Business Decisions: Hire In-House SEO? Outsource to an SEO Company?

I’ve been a professional SEO consultant on both sides of the fence.  I’ve been the in-house subject matter expert, and I’ve acted as a consultant via an SEO or marketing firm.

You’ve figured out that you need SEO expertise for your online marketing. Now what?  You must decide whether to hire someone full-time, or outsource your SEO to another company.  No one can answer that question but you.  It depends on everything from your business needs to your budget.  In this blog post I’m going to outline the pros and cons of hiring in-house,  as well as the pros and cons of outsourcing.

Pros and Cons of Hiring an In-House SEO Expert

Pros –

  • Expertise in your Business – Complete immersion in your business, product, customer base, subject area will allow the SEO consultant the time and freedom to explore a large number  of avenues on behalf of your brand
  • Locked-in Hours – Guaranteed dedicated time on your website(s) and project(s)
  • Potential Ability to Multitask – SEO is a diverse field that takes a lot of creativity and a lot of analytical ability. If you’ve hired someone who is adept at SEO, it’s likely that he or she is also able to help out with other areas of internet marketing, or marketing in general.  Your SEO might be able to optimize SEM campaigns, copywrite, create press releases, manage social media campaigns, or design websites or banner ads

Cons –

  • Isolation – By isolating this rare SEO bird from his or her flock, you might make it a little tough for this in-house expert to learn the most up-to-date information about search trends and changes
  • One person can only do so much – Some activities, such as link-building, can take a great deal of time and effort for relatively little reward. If your SEO employee is spending all of his or her time on this, you might be losing ground in other areas
  • The Dark Side of Multitasking – If your SEO employee is becoming a jack of all trades, this means that his or her attention is not focused solely on the organic search rankings of your websites

Pros and Cons of Outsourcing SEO to a Firm

Pros –

  • Up to the Minute – The best SEO firms have people at every conference, people watching twitter, people watching Google for the very latest news in search.  These people will be well-versed and well-trained
  • More People to Man the Task the most expensive consultant will spend only the hours needed to get things started, and then the less expensive lackeys will do link building and a lot of the grunt work. This can mean a cost savings hour over hour.  Plus, if there’s a PR crisis, there are more people to help
  • Potential Ability to Multitask – SEO firms will also be able to help with more than one area of internet marketing than simply SEO… for a price

Cons –

  • Your Business is Not the Focus – Marketing, SEO and Internet firms have to have more than one client to survive. Therefore, it’s likely that they aren’t going to have the time or ability to delve deeply into your business, products and customer base
  • Set it and Forget it – Many businesses believe that SEO is a one-time purchase. They believe that they can purchase the service of an SEO company for a few months and then walk away.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. The website will need an ongoing strategy for content, link-building and community involvement.
  • Set it and Forget it – Part 2 – The other erroneous belief that I see on the part of businesses is that they can use a computer program to do their SEO work for them, and they don’t have to have a human being physically touching the account.  Don’t fall for this.  It doesn’t work.

My personal opinion is that a hybrid model of the two might be better than selecting one or the other.

If you use a company for a short time, you can then hire someone who knows your business (or, better yet, train and promote from within) to focus on the ongoing strategy, content updates and link-building.

If you hire an in-house SEO expert, it might be a good idea to be willing to outsource the time-intensive work like link-building, and limit the amount of extra tasks you assign that individual.

What role does SEM play in an effective SEO Strategy?

Some businesses choose to run SEO and SEM campaigns separately, particularly those who outsource their SEO and SEM services to a vendor or vendors outside of the company.  I believe that this is a strategic mistake.

SEM can be expensive, and it my mind it is necessary to manage pay-per-click bids and expenses as much as possible. The most effective way to do this is to use SEO and SEM information together to make decisions.  This approach results in greater search visibility, insights into strategic direction, and crucial page optimization information.

Search Visibility

Most companies that run SEM campaigns know that the primary purpose of the search marketing campaign is to get a website to appear on the first page of search results without having achieved competitive search optimization in the organic listings.  Another compelling argument is to appear in search results for highly competitive short keyword phrases, or competitor brand names.

This is true, and it can be used for a brand new site, a brand new product, or a new batch of keywords and landing pages.  It is important to keep this purpose in mind as being only temporary. SEM is not the final step, but the first step toward gaining search visibility.

Strategic Direction

Once the initial “visibility” phase of SEM has been established, the back end analytics provided by Google Adwords and Microsoft AdCenter offer additional value.

These analytics will provide key information including:

  • Keywords that get the most impressions
  • Keywords that get the most clicks
  • Keywords that get the most conversions
  • Keywords that cost the most money

Of course, the analytical information can be used to know whether tweaking of target keywords, tweaking of ad copy, or tweaking of landing pages are called for in any SEM campaign, and I won’t delve into this here.

What I’m looking at is SEM information that’s useful for SEO campaigns.  Hone in first on the keywords that are costing the company the most money. If organic search can be optimized for those keywords, there is an instant payoff.    Next, check out the top performing keywords – the ones that get a lot of impressions and a lot of clicks. Those are the next target for organic search and site optimization.

Use the SEM results as a guide to reflect what target customers are truly searching prior to embarking upon a major SEO campaign.

Page Optimization

Finally, Search Engine Marketing is a great tool to help SEO consultants and content managers understand how to best optimize the landing pages.

From the way SEM visitors behave on the website, it’s possible to understand how customers are using the landing pages.  By performing A/B testing on the landing pages, it’s possible to test everything from the content on the site to the color of conversion buttons.

The Google Quality Score is also impacted by the keyword match and basic content of the landing page identified. By optimizing landing pages for enhanced SEM value, it’s possible to also enhance their SEO worth at the same time!