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Is it best to outsource SEO or keep it in-house?

Perhaps this is an unfair question for a digital marketing agency to ask. It’s a leading question isn’t it? You can guess what the answer will be. But you might want to take the time to read the reasoning because we don’t like to be blatantly biased.

Let’s start by saying that in-house SEO is not, by itself, a bad idea – if it’s managed correctly and you have crack personnel working for you. But it is a mammoth undertaking and, depending on the size of the business, requires a small team rather than one person.

Lisa Barone cites Chris Hooley, who outlines the tasks that an in-house SEO (team or individual) will be responsible for:

  • Link building: includes link negotiation, social media and what Hooley calls repetitive tasks, such as directory submissions, content distribution and social media participation not directly related link building.
  • Content: includes the creation of blogs, articles, press releases and onsite copy.
  • Code/website development: includes web programming, site structure management and page creation and optimisation.

On Search Engine Journal Patricia Skinner adds keyword research, which needs to be done properly or the whole strategy falls apart; competitor analysis; correcting technical issues such as canonicalisation and 404 errors; correctly formatting meta-descriptions, alt tags and URLs; internal linking structure; and progress report creation.

Does that sound intimidating yet? Because these aren’t just once-off tasks; these are things that have to be constantly monitoring, tweaked and attended to. Constantly.

On Search Engine Watch Melanie Mitchell suggests that in-house is best for large companies with very large websites. She suggests a team of not more than 10 people that includes one or two SEO/SEM experts, a systems architect, a technical developer, one or two design or programming people, a programme manager and one or two project managers.

Cost/benefit analysis

Jeffery Beale lays out the costs matter-of-factly:

If you’re hiring someone to manage your in-house SEO you have to deal with upfront recruitment costs. Then once you’ve hired someone you have a whole new salary to deal with (Beale gives $85 703 per year as an example). If you’re going to utilise a current employee you have to factor in the loss of productivity in her current role, as well as the time it will take to train her up and get comfortable with SEO and mistakes made as a result of inexperience.

But, let’s get back to Beale’s example. $85 703 per year equates to $7141.92 per month; if you give them a three-month trial period and they bomb it will have cost you $21 425.76 in cold cash and set your SEO efforts back three months, which will take additional budget to rectify.

If you hire an SEO agency, which Beale reckons will cost in the region of $35 000 per year, there is no time wasted with training or getting to grips with the industry, no loss in productivity as departments take care of the separate tasks instead of someone juggling them, and if it doesn’t work and you have to look elsewhere the cost of a three-month is considerably less than three months worth of a salary.

Because SEO or digital marketing agencies have specialists to take care of the various aspects of online marketing, tasks can be carried out simultaneously, which once again results in a time and cost savings. Furthermore, it’s part of SEO companies’ mandate to keep abreast of developments online, changes in search algorithms and varying search trends.

If you’re still not convinced, perhaps you’d like to see what your competitors are doing?

According to a recent report by SEMPO and Econsultancy, State of Search Marketing Report 2011, companies are increasingly turning to professional digital marketing agencies to manage their SEO, PPC and social media needs. The reasons cited in the report include lack of in-house skills, the time required, lack of in-house tools and technology and the cost-effectiveness of outsourcing.

Given all the information at hand, which would you choose?

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