Written by: Ekaterina Grishko, Marketing Coordinator, Ashton College

You manage a small to medium-sized business.

Naturally, as one of your core goals, you are trying to expand your audience and overtake your competitors in pushing services or products on the market.

In the age of digitalization of consumer culture, it is clearly unwise to neglect your brand’s presence in the online space – even if your target audience is generally quite distanced from digital communication platforms.

For example, if you are selling hearing aid devices to elderly people, your success is still directly related to how your business is ranked by the search engine.

Nowadays, optimizing the company website for search engines is an important part of most marketing plans. Some owners/managers might have a background in online marketing and choose to do everything on their own. However, in most cases, the preference is given to either hiring an individual full-time SEO specialist or contracting an SEO firm.

But which of these two options is the best?

There is no direct answer to this because there is no one-size-fits-all formula for SEO success. Still, here are some important things to consider while making this important decision.

1) Priorities

One of the key benefits of hiring a full-time SEO specialist who will deal with all of your SEO-related inquiries is that they will operate on-site and fully dedicate their efforts and knowledge to your company.

Not only will they spend time learning about your business in-depth, they will be checking the status of your website, monitoring progress and fixing mistakes in real time.

This is not the case with an SEO agency. Each agency has dozens of clients. Each specialist of such agency is forced to multitask by the nature of their business. You are lucky if you get a couple of their precious hours spent exclusively on the optimization of your web platforms. Plus, if something goes wrong, there is a chance that the agency won’t notice it immediately.

2) Tactics

Each business, each domain, and even each web page has its own strategy. Knowing and following this strategy requires a lot of effort and critical thinking.

When your business is operating within a certain industry, it really helps to have a team of people who know the rules of this industry and the market it occupies. The nature of a regular SEO firm is very diverse as it deals with educational, financial, medical, fashion and other industries… all at the same time.

Even when an agency has hundreds of researchers on board (which is rarely the case), it is still hard to understand online trends and track all changes for all of the industries.

I like to compare the service provided by an SEO firm with journalism. A good journalist can create quality content on almost any topic. However, a real expert on that topic will always manage this task better.

So who do you choose for your business? While hiring a full-time SEO specialist, you have a better chance of finding a person who has experience working for domains within your industry and can offer valuable insights to manage your online presence more effectively.

3) Myth about benefits of ‘all-inclusive’

Many SEO firms offer their services through a package-based system. This means that, as a client, you do not have a choice to opt in just for one service of your interest. Instead, you are forced to pay for a bundle of services that you don’t even necessarily need. Thus, the issue that you originally needed help with does not get any special treatment as it becomes just one of multiple tasks performed by the agency.

The situation is different when you have an in-house SEO specialist. They become responsible for identifying weaknesses in your online marketing efforts and dedicate most time and efforts to areas that require immediate attention.

4) Data privacy issues

In digital marketing, risk is an unavoidable concept regardless of who takes care of your SEO efforts. However, data privacy concerns are much less likely to occur when your SEO is taken care of by your own employee rather than an external service provider. By hiring a company you automatically give up your exclusive ownership of important data and insights, which can be used to compromise your business at any point in the future.

5) Competition

As mentioned earlier, one SEO agency serves many different companies. Thus, there is always a chance that your competitors are among the clients of the agency of your choice. This means that, in addition to competing for the attention of the potential online audience, you are also competing for the attention of your SEO agency.

External SEO service provision is a huge business these days. So, the sad reality is that at times, the quality and the amount of work you get from an SEO agency is conditional. Among two similar clients that are competing for good ranking on the search engine, SEO agency will naturally give a preference to the one that brings them more revenue.

The purpose of this article is by no means to underestimate the validity of SEO agencies. There are many of them on the market, and they obviously provide a lot of value to millions of companies.

However, you should be careful and strategic while making your choice in favor of an agency. This choice should always be based on the size of your business and goals that you are trying to pursue at a given moment.  For example, a small young company that doesn’t have any significant online presence should definitely go for an SEO agency option as it will ensure that the digital marketing ground is fully covered.

If I was to give one piece of advice to those who think an SEO agency is the right option for them, I would highly encourage them to request an agency to document its actions and all changes that it makes to your website and advertising strategies. This way you can see whether the services are provided diligently and control where your money goes to. Documenting SEO activities will also help if you later decide to transition from external SEO service provider to hiring your own in-house team.

About Ekaterina
Ekaterina Grishko is a Marketing Coordinator at Ashton College. Founded in 1998, Ashton College has become a national and international force in the field of higher education.

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