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Hiring a full-time SEO or Agency: When does it make sense?

If you’ve been doing digital marketing and search engine optimization work yourself, or one of your staff members has been taking on these tasks, you or they might have become overwhelmed with it all. So, when does it make sense to stop doing SEO yourself and hire a full-time employee or agency? Let’s take a look at what’s involved, and look at the pros and cons of different staffing options.

The absolute best way to figure out whether or not you need to hire a full-time SEO or hire an agency for search engine optimization is to determine what tasks are needed. In order to be successful, you can generally break down SEO into several different parts which I’ll detail below.

All these tasks take time. And additional time may be needed if the people performing SEO tasks require training or intensive management.  Let’s break them down one by one and look at what’s required.

Let me preface this again with the fact that each of these tasks takes time–and depending on the level of competition in the industry and the size of the website, each of those tasks could require a full-time dedicated person or team. I’ve seen a small marketing staff where one person handles it all–which isn’t recommended. But for a small business, it can work. I’ve also seen the extreme opposite: a team of five employees for each task.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO, which really has become much more technical over the past several years, is crossing into an area where some knowledge of website development is required. At a minimum, the person handling technical SEO for a website needs to understand how a web server works, how to code HTML, coding and scripts, as well as a general understanding of web design. 

Which websites need technical SEO work?

Even for the smallest websites, and websites of small businesses, keyword rankings and visibility will get better if the technical SEO on the website is done right. And, looking back over the past 10 years, just about every year or so there’s another technical SEO task that must be addressed. For a while, the focus was on making a website more mobile-friendly. Then, it was about speeding up the website, so it loads quickly. Now, we can add schema markup code and Core Web Vitals, which measure the overall ‘experience’ of the user, and how the web pages load for users and how it looks.

Some websites will require more technical SEO work, especially if the website is adding features and content on a regular basis. For websites that are mainly static, and have a limited number of pages, a technical SEO audit from an SEO consultant may be enough. It’s good to know what needs to be fixed, but it can take even more time to figure out how to fix issues that are identified during an audit of the website, and then do the fixing.

Do you have a technical SEO export on your team?

There are a series of simple questions to ask when considering whether technical SEO should be outsourced.

  • Do you have the technical expertise yourself to identify all of the issues, and then fix those issues? 
  • As Google and Bing come up with more “requirements” for SEO, such as making your website load faster, perform better for users and contain additional code, can you handle that yourself? Or do you need to outsource this to an agency? 
  • Do you think there are enough updates and more content coming on the website in the future where you’ll need someone in-house to deal with these technical issues? Or do you need an SEO consultant or agency to perform a technical SEO audit of the website, come up with a list of recommendations, and then help implement those recommendations? 

Usually, I recommend a technical SEO audit initially, and then again once per year. Or, if the website is going to be redesigned, having an SEO involved in this process from the beginning is super important (at Vizion, we call this SEO Redesign Consultation), as there are many factors to consider during the process of a redesign.

Content, Optimization and Keywords

When it comes to SEO, content, optimization and keywords (not in that order), all are necessary. Keywords are still important–and keyword research is a necessity even if you think your website is already ranking for all your important keywords. 

There’s always room for improvement, and every industry does, in fact, change. Every industry will see a shift in the number of keywords and how many searches are performed each month. Also, new keywords and topics come up constantly. So, watching trends, watching the industry and coming up with new keywords or topics to target, or just reacting to trends and responding with a plan for new content, is necessary. You should also be mindful to track high-performing keywords from your Google Ads efforts and ensure that you have an organic strategy for these, as well. 

The role of SEO in content optimization

Optimization of current content, optimizing older content and rewriting it and then optimizing new content as it’s created are all tasks that take time. Having an in-house SEO who knows and understands the business and the industry really does help. Working with an SEO consultant or someone from an agency isn’t as ideal since they initially don’t really know your business and industry. So, it will take time until they get up to speed. 

But they certainly already know how to research keywords and topics, and how to create a prioritized content calendar, so that you are able to work efficiently. So, depending on how much new content is needed (that can be determined during an SEO audit of your website) to compete in your industry, this could be a job for someone full-time. 

For example, if competing websites are creating 10 articles a month and posting them, or if the competition is writing 50 new articles a day, that will determine if you need to hire someone in-house as a full-time employee, or if you can outsource the work to an agency or company that does the writing for you. In some very competitive verticals, long-form content is the norm and this content can take significant time in research, not to mention the time that it takes to write the content and optimize it.

