    • Elise Connors

      Amen to this!

      So many in-house SEOs become the “web guy/girl” or the “advertising guy/girl.”

      SEO is a specific skillset within the field of marketing. Keeping with the doctor analogy – you wouldn’t go to an OB/Gyn for a toothache, you’d go to a dentist. While the OB/Gyn may know “a bit” about tooth care, they are not experienced enough to accurately diagnose issues of the mouth. 🙂

      Likewise, SEOs are not necessarily qualified to do things like PPC, buy traditional media, etc. 🙂

  • http://ubwebs.com/ Anju Agrawal

    It’s also good to know the technical side of thing. SEO is a very broad industry, You can be a specialist in technical SEO, content marketing, linkbuilding or even keyword research.

  • http://www.coursedude.com S. S. Das

    Yes, I completely agree with you. It is always better to hire an agency to do the SEO work for a big websites because a single person has his limitations.

    I run a small online courses website and I’ve decided to do the SEO part of it. For this purpose, I’ve done special course on SEO. While learning, I’ve found that as a business/website owner you should have little bit of SEO knowledge even if you are giving full responsibility of SEO to an agency.
    SEO can change a lot of your website and it is very very important in today’s digital world to get good ranking on search engine.

  • http://www.ramenos.net Ramenos

    OMG… I didn’t think to read that from your blog. Sorry, but I fully disagree with the content of this article. 3 times in past years, I just did the perfect opposite of what you said in some big companies. Actually, having a inhouse enables several positive consequences like better knowing the product, see the evolution of the business model/goals, take the time to do different and complementary audits, apply changes, see the traffic evolution. Actually, it is really motivating for the SEO and the company.

    I understand the point 3 and I agree with it but please, revise the point 11 because it is purely non-sense. Being during a long time inside a company help you to understand perfectly the core of the business and find many different ways to improve it, sell it.

    Concerning the point 8, if you are smart enough (as a SEO I mean), you may ask sometimes yourself a second opinion to people you know and have good skill in SEO too.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Ramenos, I am not saying that it’s absolutely horrible to hire an in house consultant.

      However, more often that not it isn’t a good fit because of the the disconnect between management and the work being down. It’s great that you carved a nice niche at your company. Keep up the great work.

  • http://www.sitebee.co.uk Sitebee

    Some days I wish I worked in-house rather than an agency. Some clients are downright rude and expect miracles from minuscule budget. The salary looks rather attractive too!

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      When you have a culture that understands the value of your work it definitely can be rewarding to move onto in-house activities. It’s all a matter of having that opportunity though .

  • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

    Greg, as we all know some businesses are entirely reliant on search rankings and traffic — that’s why 😉

  • http://www.ramenos.net Ramenos

    @Greg: if you work with the bad one who charges you a lot and try to sell you keywords only, yes, it doesn’t help. The main issues serious SEO have is that the expertise became more and more popular and a lot of people decide to do SEO but you can find a lot with a lack of expertise, experience and knowledge…

  • R.Rogerson

    Oh, yeah – another round of “SEO is completely useless” by someone who admits to not doing it nor really understanding it.

    On your marks, get set …. start wasting time – now!

  • http://www.smallbusinesswebdesigns.net.au/ Chris

    It’s a tough one. A hybrid means shared resources and a second mind, but the SEO industry so often fails to share “learnings” and development – an external SEO consultant has no incentive to share their “intellectual property” with their client for obvious reasons. I agree there needs to one FTE on it for a medium sized company. It’s all very easy to provision $10,000 a month to an external and see NO results – too scared to ask, too lazy to change providers and think about it. Whatever the outcome, a company needs to be informed, but SEO sits outside the box of traditional marketing. In summary – a tough one!

  • http://www.josephhirschhornhoward.com Joe Howard

    I agree with most of this, Neil!

    My three reasons for outsourcing your SEO are as follows:

    1. It’s about return on investment, not cost. People are afraid to spend a lot on search engine marketing, but those who spend $1000/mo on work that returns $5000/mo after a year of work are much better off. Use half of what you spend on an in-house SEO on a super-effective freelancer or agency.

    2. SEO demands a STEEP learning curve. It takes a strong mix of creativity and logic, and putting it all together takes years of experience. Producing a comprehensive 500-phrase keyword analysis, developing your content strategy and know how to execute it, and creating every report you need in Google Analytics to properly measure your traffic and engagement are just the start. It’s hard as hell to get it all right, so paying to have it all executed correctly is going to be much more effective.

    3. Real SEOs have a badass arsenal of tools. An in-house SEO will most likely incur additional costs when they ask you to pay their salaries as well as for a host of software tools to measure and execute your campaign(s). Outsourcing it means you’re paying for services only, and maybe a little overhead for tools.

  • http://pokktmoney.com/ Jason Casey

    You are so right Neil. It is a constant struggle, but it is a great feeling when you get there. Also, It’s not just about in-house SEO it’s about SEO in general and “BE POLITE” term is not only for our colleagues but also for our clients.

  • Chetan

    Why Neil why??

    In-house SEO

  • Paul

    ‘As competent as a single SEO is, he may not be able to create a comprehensive SEO strategy.’

    What is your reasoning behind this?

    • R.Rogerson

      Because there’s often a ton of work involved.
      Imagine working for a mid-size construction firm.
      You have to target end-consumers and industry.
      You have to know what terms are searched by both.
      You need to know what type of content to create for both.
      You then have to plan that out … all the while reviewing existing content, cutting out the weak stuff, updating a few bits, implementing internal links, setting up canonicals, speeding up the site… and throw in generating reports, analysing logs/monitoring tools, identifying traffic trends …

      Most SEO’s lack the very large skill/knowledge sets to do half of what they could/should.
      And even if they do have the ability, most lack the time (that’s a ton of work for a single person to do)!

      So you can see why Neil says that, yes?

  • http://www.seoptimist.ca Amber

    Neil, I am a fan of you but i disagree with this post. I have worked in an agency and in-house. While there are a couple pros/cons to both, in-house is the only way to go if you are serious about SEO.

  • Jason

    I was speaking to a client who runs a WordPress site. They made the mistake of creating pages upon pages rather than posts under categories. I advised them of this and of their duplicate content…
    Then one fateful day they asked me to put a new page on there with… you guessed it the same content as the previous month and just to change the date…
    My head banged off the desk. I no longer touch their website or seo…

  • Rajan

    Hello Neil,

    Whatever you have pointed here, I don’t think all the points are correct. Because, I’m a digital marketer and work in In-house industry. From my experience, I’d like to tell you that it was great working in the In-house project, as company understands digital marketing team better rather than shouting that happens max. in the agencies.

  • Linus Larsson

    As an in-house SEO I must say that this is a superb reminder on what things to think about. I can read what you’re writing, but I’m thinking the opposite, you might say. 🙂