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5 Questions: The “In-House or Search Agency” Decision for SEO

October 22nd, 2008 | | SEO Management

I’m a newlywed, and as our registry gifts rolled in before the wedding, I saw kitchen gadgets and tools that inspired me to channel my inner homemaker and attempt culinary feats that would challenge even the most skilled home chef. After all, we all know that making your food yourself saves money and just tastes better, right? Tell that to my husband, and my smoke alarm, because I don’t think they got the memo.

Like my culinary career, an SEO campaign is a complex concept and the project requires more than just tools—and the decision to do it yourself when you are not properly prepared will not save you money and give you better results. One of the biggest, and probably most difficult, decisions made with SEO is whether to do-it-yourself or seek out a search marketing firm or other professional assistance. Like any major investment, it’s something that businesses toss and turn over but it’s not the kind of decision anyone is really prepared to make going in. There are things to consider, questions to answer, and resources to assess before you can really make an informed decision as to who is going to do your SEO.

If you’re planning to start an SEO project, or reassessing whether to continue a current project in-house or with a professional search agency, here’s a quick assessment to help you find the option that’s right for you.

What do you want to do?

Are you motivated to handle your SEO project in-house and willing to do what it takes to make it successful? This one could be a little controversial with some SEO professionals but your desires should be an important consideration in the project. After all, your business is proof that motivation and desire can result in your success—and you also know that you can’t do everything yourself. If you choose to handle SEO in-house, you have to want to do it if you’re going to be successful. If the decision is made to handle SEO in-house to save time or money, your results will likely be comparable to my first homemade meal—underwhelming to say the least.

On the other hand, if you do end up working with an SEO firm, they should understand your desire to be hands-on and knowledgeable about the project, and keep you more involved in the details and decision-making. Hiring SEO professionals does not mean you give up control of your website or lose control of your project.

If you don’t have the motivation to handle what can be a complex and arduous task, your best bet is to look for a professional to handle or assist you in your SEO project. If you’re ready and willing to handle this on your own, hold on. There are more questions to answer before you make a final decision.

Do you have the experience?

This question is fairly straightforward and very important. Do you or your staff have the knowledge and experience to implement a successful SEO project? Are you willing to invest in experienced staff to handle your SEO?

The field of SEO and online marketing is constantly evolving and changing. When you’re choosing a team to handle your SEO, whether they are internal or outside agency, your first question to them should be “what is your level of experience with SEO and what have your results been like with other projects.” If anyone is thrown by those questions, move on.

If you’re hoping to handle SEO internally and you don’t have the experienced staff, you can look to hire an experienced SEO professional to head up the project in-house. This can be done on a project basis, contract basis or as a full-time addition to your team. Just remember that SEO projects require long-term monitoring, management, and updating. Make sure you have staff that can handle on-going demands, including internal struggles unique to in-house SEO staffs.

Ready to tap your internal talent or hire an SEO guru to work with you? You’re not quite ready to start just yet.

Do you have the time?

Can you devote the time necessary to make this a successful project? Most businesses these days are so overwhelmed with tasks and projects that things often get pushed to the back burner. If you want long-term results with SEO, there is a lot of time that needs to be devoted to the project up-front and in maintaining and updating your work constantly. Failing to maintain the work done in the outset can put you right back at square one—a big investment lost.

SEO is really a full-time job, and your staff or the professionals you work with need to have the necessary time to devote to your project. Consider the breadth and scope of your project and honestly look at the time your staff can devote. Don’t risk your investment on finding time here and there—you won’t see results. And, ask outside SEO professionals what time they foresee devoting to the project, find out the amount of time they will need from you and your staff. Communicate time constraints upfront so that your SEO firm can account for those issues and keep the project moving.

If time is an issue for you and your staff, consider partnering with an SEO professional. You’ll be protecting your investment and planning for long-term success. If you’ve got the time and are still ready to make this an in-house project, you have a few more questions.

Do you have the budget?

This is where most people start, and really it should be the last question because your answers to everything else will determine what you are budgeting for. If, after doing this quick assessment, you find that you have what it takes to take on your SEO project in-house, then you need to assess your budget for additional, experienced SEO staff, tools necessary to plan and implement the project, and ongoing costs associated with the project. If, however, you decide to work with outside SEO professionals, you need to work with them to determine project costs and ongoing, maintenance fees.

If you have come to this point and are preparing to do this internally, it’s a good idea to still look at the costs associated with working with outside professionals. You may find that they can offer a better projected return on investment, or that the costs of the project are lower than yours would be if you hired the necessary staff and devoted all the time to the project. Compare your cost projections and talk to your finance people—they will help crunch the numbers and make a decision.

What should you do?

First and foremost, make an informed decision. After you’ve gone through this quick assessment you have an idea of where you should be headed for SEO, but that’s not the end of the process. Talk to people—colleagues, SEO professionals, membership organizations—anyone who can help shed some light on your decision or share experiences that you can learn from. Even the guys at Harvard are looking at the effectiveness of taking marketing and advertising in-house, so there’s plenty of information out there to tap in your decision.

My best advice for embarking on your SEO project is to be realistic, think long-term and consider all of your options before jumping in. My best advice for newlyweds; register for a cookbook and classes along with all of those shiny gadgets (and keep fresh batteries in your smoke detector).

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