On-site vs on-page SEO

On-page SEO

There are generally two parts to SEO when it comes to your website: on-page SEO, and on-site SEO. The on-page SEO gets technical, as just changing certain elements of the page, such as keywords in the headings and title tags can have a dramatic effect on search engine rankings. 

Someone who’s well-versed in this type of optimization and who can use the latest SEO tools is important; it’s not just about mentioning the keyword X number of times on the page. It’s a lot more than that. Depending on how many pages need to be optimized, this effort can take up to 2-3 hours per page. So, even if only 1 hour per page is spent, 40 pages would take 40 hours. How many blog posts, articles, or services pages are on the website? What about category pages and product pages? 

This all takes time, as the research needs to be done, recommendations need to be drafted, and then someone needs to literally make the changes to the pages. Certainly, tools can aid in the process, but tools should never be “the” source of SEO recommendations; rather, they should help to inform a professional who can use that data to help in developing the recommendations. 

Again, the best way to figure this out would be to take a look at how many pages are on the website. The optimization for on-page isn’t necessarily a one-time task. It’s ongoing, as rankings can change, the competition can also optimize their pages, and the search engines update their algorithms regularly. So, for a 500-page website, this could be a full-time job for someone, just to analyze and make changes to pages.

On-site SEO

On-site SEO can also get fairly involved, and depending on the size of the website, just identifying those areas of the website that need work and have opportunities for improvement can be a significant task. For example, with site structure issues and internal linking,  mapping out how content/pages should exist within the confines of the website can represent a significant project. 

You must also consider what happens as new content is created, written and added (whatever schema you develop needs to be scalable). This requires a lot of planning. A good exercise is to develop a “hierarchy” of pages (an outline, showing relationships of groupings of pages to one another). From here, you can strategize on how these pages should be interlinking. Here you may want to also consider your website’s taxonomy and naming conventions of pages. Technical SEO audits can reveal issues that may require a lot more work, especially if the website needs to be redesigned completely.

Off-Site SEO and link building

Off-site SEO consists mainly of getting more visibility. When we think of off-site SEO, it’s mainly getting links from other websites. But it’s more than that. 

It’s reviewing the current links, analyzing the link profile of the website and the link profiles of competitors and websites that are currently ranking well. Then, once a plan is developed, and it’s known exactly what type and which links are needed, work must be done to implement that plan. 

Getting links from other websites is a much more difficult task than it used to be. You can’t just send an email and expect to ask for a link–sometimes that works, but with GDPR and many hiding their true contact details, it’s more difficult than ever to do link building. Truly it’s a full-time job for someone, even if they’re well-versed and have lots of experience doing this task. 

And a website can never have enough (quality) links–there’s always work to do to get ahead of the competition. Even if you think you do have enough links (which in some industries is the case), analyzing the current links and new links that are constantly pointing to the site is necessary.

Are some of the new links bad links? 

Are they good links? 

Are they links that you can boost in some way? 

For example, if your company is mentioned in the news, you’ll want to promote that: getting new links to the news article that links to you can help. It’s a constant battle, and even the person working on links can spend some time doing “digital PR” for the company, as well. 

Digital PR and developing thought leadership is not just a best practice for SEO. You may not even earn links from these efforts, but you could be enhancing the exposure of the brand. Brand mentions could very well help with your organic rankings. Do you have the time to analyze links, review them one by one, and come up with strategies for getting new links? That could be a full-time job for someone, whether it’s a full-time employee, a consultant or an agency doing that work.

Local SEO

Local SEO is, in several ways, like SEO in general, as it does include the on-page and off-site SEO tasks. However, local SEO adds an additional element and other tasks, such as getting, optimizing and monitoring local listings. 

Managing local listings

These can include the Google Maps listings and reviews, Bing’s local listings, and literally hundreds of other local listings that we call local citations. Some of these tasks can be outsourced (you can hire Vizion to manage your local listings and help with syndication to the major aggregators). 

Getting, monitoring and responding to reviews for the business is also a required task: if you have a location where customers visit or multiple locations, local SEO is important. Depending on how often you get reviews, how many locations you have and how competitive the market is (industry and location), it will require more time and effort.

Reporting and Monitoring

Reporting on how the website is doing (from visits to the number of page views to conversions) is either something that you watch regularly or something where you get a report on a regular basis. When it comes to reporting, how much reporting is done depends on your particular situation. 

