So your website isn’t getting much traffic, your revenue is plateauing, and you’ve decided that you’ve put off working on your SEO for long enough. Now that you’re going to make SEO a priority, this begs the question… should you outsource your SEO efforts to an agency, or handle it in-house?

Unfortunately, we can’t give you a clear-cut answer right off the bat, but what we can do is walk you through the factors that you should keep in mind. At the end of the day, you’re the most familiar with your company, and you’re the best person to make the call!

#1: Expertise

When it comes to expertise, SEO gencies typically blow in-house teams out of the water. Here’s the thing: these guys are experts at what they do, and they’ve worked on a wide range of client accounts across different industries. This means that they have a pretty good idea on what works and what doesn’t; they’re also clued in on how to fine-tune strategies for maximum impact.

Specialists vs generalists

On top of that, SEO agencies employ a range of specialists, including copywriters, web developers, analysts, and more. Because each of these team members take care of a specific part of a larger campaign, they get to hone their skills more effectively with every project they take on. In essence: team members in an SEO agency bring more expertise and precision to the table than a generalist (who’s working for you in-house) can ever hope to do!

Keeping abreast of the latest updates

SEO agencies make it a point to keep abreast of the latest SEO news, and when Google changes its algorithm, they’re typically the first to know. (After all, they can’t risk being at a loss for words when their clients call them up and demand to know why their traffic has increased or decreased drastically overnight!) As opposed to that, in-house team tends to be more focused on specific outcomes (campaign results, etc), and might neglect to keep an eye on macro trends and updates.

Offering different perspectives

One last point to take note of: when working with an in-house team, there’s always the risk of the team becoming overly insular, and committing a faux pas. Look to Pepsi’s controversial ad which rode on the Black Lives Matter movement, for example.

Posted to YouTube in April 2017, this ad – which was produced by an in-house studio – showed protestors interacting with each other, and having a good time. Kendall Jenner shows up, and hands a can of Pepsi to a police officer. He smiles, and the crowd promptly erupts into a raucous cheer. The feel-good vibes were strong in this advertisement, and that was the problem: the narrative featured was precisely the opposite of what millions of protesters had experienced when they spoke up against police brutality.

Pepsi initially attempted to defend its ad, stating that it simply meant to “capture the spirit and actions of those people that jump into every moment.” Consumers weren’t having it, though, and many people (including Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.) pointed out that the ad was in poor taste, and that it trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement. Pepsi eventually apologized, and took the ad down.

It’s easy to see how an in-house SEO team might encounter the same pitfalls, even if it’s in a different context. Yes, your SEO team will be producing website copy, and not ads… but they’ll still have to be mindful, and ensure that they’re not unknowingly being offensive. As much as possible, try and get an outside perspective on your angle or idea before diving in. Of course, there are ways to do this even if you use an in-house team, but outsourcing your SEO efforts to a larger agency is a surefire way to minimize such blunders.

#2: Time

There’s no clear winner when it comes to how fast in-house teams and agencies can deliver. On one hand, agencies come with pre-assembled high quality teams, so you might think that they’d be able to get you results in a shorter period of time. But here’s something you have to consider: if you want an agency to prioritize your project ahead of their other clients’, you’ll either have to commit to spending more on said project, or settling for lower quality.

Some agencies dub this the Impossible Trifecta. Basically, you can’t have it good, cheap, and fast – something’s got to give.

Image from Dribbble.com.

Image from Dribbble.com.

If you don’t want to pay through the nose for your SEO project, and you don’t want to compromise on quality, then you’ll just have to settle for a longer timeline. Remember, your SEO agency is juggling multiple clients at a time, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to constantly be at your beck and call, and answer your queries instantaneously.

#3: Focus

In this particular respect, in-house SEO teams trump agencies, every single time. Because agencies are spread thin and wide, it’s tough for them to achieve the same depth of knowledge about a company that an in-house team possesses.

Because in-house teams are more in-tune with their company’s (and competitors’) strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, this gives rise to more nuanced and tailored SEO strategies. On top of that, in-house teams also find it easier to work with internal stakeholders and collaborate on different aspects of an SEO project.

Last but not least, there’s also the fact that you won’t need to educate an in-house team about your company culture and processes. Your team will already be aligned, and on the same page… which means that they’ll be able to hit the ground running!

#4: Costs

At the end of the day, the option that you choose has to make financial sense for the company (and not make your CFO burst an artery). Let’s lay it all out:

If you hire an SEO specialist to work for you in-house, their salary will cost you approximately $76,000 per year. After you add employee benefits, office overheads, administrative fees, and training and onboarding, you’re looking at over $100,000 per year. But we’re not done yet – you’ll also have to fork out extra for SEO tools. There are tools which help you look for backlink opportunities, tools which help you with keyword analysis, tools which help you optimize headlines… all in all, you’re probably slapping on a few more thousand dollars per year.

If you outsource your SEO work to an external agency, an engagement which gives you a tech audit, keyword strategy, ongoing link building campaigns and reporting might cost you $4000 to $6000 per month. Multiply that by 12, and you’ll arrive at $72,000 per year. Your agency will already have all the tools it needs at its disposal, so you don’t have to take this into consideration.

The bottom line: is in-house or agency better?

If you’re a small business which is working with a limited budget, we recommend outsourcing your SEO efforts to an external agency. Some business owners try to cut corners by hiring an entry-level employee and training them, but this comes with plenty of challenges. Yes, you’ll find plenty of resources if you Google “SEO strategies 2018”, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the articles available online, especially since some of them are contradictory!

If you’re a larger outfit, and you can afford to invest more heavily in SEO, then go ahead and manage your SEO in-house. The good thing about this is that you’ll be owning your talent (instead of renting it); ideally, you’ll be able to build up a strong team which can take the best SEO practices and apply these in a way that makes the most sense for your company. With an in-house team, you can also be more responsive, and implement tweaks to your campaigns more quickly.

Choosing the right SEO agency

Before you commit to working with an SEO agency, you’ll want to screen them thoroughly, and make sure that they’re a good fit. Here are a few questions that will get you started:

  • Do you have any recent recent case studies?
  • Have you worked on any projects which are similar to mine?
  • What were the biggest challenges you faced in these projects, and how did you overcome them?
  • What key metrics do you look at when it comes to SEO?
  • What SEO tools do you use?
  • How does your internal training process work? Do your team members have any sort of certification or accreditation?
  • When will I begin to see results?
  • Can you guarantee that I’ll rank on the first page of Google? (For reference, the right answer to this is “no” – given that Google constantly updates its algorithm, no legitimate SEO agency will promise you first page results!)

Want to get your hands on a complimentary SEO audit by the Online Marketing Gurus? We’ll audit your website, tell you how you’re performing in comparison with your competitors, and come up with a 12-month SEO success plan for you. Click here to secure your free audit!

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Andrew Raso
CEO & Co-Founder
Andrew is the CEO of OMG and one of the founding members. He has a long illustrious career in the SEO and SEM industry and has written for many prestigious websites, including entrepreneur.com, jeffbullas.com, searchenginejournal.com, kissmetrics.com and contentmarketinginstitute.com. He was also featured on Sky News Business and awarded the 30under30 award by Anthill.