In-house SEOs generally don’t get much of a voice in our industry. I spent my entire SEO career working from the agency side, years before setting up NeoMam. At the early stages of our agency, most of our work was sold through some of the largest agencies in the UK.
Over the past few years I have seen a large number of skilled practitioners move in-house and I have been very impressed with what they have been able to achieve, compared to what I saw from agencies.
In this post, I have worked with a number of the top in-house SEO’s in our industry to understand some of the benefits of working in-house over choosing an agency.
Here are five reasons why you should bring SEO in-house:
The days of a cookie cutter approach to SEO are over. You can no longer have one process that can be applied directly to every type of client. Agencies are also businesses and providing a customised service for every client will quickly become costly.
When SEO was more about the purchasing of anchor text links, there was far less need for complex changes from the client’s side. SEO in 2016 is far more technical and any supporting content marketing requires significant input from marketing, branding, PR and product teams.
An in-house team is built from the ground up to support the unique issues facing that company and have a far bigger chance of providing a return on investment.
“Just over two years ago I made the decision at Debenhams to remove our SEO agency and invest in an in-house SEO team and since then have never looked back.
All of the issues and struggles that we used to have with an agency disappeared almost immediately. We no longer waste time debating why targets are being missed, spend a significant proportion of the SEO budget on management fees and have to explain for the 20th time why renaming an entire category or implementing canonical tags will take over one year to achieve.
Agency priorities and in-house priorities were often very misaligned which was evidenced by Debenhams going through 3 different SEO agencies within three years. The agencies were too slow to provide support and just couldn’t adapt to suit our ways of working and provide the bespoke service that we required.
Within two years I’ve grown my team from 1 to 10 people who are all completely aligned with the needs of the business. They know who to speak to, how to speak to them and what to say to obtain sign off and support. They know what SEO activity is achievable, are commercially focused with what will deliver profit (not revenue) and what will create a positive impression with the PR team. Not only that but we are now incredibly reactive, we provide insight and support across the business within the hour without having to wait for an agency response or a PowerPoint 5 days later and can provide immediate training. With a greater presence of SEOs within head office, we are in more meetings and influencing decision-making every day of the week whether it be what content to produce and what the website should look like right up to buying level where our insight often feeds into what the buyers should be buying for the UK market.
Not every business will be the same; we are a very large organisation compared to most, however for Debenhams the in-house setup has achieved significantly greater results than any of the previous agency relationships.”
“Usually, in-house teams can react a lot faster and action new plans much quicker than agencies. This is partly due to the lower amount of communication levels that is required and partly because in-house SEO teams learn the business much more than agencies. They know what they can and can’t do based on previous experience with creative directors but also know what angles that they can play with.”
Getting SEO advice implemented is a big challenge, especially with large enterprise clients. With an internal team, you can break down the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality and find a way to get SEO implemented quicker.
When you compare an outside agency that meets with their client sporadically against a team working together in the same office every day of the week, it’s clear who has more power to get changes actioned.
“Working with the internal IT team helps get implementation done quickly. Currently, we were working on getting videos embedded and from an agency that could take 6 months plus.
Now that I’m in-house (worked agency 4 yrs) it’s safe to say that being in-house has helped pushed, and reduced cost, to make the site a better all around experience”
“If the organisation has in-house SEO function, there’s usually a good chance they understand the value SEO can provide, and as such you can often be in a better position to action any changes you need that may not be directly within your sphere of influence (for example technical changes to the website).”
“Working as an in-house SEO manager with the support of a development and content team allows for responsive implementation of ideas. With increasing competition for results, as well as rising investment in SEO, the ability to act swiftly has never been more important.
In contrast to an agency environment, in-house SEOs are able to stay ahead of the competition by removing the barriers to production. This all too often can hold a project back and devalue the relevancy and competitive elements at the time of release.”
Modern SEO can no longer exist in its silo. Good SEO campaigns need support from the head of marketing and above. Without approval from the leadership team, it’s likely that SEO won’t receive the support from the wider business.
An internal SEO team can build strong relationships and educate the wider team on the benefits of SEO. In comparison, an SEO agency will have to rely on pre-existing relationships and the monthly or quarterly meetings with department heads.
