Bringing SEO In-House – An Agency’s Perspective

Julia Fayre
Julia Fayre

Heledd Jones wrote a great piece here in Econsultancy on the merits of bringing SEO in-house. I wanted to offer an agency’s perspective on doing just that, and how best go about it.

Heledd rightly argues that companies can save money and have greater control by executing tasks in-house. Meanwhile, they can hire young talent with money that would otherwise go to agency fees.

As she states: “owning some of this work in-house means you have full control. You know exactly what’s happening and where your money’s going.” This is right on target and large organizations should make a concerted effort to own their SEO campaigns and to follow the steps that Heledd lays out.

But the action of bringing SEO in-house is complicated and requires time, effort and, in most cases, collaboration with your existing agency.

Here are some additional considerations you need to account for as you embark on this process:

A marketing graduate is not an SEO

SEO is complex and it’s not always reasonable to hire someone with a BA in marketing and a Google+ profile, and expect them to succeed. Most marketing managers have a top-level understanding of SEO and will be find it challenging to train their new hires to be experts.

Specialists are expensive

If you can’t trust your SEO to a recent recruit then it’s natural to hire a specialist in-house. But specialists are expensive, especially if you don’t have enough to work to fill all of their time. This is one of the main reasons agencies exist: they (generally) hire and retain top-level talent and can leverage that skill for your company.

Look for an agency that has a stable, expert team and transition plans in the event that they do have any turnover.

SEO is complex

Large websites are unique and present specific challenges that demand complex solutions. There is no out of the box solution for a million page website with countless features. These websites need teams of SEOs who can collaborate on solutions with your in-house staff.

How do you bring SEO in-house without compromising execution? Heledd’s approach is spot-on with a four step process: senior management support, resourcing, tools and KPI setting.

But given the challenges I’ve laid out above, there are some additional steps you should consider as you and your agency transition to an in-house led formation.

Understand your capabilities

The key to moving work in-house is an understanding of what you can reasonably take on. What tasks are simple and can be done by a junior hire or existing staff? Which require a high degree of specialization that you don’t currently have?

Divide your projects into those lists and assign them to internal staff or to your agency. You can claw back projects when you develop the capabilities to do them.

Also push your agency to innovate and bring forward new projects that make use of their expertise and justify their fees.

Avoidable scalable tasks

Companies should avoid taking on tasks that need a great deal of expertise, and those that benefit from economies of scale. Link development and SEO copywriting both need large amounts of staff that you don’t want to employ full time.

You don’t want to hire 30 copywriters for a large site re-write and then lay them off 6 months later. So use agencies to scale for you, when you know you’re likely to decrease your requirement in the future.

The agency as a trainer

Employing an agency is an excellent way to gain IP (intellectual property) and they can train your team in SEO. Do this through training sessions and by paying attention to all the information they send over. Read the agency’s report, ask them questions and make note of the answers, and over time you and your team will learn.

Over the course of years, your in-house staff can learn a great deal from your agency and begin to take on more and more tasks themselves.

SEO is no longer an optional activity and it’s only natural for companies to bring it in-house. This should be applauded. But it is not a simple or speedy process, and you should not discount the scalability and expertise that agencies provide.

Of course, it’s all about the agency you hire. Get stuck with a bad one and you’ll long to bring it all in-house and toss those SEO geeks to the curb. But find a good one, one that adds a fresh perspective, and you can work together to gradually bring SEO in-house.

And of course any agency worthy of the name does a good job of taking their clients out for dinner. So at least they’ll be worth a pint or two!