Insourcing vs. Outsourcing Your SEO


At some point, every company with an online presence needs to make a critical decision about managing the search engine optimization (SEO) of their website. The big decision boils down to this: whether to insource or outsource your SEO. That decision should be based on whether you have the internal resources, expertise, and risk tolerance to successfully manage SEO. 

Unfortunately, far too many companies forgo the cost-benefit analysis of hiring an outside expert and take the cheaper do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to SEO.  Often the results of a DIY approach are similar to doing complex electrical and plumbing work on your home yourself. For some companies with the right internal staff and skills, things turn out just fine. Others end up burning down the house or standing ankle deep in water. While this may seem flippant, companies that rely on search marketing to generate ecommerce sales or lead generation often have to make staff cuts when things go wrong. Properly managed SEO can make the difference between a healthy or anemic bottom line.

The cold, hard reality is that to be successful in SEO today is not as simple as picking up a few top rated books on Amazon.  You can’t just buy a few books and instruct your internal marketing staff to start cramming on SEO and the internals of Google Analytics. While a crash course approach can work in some cases, it will only get you so far. True expertise in SEO comes from trial and error (experimentation), strong analytical insights, understanding how your customers think, and dedication to staying on top of the latest SEO algorithm changes. 

To complicate matters even further, what are effective SEO tactics today may not work tomorrow. Every day, hundreds of thousands of companies worldwide are trying to claw their way to the top of the search results heap by using a variety of white hat and black hat techniques in an attempt to outsmart the software engineers at Google. In response, Google’s web spam team, led by Matt Cutts, continuously and diligently updates the Google search algorithm to filter out the junk and return relevant results. Without these continuous changes to the search algorithm, Google would lose customers and Bing or some new search engine startup woud take the lead.

Still think DIY SEO is easy?

Run a search on eLance or oDesk for freelance writers. When you do, you will see hundreds of job postings for companies looking for freelance writers to crank out 500-word articles optimized for SEO at $10 or less a piece. In addition, you’ll see help wanted ads for writers to create spun articles for SEO. These ads represent just the tip of the iceberg of companies that are trying to manipulate search to their advantage. Apparently these companies did not hear about the Google Penguin algorithm update (a.k.a. the web spam update), nor have they read any of Google’s recent patents on detecting web spam. The ugly web spam issue highlights the importance of generating high quality content for your website. Today, high quality content optimized for SEO is the only surefire method of generating quality search traffic.

Still not sure whether to insource or outsource your search engine optimization?

Here are 10 things you need to consider when deciding to outsource versus insource your SEO: 

  1. Since there is no licensing requirement to become an “SEO Expert,” make sure you look at the track record of the firm you are hiring. Check their references. Look at their client’s websites.  Make sure they can deliver exactly what they say they can deliver. Peel the onion.
  2. Determine if your potential outsourcing firm has real world data to prove they have generated results and ROI. They should have plenty of before and after graphs with data to show how they moved the needle for their clients.
  3. When selecting an outsource SEO firm, you want to meet the people who will be doing the actual SEO work. If you can’t meet the staff who are going to do the actual work, you should not hire the firm.
  4. It is important to have a realistic time frame and budget for generating results from an outsourcing firm’s SEO efforts. Expect anywhere from 3 to 6 months to see the needle move significantly in Google Analytics from organic SEO.  Important note: with paid search, the time frames are much shorter, as are the corresponding testing cycles.
  5. Make sure the key people at the SEO firm truly understand your company and your customer. If they can’t get inside your customers’ heads and figure out how your potential customers think during the buying process, they will not be able drive the right kind of traffic to your website.
  6. If you plan on insourcing your SEO, make sure the person you assign to the SEO program has the time to dedicate to the task. In the beginning it’s a full time job. 
  7. When looking for internal staff to handle SEO, look for strong math and analytical skills.
  8. Expect SEO to take longer and have less of an impact when you insource your SEO. 
  9. Expect a lot of trial and error and a slow feedback loop when you insource your SEO.
  10. If you have the budget to hire a marketer with SEO in-house expertise, don’t expect the same caliber of experience as someone who has worked with multiple clients at an SEO firm.

Regardless of whether you decide to insource or outsource your SEO, we strongly recommend that everyone on your marketing team have a basic understanding of SEO best practices. That education process can start by reading our SEO best practices blog posts and by reading some by leading authorities on SEO, Matt Cutts and Avinash Kausik. Good luck!