For SEO, Better to Hire an Agency or an Employee?

The decision to hire in-house search engine optimization talent or to contract with an agency is not easy. Consider these points when deciding for your company.

In-house SEO

In-house advantages stem primarily from control, collaboration, and cost.

If you like to keep your team close to you, the choice of in-house talent will also seem more appealing. You can manage them more closely and know they’re accountable.

Because it’s their livelihood, in-house SEO managers are 100-percent invested in your business’s success. They’re also 100-percent focused on your work and your priorities, whereas someone assigned from an agency may have multiple clients to manage.

Priorities change quickly, and an in-house SEO manager can easily stay on top of those changes. She will be closer to other team members, which will enable collaboration more seamlessly and forge stronger working connections. Since SEO is primarily accomplished through other disciplines like user experience, development, copywriting, and creative, the ability to work directly with the team is a key factor.

Lastly, cost is something people cite when hiring in-house. You don’t have to pay for multiple layers of strategic oversight. In addition, you can hire someone junior and grow him internally for cost savings.

Agency SEO

The benefits of working with an SEO agency come down to expertise, experience, and external focus.

An SEO agency’s primary benefit is expertise. Experts do the hiring. Experts do the managing and monitor the SEO strategy. Experts develop a standardized methodology and toolset that they feel is most effective and efficient.

The agency’s expertise can also smooth the way for decisions. Even when the agency recommends the same thing as an employee, the agency’s recommendations are oftentimes more likely to be accepted.

It is sometimes easier within budgets and internal processes to contract an agency than to hire a full-time SEO employee.

Because the agency team typically consists of multiple people in distinct roles, you get the right level of experience on the right tasks. A senior member will develop an annual SEO strategy while a junior member will run reports. This, again, translates to better efficiency and a stronger result.

In addition, an SEO agency has access to a wide variety of client experiences and skills. If something comes up that is unusual or not directly SEO related, an agency likely has diverse staff to lend their expertise.

Lastly, an agency’s external focus is an often-overlooked benefit. When an internal team is swamped during the holiday selling season and too busy to plan for the next year, an agency can avoid that swirl and focus on the strategy.

The same applies to competing projects: An agency’s contracted time is dedicated to SEO — not additional internal tasks.

Best of Both

If you or someone on your team is already an SEO expert and can handle the hiring, managing, and strategy, or if you can afford to hire that expert, in-house SEO is a strong option. But if you don’t have that hiring expertise, you could end up with an SEO program that lacks the strategy for growth, or actually hurts growth.

Because it’s all they do, SEO agencies are good at building strong teams with the right levels of expertise and experience.

But it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

An internal employee can manage the agency day to day. This could be a bright new star who can learn quickly. Task the agency with growing that person’s SEO skills while it also delivers SEO recommendations, to transfer expertise. Eventually you may not need the agency.

Many companies do both, however. They have an internal SEO manager or team and, also, they contract with an agency. For these companies, it’s a cost of doing business in a competitive search environment. Traffic from organic search is typically a top customer acquisition channel.

Remember, SEO is not free. There’s no advertising or delivery cost associated with SEO, but you get what you pay for. Staff accordingly. Hire as much SEO expertise as you can afford, whether that’s in-house or with an agency.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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