Once upon a time, I had a lot of faith in SEO firms. I sought out top companies in the industry and paid thousands of dollars. What I got in return were minimal results, and what turned out to be minimal effort.

If you’re an e-commerce manager, you might be surprised to find out how easy it is to save money on the “low hanging fruit” of SEO by shifting part, or all, of your SEO efforts in-house.

There are 5 major parts of SEO that you can move in-house, and save your company between $20,000 – $120,000 dollars a year.

Keyword Analysis

When I used an SEO firm, I was charged between $200 to $500 dollars a month just for keyword analysis. Looking back, it seems wasteful: especially considering the free and inexpensive resources available online that help you select an optimal list of keyword phrases, like Google’s keyword tool. This tool is part of the Google AdWords suite, but it is just as useful for SEO.

Let’s say you have a business that sells real estate. You enter “real estate” into Google’s keyword tool and you will see huge traffic levels. By default, once you enter your keywords, the tool does a broad match. Click the box in the top left-hand sidebar that says “exact match.”

After that adjustment, the column that says “local monthly searches” (this really just means searches in your country) shows 301,000 searches per month for the exact phrase “real estate.”

If you try a more specific phrase, say “Philadelphia Real Estate”, you’ll see that the volume drops to 3,600 searches a month. Play with the tool a bit more to get comfortable, and then you can begin expanding your keywords.

Another good place to start expanding your keywords is by glancing at your competitors’ websites. Although meta-keywords are often times viewed as worthless by the SEO community at large, having meta-keywords is still a common practice. Your competitors are likely to have their targeted keywords for each page exposed to you in their HTML code and you’d be a fool not to take a look.

Simply right click on the page, select view source from the context menu, and your browser should load the HTML of the page. Once you’re looking at the HTML, press ctrl+F on your keyboard to activate the ability to search the text. Search for: “meta name=”keywords”", and if your competitor uses the keywords meta tag, your search tool should jump to it.

While you’ve got that HTML open, take a peek at your competitor’s title tags (“meta name=”title”). Make sure you don’t copy their tags. If you look at the top three ranking sites for the keywords you’re analyzing, you’ll probably see that they have the same (or strikingly similar) title tags.

Once you have a good list of keywords, you’ll want to use Market Samurai, a tool you can purchase for $99. This tool will allow you to determine how heavy the competition is for each keyword phrase and select keywords that have both a high volume of traffic, but also a low level of competition. Do your best to put yourself in your customer’s shoes, and think of how they’d approach looking for your product.

Competitive Analysis & Reporting

Competitive analysis is a service most SEO firms provide (I was charged $100 monthly, on average) to provide you reports on how well your competitors are ranking for the keywords you’re targeting. There are a few tools, paid and free, that will also provide you with similar reporting, namely SEOMoz and SEO Quake.

For about the same price as I was paying just for competitive analysis, SEOMoz (about $90 monthly) will allow you to enter three competitors and a list of keywords you want to examine. (It has a host of other tools I’ll discuss in a bit, too.) When you run the comparison, SEOMoz will show you how you rank for each keyword compared to your competition.

Another free approach to examining your comparison would be to use a tool such as SEO Quake, which is a Firefox plug-in that allows you to instantly view an array of statistics. This plugin will display a website’s Google page rank, the number of pages they have indexed in each of the major search engines, Alexa rank, the number of inbound links, even the age of their website.

I also recommend plugging your website and your competitor’s websites into Compete.com to get a general idea as to how much traffic they receive each month (but be sure to keep in mind that this is just an estimate). When examining your target keywords, be sure to logout of Google and erase all of your cookies  in order to get more neutral results.

I personally like to track ongoing rankings using Web CEO, although Market Samurai works as well. Web CEO will provide you with a report each month that shows any increase or decrease in your ranking. If you want a very basic overview of how your competition is doing, try websitegrader.com and woorank.com. These sites will also give you some helpful tips on how to improve your own SEO.

Content Creation

One of the most essential parts of a good SEO strategy is content creation. Most SEO companies charge around $100 for a piece of content, and often, unbeknownst to you, outsource the writing anyway. Content, in this case, includes any written articles targeting specific keywords being generated for your website, newsletter and blogs.

Why would you have someone else pay someone else to write about your business? When you think about it, who could write better content than people who know it best—your own in-house team? Be sure to focus on keywords when writing any articles or blogs. Using your target keywords 3 or 4 times in the article and hyperlinking them to the appropriate page on my website.

