Should I hire an SEO agency? It’s a question that as a digital strategist I hear often – and one that can definitely have multiple answers. But in general, the question of hiring someone to handle your search engine optimization really is a question of just how much do you want to really want to be good at digital marketing and how much do you want it to be a core competency.
Generally I think of SEO as something that should be done in-house, and as part of a company’s core competencies. Anyone who’s writing content or creating web pages should have a good understanding of all the standards and best practices for SEO and work to ingrain them as part of their content creation strategy.
Honestly there’s not a LOT to good SEO once you start thinking of things you create with those in mind. Things like what your title tags say, how you are using your <h> tags, keyword phrases and density etc. are all things that can become pretty much second nature if you start to make it a point to follow them.
In my past experiences I actually never really used SEO firms until a few years ago, and that was because SEO was just part of how we created everything. We kept it in mind with the things we did (including url structures, etc) and it just flowed naturally. So for things like this, I honestly think that just reading through a guide like Jayson DeMers’s The Fundamental Guide to SEO and keeping these things top of mind when you build out your site and content will be more than sufficient. (Also make sure you use things like Google Webmaster Tools and Google PageSpeed Tools to check to see what errors or improvements they see).
So when have I hired an SEO agency?
1.) I had some projects that I really wanted to get done, but was unable to get all the internal buy-in I needed to make that happen. So by hiring a third-party and putting actual money toward SEO, there was an additional financial investment made … and to best recoup that investment and benefit from it meant that we should follow what they said. So it was really for additional proof behind the projects that we already wanted to do in-house.
2.) The company needed someone who could do some outreach to get articles written and linked to the site. A key component on how Google ranks things is based on the inbound links (and they don’t count affiliate links). So to improve our rankings we needed to get more people writing about us – places like Engadget and some industry blogs. Basically they worked as a kind of PR firm for us, pitching stories, paying for some placements and creating some great shareable content (like infographics).
3.) I needed to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. As much as I encourage continually kept SEO in mind, most companies don’t have an actual SEO expert on staff. So I do think it’s smart to occasionally engage an SEO firm for a kind of health-check/audit/plan of action so you could take care of any issues that might have come up. It isn’t something you necessarily need constant ongoing guidance on, but instead a reason to hire an SEO agency every few years. Usually you’ll find you are doing most things right, but have a few things we’d missed or could improve and those come out in the “audits.” Then fix them.
Should I hire an SEO agency?
So when you ask if you should do SEO in-house or out-of-house, my recommendation is this: don’t hire an SEO agency. Instead, do it in-house if you think the team there can handle it. If your people are smart enough to be able to understand the basics and create content with SEO in mind (not as the goal necessarily, but do use SEO to guide your layout and word choice / structure) then you’re pretty good to go.
For building traffic you’re better off creating valuable content (through a blog, for example) with strong SEO in mind as well as working with a PR firm or other kind of outreach agency to get more inbound traffic. This is where a combination of creating good content and a strong social media presence can work very strongly in your favor – as if you have great content that’s easily shareable and discoverable, then you’re going to start building inbound traffic through social media as well as SEO (and that social media will fuel your SEO as well). For some more insight on this concept, I recommend reading Content Inc.
The point is: SEO isn’t a project, so much as it is a way of just doing things. Yes there are ways to “hack it” but that’s dangerous and generally a bad idea. Instead you should instill a strong understanding and foundation of SEO as part of your core competencies, and then focus on how you are going to create additional content that drives people to your site.
Basically, make stuff that people want to read that will be found via SEO and social sharing. As that builds, your overall site traffic and SEO rankings will improve as a natural byproduct.