30.03.2023

SEO & Paid Media

Hiring an SEO agency vs an in-house specialist - how to decide?

27 min read

Jim

Should you be hiring an in-house SEO specialist, or working with an SEO agency? We’ll cover all of the considerations to help you make the decision that’s best for your business goals.

It’s a well-known fact that websites with great SEO, see more traffic and leads coming to their website. According to Website Builder Expert, “SEO marketing has an average ROI ratio of 22:1, equating to 2,200%!” 


But when it comes to deciding who will actually carry out the planning, strategy, research, and implementation of SEO activities, there are several routes a business could take.


In this post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each option.

1. Hiring an in-house specialist

What is an in-house SEO specialist?

An in-house SEO specialist is a full-time employee of a company, that is set to optimise the website and the search engine rankings of the company. 

The SEO specialist will be registered as a full-time employee, and receive a salary as well as any or all benefits that other employees receive.

Hiring an in-house SEO specialist is a good option if you are looking for a high degree of control over the SEO process of your website without needing to learn SEO yourself.  

Advantages of hiring an in-house SEO specialist

Your company is the primary focus

An in-house SEO specialist will have your business as their sole focus, and over time will develop a strong understanding of your business, your goals, your industry, and the value you provide to your customers.

Efficiency of communication

Communication between other departments and the SEO department is easier, which can improve collaboration and provide a holistic SEO strategy. Monitoring and actions are carried out daily, and urgent issues can be reacted to and fixed quickly.  

Tailored strategy

Finally, having an in-house specialist allows for a tailored strategy that can pivot at any time. providing you with a customised approach that is not limited by a retainer.

Disadvantages of hiring an in-house SEO specialist

Disadvantages of having an in-house SEO specialist include additional costs. Hiring a new employee costs more than just the basic salary. On top of this, there will be

  • Employer’s National Insurance

  • Employee-specific costs: laptop, mouse, headphones, software, etc.

  • Business costs: desk, chair, stationary, etc.

  • Cost of recruitment, including advertising, interviewing and recruiting

  • Employee benefits

  • Holiday, sick days and training days

  • Taxes e.g. National Insurance paid for by the employer on top of the earnings and benefits of the employee

Time-consuming

Additionally, the hiring process is time-consuming, and training will need to be provided before the specialist can start their SEO work, which delays SEO implementation. 

Reliability on a single person

Having a dedicated in-house specialist could mean that you are reliant on a single person to handle all SEO efforts. This means you need to find cover for when they are on holiday or a replacement should they choose to leave your company.

Limited knowledge

SEO specialists may have limited expertise in some areas of SEO, and may not know how to deal with all SEO errors or enquiries that come their way. 

This could result in them needing additional time to research solutions and grow their expertise, which leaves your website stagnant for that period. 

This could even require temporarily hiring an external specialist to consult on the issue.

Limited worldview 

The disadvantage of having one company as their focus is that your SEO specialist will only be aware of the challenges facing your company's website, and have fewer insights into what other companies are doing. 


This may mean they miss out on opportunities to identify new technologies or solutions you could be using to drive business growth. They will need to be self-motivated to interact with others in the SEO community to bounce ideas off and keep their skills sharp. 

Long-Term Costs Increasing 

Most employees want to grow their careers over time. This means your company will also need to invest in professional development for your in-house SEO specialist. And then, as their knowledge and experience grow, it’s likely that their salary expectations will too, or else they will start looking for jobs elsewhere. All of this means additional costs on top of your original SEO investment. 

2. Hiring an SEO agency

An SEO agency consists of a team of SEO specialists. When a company hires an SEO agency the agency will often appoint one or more dedicated specialists to the project. 

The client will highlight the SEO problems faced; “I don’t have traffic coming to my website”, “my bounce rate is high”, “visitors are not converting”, and more. The agency will then determine what actions are required to improve website performance and estimate the number of hours/days needed to achieve this. 

The client will hire the agency for an agreed term of hours/days. Because SEO is a long-term approach, this is best done over a 6-12 month contract. 

Hiring an SEO agency is a good option if you are looking for someone to take over the SEO process of your website and leave it in the hands of a team of experts.


It takes away all the stress of doing SEO yourself and can be an easier and more cost-effective alternative to hiring a dedicated team member for SEO in-house. 

