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If you’ve arrived at this post via a Google search, you are probably in one of these two groups:

  1. You are a business that has identified SEO as a growth channel for you business and you don’t know who to hire, or
  2. You are trying to figure out if SEO is going to be a growth channel for your business.

This article is for both of you, though if you’re in the first camp you should probably go ahead and hire us to help you find someone. If you are in the second camp you should download these case studies about what good SEO consulting can do for businesses.

Let’s continue.

You face an interesting juncture in your business. Your business is not yet where you want it to be and where you think it should be. So you’re looking for that path that will get you there.

And for that I commend you. You’ve seen all the “1 simple tip to skyrocket your marketing” posts, but because you are a serious entrepreneur (not a “hustler” or “hacker”) you get that strategies not tactics are what build businesses.

Your business has revenue or funding that you need or want to spend to a) lower your tax burden but more importantly to b) accelerate your growth. You realize that SEO and any other growth strategies you use are investments, not something you do once and then move on to do something else while “my SEO keeps working”.

In reality, to succeed with a deep growth mindset around a channel like SEO, you need to engineer the business around that main growth driver.

I worked inside Zillow for two years and can tell you firsthand that if you want to win a competitive space like real estate, you need buy in and support from the very top. I personally witnessed Zillow’s CEO and CMO both praise, challenge, and educate the whole company about the merits and potential of SEO for the business, and it paid off in spades over the years.

If any of the above speaks to you, you probably need an SEO expert either inhouse full time or as a consultant/agency to take you to the next level and chart your course.

Depending on your company’s current DNA and focus, you may need more than that as well. If you’ve been focused around aggressive outbound email for revenue growth and now need to rearchitect your business around search and inbound marketing in order to lower your CPAs and build a sustainable business, you also need a change agent to drive that.

So let’s dig into what that means, what a change agent internally can look like, and ultimately how your business can find the SEO expert it needs. And not “the best SEO expert”, but the right SEO provider for your specific business.

Is SEO right for your business?

If you operate online, then SEO can absolutely help you build your business. Though, as with any business and product or marketing channel, just how effective it is for your business depends on your specific industry, your competitive landscape, and the budget you have to put towards the effort.

You wouldn’t commit to building a product and not hire someone to build it, so why would you commit to doing SEO and not commit the resources to making it successful?

We at Credo firmly believe that SEO can do amazing things for your business:

We shouldn’t be so flippant as to say that “if you have a website, then you need SEO”. While it’s true, you should ask yourself these questions to start determining if SEO is going to be a viable growth channel for your business:

  • What is your product’s cost per acquisition? Is that profitable through paid acquisition, or do you need a scale of traffic to make it lower and profitable? If the latter, then SEO is likely a viable channel.
  • Are your customers researching potential products like yours online, and asking questions to Google about the topics and problems your product is solving? If so, then SEO is likely a viable channel.
  • Are your competitors investing in SEO or content marketing/links to help them rank better, and therefore your customers go there instead of to you? If so, then SEO is likely a viable growth channel.

All of that asked, you then need to determine who should lead the charge on SEO.

Who should lead the SEO charge internally?

In order for a company to be successful with SEO, there must be a champion internally that is leading the effort. Ideally, and most successfully in companies I have worked with and for, this is the CEO or the person setting the direction of the company (sometimes the COO).

Ideally, the person leading the SEO charge for your business should:

  • Understand the basics of SEO and what the potential opportunity is;
  • Understands how to build a team around the initiative;
  • Understands the long term value of investing in something like SEO;
  • Has the ear of the whole company to evangelize SEO through the company.

Whoever is leading the initiative internally should be given the opportunity to educate others, show them the good that SEO is doing the potential left in front of them, and celebrate the wins of the team getting the work done within the company.

Marketing or product?

If you are a good sized company that has many different teams such as engineering, marketing, and product then you may be asking which team should own SEO internally.

In my experience, if you are a relatively large company with a strong website (high Domain Authority) where technical SEO will move the needle for you, then the product team (with engineering support) should own the project in my experience. This also applies if you are constantly rolling out new products, as the product team leads this charge.

If you have a traditional marketing team that does not have dedicated engineering support or project managers (in addition to marketers), then someone other than the marketing team should own a technical SEO project.

Why?

Technical SEO projects, which are often what move the traffic and revenue needle for strong websites, need engineering support. I have seen too many projects where the marketing team hires an SEO agency and then is unable to get anything implemented because they do not have engineers dedicated to it and the engineering team does not respect the marketing team.

This happens all the time.

Now, if the SEO project also involves content marketing and links as well as technical SEO, then ownership should be split between the product and marketing teams where the product team owns the technical side of the project and the marketing team owns the content side. Each team needs a point person who is working directly with the agency.

If you are engaging in a holistic SEO campaign, then this is the optimal way to set it up.

Hire internally or hire an agency?

Now we get to a question I hear quite often, which is whether you should hire a team internally or hire an agency to do SEO for you.

The answer is yes. Ideally you’d do both.

“Ideally” is not always possible however, and so you need to determine what you are able to do within the boundaries of your budget and your ability to hire.

Here is how I advise most businesses who have product/engineering/marketing teams around who to hire and what to outsource to an agency. This advice is different for a small business without dedicated product/engineering/marketing teams, which I will cover in another post.

If you have the above three mentioned teams, then I recommend that you hire an SEO manager internally who is ultimately responsible for the numbers moving in the right direction. If you’re a rather large website and company, then ideally they will have a good understanding across the board of technical, links, and content and how they all work in together. The most important trait for an inhouse SEO, however, is the ability to align teams internally and help them understand why SEO matters and the role they play in it.

This SEO should probably sit on the product team, with dedicated engineers to implement the discoveries and strategies that the SEO develops. An SEO inhouse cannot truly move the traffic needle without development support. Period.

This SEO will also likely have a specific way that they lean and prioritize, so they should own that themselves and then rely on agencies for the rest. If you have a marketing team with digital marketers who understand keyword research and outreach to build links, then that is an inhouse SEO’s dream. If you do not have this, though, then a content marketing and outreach agency can provide you the scale you need to succeed in the search results.

I often debate with myself if companies should invest in hiring a content team internally or hire an agency to produce content for them, and the reality is that it depends on the type of company you are.

I have worked at companies that have content through their DNA and thus hiring a content team internally to crank out content makes sense. I usually advise that most companies with dedicated marketing teams have at least one content manager internally who is responsible for most content marketing.

However, content marketing that earns links cannot be done by just one person, and often it does not make sense to hire designers and developers internally to build large content assets, and then for the content manager to do the outreach. It is simply too much work for one person.

You can go the route of hiring internal link builders as well as companies like Zillow have, but that is also a large expense that requires quite a bit of training to get optimal performance out of them. It is usually easier, and cheaper, to hire an agency to do the outreach for you as long as they report back to you the links they are building and what they are doing.

At the end of the day, most companies that have dedicated marketing teams who are investing in content marketing should hire a content manager and outsource a lot of the content creation and outreach for links to an agency.


Structuring your teams for optimal SEO performance can be really hard. And if you already have teams in place, sometimes you need help figuring out the right way to structure them and focus their time when you also cannot hire internally and thus want to work with an agency.

If you’re looking for advice and help, you can hire us through the Porter Service to help you out and then introduce you to the right agencies if that is right for you.

Looking for tool and book recommendations?

Sometimes the hardest part of growing your company is finding the right tools to use to execute on your strategies. Tools are a dime a dozen, but the right tool for the job is hard to find.

Check out our recommendations for lead generation and SEO tools as well as the books we recommend reading as you grow your business.

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