SEO: Agency or in-house?

A question about SEO (search engine optimization) on Quora stimulated me to write something I have had in my head for a while. I hear this one a lot:

What is better, hiring an employee for SEO long-term or hiring an agency for a new website?

I advise clients on this often and have run top search engine marketing programs for billion-dollar companies and small companies alike. My answer is not very cookie-cutter.

The key is to look at search engine marketing as part of a strategy. Tackling SEO by itself is a sure way to get bambooozled by shady practitioners. Sadly, the majority of people who claim to be “SEOs” are either charlatans or incompetents. If someone tells you they will get you on page one of Google for x% of your 50 keywords, run.

Sounds extreme, but it is true.

So, what do you do? You develop a coordinated marketing strategy that addresses your business needs and search is one element, not unlike advertising, brochures, your brand, or anything else.

I wish you could just hire someone, especially given how technical SEO is and how it changes, but you need a high-level understanding. I advise my clients to read “The Truth About SEO” by Rebecca Lieb and/or Moz.com’s Beginner’s Guides.

Then hire a marketing person: Senior-level if you don’t have a strategy (or hire a senior-level marketing consultant like me to build a strategy); mid-level if you have a strategy; and have that person read the same books. Then, you can hire and manage an SEO contractor or agency.

All that said, there are great SEOs and SEO agencies and they have expertise and stay current in a way most in-house marketing staffs cannot. But when you hire an agency, they must be managed and you must have in-house staff who understands search.

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