When a company is considering embarking upon a search engine optimization campaign, the first discussion that normally is had is whether to take care of the campaign in house or to hire an outside SEO firm. Handling an SEO campaign in house is an attractive and popular option for many companies – after all, the staff is already being paid to perform other functions, so the company might as well use its resources. In addition, a company may in fact have technically savvy people on staff that know at least a little bit about SEO, making the choice to take the campaign in house appear to be a no-brainer. But the real issue is how to compare the actual cost of an in-house campaign if you are expecting the same type of results that you would get with an outside SEO firm.
In House or Outsourced – Consider Your Resources
There are several basic assumptions that can be made about any company that is interested in SEO in general. First, the company likely wants to see immediate results from the campaign – or, at the very least, results as soon as possible in the organic search engine rankings. Quick results, by necessity, mean that the company has to have immediate skill available on hand.
And immediate skill, it is important to recognize, means something different than having a staff member who has a technical background but who will take several months to learn about SEO and the best way to go about it before starting a campaign from scratch. In this case, there is no way the company will get results for several months – or longer. Meanwhile, an SEO firm that has experience and expertise and that specializes in this very specific discipline can begin the project on day one and bring results far more quickly.
In addition, a company will want to ensure minimal risk to its website. However, in order to make sure that the site is not placed in jeopardy of being penalized by one of the major engines, the person running the campaign must have experience with SEO and must be well versed in the terms of service of those engines. Again, handing off the project to someone with no or little experience in SEO can backfire because he or she may risk introducing dangerous changes onto your site based on outdated information or simply on a lack of understanding.
Analyzing Your Company's Situation – What's Your True ROI?
At this stage, a company that wants to take its SEO campaign in house needs to analyze its situation. Does the company have someone on staff right now with extensive SEO experience, preferably with an SEO firm? Moreover, does that person, assuming he or she exists, have the time to devote in his or her schedule to begin undertaking the SEO campaign immediately? Bear in mind that an SEO campaign is not something that can be worked on as a side project or in someone's spare time, particularly when that person has a primary job function with which to be concerned. SEO takes a great deal of time and management in order to not only achieve results but also to maintain and improve those results over time. You also need to determine whether this person has the clout – or access to those who have the clout – to get the necessary changes to the website made and to get buy in for the entire SEO initiative.
If your company cannot answer a solid yes to all of the above questions, then you need to compare the relative costs. It is likely that your company has a finite budget for this initiative – everyone does. Therefore, the company must determine if it can afford to bring a full-time expert in SEO onto the staff – someone who generally commands a salary of near or above six figures – or to pay an existing staff person to handle the project. On the other hand, an SEO firm with an excellent reputation can cost around $30,000 per year for full optimization of your website.
But this issue goes beyond cost and also encompasses your total return on investment. Even if you have a person on staff with extensive SEO experience and a great deal of time to devote to an SEO project, and even if they have the clout to get changes implemented on the site, they still will only be working on one site (along with any other job functions with which they need to be concerned). On the other hand, an SEO firm will have many sites – possibly hundreds – to work on, which means that it will constantly be staying current with all of the best methodologies and will be able to immediately apply new tactics to these sites to get the best possible results. Plus, the SEO firm will not have other functions to take care of, because SEO is its entire focus.
There are, of course, companies that successfully handle SEO campaigns in house. But when an SEO campaign falls to somebody that already has a separate job function and that is new to SEO, it can take much longer to get things started than it would when working with an SEO firm hired for this specific purpose. In addition, an internal person cannot necessarily guarantee that a site will not get penalized – the terms of service for the major engines are constantly changing, and it's the job of the SEO firm to stay on top of this. What's legal today may be illegal the next day, and an internal staff member may not have the resources to know what has changed.
Finally, it is important, when comparing the cost of outsourcing to an SEO firm vs. handling the campaign in house, to make a real comparison of the actual cost involved in terms of your company's annual spend based on hours, ROI, and the opportunity cost due to the length of the campaign – whether it's handed off to a new, inexperienced person or to someone with an SEO background who has other duties to attend to. And in the end, let's face it – if you're not getting the results you want, it's always much easier to end a contract with an outside SEO firm than it is to fire someone internally.