If part of your business plan is that you need to attract customers from search engines, the question of whether you turn to Inhouse or Outsourced SEO is an important one.
There is a vibrant industry of agencies and freelancers providing SEO services and many brands have strong and successful SEO teams. But which do you choose? Which is best and can the two work together successfully?
What is the Difference Between Inhouse SEO and Outsourced Support?
This is typically represented in terms of client-side vs agency, which can be quite unhelpful. Seeing the two at odds with each other can often limit the full benefit you can get by utilising inhouse and outsourced resources.
Either inhouse or outsourced SEO can be effective if used in the right way. This is often dependent on your business and what you need, everyone’s requirements will differ.
To help understand the differences between inhouse/outsourced here are some pros and cons. Whilst some of these are generalisations, they will help you to understand what to consider and when each option may or may not work for you.
Inhouse SEO Pros:
- Your SEO resources are embedded in the business, which will typically help you understand how to get technical recommendations implemented quicker/easier and may give you better access to subject-experts for content production.
- Unless your inhouse resource works across multiple brands, an inhouse SEO is often more focused and can dedicate more attention on delivering results than outsourced options.
- Being inhouse means your resource has its “finger on the pulse” of the business, this can mean content strategies and even PR efforts can be better coordinated and more effective.
- Inhouse teams should be more accountable to the success of the campaigns.
- Can be a more cost-effective way to access SEO resources.
Inhouse SEO Cons
- Typically you have to invest more in ensuring your Inhouse SEO resource keeps up-to-date with SEO changes.
- In companies with smaller marketing teams the SEO resource can often be one person, which can be lonely/isolating and you miss the opportunity for collaborative problem solving.
- Inhouse SEOs effectiveness is extremely dependent on company culture and buy-in within the business. Specialist positions like this can often feel unsupported or undermined if senior members in the company don’t “get” SEO.
- The success of an inhouse SEO is often limited to their own experience/ability, junior SEOs without senior team members to lead/guide will take far longer to become effective.
- Hiring the “right” person into this role can be challenging if you do not already have knowledge in the business.
Outsourced SEO Pros
- Being the external expert means recommendations are seen with more credibility.
- An outsourced point of view can bring a fresh pair of eyes, identifying issues and opportunities that might have been missed.
- Outsourced SEO resources can be more flexible, whether for projects, retained work or specific activities when required.
- You can find specialised SEO outsourced capabilities, from PR, to content, and technical SEO – which can be more effective than generalist resources when you know what the issue is.
- Outsourced SEO (agencies specifically) have larger teams and you can benefit from the shared knowledge there.
Outsourced SEO Cons
- When looked at as a cost it can seem more expensive than internal resources.
- It takes longer to understand a client’s business, which means that priorities and content strategies can suffer.
- Knowing how to employ the “right” outsourced partner can be challenging if there’s no knowledge of SEO within the business.
- Outsourced SEO partners can easily over-sell and under deliver.
- Transparency can often be an issue, seeing what exactly is getting done and relating this to impact on the account.
How to Select an SEO Agency
An external SEO agency is neither a good or a bad thing, naturally there are good and bad agencies – selecting them when you have minimal understanding of SEO can be a challenge.
Look for proof of their previous work, ask to speak to testimonials/recommendations
If you are to believe an agency can work for you, you need to see it for your own eyes. Speaking with previous clients of an agency is a great way of verifying their performance, but also cultural “fit”.
Ask what agency’s team makeup is, who will be doing the work
The detail of doing this is not always key, you are looking for how the question is answered. If the team structure is unclear, or only certain members of the team are identified, this means that you may not have dedicated support or work is being outsourced from there.
Ask for examples of what reports look like, and how work is accounted for
To ensure you get the transparency you need on a month-by-month basis. Are you happy you’ll get transparency around what has been done and whether it was what was agreed?
Set clear KPIs, and agree them – revisit at least quarterly
Set key performance indicators which are more specific than “more traffic” or “more revenue”. This may challenge you to understand what you need for the work to be regarded as a success, but any outsourced partner needs this information.
Once you have the target, agree it and then manage your activity around it.
Work from a clear strategy
If you are planning to work on a retained basis, you want to ensure that the agency is working towards a goal. Request a clear strategy and review at 3 monthly intervals. This will ensure that a) you know what work is being done and b) why you are doing it.
How to Use Inhouse and External SEO Together, Effectively
Use an external SEO to help build a platform, strategy and even a team, then transition to inhouse
Where you need to get an SEO campaign moving quickly and an outsourced partner will likely have the tools, skills and people to get this going. Assuming the work done is good and the company grows as a result, there could be some economies of scale to slowly bring that knowledge/expertise in house.
Some may consider this to be at odds with an outsourced partner and may not consider that they could help this process run smoothly. If you’re upfront with an outsourced partner that the eventual goal is to build a strong inhouse team, they’ll likely be very glad to help.
Utilise the skills where they best lie, use skills/knowledge of outsourced resources to complement your own gaps
Very few inhouse teams are large enough, or specialist enough to be able to do every job to the best of their abilities – this is when outsourced SEO resources come in extremely useful. Not using expert help can set progress back significantly and may end up more ‘expensive’ in the long-term.
To effectively do this, you need to know what kind of help you require. Investing in tracking, data and a method to audit your own performance will provide answers here.
Thoughts Before you Make the Decision
Whilst SEO changes can be felt from 3-6 months, if you have to include finding & hiring the right people (whether they’re inhouse or outsourced), this can take almost as long again – if not more.
Whichever route you decide on, it can take up to a year to establish whether it is working or not. To gain confidence you are making the right decision, you need to research the possibilities, market size and potential returns from SEO and then establish what resource you need to achieve this.
Without this base knowledge (which you may need to outsource the research to support with), it will be hard to know where best to spend your time. If you are confident the future success of your business relies on a strong digital strategy and presence, having an inhouse team (even a small one) is increasingly unavoidable, but a trusted and knowledgeable outsourced partner can enable you to grow far beyond your own means.