SEO Agency vs. In-House SEO: Pros and Cons

SEO agenices and in-house teams make great partners but there are pros and cons to each hire. Learn the benefits and differences of hiring an agency or in-house SEO.

As I sat inside quarantining with the rest of the world, I got to thinking.  Being in sales, I run into all sorts of different prospects on a daily basis, and they all generally seem to have one of two responses to my outreach: 

  1. They have or are interested in bringing on an agency to help with their company needs.
  2.  They already have or are looking to hire an internal team dedicated to the task at hand.

This raised an important question to me; how do companies decide whether it makes sense to bring on an agency or hire internally?

Let’s take a step back and look at the background:

Source: OberloStatista

Every business is asking the same question: What are we doing to increase the chances of our business being found by consumers? And if not, they should be.

Let’s think about this; Roughly 82% of smartphone users consult their phones before making a purchase. With the majority of today’s consumers on mobile devices, can you afford not to have an online presence? Yeah, probably not…

But to get here, you need a team of digital marketing professionals.

As I discuss in more detail below, an average marketing team will cost just around $800,000 in salary to bring on. That is a lot of money…

This raises the question — should you hire an agency or full-time staff? 

Let’s take a look.

The Realities of Hiring Full-Time Staff

Most businesses have been hiring full-time employees since inception.  This means much of a business’ success or failure is based around bringing on new talent and molding them into the ideal worker. This is a huge reason why companies have core values.  Some business owners go the hiring route, thinking it is more strategic to hire full-time staff. Most believe that an in-house team is better equipped because they can truly capture their vision and voice. It seems difficult to embed the core values of your business into an agency team. These sets of values are a blueprint for not only how the company should aim to be viewed , but also the employees. 

Hiring is Tried & True

It is clear that there are concrete benefits of hiring internally.  Why else has this generally been the norm for years? 

  • Full-Time employees are solely dedicated to the success of your firm:
    •  We all know that agencies have many clients and that agency employees are often working on several projects at a given time.  Agency employees will give you their best work, but they are juggling many requests in a given day and will need to prioritize.  
    • Your full-time employee does not have that same issue.  Their sole dedication to your firm and your firm alone means that they can focus all of their energy into driving the best results for you and no one else.  I am of the thought process that when you give something all of your attention and effort, you can’t help but to fully buy in. This is an area in which agencies may fall short. 
  • Full-time staff also interact with each other on a regular basis inside and out of the office:
    • They start to pick up on how their coworkers and managers like to work, what works well, and what to avoid.  That means that there are often efficiencies that come from a high functioning marketing department that you simply can’t recreate by bringing on an agency. Through hiring full-time staff, you get to really mold your perfect employees and teams.

Hiring full-time staff is a long-term play. With that being said, the top concern is finding the right people for the job. In a recent survey, 56% of decision makers voiced that the biggest barrier to building a team is finding people with the right skill set for the job. Once you find who you believe is the best person for the job, you need to mold them into someone that embodies the culture and brand of the organization. By molding people into the ideal employee, many companies are able to form an internal recruiting pipeline, which gives career advancement to the top performers.   But, what happens to the middle of the pack and low performing employees? They tend to get stuck in a role or look elsewhere for professional opportunities. How can an agency solve this?

Here is where agencies start to make some more sense:

While it’s true that employees develop a deeper understanding of your brand over time, this isn’t to say you can’t get an agency up-to-speed with the same knowledge. The fact of the matter is it takes time for an employee to fully acclimate to a new role. Saxon Marsden-Huggins estimates that it takes at least 1-2 years for an employee to become “fully productive”. This is a better way of saying that the person who ended up leaving your company as a middle to a low-tier performer is still most likely two years more experienced than the person you just brought on.  This means that time and effort (and therefore money) is spent bringing a new employee up to speed in understanding tasks, learning internal systems, and simply working through growing pains in a new role whether it is related to the aspects of the job or culture of the company. On top of this, agencies are set up for quick on-boarding. This is because there are strict timelines that are set up, which create urgency for an agency to move fast and integrate quickly. 

On top of the time needed to onboard a new employee, spending money on full-time pay, benefits, and other perks can restrict your company’s growth. Not to mention the fact that one of the few functions that tend to get outsourced is the actual recruiting of full-time employees.

My friend, a technical recruiter at a large recruiting firm, said that most firms are compensated 15-25% of the hired individual’s salary. On average, you can expect to pay $80,000/year all the way to $150,000 for director-level hires and $35,000/year for entry-level hires. So, you would be spending around $100,000- $180,000 for that new director you just brought on using an HR firm. For companies with a seemingly never-ending budget, this may work, but most companies don’t fall into this boat.