What’s included in SEO reporting

Reports can be set up so that you receive them regularly in an automated fashion. For example, there are tools that will monitor a set of keywords and send you a report of the rankings. That’s pretty standard.But do you need to know how many sales have occurred by day or each hour throughout the day, and then the amount of the orders? 

Consider these questions with regards to your reporting needs: 

  • Do you need to report this to the CEO of the company? 
  • Do they need to know about the website traffic and sales since you’re an e-commerce website? 
  • Or are you a small business where just a report of the rankings and traffic on a monthly basis is needed?
  • Do you need to compare this month-over-month or year-over-year? (If you’re like our clients, you may also want a report that compares 2021 to 2019, since COVID impacted numbers in 2020 and makes a review against 2020 less meaningful.) 
  • Do you need a dashboard that shows you performance of all digital marketing channels and helps to compare results? Or can you just log into your website analytics and see how things are going, and don’t need any formal reports? 

You need to determine what and how much data you need, and if the reports can be created automatically, or if you need them to be interpreted. 

Agencies and SEO consultants can provide fully detailed reports–but you need to determine if that will help your business get to the next level. Or, if you can do away with reporting and spend that time on SEO tasks, such as creating more content and getting more links to the website.

Paid Advertising

Paid Advertising, including what I’ve mentioned previously, is completely different from SEO. I would not expect someone who does SEO to also be fully versed in the latest paid advertising techniques. 

In fact, when it comes to paid advertising, managing Google Ads, Bing Ads and Facebook ads is, just by themselves, a full-time job for someone. Once the time is spent setting up the accounts properly, someone doing paid advertising should be working to optimize the campaigns on a daily basis. 

There’s always tweaking and changes that can be made so the account gets more conversions for less ad spend. Other tasks can include creating ads and versions of ads, as well as setting up testing to see which ads perform better than others (Conversion Rate Optimization). Once again, a best practice would be to ensure that especially your paid search efforts are aligned with your SEO efforts (sharing keyword performance knowledge).

How to decide if you should outsource SEO work

As you can see, there are a lot of separate tasks when it comes to digital marketing and SEO. What I recommend is that you go through each of these tasks and determine how you will take care of that task and try to estimate what (and who) may be involved. Each of the tasks could be handled by one person: but have become so advanced in nature that someone could spend a lot of time researching, analyzing, and completing each task. 

What’s gone unmentioned is the fact that even if you were to try to bring these efforts in-house, you must consider who is going to manage the process. A key component to all of this being as successful as we want the efforts to be is that there is a well-thought-out prioritized strategy that aligns with the accompanying tasks. 

Each of the tasks is an integral part of digital marketing and SEO being successful. Without all of the tasks, you won’t be as successful as you could be. Without keyword research, you won’t know that you can target a certain topic in your industry, create content about it and get more traffic to your website and sales. 

Without more links, the website won’t be as trusted by the search engines as it could be, so that content may not “rank” as well as it could. Then, if visitors come to the website, they may not be able to navigate properly, it may not work, there may be redirects and errors on the site, and you’ll lose sales.

Determine the number of hours per week or per month that you’ll need in order to get your website where you want to be. This may require a full technical SEO audit of your website to determine what’s really needed. And that’s okay, most of us have no idea what the competition is doing, where our website currently ranks and how much better we could be doing in terms of traffic and sales if we fix or update the website.

Conclusion

So, should you hire a full-time employee or several employees? Does it make sense for you and your organization? Or is it more efficient to align yourself with an agency? 

You can’t determine any of this without first answering the questions I’ve mentioned related to the individual tasks that make up digital marketing and SEO. Got more questions? There are answers—just ask any reputable SEO consultant or SEO agency. They’ll help determine what’s needed, and what’s required to get where you want to be.


Author Bio
Mark Jackson, Vizion Interactive

Mark Jackson, the President/CEO of Vizion Interactive,  is a veteran of the digital marketing industry, having started in the early 2000s with Lycos and AOL-Time Warner before moving agency-side in March 2003. A frequent contributor to Search Engine Watch and ClickZ, Mark has also been a speaker and moderator at the Pubcon and Search Engine Strategies conferences throughout N. America and is a happily married proud father of three super active teenagers, “living the dream” in Overland Park, KS.

Mark Jackson, Vizion Interactive