By bringing search marketing in-house, a company has already made the determination that their SEO efforts are better managed internally than externally. Whatever the specific thought processes behind that decision, there are many realms where in-house SEO may offer an advantage over outsourcing of those same activities. In this sense, in-house SEO may be thought of as a competitive edge. And like any competitive advantage, it should be leveraged to maximize the benefits of that advantage.
This is not to say there may not be specific advantages to engaging independent contractors or using an agency, but that by thinking through and exploiting the inherent strengths of in-house SEO, you can improve the return on your in-house investment. Put another way, what can you do – or do better – that a company relying on external SEO support cannot?
SEO as an incentive
Regardless of the setting one of the biggest challenges for SEO, and in particular organic SEO, is getting all the players on board. Most SEO initiatives require both non-SEO talent and buy-in for tactical execution. Your strategy to create search-friendly URLs may be brilliant, but is not going to amount to much unless your developers also think it is a good idea, and put it on their production schedule. What’s in it for them?
Presumably, your company will benefit from increased search traffic or they would not have invested in SEO in the first place. Success in search means better profitability for the company. So by helping you, your colleagues will also be helping themselves. Bonuses may rely on company goals that search traffic can help meet. In the case of a start-up, employees have even more of a vested interest in the success or failure of efforts that are not directly under their control.
The benefits of SEO are not going to be much of an incentive for this sort of self-interested collegiality unless you very clearly demonstrate these benefits. With each success, loop back with those who helped make that success possible and provide statistical, bottom-line metrics that quantify that success. “Thanks for your help with this project” is nice, but not quite as effective as, “thanks for your help with this project, which resulted in increased revenues of $50,000 from search engine traffic in September.”
Just a desk away
Hopefully, even without the promise of direct financial reward, your workplace fosters a spirit of camaraderie and teamwork. Building on that collegial spirit by developing close working relationships across the company is one of the most important advantages an in-house SEO program has over externally-managed search marketing, especially if that external relationship is literal, where contractors are not physically found in the office.
Again, SEO requires collective effort, and the more in which you involve your colleagues and provide feedback to them, the more motivated and effective collaborators they will become. Furthermore, by providing ongoing information, training and advice on SEO best practices, you can help bring the excitement, promise and payoff of search marketing efforts to the entire company. All things being equal, management will probably grant you more time to spend educating your colleagues than they would to a contractor or agency; if they’re enlightened, in-house SEO education is probably one of the reasons they hired you in the first place!
Search marketing aside, an in-house search program can, in itself, help build bridges that foster greater communication and teamwork in a company. There are few activities that cross over so many departmental boundaries, and one of those very specific advantages of in-house SEO is helping to globally connect the dots within an organization. More times than I can remember, a meeting or email has ended up with me introducing Jane to John’s initiative. Your media buyer may not even know where your developers sit; your server administrator may not even know you have an affiliate marketing team. You talk to them all (or you should), and one of the most important non-search services an in-house SEO can provide is putting the right stakeholders together.
Building your team, your way
If you are fortunate enough to have an SEO team, or if by reaping the fruits of your labor, you are able to start building one with the cash-flow you have generated, giving you the ability assemble a team that precisely addresses the needs of your company’s search marketing needs. You will be able to use hiring criteria that include specialist knowledge of what your company does or sells, filling gaps in your team’s abilities, or even personality. One way or another, you do not have to rely on the talent pool of a third-party provider.
Depending on the size of your company, you also may have a talent pool right at hand. By recruiting internally, you should have a much better idea of a potential SEO’s abilities and work habits than those of an external applicant. Whatever your organization’s view on internal career moves, it will be much, much messier for a contractor or agency to bring an insider onto a company’s outsourced SEO team.
Furthermore, you may want to bring people onto your team that are not even experienced in SEO. An agency is never going to send you someone to train on the job (and a company is even more unlikely to allow that), but that may precisely be what your team needs. An individual with the right background, skills and mindset may have the potential to be an excellent SEO with your training and guidance. Good SEO help is, as they say, hard to find, and you may have better success cultivating SEOs than trying to find them.
I built a very talented team over the course of time by using these methods. In the end, the majority of my teammates came from elsewhere in the company, and the majority of them had very little or no experience in search marketing. Yet, in a very short period of time, they were producing stellar results, and all (as far as I can determine) have remained in search marketing.
Testing the waters
Whether or not you have a team or you are the in-house team, you probably have more latitude to conduct tests than would be granted to an external contractor. Longer-term tests, particularly important for organic search optimization – can be undertaken without the risk that you will lose or no longer be able to afford the experimenter. You may also be able to test bolder hypotheses, as there will not be the same pressure to produce conclusions that are immediately actionable and profitable. Being granted the freedom to fail is one of the greatest ways to encourage innovation, and hopefully your organization understands and embraces this concept.
At the end of the day, who benefits from the knowledge derived from an elaborate and potentially expensive test? When those tests are conducted in-house, your company and your company alone. For an agency, the lessons learned may be applied to aid any number of clients. I’m neither suggesting that agencies will share a client’s test results, nor use them to the present or future benefit of competitors, but simply that these are lessons learned in part on your dime.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the potential advantages offered by an in-house SEO program, but only examples. And there may be specific benefits for in-house SEO related to the particular niche your organization occupies. However big or small your company, and whatever industry it falls under, it will possess some advantages in search over similar companies without in-house SEO support. To make the most of those advantages, ensure you identify and exploit them.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.