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SEO: agency v in-house

Choosing how to implement a successful SEO strategy is a big decision for any company. Laurence Knopf investigates some of the advantages of engaging in the process in-house, or opting for an outside SEO agency.

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Choosing an SEO agency or in-house resource

Search engine optimisation (SEO) has emerged over the past decade as one of the most effective online marketing tools, rapidly bringing companies more business and new trading partners. The processes involved in optimisation are an increasingly complex arena, with continual updates to algorithms requiring an evolving level of technical skills. 

Most companies that rely on their website to generate business need to consider SEO to some degree, even if they ultimately decide to take their chances without it. If they do take it forward, then the first big question they need to ask themselves is whether to try and engage in the process in-house, or through an agency.
Here, we will explore some of the advantages of each approach as well as a combination of both—all aiming for cost effective returns.
So what advantages are there from keeping the process in-house? Here are a few points:
1. Speed and flexibility
It has been argued that keeping everything in-house means a faster turnaround time. On the other hand, having a small pool of resources—perhaps just one employee charged with all the optimisation for a single business website —can mean that there is no flexibility for new additional and/or urgent tasks.
2. Costs
It has also been stated that keeping operations in-house requires a lower investment, with the company literally paying a ‘lower hourly rate’ for the work produced. One reason may be that staff who already know the website, product and company are obviously likely to need less orientation time. However, this does vary tremendously according to business needs, and exactly what the current, and future, online strategies involve. There is also the question of the human resources costs involved in recruitment, and whether the post(s) can be flexible enough to provide value for money in the long-term.
3. Background knowledge
The ultimate reason for performing any type of optimisation in the first place is to bring more paying customers and clients to the business. An in-house SEO department or employee with a suitable level of competence and experience can help the whole team understand more about the processes involved. Liaising with different departments can mean developing more understanding of customer client and supplier behaviours and preferences, which can in turn better inform and support the online marketing strategy. Simply by focusing exclusively on the relevant sector, it follows that there may be more scope to track the traffic trends and most appropriate strategies for your particular niche. Within the company, it may also be easy to rapidly promote sensitivity to the ideas, core messages, and topics for optimisation that define both the company and its marketing objectives.
Looking elsewhere

Employing the services of a professional SEO company,
and its more substantial resources, could give your
company access to a broader swathe of industry-specific
business intelligence

So, what about an SEO company? Here’s a few points on what such firms can offer:
1. A broader vision
One of the drawbacks of the familiarity of an in-house system is that it may be easier to become entrenched in certain everyday practices, missing out on other opportunities. It can also be the case that the day-to-day workload does not allow sufficient time for reflexion and uncovering new possibilities. In terms of fresh high quality copy, a staff member who works on nothing but the one business website may find it challenging to continually generate genuinely engaging, end-user and search engine friendly copy. The wider resources of a good SEO company can mean a wider choice of professionals to consult with.

Although it may seem more cost effective to work in-house, the investment in an SEO company may mean a more beneficial return on your business website as a whole

There is also the outside perspective for troubleshooting; why have some campaigns simply not produced more business? Why do certain pages perform better than others? External consultants can bring a broader view of technical aspects, with access to knowledge about online marketing, economic trends, keyword trends and so on. They can advise on the effects of any movements within the search algorithm for your sector and recommend remedial actions. Although it may seem more cost effective to work in-house, the investment in an SEO company may mean a more beneficial return on your business website as a whole. It would not be possible to replicate their experience by using a member of staff who completes optimisation tasks as a part-time concern.
It is also worth noting that many argue that it is becoming more and more difficult to find the right calibre of staff for this work in house. Who can interview any in-house SEO candidates and judge which one has the suitable skills profile? Ultimately, the level of expertise available through an external consultant cannot be replaced.
2. Costs and flexibility
One advantage of the better agencies is greater flexibility on costs and commitment. You can choose to scale and outsource your operations, allowing you to tailor your spend. You can increase your optimisation activities at strategic points in the year, rather than a salary or retainer. There are also advantages for speed, with the better agencies able to respond faster to a request, rather an an in house employee who has other tasks.
3. Playing to strengths
A final argument in favour of using an SEO company is that it allows specialist contractors to focus on their particular area of expertise, while you focus on your core business. One solution could be to maximise on the intimate ‘background knowledge’ available within the company by having staff allocate pre-determined manageable blocks of time for liaison with external providers. Optimisation tasks could then be allocated in a cost effective manner as a working partnership. Another is to allow the external provider to assume all responsibility for the task and dedicate more limited liaison time to key in-company personnel.
In practice, a mix of agency and in-house work is often the best way forward for companies that need optimal flexibility in terms of both their budget and resource. SEO is now without a doubt the most fundamental platform underpinning any online marketing activities. Online/digital marketing is now placed as one of the key drivers of the future of the marketing business as a whole.  Whatever the budget, today’s businesses simply cannot afford to ignore the need to invest in SEO, whether it is in-house, or with the help of external consultants or services.
Laurence Knopf is the managing director of Search Engine Rescue, a leading UK SEO company delivering cost effective optimisation packages for all sizes of UK businesses across a diverse array of competitive industries.

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