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In-House SEO vs. Out-House SEO

Not long ago I posted a list of some Top In-House SEOs [1] I identified, and I touched on the subject of in-house development vs. outsourcing of natural search optimization work. As an “in-houser” myself (as one of my many roles, I perform SEO for Superpages.com’s sites), I thought I’d develop this out further and give my thoughts on the relative pros and cons of in-housing versus outsourcing, followed up by a list of the merits of doing either.

I should mention that my reference to “Out-House SEO” is firmly tongue-in-cheek. WebMama used that term in commenting on my previous post, and I couldn’t resist using it myself. (Coincidentally, I see that she’s just yesterday posted an article on the merits of outsourcing SEM work, “Does Hiring a Search Marketing Firm Cost or Save You Money? [2]“)

Out-House vs. In-House [3]

Read on for my commentary and lists of the relative advantages of each approach.

In earlier days, most companies didn’t know anything at all about search engine optimization, and such work was much more commonly contracted out to specialized firms, once a company finally woke up to the need for marketing through internet channels. Anecdotally, these days it appears that more and more firms are trying to do the analysis and development internally. LinkedIn [4] shows expanding numbers of resumes for people who do this on behalf of their companies, and Monster.com has been showing hundreds of SEO jobs [5] for the past couple of years as companies create internal positions devoted to this type of work. These are an indication that more companies now understand the value/importance of search marketing, so they’re hiring people to focus on search marketing in-house.

Most articles on the subject of in-sourcing this work are histrionic and biased towards outsourcing, since most articles are written by SEO companies trying to push their own services. These articles are heavy-handed in their aim of inspiring fear and insecurity in company executives, essentially spinning in-housing as a bad risk, and playing into prejudices against using a company’s own personnel for particularly important or speialized work.

There are fewer articles on the benefits of in-housing, perhaps because most in-housers don’t feel free to write about methods and work they’re employing to make money-making magic happen for their companies. Companies rightly wish to keep secret the proprietary work they’re doing to increase traffic, and they keep private the stats which show the benefit of their work. So, there’s not much in the way of articles championing in-house work. Even though there’s fewer articles promoting in-house work, it’s obvious that many companies have implicitly found it to be worthwhile — see my list of Top In-House SEOs for just a small list of example companies.

Many SEO firms have learned to be more restrained about attacking in-house work out-of-hand, realizing that these internal personnel can make ideal partners for establishing relationships for various special projects. The inhousers often become the client interface person working with external firms. Also, a few firms have adapted to providing training for in-house crews, helping to educate the internal personnel in best methods and advantageous strategies. Training sessions, bootcamps, tutorial conferences and more all seem to be abounding. This sort of partnering and mentoring would seem to create more of a mutual partnership than the unqualified attacks one can see in many articles on the subject.

Even if there’s a tendency for most industry articles on the subject to overly criticise the concept of insourcing, SEOs have a point: often there’s amateurish in-house work performed that can harm a company more than help. I’ve seen numerous times in my own company where well-meaning developers or product managers may employ bad practices, because they have only a cursory understanding of optimization concepts. In the SEO world, a little knowledge can indeed be a dangerous thing at times. In my own company and others, I’ve too often seen cases where someone will read only one or two articles or attend one SEO 101 conference session and then think that they know it all. Yes, some of the basic methods are really easy to accomplish, but once you’ve gotten past that, the work becomes steadily more subtle and sophisticated.

So, even if I do see a definite bias against insourcing and industry attitudes that may be overly prejudiced against it, the SEO firms are undoubtedly right to some degree. Most executives faced with trying to decide whether to use internal talent or external really don’t have the knowledge of the practice of SEO to be able to tell whether their enthusiastic internal resources have the necessary ability or not.

From my perspective, either in-housing or outsourcing may be an ideal solution, depending upon a company’s needs and circumstances.

Some companies may already have personnel highly educated in search marketing issues and contemporary SEO methodology, and taking advantage of this internal talent might be the best solution of all.  Other companies might lack experience in the discipline and not have budget to increase headcount, and outsourcing it could get them major increases in revenue quickest.

I’ve also found that it can be hard to locate candidates with significant SEO experience here in the middle region of America. I think that companies located here may need to outsource more, or else be willing to slowly build up internal talent over time as their employees become educated in natural search optimization. Companies located on the East Coast and West Coast may find it much easier to hire experts in search marketing since those regions seem to be hotbeds for optimization firms and companies who have already been doing their own optimization work for quite a while.

Even if a company is doing work in-house, there are many occasions when the in-house personnel contract with external firms for special projects. For larger companies, I’d say that this is the paradigm that’s most-likely to continue and increase over time.

For those company executives who just aren’t sure if their in-house personnel are sufficiently capable or not, I recommend that you give the in-house folx a try and look to your numbers as one measure of results. With each of the things your team does, is traffic and associated conversions increasing? Consider following up on major optimization work with an audit by an external SEO firm — the firm should examine practices to insure you’re not accidentally employing black-hat methodology, and that you’re at least doing all the basic stuff and targeting the lowest-hanging fruit. If your in-house person seems to’ve exhausted all their ideas for further improvement and traffic expansion, you might also bring in external consultants on a limited basis to get additional opportunities to exploit.

I’m providing here a list of benefits of in-housing SEO versus out-housing SEO – hopefully such a list might be a bit more objective than much of the other rhetoric and hyperbole on the subject – and I hope it might be useful for companies which might be considering the relative pros and cons.

Advantages of In-House SEOs:

Advantages of Out-House SEOs:

Do you have additional Pros/Cons I haven’t covered here? Feel free to comment!

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