Writing content for your website and product isn’t very difficult or time consuming, so I recommend bringing content creation in house as much as possible. If that’s not possible, however, use a service like Content Network. This website will allow you to pay a fee per word for copywriting. I was able to find someone with a master’s degree in English from University of Michigan who charged 5 cents per word for their services.

Markup & Standards

Be sure to follow coding standards, and use your markup semantically. Basically, this means using only one ‘H1′ tag per page, and making sure your content is using the appropriate markup for what the content is. The web has millions and millions of free resources on basic HTML markup, and my personal favorite is the W3C, or W3Schools.

What is the relationship between markup and SEO? Spiders use your markup to determine the significance of the keywords it finds; a ‘H1′ tag, for example, means ‘This is the most important content on the page–this is what the page is about!’

According to SEOMoz: “Although employing targeted keywords in the H1 tag does not correlate well to high rankings, it does appear to provide some slight value. It’s also considered a best practice for accessibility and to describe a page’s content, hence our recommendation.” That’s just one example, but each piece of your code helps to tell the search engines the importance of the content on your page, so it’s critical to make sure that you use markup properly.

Link Building

When it comes to SEO, I’ve found two factors to be most important: strong content and good links.

As I mentioned above, content can be handled very effectively in-house, though content creation and proper markup.

The second portion is link building. A significant portion of link building methods employed by SEO companies today are frowned upon by Google. Some of these questionable methods include spamming blog comment sections, buying links through link farms, submitting your website to 1000 directories, and so on. These methods are risky and can cause you to lose ranking or even get blacklisted.

Amazingly, plenty of SEO companies use exactly those old-school tricks to get short-term results for their clients. SEO Book wrote a great article on 101 link building tactics. If you have a low budget, this is a good way to get started.

Link building, however, is a complex and constantly evolving game, requiring time and dedication. I’ve found a number of ways to get quality links for little or no cost. One of the best methods that i can give you is to give away your own product to bloggers and get reviews from relevant websites. In exchange for reviews get text links for the reviews.

It can sometimes be frustrating and annoying to wait so long for links but it is the cheapest and easiest way to get links. I have also had confirmation from some of the top link builders in the industry that this is the best way to start.

Network Locally & Getting Support

If you’re considering bringing your SEO efforts in-house, you don’t have to do it alone. There are resources online, and in real life, in your local area, where you can get support and discuss your issues.

Some of the best advice I have ever gotten was in SEO related Meetup.com gatherings and SEO blogs and forums such as the High Rankings forum, the Seer Interactive blog and the SEOMoz Pro Q&A forum. All free advice. Their tips alone could help save you up to $20,000 – $30,000 dollars a month.

You don’t have to do it all at once, either; start off slowly, maybe focus on content creation and markup optimization, and continue paying for Link Building until you’re ready to take it on.

Ultimately, you know your business, your customers, and your keywords best, so try to bring your SEO efforts in house whenever possible. You’ll not only save money, you’ll get better quality content, and learn more about your website and your customers.

If you have questions or want some advice–just ask! Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below or contact me directly.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing | SEM Industry: In House

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About The Author: has over 7 years of Internet marketing and Internet retail experience. In 2005 he founded Empirecovers.com, a leading online retailer of protective covers for automobiles, motorcycles and boats, where he leads an in-house team of designers, developers and customer service professionals.

Connect with the author via: Email | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.actwebconsulting.com Amy C. Teeple

    I agree that there are definitely things you can bring in-house IF you have a team that has the time and expertise to complete the tasks.

    I also agree that there are many SEO firms who overcharge their clients. However, there needs to be a measure of understanding when it comes to implementing SEO-related tactics. For example, if you are going to bring your content creation in-house, you should at least educate yourself (or your staff) on the best practices. For this I recommend one of the reputable content creation training programs available. Personally, I recommend Heather Lloyd-Martin’s SEO Copywriting certification (or customized training for larger companies). AWAI and Nick Usborne also offer good training options too.

    Don’t just jump into “fixing” your SEO without some knowledge of how to properly do it.

  • http://foreignthinker.wordpress.com F.T.

    It can be argued that all SEO activities could be handled internally, not just the five you have identified. However, the five you have outlined are precisely the sort of activities that organizations come to me for help, and the reason they are willing to pay my modest fees (not all SEO firms are expensive) is that these are not core competencies for a company unless they have a dedicated content team.

