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.
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?