You’ve decided to start an SEO campaign, or you’re planning to increase the efforts of your current strategy. Either way, you’re going to need some help. It’s difficult, and nearly impossible, for a single untrained individual to master all the knowledge and work necessary to promote and nurture an SEO campaign—even a relatively small one.
There are three main options that can help you achieve your goals of a more prominent (or introductory) SEO campaign—hire an agency, hire a full-time person, or work with a network of part-timers and independent contractors to keep all the moving parts of your campaign in working order. In my experience, entrepreneurs and marketing managers tend to lean toward the full-time expert, especially in the early stages of consideration.
I suspect this is in large part because of the human advantages an in-house expert can provide: control and personality. An in-house, dedicated worker might be more loyal and more malleable than an external agency, and he/she can at least bring a new friendly face into the office. To be sure, in-house SEO experts have a lot of advantages and are the right decision for some businesses, but before you pull the trigger, remember these considerations:
Price is always a hard consideration, because it varies for every level and every application. There are expensive agencies, cheap agencies, and everything in between, and each agency offers different packages and price levels, so how can you compare that to the projected monthly salary of your prospective full-time employee?
The short answer is, you can’t, but you can compare a handful of select packages from some professional agencies against what your candidates would potentially offer. You could even bring this up in the interview process—assuming you’ll pay the same monthly rate for an agency or a full-time employee, ask the prospective employee if he/she will be able to match or improve upon all the services offered by the agency. Of course, raw task completion doesn’t tell you much about work quality, but you’ll have to rely on your instincts for that one.
As you review your candidates for the full-time position, pay close attention to where their expertise lies. For example, do you have one who specializes in content and another who specializes in web coding and onsite optimization? Do you have one who claims to be a “general” expert?
One of the major drawbacks of a single full-time SEO pro is the narrow range of expertise the position can offer. It’s nearly impossible to be a true “expert” in all areas of SEO, so no matter who you hire, you’re going to have a handful of key weaknesses. This won’t kill your campaign, especially if you have someone familiar or well-versed in most areas, but an agency or a fleet of freelancers might be able to give you more pointed expertise in each significant area.
Let’s play with a hypothetical situation here: you’ve hired a full-time SEO expert, and the first few months have gone well. You’re seeing more traffic and your ranks are objectively increasing. But then your ranks take a tumble and the drop remains consistent for another two months. What do you do?
The options here are pretty limited. You can hold your expert accountable, requesting more effort in certain areas or a change in strategy, but the expert may only be familiar with a handful of recovery options. Full-time agencies usually offer more accountability, with a range of different options in the event of a setback, and sometimes a formal guarantee on results.
SEO is a team sport, even if you only hire one person for the full-time position. Your web developers need to be aware of SEO best practices and respond quickly to new changes that Google might require. Your writers should know what keywords and topics you’re targeting. Your social media team needs to promote content in a way that generates more interest in your content and your site. Your full-time SEO manager can’t work in a vacuum—he/she needs to work with the other members of your team if you want to succeed as a group.
The SEO world changes all the time. There are new updates that roll out, new technologies that develop, and even new search trends that need to be taken into consideration when updating or auditing a current strategy. Is your new hire going to be proactive in scouting for these changes and responding to them?
This is, of course, possible, but as a single SEO rep for a company, it’s easy to fall into a groove or a rut that prevents you from changing your approach. Agencies have to adapt to stay competitive and keep their clients seeing results, and freelancers know they’ll be out of a job if they don’t keep up with the latest trends.
There’s no right way or wrong way to manage your SEO campaign—just like there’s no right or wrong way to build a brand, what truly matters is that your efforts match your company’s core identity and your goals. If you’re having trouble making the final decision, remember this: it’s never too late to switch things up, and there’s no rule against hybridizing different approaches. If you end up hiring an in-house expert and you’re not satisfied with the results, consider bringing in some supplementary freelancers, or switch to working with a full-time agency. SEO is a long-term strategy, so there’s always time to change paths.