Working in SEO – Should you work in house, at a full service or specialist agency?
Posted by Luci Wood on November 22, 2018
Whenever I speak to someone within the SEO industry, a common theme I find is that it wasn’t ever a career that they planned on getting into. To be completely honest I never knew “SEO” was a thing until after I graduated University and got my first proper job…where unknowingly I “fell” into SEO.
Since I’ve been working in the SEO industry, I’ve been able to experience three contrasting environments where I’ve needed to use my SEO knowledge; in house, full service agency and specialist agency. In this post I’m going to discuss what I think the “positives” and “negatives” of working in each environment are, and then talk about why my final move to a specialist SEO agency was the best move.
Working in house
After University I started out as a Marketing Assistant at a small recruitment agency. Here my main focus was on digital, as the more “traditional” marketing efforts weren’t proving value for money for the business. It was here I started to fully immerse myself in the world of SEO.
As the company I worked for was so small, a major benefit was we could get most tasks completed relatively quickly. However, we had no in house developers, so anything technical would take a bit of time to get implemented.
The other concern was that nobody else was responsible for SEO within the business, so I had to push for change myself and couldn’t ask anyone for any SEO advice internally. And as I was totally new to SEO, this often meant it felt like I wasn’t doing things in the right way.
Overall, I felt that although changes could be made relatively quickly, that wasn’t always going to be the case as the business was rapidly expanding. And as there was always little focus on the SEO department I knew that the knowledge I had built up was nowhere near as good as it could be, especially compared to knowledge within agencies providing SEO services.
My main positives of working in house:
- You are the final decision maker and could quickly move things to implementation (if there’s no red tape!)
- You are purely dedicated to looking after the brand’s own site properties, meaning greater focus and time to work on improving performance of those websites.
My main negatives of working in house:
- The implementation time for your recommendations could get much longer as the business expands.
- The knowledge of SEO in the business will always be limited due to time constraints and only having a few, if not just one SEO in the department.
- Putting together an in house SEO team is expensive, so it’s unlikely your team will ever grow meaning chances to improve knowledge is limited.
- Tools are a very expensive extra cost for a business where SEO is a minor focus, and you find yourself having to battle to get access to them.
- Due to only working on the brands own website properties, this limits exposure to other types of websites and industries.
- There’s a real lack of variation within the day to day role.
Working in a full service agency
After the recruitment company I moved to work at a full service agency, meaning we had an digital marketing team, a development team and a design team, with project managers leading the campaigns and liaising with clients. Within the digital marketing team we had a PPC Specialist, a Social Media Specialist, a Link Building Specialist, a Technical SEO Specialist and a Director of Digital Marketing.
I somehow managed to fall in the Technical SEO Specialist role, however my role incorporated many other SEO aspects as well including link building, social media, PR, content writing and data analysis.
I spent a fairly lengthy amount of time at this agency so really got a feel for the ins and outs of how a full service agency operated. One of the main aspects I found interesting here was that we had full control over our clients websites, so we were able to edit their content, meta tags, internal links, etc. ourselves, rather than having to wait for the client to do it. This saved time and we became fairly efficient because of it.
As part of our agreements with clients we also had to write landing page content and blog posts, and in some cases we managed their social media as well. Whilst this must of been really beneficial from a client’s point of view (as in they were able to pass the responsibility on to us), from a user’s point of view this content could have been seen as poor quality as it is just written for “SEO” purposes, and not by someone with experience within that particular industry.
My main positives of working in a full service agency:
- We could action our recommendations quickly and efficiently.
- We could build a site SEO ‘friendly’ and technically sound straight from go-live.
- We could utilise designers and developers to help create infographics, SEO friendly landing pages and more.
My main negatives of working in a full service agency:
- Things could easily go wrong when making changes to a client’s site, so the blame would tend to be on the agency in those instances.
- The number of SEO specialists within the agency was still minimal, so shared knowledge and collaboration wasn’t great.
- The content we created for our clients never felt like it was high quality or able to reach its potential as it was written by SEO’s, not specialists in the industry.
- You ended up doing more manual tasks such as transferring content for a go-live rather than focusing on SEO/marketing related tasks.
- Billable client time was split across development, design and SEO tasks, so the time we had to spend focusing on making SEO improvements was limited.
- You’re less likely to gain experience working with other design or development agencies due to having those teams in the building.
Working in a specialist SEO agency
After over two and a half years I moved to Blue Array – a SEO specialist agency, where the main focus is purely on delivering SEO services to clients, rather than also having website design, development and other digital marketing services tagged on.
Here we currently have a team of around 20 people; our team’s collective SEO experience has been gathered from in house and agency roles, as well as those who had previously come from more general marketing backgrounds who want to specialise in SEO.
Moving to Blue Array was a big change for me, as certain tasks I was used to completing at my last agency weren’t required here, e.g. creating blog and landing page content on a daily basis, managing social media, undertaking link outreach and editing a website’s content on the CMS freely.
Audits are handled very differently here too, with far more detail and scope for how SEO could impact a business over 12 months. We conduct a really deep dive into a huge number of technical aspects, and analyse the client’s keyword and backlink landscapes to ensure we’re covering all bases of SEO. At the previous full service agency, SEO was really only tagged on to proposals for a new website build, rather than an audit taking place for that site with a clear strategy roadmap to follow.
Typically, the clients we take on at Blue Array are looking to outperform their industry competitors via SEO. Given we have a team full of SEO specialists who know what works and what doesn’t work, we’re very confident at providing recommendations that will help our clients to gain that competitive advantage.
My main positives of working in a specialist SEO agency:
- Guaranteed SEO expertise around you, making training and ongoing learning far easier
- We work on in-depth SEO audits with a clear view of how organic traffic can be increased through the three key areas of SEO; technical, backlinks and content, and clear strategies are set for our clients from the outset.
- Clients are guided to create content using clear SEO guidelines and frameworks provided by us, meaning the content will both be SEO friendly and good quality to the user.
- Clients know that their money is being spent on SEO, rather than in a full service agency where it can be dispersed across development, design and SEO to different degrees month to month.
- We have access to various tools and know what tool to use to get the data we need to help our client campaigns reach their full potential.
- We get the opportunity to collaborate with other specialist development and design agencies that the client is in partnership with.
- We’re able to work with existing in house SEO teams to get them trained up to a good standard (making implementation of our recommendations more useful and impactful).
My main negatives of working in a specialist SEO agency:
- No developers or designers within the agency, so tasks can sometimes take longer to implement than we would like (depending on the client and their available resources)
- The recommendations we provide are purely for SEO benefit to the site; sometimes the client thinks you are responsible for more than that.
Overall, I feel that whilst there are benefits to all three options, I believe that working at a specialist SEO agency has by far the most positives if you’re looking to develop a career in SEO. You’re surrounded by like-minded people, with a wealth of knowledge available to you, and you get to hone your skills working across a range of clients in different industries.
Take a look at our Jobs page if you’re interested in coming to work at Blue Array.