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SEO In-House vs. SEO Consulting: Visibility vs. Black Box

Working for the past 20 years as an SEO Specialist, both corporate in-house (3 long-term roles) and consulting (dozens of clients) for nearly equal amounts of time has offered an opportunity to view the SEO process from distinctly differing viewpoints. I’d like to compare and contrast those two views to shed some light on why each has some pros and cons. Both require different ways of working.

    • In-House Hierarchy: Every enterprise will have a reporting structure which will either offer a) full organizational support for SEO or b) may have a silo of support in the marketing team with possible fans sprinkled about in product, content and engineering. If SEO is fully supported by leaders with budget authority in all four of those groups, the work of SEO progresses like a dream and search engine visibility will see consistent gains for as long as that support lasts. However, sometimes there are budget or resource detours where full organizational support can suddenly see roadblocks.
      • I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with an internal team that fully supported SEO across the entire orgnaization. Budgets were not always as rich as preferred, but when everyone is on the same page and supports the end goal of strong search engine visibility – it’s rewarding work.
      • However, I’ve also had the opposite experience which meant there were slow-downs, reversals, losses, debates and budget battles which meant only incremental SEO successes.
    • Consulting Hierarchy: The reality of consultancy is that out-sourced SEO is assigned to a single marketing or tech person who is assigned SEO vendor management. Once the engagement begins, the relationship will hinge on whether that individual has full support of their internal team – which is likely to be made up of those same four groups mentioned above. The success of the project will hinge on the makeup of that individuals’ reporting structure and approved budgeting (likely approved before the SEO campaign began). However, as will be seen below there are inevitably “blind spots” to what is happening internally among those departments as it relates to the SEO campaign.
      • Here, as above, I’ve seen both good and bad when working with consulting clients. In this case it can be incredibly rewarding when working directly with an engineer or strong marketing leader who can implement SEO recommendations themselves. Several times this has been the CTO who either directly assigns those tasks to their team or (with smaller companies) immediately implement SEO recs within days of our regular phone calls.
      • Here too, there are those situations where there is no visibility into internal conversations, work-load or resource availability where literally nothing is done for long stretches while the client contact sorts out internal tasks, budgets and priorities.


    • In-House Roadblocks: There will inevitably be times in organizations where resourcing priorities or budgetary issues lead to internal resistance to SEO projects. In most cases, the resistance can be overcome with changes in timing or access to alternative resources. If the resistance comes from a peer or their team members, differences can usually be resolved by negotiating issues and reviewing goals with management. If that roadblock comes from management, the project is usually delayed.
      • The good news here is the visibility that comes with day-to-day corporate responsibilities. The SEO project can be put on a backlog and raised again as complimentary or related projects make them possible again. There are usually options in each project to incorporate delayed SEO elements into other tasks on new projects.


    • Consulting Roadblocks: Consulting has its own challenges when it comes to SEO project roadblocks. Often the reasons behind delays (or even refusal to implement) are vague for an external contracted SEO consultant and there is usually very little visibility into the reasons. Unless you get honest feedback from your assigned contact into the specifics of what department or even an outline of the objections of the individual who has erected barriers, there is little that can be done to move things forward.
      • The only positive in this case comes from consulting agreements which guarantee payment even if recommendations are not implemented. Consultants are often paid in full even when nothing is visibly done by the client. Clearly, it is not at all satisfying to take on work and then be unable to produce real results for the customer.


    • In-House Successes: Working In-House is sweetest when there is the opportunity to demonstrate success (with long-term reporting) graphs moving consistently up and to the right off the charts. This happens consistently when that full organizational support is there as mentioned in item #1 above. When nothing stands in the path to effective SEO plans, search traffic growth is inevitable. Presenting regular reporting which displays the growth shown below is the best reward for a good SEO.


      • I’m happy to say I’ve been in the situation above several times and have never been happier in my work. Reviews are glowing, raises and bonuses are generous, budgets more easily approved in the next cycle – all good things happen when there are consistently demonstrated successes.


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  • Consulting Successes: Being successful in SEO Consulting is incredibly fulfilling when a client sees consistent gains in search engine visibility throughout the engagement. There are opportunities to reverse declines as well as showing hockey-stick like growth for the startup or a site that had missed important elements from their earlier history due to inattention to SEO fundamentals that have been corrected.


    • Needless to say, the ability to produce significant increases in search referral traffic for consulting clients drives new referrals from existing clients, extends existing contracts, and keeps the project pipeline full.

I’ve found that the biggest difference between the two types of SEO work is that I enjoy being able to have ongoing dialogue with internal teams when working In-House along with the ability to define specific approaches over the long term. That opportunity is rare when Consulting – because few of the personalities, politics or priorities are visible from the viewpoint of the outsider.

Both types of SEO work have their pros and cons, but given the opportunity to choose between them – I prefer In-House, but only within an organization that supports SEO across Marketing, Content, Product, Engineering and of course, the Executive Team.

Mike Valentine