It is important to research the SEO company you are purchasing services from to ensure they are the right people for the job and can help your company reach success.


Before you hire an agency, you should assess the following:

  • Do they have experience in your industry and region?

  • How large is their team?

  • Are they knowledgeable in working with your Website CMS?

  • If your website is new and lacking content, do they offer writing services?

  • If you have a low Domain Authority, do they offer backlinking strategies and services?

  • If you have lots of bricks and mortar stores, do they offer local SEO?

  • If you have a multilingual website that requires HREFLANG tags do they offer Global SEO strategies?

Why you should consider an SEO agency

Team of specialists on hand

SEO agencies consist of teams of specialists who have the expertise and resources to keep your website up-to-date with the best practices and strategies. 

An SEO agency can provide a broad range of services as they often consist of a team of specialists who have a wide range of knowledge and can provide the best solution for your website. 

If working with an agency that offers wider marketing services, they will have a broader skill set covering website design, social media, marketing, content, analytics, sales, and more. 

Saves time

Hiring an agency saves you time to focus on other areas of your business. 

Knowing that your SEO is in the hands of experts you can focus on running your business and having regular check-in points to learn about the updates made, and improvements made and provide feedback on what your goals are for the website.

Do more with less

Many small to medium size company websites may not need a full-time resource dedicated to their site’s SEO. This is where a monthly SEO Agency retainer of 10-20 hours could fit in perfectly, allowing your Marketing budget to be spent in other areas such as Paid Media or Content Creation.  

Proven ROI

SEO agencies are results-driven, they will deliver measurable results for your website in the form of increased visibility, traffic, and conversions which are often provided in a report that you can use to report back to your management team. 

An SEO agency can provide measurable results and ROI, which allows you to track the success of the SEO efforts.

Agencies stay up to date

An SEO agency stays up-to-date on SEO best practices and ensures that your website strategy is always aligned with the latest industry standards, which can increase your website’s visibility and help you reach a wider audience that has a higher potential to convert.

Agencies have access to a wider range of resources, software, technologies, and tools to implement and manage all technical aspects of your website as well as deliver a comprehensive SEO strategy. 

All of the costs associated with this are usually taken on by the agency, which saves your company the technology and professional development costs you would have to take if hiring in-house. 

Agencies can grow with your company

An SEO agency can easily scale its services to meet your growing company’s needs, including mergers, acquisitions, website migrations, and more. An update of your retainer can effortlessly be handled to incorporate larger project needs. 

Because you will likely be working with a team, they will have a contingency for sickness, annual leave etc. 

When working with an SEO agency, they will often provide a portfolio or case studies of work they have done with proven results that you can review before deciding to sign a retainer agreement with them. 

Someone will oversee the project and communications

Lastly, SEO agencies will often have an account manager, who will be your point of contact and manage the specialists working on your website, ensuring the work requested is completed in an efficient time frame. 

The largest, global agencies will even have teams working in different time zones so that urgent actions you request last thing one day could potentially be fixed by the time you log on the next day.

Disadvantages of hiring an SEO agency

Cost per hour

Disadvantages often tend to focus on the higher per-hour costs associated with hiring SEO agencies. As previously discussed though, comparing these costs against the flat rate of an in-house employee’s basic salary is not the full picture. 

SEO agencies can be expensive as you are paying for full coverage of SEO services, expertise as well as resources and tools used by the team for managing the technical health of your site, as well as tracking/measuring any improvements in visibility, conversions etc.


Handing over the reins 

Using an outside party to handle your SEO means that you are reliant on that agency, and will lose some control over the SEO strategy and work being done on your website. 

Run poorly, an SEO project could lead to miscommunication, deadlines that overrun, and other challenges associated with not having the team in the same office/company. 

This is why establishing proper communications channels and having scheduled reporting and update meetings are important. The best results are achieved when an agency is considered a partner of your company and can provide input on your wider marketing and business growth strategies.

Conflicting priorities

Another disadvantage of using an SEO agency is that there may be conflicting priorities between your business goals and the strategies and goals the SEO agency can offer. It’s important to ensure at the beginning of the project that the goals are clear and everything is aligned.

Transparency

Lastly, a lack of transparency is another concern for many companies when choosing to work with an agency. Some agencies may not provide full transparency about their costs, methods, and results.

