Should we manage our SEO in-house?

Okay, we admit we're a little biased. But let's discuss it.

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Sam Sheppard
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Sam is an experienced digital marketing consultant with a specialism in search engine optimisation (SEO). He's led, created and managed the implementation of search marketing strategies for companies, big and small, across a variety of sectors.

With SEO, you have to decide between managing your SEO efforts internally or outsourcing.

It’s a tough choice to make. The right answer often depends on your circumstances and objectives.

The main business case for managing SEO internally is clear. A full-time member of staff can work on their company’s SEO all day, every day. An agency or freelancer won’t be able to commit as much time, as they have other clients to service.

There is no getting around this fact. That’s a serious benefit… if you have the right person (more on this below).

But, that’s where the benefits stop. On the other hand, here are the negatives:

  1. It’s hard to hire someone in-house who is genuinely good at SEO. Why?Anyone who is any good will know they have a valuable set of skills. Such people are very likely to either, a) set up their own agency, b) freelance, or c) find a senior position at an existing agency (i.e. where they can get paid the most).

    And, unless you have an extensive background in SEO you are unlikely to know what to look for when interviewing someone. A weak candidate can look great during an interview. Even agencies struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Naturally, working with an agency resolves such issues because they already have senior staff, who are unlikely to have made it to their positions without being good at what they do.

  2. In-house is more expensive. The thing about hiring someone is you have to pay them. And the going rate for an SEO consultant with good experience is £41,000 (source: Glassdoor). Plus, not only are you taking on a full-time salary, but you take on the costs of the tools they need to do the job. Specialist SEO software is reasonably priced, but it’s still not cheap (a few thousand, at least). There’s also the cost of any training courses, conferences or events they may wish to attend.The economic model of an agency absorbs the costs of salaries, training and tools by outsourcing consultants to multiple clients. As a result, agencies are usually able to come in at a 30-50% lower cost than an in-house team.
  3. If it isn’t working out, it’s difficult to replace employees. Quite rightly, employment law has been sharpened to provide maximum protection for employees.

    Buuuuut, this means if you hire a dud (see #1) then it’s not so easy to replace them. And it likely won’t be clear if your new employee is any good until their probation period has passed. That’s just the nature of SEO, it’s a long-term marketing channel and results aren’t immediate. With an agency or freelancer though, you are free to stop working with them if performance is poor (top tip: don’t sign long-term contracts with agencies or freelancers).
  4. Agencies work on tonnes of clients. Exposure to more clients and more industries leads to a cross-sharing of knowledge. An agency might notice something whilst working on client A that could be applicable to client B. They can transfer insights and findings across clients, which is valuable to everyone they work with.

Maybe I’ve missed an argument in favour of in-house. Please feel free to share it, but I’m confident it won’t outweigh the four points above.

So, should you manage your SEO in-house?

Our argument is that the majority of businesses would benefit more from outsourcing than they would from in-house management. But, you may benefit from managing it internally if:

  • You, or someone else in your company, has a background in SEO and you have enough time to dedicate to it
  • You can afford to hire a senior-level SEO professional who presents clear evidence of their past results, has excellent references from past clients/employers, and outlines a long-term strategy for your brand
    • Plus, you can afford to give them a healthy budget to implement their strategy
  • You do not have the budget to pay for monthly agency or freelancer rates. In this case, it can be very tempting to find a very cheap SEO provider. There are plenty around, but it’s not a good idea. Think about it, would you trust a builder who charges £5 an hour to build a house? To see what cheap SEO looks like, I recommend reading my post on bad links. If you don’t have the budget, try to learn and implement the basics yourself. Once you’ve got things off the ground then consider consulting an agency for a day. They can review your work, give you pointers, and even set a strategy for you to follow. You can repeat this process every few months.

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