If you can do it in house, why the f#*k don’t you?

From what some people tell me, you’d think that SEO was a pretty straightforward affair.  You get some keywords into a web page and then get some links.  Simple.  They’d probably say the same about any digital channel:

  • PPC – pop some keywords into Google and set your bids
  • Display – buy some inventory and design some banners
  • Affiliate – talk to AWIN and get people to promote you
  • Social – tweet to your customers

If your sole marketing objective is to tick a box with digital, then the chances are that the above are comprehensive enough to help you achieve your goals, however the fact is that if you want to achieve anything, you have to be prepared to put the work in.

Digital is not an easy option.  It’s evolved over the past decade.  Whichever channel you look at, the competition is intense and you need to do at least as much as your competitors if you want to out rank/bid them.  You need to look at the whole conversion path to ensure that you minimise wastage, and be prepared to invest ever more time and money in pushing more and more people into your sales funnel.

“You would say that, you work in an agency”

Yes I do.  Thanks for noticing.  Working in an agency means that I see hundreds of different campaigns and am able to take the best from them.  Agency teams talk to each other.  PPC and SEO work closely together to promote synergy, display and affiliate teams talk about opportunities.  SEO and Social Media have a big overlap.  No-one talks to analytics people because they smell.  Everyone talks to the analytics and planning team.  They know stuff.

A good agency puts the interests of a client’s business first.  They look for new opportunities to develop the business and increase profits.  This isn’t entirely altruistic of course.  The more an agency can demonstrate the value of both their approach to marketing, and also their ability to deliver results, the more a client will be willing to invest in their relationship, and ultimately the more money the agency will earn.

“Yeah, but we can do that in house”

I was talking to a prospective client recently, and before the meeting, they told me that they had internal resource who was responsible for SEO, so they only needed some help with the link building work.

So, before I met them, I did a fairly detailed review of their site.  There were numerous things that weren’t working properly – broken links, poorly thought out navigation, a lack of context for images, a content hierarchy that made little to no sense, and weird URL structures.  Additionally, the content was lacking any focus.  The content was beautifully written, no doubt about that, but there was no consideration about the language that had been used.  Products and categorisation seemed to have been done based on internal jargon rather than having any focus on the types of search term that users might consider when searching for their products.

It turned out that the marketing manager was the person who was responsible for the SEO work.  He had read a couple of blogs (including this one.  Hi mate.), and knew his Pandas from his meta descriptions, and I’m pretty confident that if he’d been able to focus on SEO work, he’d have done a great job.  He couldn’t though.  As much as he loved SEO, he also had other work to do.  He’d rationalised this lack of time by pointing out the fact that if he’d engaged an agency and paid a few thousand pounds a month he’d have only got a few dozen hours of work for his money.

I pointed out though that although he’d have only got a portion of someone’s time, that was a person who was doing SEO 100% of the time.  He might not have had the benefit of their dedicated attention, but he’d have had the benefit of their dedication.

Roy Castle: Dedication's what you need!
Roy Castle: Dedication's what you need!

With the best will in the world, someone who is only able to spend a limited amount of time on SEO is unlikely to achieve the same results as someone who is dedicated to doing SEO all the time and only spends a limited amount of time on one specific campaign.

The outside perspective is the value an agency can add to a business.   Not only can we take an external, baggage free viewpoint of a website and its place within the market, marketing agency staff, particularly those within digital agencies are more likely to be in tune with changes in the market and be able to bring new ideas to the table.  While campaign data should never be shared between clients, and in my experience, never is, ideas about optimisation of activity and new opportunities should be, and are.  An agency SEO works in a team of people across multiple campaigns.  They see things that work and can determine the best implementation of ideas and concepts for different clients to balance the individual needs of a campaign.

There’s no problem with doing it in house.  In fact, some of the most successful SEO work is done by in house teams.  Problems only arise when you lie to yourself about your ability to do things in house.  Without the appropriate resource being in place, corners often get cut.  Work gets prioritised in a manner than can undermine a longer term strategy and ultimately, rather than saving money on the cost of an agency, money is left on the table because despite the fact there is a line on the marketing plan that says SEO, it’s money that isn’t actually being invested.