Agency vs. In-House SEO: What’s a Client To Do? SESNY 2012

Simon Heseltine, Director of SEO, AOL Inc.
Mitchell Cross, Director of Search Marketing, Communication Media, Inc.
Ulrich Gilot, Independent Internet Marketing Consultant,
Jennifer Rouillard, Managing Director, Epic Search Partners

From an audience poll Simon leads, half the audience seems to be in-house and half is from an agency. A good number of in-housers are the only person in their department. Jennifer specializes in placing SEM pros both agency and client side. The talent needed from one year to the next changes as quickly as the industry itself. There are clear benefits to both agency and in-house, and depending on your business model there’s an answer. If you decide in-house is the answer, how do you find the right SEO talent – those are the questions she’s here to answer. Mitch and Ulrich introduce themselves as well.

Simon’s wondering about how to find the right skillsets and what to look for in a junior level SEO. Jennifer says you need to have someone who would come out of a web development background. You need to know your way around a website. Someone who did that in college, is blogging. Look at the person as a whole, have they used programming languages, someone with basic technical knowledge can learn the organic piece.

Ulrich says it’s not just about the skills but also who you work with, who you can collaborate with and grow with. Mitch says that a tech background is helpful, but keep in mind that SEO has a very important marketing component. What we do in SEO should be held to the same KPIs as other marketing channels. He feels there needs to be a passion and background in marketing, not just technical. At the end of the day, marketing is the needle he wants to move. Personality traits are also important, especially for mid-level and senior positions. Passion is critical. Also the ability to influence others is important. As is the ability to be influenced, as it shows someone is always open to learning tactics and strategies.

Ulrich says a major challenge of the job is efficient communication across an organization. Communicating to all departments the importance of the specific marketing channel and skills to do this is required. Simon says the smaller the department, the more you need a jack of all trades.

Mitch answers a question about agencies working together with in-house SEO departments. An agency partner, paid to come up with great strategies and innovations, but at the end of the day they shouldn’t be a glory hog. An agency is good if they’re a team player.

Ulrich says agencies are known for pushing clients to their limits, which is less likely when in-house. Agencies would like to be very strategic. When you come with big ideas and scopes and give them to clients, execution can be a challenge. This is because of the challenge to communicate to the org from the in-house SEO.

agency and in-house seo panelSimon talks about an agency they hired and it ended up they were outsourcing link building. Mitch says transparency is important. There are some unscrupulous vendors. You want to know the agency you’re working with. If the agency is using other vendors, it’s their responsibility to be upfront about it and speak to the reputation of the vendors. For the internal folks in here who manage an agency, you have a right to ask them to look into that. If your agency is saying they’ll work with a partner and you’re uncomfortable with it, you need to say something.

Simon asks about the role of agencies in training and helping to find people for in-house positions. Jennifer says being a singular SEO is very hard. Even a team of 2 or 3 brings camaraderie and competition that brings out the best. Simon says it’s important to bring in developers and design team as well. Make it a team environment. Ulrich had a convo with an agency about bringing in someone to the client org for a couple days so they understand the culture and expectations and be a liaison for the client and agency.

Mitch says there are challenges in hiring an in-house professional if the person doing the hiring hasn’t worked in search. He finds it’s easier to hire an agency because there’s a higher level of accountability. You have more leverage over an agency if they’re underperforming. If you’re hiring a team in-house, they achieve a certain level of comfort, knowing what’s expected and they’ll meet expectations but not be as aggressive.

Tips on creating guidelines – a statement of work – for an agency to follow?

Mitch says there are key ingredients for a successful agency relationship. Include all your assets, digital assets, offline assets. Search behavior is influenced by other channels. It’s important for your agency to know everything that’s going on. That’s going to give them insight into your communications strategy and allow them to perform a more granular level of keyword research. It’s important to build out keyword lists that leverage that. Share your overall goals and marketing strategy and expectations for the search channel. He recommends an SLA that allow you to hold you agency accountable for the level of service.

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (3)
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3 Replies to “Agency vs. In-House SEO: What’s a Client To Do? SESNY 2012”

If a company doesn’t know much about SEO, it’s difficult to hire the right person to handle it in house. Hiring a consultant would be the first step. Then, decide whether an agency or an in house person is the best option. If hiring an agency, it’s important to understand that you are still an important part of the process. You can’t just sign a contract and disappear.

Thanks for the write up Virginia. Just to clarify, when I spoke about hiring an agency that then went ahead and outsourced the work that we’d hired them to do, that was 2 jobs and 7 years ago, when I worked for a company that hadn’t protected itself against that within the contract with the vendor.

Thanks for checking in on our liveblog coverage of your session, Simon, and for adding some more clarity to the story. :) Was good seeing you!


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