SEO careers: In-house or agency?

So, (or should we say SeO), you’re passionate about search engine optimisation and confident in your ability to maximise a website’s online visibility and search engine rankings. SEO is an incredibly important element of digital marketing that can make or break a company’s growth strategy in terms of how easy it is for potential customers to interact with your products and services.

With this in mind, it’s an increasingly popular industry to move into, albeit often accidentally, as online presence continues to define a company’s success. As your knowledge of SEO increases – whether on purpose or as a compliment to your job role – it’s likely that your employability will as well.

If you’re planning on progressing in your SEO career, there are several routes you can take which depend on how you prefer to work and your specific skill set.

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Feel at home in-house

In-house means that you’ll be hired by a company as one of their employees and your responsibility within that role will be monitoring and improving the company website’s SEO. Usually, this means that your sole focus will be on one company, rather than a range of clients. Therefore, in this role you would be expected to develop a thorough understanding and knowledge of that company’s current content, marketing goals and customer base, and how to achieve results by boosting visibility and CTR (click-through rates) on SERPs (search engine results pages).

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a comprehensive understanding of any company or client you work with even in an agency; B2C is an important element of any successful SEO process. However, as the company’s employee, this relationship is likely to have more longevity than you might have in your relationship with certain clients.

A sense of agency in agency

By contrast, with an agency you’ll usually be one of a team of specialists hired to work with a range of clients and on various projects. In an agency role, there is a lot more emphasis on developing strong, professional relationships with clients in order to provide the exact service they’re looking for in order to get their website where it needs to be in order to be successful. However, this will also allow you to develop your own sense of personal agency as you manage your own workload and client communications.

Across both in-house and agency SEO careers, many of the standard procedures and basic strategies will remain the same. Whether it’s your own or a client’s website, they might still bring you in to fix certain issues like a high bounce rate or low conversion rates. This is why in either role you still need demonstrable and reputable knowledge and experience of SEO best practices, including website auditing, site mapping and metadata analysis.

Is consistency key important for you?

An in-house role is most likely of the two to give you the space to develop a specialism, as well as the comfort of a familiar company voice. This enables you to build up a portfolio demonstrating this topic-specific knowledge for future employers. It also has a positive impact on site rankings through the creation of content that prioritises quality standards like Google’s EEAT (experience, expertise, authority, trust).

This might be best for you if you’re the sort of person who likes to focus on the trajectory of one project and follow it through to completion before moving on to something else. It can be rewarding to see a website you’ve worked hard on gain greater success through increased organic traffic thanks to your skill set and expertise.

However, if you do end up wanting to enter an alternative area of the SEO industry, it can be more difficult if you’ve only been writing about one niche topic. If you’re someone who thrives in a dynamic and varied work environment, in-house might feel a bit stagnant compared to an agency setting.

Another downside to an in-house SEO career is that, depending on the size of your company and whether or not you have any in-house developers, if your expertise doesn’t extend to technical SEO, any specific issues around crawling, indexing, rendering, and website architecture could take longer to solve and require external help anyway.

…Or is variety the spice of life?

In an agency, you’re much more likely to be dealing with a variety of topics day-to-day and have more external deadlines. This will give you the chance to embrace daily challenges and learn to develop and adapt your tone of voice according to the client’s brief. An agency will also charge each client individually for the use of your skills and expertise.

As well as working with a range of clients, your role within an SEO agency also means that you’ll most likely be part of a team with a similar skill set to you. Not only are you likely to be working alongside similarly minded creative people, but you’ll also have a readily available support system in case you need a second opinion.

Due to an agency’s specific focus on SEO, it’s also far more likely that you’ll have access to, and the resources for, useful SEO tools which can speed up the process of things like website audits and keyword research. It also means that a client has more clarity of exactly how, and on what, their money is being spent.

The variety of an SEO agency career may sound exciting, but it requires a lot of effective time management, task prioritisation, and constant communication with clients which some people might feel interrupts their writing process.

With agency work, there’s also the added disadvantage that although you’ll become proficient in a range of SEO content, an agency usually has specifically designated teams focussed on various aspects of web design and development. This means that you’ll have less opportunity to develop skills related to those areas.

At the end of the day, it’s about picking an SEO career that suits you

If you’re just starting out in SEO, an agency tends to be a good place to learn quickly and to expand your range of knowledge around optimisation skills very quickly. However, it can be quite a stressful first impression of the industry. On the other hand, in-house might provide you with career stability at first, but there might not be as much opportunity for personal development as you work towards the company’s growth.

All of that to say, ultimately whether you want to pursue an SEO career in-house or in an agency is really down to personal preference and the way you manage your workload. Either way, in order to be a successful member of any optimisation project, it’s important to have a demonstrable and comprehensive understanding of SEO.

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