Every website needs its own strategy, as well as specialists dedicated to improving your business, and a project manager to ensure that everything goes according to the agreed plan.

It’s important to realise that SEO is not a “dark art” shrouded in mystery. Search Engines regularly provide guidance on what they are looking for when ranking a website, and there is a wealth of information on what best practices look like. But neither can an SEO specialist guarantee results for you because, ultimately, how your website ranks are up to the search engines themselves. 

So if you’re working with an Agency that is reluctant to tell you what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, or one that is guaranteeing rankings, this is usually a red flag!

That said, if you find an SEO consultancy that can offer tailored recommendations based on their knowledge of your company, and their years of expertise in SEO and the wider marketing field, you should see positive long-term results, in which case, SEO services are most certainly worth it. 

Working with agencies like Huble

When working with reputable agencies such as Huble, you have a whole team of SEO experts with different skill sets at your disposal, as well as access to all the tools necessary to track and improve your website.

We believe that the best SEO teams have a mixture of other skills such as marketing, website development, analytics, sales and user experience,as well as easy access to full-time specialists in these fields.

Two of Huble’s core principles are innovation and solving for the customer. A good SEO agency will solve for the client’s needs, and think outside the box. At Huble, we will find a solution that works for your website needs and your budget.

Reputable websites will have a list of case studies or customer testimonials to gain your trust, making the handing over of the reins to an agency easier for you. 

To ensure smooth operations and clear lines of communication, we  provide each client with a project manager to ensure timely responses to communications and that the project is on track and in motion. This also leaves our specialist free to focus on what they do best - improving your site’s SEO.

A good SEO agency will outline its priorities and strategies tailored to the needs of your website and business goals. Having a wide range of experience equips them with an external point of view and you and the SEO consultants can collaborate on the best way to achieve both of your goals.

Lastly, a reputable agency will be totally transparent, by providing you with a contract, starting costs for the project, the number of hours, and a list of what is in scope for the services you’ve bought and what is out of scope and may require additional costs to complete. 

Work with us

Hiring an in-house specialist or an SEO agency is not the only option available to website owners. Some may choose to learn SEO themself or hire a freelancer. We’ll explore these options below.

3. Doing SEO yourself

Learning SEO is a lengthy process, which means the benefits of SEO will take even longer to realise. If you have a small website, this may be possible, but for larger websites, it could mean taking time away from your other responsibilities to manage the SEO of the website

Advantages of doing SEO yourself

Saving costs

The main benefits of doing SEO yourself involve saving the costs of hiring an external resource and increasing control over the SEO strategy and decisions. It provides you with the ability to upskill yourself, and you can implement any updates flexibly as the site requires. 

Understanding your website

Learning SEO may lead to a better understanding of your target audience and how they may search for and find your website/product. 

Full control

Lastly, doing SEO yourself means that you have direct feedback and access to your website data, being able to track your effectiveness in real time and make any adjustments as needed.

If you have a business that can benefit from you or a dedicated team member taking time from their responsibilities to learn and implement SEO on the website, this could be a good option. But there are a few disadvantages to doing SEO yourself as well. 

Disadvantages of doing SEO yourself

Time-consuming 

Learning SEO, auditing the site, and implementing all the improvements yourself is very time-consuming. You will still need to purchase SEO software, technology, and resources. 

Limited experience

Without training and experience, you will have limited expertise which means that certain errors or optimisations will remain unresolved until you have time to research and learn how to implement or update it, or even have to hire a specialist to do this for you. 

Difficulties staying up to date with work and SEO

You may experience difficulties in staying up-to-date with the latest SEO developments, best practices, and strategies. Additionally, you could have difficulties staying up to date with your other priorities besides the SEO work, which may lead to burnout.

Difficulties growing the website and taking on SEO

Lastly, if your website/business grows. you could experience difficulty scaling your SEO efforts with it, the amount of SEO work may become challenging and overwhelming.

4. Hiring an SEO Freelancer

Hiring an SEO freelancer may seem like a good idea if you just want to update a few things on your website, here we will break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of hiring a freelancer.

Advantages of hiring a freelancer

Saving costs

Choosing to hire a freelancer is often cheaper than an agency or full-time in-house specialist. There are many sites out there offering freelance SEO services, such as People Per Hour, Fiverr, and Upwork.