Fast growth companies are often able to sustain growth and capital by hiring agencies.  These companies need a team to come in, acclimate fast, and start producing. They also need individuals with a diverse skill set to wear multiple hats and fill in gaps as the company grows. Glassdoor estimates that the average hiring process takes around 28 days to bring on a single new employee, therefore hiring your full in-house marketing team of managers, developers, designers, coordinators, and analysts could take months to years. From my experience, the average time it takes to bring on a new agency is around three months. Therefore, the most cost and time effective way to bring an entire team into the fold is by outsourcing work.

The Rise of Digital Marketing Agencies

So, we just discussed some of the positives and negatives that are associated with hiring full-time staff. With this in mind, we are witnessing the current rise of marketing agencies. AdAge shows there’s been a healthy uptick in brands working with agencies across America. Because of this, digital marketing firms and media vendors witnessed a 7% increase in year-on-year revenue (a whopping $28+ billion in 2017).

So why the popularity of digital marketing agencies?:

  • You’re getting experts at a fraction of the cost you’d spend on full-time employees:
    • Your digital marketing team will consist of around12 different employees. Digital Current explained that contributors like digital marketing strategists, social media managers, content marketing managers, data analysts, and other functions are crucial to your digital marketing team.  On salaries for this team, you can expect to pay your full-time staff somewhere around $793,000 annually. And that’s not including marketing/ad spend, technology, and other added costs associated with giving your employees the tools needed to do the job. 
    • You’re working on a retainer with agencies, which is based on your unique needs. So you can spend anywhere from $10K to $50K per month. This is at least $100K cheaper than having a full-time marketing team on site.
      • You’ll find the average agency in America charging around anywhere from $150-$200/hour at a blended rate.  
      • There are also those agencies like iPullRank that don’t bill by the hour, and instead, bill based on the deliverables you need. This is another way that you can save money by bringing on an agency, as agencies like us allow you to choose exactly what you need, so you don’t pay for hours of work that won’t help you in reaching your strategic goals. 
Digital Current
  • For these rates, you’re getting an entire team of marketers, web designers, graphic designers, advertisers, social media marketers, and other key personnel to help your digital campaign. You are also getting access to the third-party tools that the agency uses.
  • On top of this, you can expect agency teams to be well versed in the subject matter as well as experienced in delivering quality products to their clients:
    • This means that there is less time spent on-boarding and bringing them into the fold than there would be with a new employee.
    • And if you work with an agency that specializes in a specific industry segment, then you’re paying for years of industry knowledge and experience running successful campaigns. The only issue is that oftentimes, you are getting the exact solutions your competitors are getting. On the other side of that coin, agencies with no specialization offer a valuable and industry-agnostic look at the tasks they are set to complete. Most of these agencies will have a breadth of experience working in your industry as well as other industries.  This allows them to think strategically about what has worked and bring a unique point of view to solving your business’s problems. At the end of the day, you don’t just want to pick an agency because they have done work in your industry. You want to pick the best agency for your specific needs. 

If you’re looking to hire a marketing team that’s self-managed, experienced, and can hit the ground running, then hiring an agency is your best bet.

Over to You

Digital marketing is all about being seen. With the right strategy, you can grow your visibility exponentially. But, if you can’t get your marketing collateral in front of your audience, then you’ll fail to capture them as customers.

In the past, the brands with the largest budgets lead the race. But not anymore.

The Internet leveled the playing field, allowing brands like Nasty Gal and Dollar Shave Club to soar to the top by using innovative digital marketing strategies to gain an audience and grow quickly.

So, now it’s time to decide, and to be honest, there is value in both full-time and agency work. But, if you choose to go with an agency, how do you decide which agency is best for you? 

To make that decision, here are some of the questions you should be keeping in mind when talking to vendors:

  • What are the current questions we have that we don’t have the answers to?
  • How do the different sides of my business interact?
  • If I could hire X  amount of employees, what would I have them working on and why would they be working on this?
  • What are the roadblocks to bringing on a new team?
  • How much money can I afford to spend on an agency?
  • What is my timeline for having my problems solved?

I hope that this will get you thinking about the way you want to grow your company’s marketing department. And, if you are thinking of bringing on an agency, let’s have a conversation to see if you like what iPullRank has to offer. Feel free to reach out to schedule some time. And, whatever you decide, make sure you have a solid marketing team that can take you to the next level!

ROI for SEO guidebook
Michael Dellon
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