    Unless your business is content development, it is going to be the Achilles heel in the completion of your on-page SEO or the launching of a website 99% of the time. And given the cost of idled resources and missed deadlines this is perhaps the most important activity to outsource. Invariably, in the last 16 years of working with clients to develop sites, when content development has been tackled internally, it has been assigned to individuals who are already overloaded with activities the organization feels are of higher priority. The result of this approach has most often been, rehashed or cobbled together copy from sales material that is written with the company’s agenda top most and shoehorned into best-fit pages at the very last minute. Most are lucky if they have managed to get a likely customer query term in the body copy let alone a subhead.

    Until an organization staffs their marketing or web department with an individual whose primary responsibility is writing content (something I fully support) I just cannot agree this is a measure that will produce either result of saving money or improved site optimization.

  • http://www.empirecovers.com Jake Goldblum

    I appreciate your comments and agree. However when i first started i was a power of one and i was able to look at many forums and read a lot of books and get a head start into seo. It took a year of hard work and trial and error and we were able to get some great results from it. The point is SEO firms charge soo much for stuff that if you look at the google webmaster guide you would know what to do. Also i got pissed when they charged me 100 dollars an article when they were paying 15 dollars an article on some site with content writers. My next article will probably be “interesting seo tactics that work because we are inhouse” or if you can suggest what you find interesting i will be happy to write about it. I was told to write about my inhouse experience and i hope i accomplished that. Let me know your thoughts. My email is jake@empirecovers.com. Thank you so much for your feadback

  • reheen

    Having worked as in-House Online Marketing expert and now in a Digital Agency I have seen both sides. Personally I say there is 1 thing missing in the article when you work inhouse you dont get a Third party perspective, everyone within the company follows certain set guidelines and procedures, the degree of experimentation is not high.
    Also 1 counter argument that I would like to put up is – think SEO as Taxes – would you consider doing Taxes in-house or hire an accounting firm (who never come cheap). You can read about Taxes and laws and accounting and do it in-house – but the question to ask it – Is it worth the time and effort and what happens if you go wrong?
    Would like to hear other people’s thoughts.

  • http://www.empirecovers.com Jake Goldblum

    i think there are more than 5 areas of seo that you need to improve. I probably could have written a novel on how to do seo inhouse. I’ve read enough books. One of the things i was to share and hope i shared is even if you are inhouse which is very lonely there are still millions of communities out there that you can keep you in the loop or teach you how to do more link building. Watching seer interactive or distilled videos, watching matt cutts, talking on seo moz or high ranking forums, or even going to meetup.com where it is all about seo. I found an incredible meetup that has some top people from the industry. Isn’t this why were are on the site to learn more about how to link build and get ideas? I personally think you can do a lot of things in house before you go to an seo firm and save a lot of money. I will try to make the articles as interesting as possible and please continue the dialogue because it helps me write better articles. Look i paid a lot of money to people who have helped me with seo. I just think i can save a lot of people money. I wont tell the story of a disaster of an seo firm that i hired that ripped me off but it is one of the best firms in the east coast.

  • http://www.empirecovers.com Jake Goldblum

    sorry i wrote the last thing on my phone

  • http://nicopretorius.wordpress.com/ Nico Pretorius

    Great post, thx. I do think it depends on the size of your company though. What I found worked well for me in the past is to make the website the responsibility of the company doing my marketing. They are therefore responsible not only for SEO, but for the whole website, the content on the website and the look & feel. I use one company for this, and they grow with the business. But your article can also be used as a checklist to make sure they did what they were suppose to do (e.g. link building and doing it right), and that they did not overcharge you, as per you paying $100 per article.

  • http://www.enovabiz.in E.B.

    Yes, every aspect of SEO can be done in-house. But is it advisable? Does everyone have enough time to learn and keep up with SEO industry?

    Car manufacturers don’t make nuts or bolts. Not every car company makes even engines. They do what they are best at and outsource others. If you start doing it yourself then why stop at just SEO?

    As for the expenses. Not every SEO company is expensive & not everyone is equally good. As for hiring an inhouse SEO. Won’t he be more expensive?

    One benefit of hiring a SEO company is that when a big screwup like JC Penney’s happens you can dump the blame on your SEO company and claim you’re innocent! :)

  • http://www.empirecovers.com Jake Goldblum

    just to go back to the point yes you have to be an expert in everything but for small companies and medium size companies it is not that expensive to hire an inhouse person. Read some books and get some information to make the content relevant to your keywords. Honestly putting your keywords two or three times in the content of your page and in the title and than paying someone to do link building is a good start to seo. I’ve seen some of the seo firms and most of the big ones i have seen have 10 dollar an hour people doing linking building. For a medium firm you can honestly pay someone 12 bucks an hour and give them a 1000 dollars a month to get links or make them do give aways. You would save a ton of money. SEO is tough in a large scale but in a short scale it is very do able. I am not trying to be insulting i know and admire a lot of seo firms. Honestly like you guys say it is all about effort. It is easier to outsource

  • http://www.seocopywriting.com Heather Lloyd-Martin

    Hi, Jake-

    Great post! I’m a big fan of companies handling their SEO in-house. For many companies, it’s the smartest way to go.