Flexibility

Freelancers are often flexible on the size and scale of services they provide, and there are many to choose from. This means that you can find a specialist for your needs and work with them directly. This means that you should expect to receive a quick response and the issue/optimisation can be handled more efficiently than with the other options. 

Freelancers can provide personalised attention to your project, as they work on a project-project basis and typically have fewer clients. 

Availability

Another benefit is that if you dislike the freelancer or their work, there are others to choose from and build relationships with, and it is easier to switch between freelancers when working on a project basis than terminate an employment or agency contract. 

You can also hire freelancers according to their field of expertise or for specific one-off tasks. Therefore, freelancers can be seen as a lower risk than hiring an in-house specialist or signing a contract with an SEO agency. 

Disadvantages of hiring a freelancer

Quality is not guaranteed

The disadvantages of hiring freelancers are that the quality of service is not always guaranteed, and you may need to hire an additional freelancer to fix the mistakes of the first, incurring additional costs and delaying SEO results. 

Can easily mislead companies

It is difficult to pre-determine a freelancer’s quality of work, especially if you do not have much knowledge of SEO and are fully reliant on the word of the freelancer, relying on them to do the work they promised to do.

That is why it is important to seek referrals from companies you know and trust, or spend time reading through the freelancer’s profile to see if they have examples of their work and/or good reviews from previous customers. 

Lots of trial and error

This means extra time will be needed to find a good freelancer and may cost you a lot of trial and error to find one that fits your needs.

It’s important to remember that not all freelancers have this as their full-time career. The main advantage for the freelancer themselves is the flexibility of their role - they may be freelancing alongside studying, part-time or as side hustle from their main career.

So there is a risk that your project with them stops early should circumstances change or they decide to take another full-time role elsewhere. 

Takes time

Additionally, getting a new freelancer, or needing new freelancers over and over again means that you will need to allocate time to explain your website issues, optimisation needs, strategy, industry, and target audience each time you need work done on the website. There’s also other admin to consider such as training them on your financial and other internal processes. 

Also, all of this switching usually means that you want to have ownership of whatever reporting software you’re using, rather than having your historic data spread on a different platform per freelancer/project. This is another hidden cost to consider. 

Lastly, since freelancers are not part of a company, you may struggle to get them to reply on time, or get hold of them if they are not currently on a retainer with you. 

When to…

…hire an internal SEO consultant

  • When you want a dedicated SEO employee 

  • When you can take on the time and costs of hiring an additional employee

  • When you are prepared to hire a freelancer when your SEO consultant goes on leave for an extended period

  • When you want to have control of the SEO strategy but not do it yourself

  • When you want someone who understands the internal workings of your business and its goals

  • When you want a tailored SEO strategy that can pivot at any time without needing additional costs added to the project

...hire an SEO agency

  • When you are a large company that needs to keep up with changes

  • When you don’t have capacity in your team to take on the work and don’t want to hire an additional employee. 

  • When you fully trust the agency to handle your website and SEO strategy

  • When you want someone else to take on the SEO of your business and to be kept up to date, you can focus on other areas of your business.

  • When you want to track the impact and ROI of SEO efforts

  • When you are planning for growth and need an agency that can scale with your plans

  • When you have the budget to hire a good agency with proven results

…learn SEO yourself

  • When you are a small business and can dedicate time during the working day or after work to learning SEO

  • When you are dedicated to keeping up to date with the latest SEO updates

  • When your website is small and you are not planning on expanding soon

  • When you need to save money and cannot afford a freelancer/agency/dedicated employee

  • When you really want to learn SEO

  • When you want a deeper understanding of your website, content, and essentially your target audience

  • When you have someone to cover other work so you can dedicate more time to SEO

…hire SEO freelancers

  • When you only need specific deliverables carried out rather than a long-term engagement

  • When your website is in a good place and only needs a few updates monthly to keep it in order

  • When you and your team have some SEO knowledge to update and implement changes on the website without creating any new problems.

  • When you want to save on the costs of hiring a full-time employee or agency

  • When you need someone who is flexible, and available immediately (not worrying about hiring an employee or signing with an agency)

  • When you don't want to commit to just one agency/employee

  • When you have a relationship with the freelancer and trust their work


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