“Having a full 360 view of what’s going on in the business and ability to impact internal decisions is, in my opinion, the biggest benefit of an in-house SEO team. External SEO agencies face a substantial internal barrier when it comes to a decision-making process and rely on internal people to get things done. That’s not the case for in-house SEO team who are heavily involved in decisions as the internal stakeholders understand the implications of not looping in the SEO team.
Being in-house also mean you get to see the full impact of your actions on the business which is highly rewarding and challenging at the same time.”
“Having worked as a Head of SEO for one of the biggest companies in the UK, where your responsibility is to set strategy and educate, inspire and more often than not, be a politician (in the corporate sense) so your team can drive for the success of your SEO strategy.”
There are many benefits to working with a search marketing agency, but it is inevitable that you will never be that agency’s sole focus. One of the benefits of bringing the function in-house is the ability to focus on your site and business needs to gain a really detailed understanding of what is happening.
Search is getting more, rather than less, complicated. In some respects (such as outreach) it is also getting much harder. As such, the role of specialist agencies that complete specific tasks as part of your strategy becomes vital.
“Having not long left an agency I’ve immediately noticed the amount of focus you can give a site when dedicated to it every day. Organic search is more complex than it has ever been, and if you really want to move a site forwards it demands focus. There are a lot of factors to consider and testing is vital to success in SEO.
I think often the client-agency relationship is too focused on the ‘expertise’ of agencies, when in reality there are not many situations and decisions in search that are not subjective. I can now see the benefit of having an overarching view on what is happening and then bringing specialist agencies or consultants to do a specific job.”
“In competitive search verticals it’s really important to closely monitor and audit your backlink profile. Unfortunately, this has to be a weekly task in our industry and takes up a lot of time.
Doing this in-house is the only way to keep this process cost effective.”
One of the biggest challenges for SEO in 2016 is producing high quality content that is relevant to your brand. Agencies spend a lot of time trying to understand a business but there is a limit to how much time they can spend with each client.
In-house teams sit with the wider business and can uncover opportunities that an agency might miss. They will find it easier to uncover knowledge and talent within the business that can be leveraged to create content that stands out from competitors.
“With a greater presence of SEOs within head office, we are in more meetings and influencing decision making every day of the week whether it be what content to produce and what the website should look like right up to buying level where our insight often feeds into what the buyers should be buying for the UK market.”
“From my perspective bringing SEO in-house can lead to greater oversight of content and keyword opportunities. Whether it’s an ad hoc discussion with a customer service colleague or a marketing meeting with senior staff, those lightbulb moments of great content can come from anywhere at anytime.
An in-house team can be much better placed to pick up on these opportunities and then rapidly capitalise on them. If it’s done right and it leverages the rich experience within the business, these content ideas can often pre-empt ad hoc or seasonal changes in search volume and push your content ahead of your competitors.
Additionally, an internal SEO team are more likely to ensure that the source of those ideas is officially acknowledged, thus improving internal PR for the department and improving company cooperation. In my experience, sourcing ideas from internal teams, creating great content which ranks, and then feeding those results back into the wider team, is the best way to secure and improve buy-in for SEO and future content spend.“
“No one is better equipped to continuously develop a company’s SEO strategy than a SEO professional that works in-house. This is irrevocably true for a simple, but extremely important reason: the in-house professional knows the service/product and the company’s audience in a way that is impossible for someone working from the outside. Knowing your people and planning with them in mind is the basis of a successful SEO strategy.”
I am certain that many SEO agency owners will disagree with many of the points brought up by this post.
I personally believe our industry is changing dramatically and that the old agency model is outdated to fit the current challenge of competing online.
NeoMam has always been about specialisation to the detriment of missing out on other types of work:
- We don’t do SEO strategy
- We don’t do keyword research
- We don’t do technical SEO recommendations
- We don’t help with site migration
- We don’t do PPC
- We don’t touch your newsletter
We do create awesome content and guarantee that big name publishers are going to pick it up.
I expect over the next 5 years we are going to see more agencies become experts at their specific skill set and see far less of the generalist agencies that provide everything under one roof.
And in 10 years it will likely all change again as we know the SEO industry doesn’t stand still.