    I read your comments about content creation, and saw that you were angry when a SEO content provider charged you $100 for an article, and outsourced it to a $15/post writer. Yeah, that kind of stuff drives me crazy too. :) I’ve written a number of articles about how to find an SEO copywriter – and one of the questions I encourage folks to ask is, Who is the person who will be writing the content? Outsourcing isn’t necessarily bad – what’s bad when a company is expecting quality…and the final result is keyphrase-stuffed drivel.

    Please know that not every small business owner (or in-house team) is equipped to write their own content. They may not have time. English may not be their first language. They don’t know how to write to sell – which is an incredibly important skill set. Or heck -they may be oo close to their business to write good copy. In that case, keeping the SEO content in-house is actually detrimental. Companies in this position would benefit from outsourcing it – or at least bringing someone in to train them on content generation. Sure, that means spending some money (and that may very well be over $100 a page.) At the same time, if that content drives qualified traffic and makes sales (which a savvy SEO copywriter can provide,) the expense is well worth it.

    :)

  • http://www.empirecovers.com Jake Goldblum

    Thank you for all of the nice comments I absolutely agree with everything you said heather and there are ways to find inexpensive good copy writers that will not over charge you. I still love the site http://www.textbroker.com/ . I literally found someone with a masters degree who writes beautifully. When I started the business I was all about the teach the man to fish theory. I would pay for any information or books that would help me achieve the results that I wanted. You brought up some great points and I appreciate it. It is 100 times better to pay someone for info rather than outsource if you can prevent it. My next article will be the perks that people do not even realize exist if you do it inhouse and the successful campaigns that I was able to accomplish because it was inhouse. I have some awesome videos on my site that my seo/pr guy got because he was working 24/7 to get them.

  • http://www.getfoundfirst.com Stu Draper

    Paying $100 for an article that cost them $15 seems unreasonable, but the time and energy to get a kid that can write a GOOD article for just $15 is not taken into consideration. Neither is proof reading and improving the article. A plumber costs $100/hour. Paying $100 for a GOOD SEO article that has the potential of building inbound links is DIRT CHEAP!

  • http://www.orangewhale.co.uk S.B.

    I totally agree with you on the content point Jake. And of course it is an argument that flows on to Social Media accounts, and again, the best people to handle them are in-house.

    But I think you paint a slightly simplistic picture overall picture of SEO. The tactics you suggest should get good stable rankings, but they may not cut the mustard and get you right to the top. That is why people employ SEO Companies.

    I could probably design a house, but when you get down to the finer details, I’d probably put the electrics in the wrong place and kill someone.

    Our Company works on the basis that seo is just one aspect of marketing anyhow.

    There are a lot of different elements involved in a marketing strategy, but I’d have no problems telling a client to install a blog, and get writing, if i thought that was their best approach.

    Regarding the 600% markup….it’s a moot point. It’s end results that matter. You could say a meal in a good restaurant is a rip-off because the food itself costs £10, and the meal costs £60…but that doesn’t take into account a lot of other factors…

  • http://www.empirecovers.com Jake Goldblum

    Absolutely I agree with you it is all about the return on investment. This article is about saving money and not trying bad mouth the seo firms. Some things with seo are very simplistic and some things are very complicated. I would like for some seo firms to admit that they do have a rolodex of clients when they want to get links and once that rolodex runs out they are not sure what to do. Hopefully some small and medium firms who are just starting out do not over charge for seo services. I think the hardest part of seo is link building and site hierarchy. I still have to do url rewriting on my site. The point is if you put a little bit more effort you can get good results. I sound like a weight loss video now but it is possible. I feel bad for people who go so blindly into seo company and do not research how to do the small things and then they wonder why they did not get the ROI they wanted. It is both of their faults. I do not think seo or copy writing is easy. I am just saying there are ways to make it easier and save money

  • Fafi Kajenian

    Great tips. I have been facing some difficulties in link building but i guess now following your guidelines will help me out.

 

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