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SEO 13 min read August 3, 2023

In-House vs. Agency: Exploring Key Differences in SEO Strategies and Client Engagement

Insights on SEO Consulting Services and Running Own Company: Interview with Kaspar Szumanski
Анастасия Сотула
Daria Ahieiva
Blog editor at Serpstat

To hire or not to hire? This is a question that every business owner has faced when thinking about an SEO agency. While some companies prefer to keep their SEO efforts within their own resources, others choose to partner with specialized agencies to leverage their expertise.

In this article, we'll take a look at the key differences between in-house and agency SEO strategies, as well as explore their unique approaches to attracting clients. To dive deeper into the topic we talked to Igal Stolpner, experienced marketer and Founder of SEO agency Webify.

Working in-house vs. in agency

Can you explain the fundamental differences between working in-house and in an agency? How do the organizational structures, team dynamics, and client interactions differ?

Working in-house and in an agency have some fundamental differences. In-house work involves:

On the other hand, agency work requires juggling multiple industries and sites, constantly looking for the most impactful items to tackle, and this is a constant challenge.

Client interactions are also quite different between in-house and agency work. While working in-house at Investing.com, I had the same manager for years, but at an agency, we frequently have new people we interact with and report to. So not only do we get new customers now and then, but the customers are switching our contacts more often than I'm used to. Now that I think of it, we probably have a new person to interact with every week.


Igal Stolpner

Founder of Webify

This is a big personal change, too, being used to one stable thing for years, switching to something very volatile. Agency life is a roller coaster, no doubt. However, there are, of course, many similarities too. From getting buy-in for any request to reporting and, of course, to the actual work, which is more similar than most people think.

In-House Advantage

Can you share specific examples of how an in-house team can leverage company-specific insights, culture, and resources to create a competitive advantage in marketing initiatives?

One great example would be utilizing a company's local data, which can be incredibly valuable. If we can transform this data into a newsworthy story, this may become a great marketing initiative. Now, of course, an agency can create newsworthy content too, but agencies usually don't get access to all data as in-house teams.

During my time at Investing.com, we frequently leveraged user data for PR purposes. We analyzed user preferences across countries, states, and audiences, uncovering valuable insights. Additionally, we identified different personas based on their specific interests, which led to a few different growth products.

How do agencies bring unique value to clients? Can you provide examples of how agencies have helped clients achieve their marketing goals?

This is one intriguing advantage that agencies have. It allows agencies to apply insights from client A or B to client C. Sometimes, it means actually resolving a problem, and sometimes it just means fixing it faster.

Agencies benefit from the collaboration among team members working with different clients. For instance, at Webify, when we faced a client with tons of javascript and rendering issues, while most team members had limited understanding of the problem, a single person with more expertise not only resolved the problem but also shared his experience with the rest. When 2-3 months later, another client with a similar issue joined, it took even less time to get it done.

This first client saw exponential growth after we resolved these rendering issues, growing from 15K to over 100K daily visits from Google in just a few months. One of our more notable case studies from the past year.

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Scalability and Adaptability: In-House vs. Agency

In terms of scalability and adaptability, how do in-house teams and agency teams differ? Which approach is better suited for handling fluctuations in workload or sudden changes in business objectives?

In general, agencies excel in scalability, adaptability, and navigating sudden shifts in business objectives. I mean, they just have to. 

Unlike my previous experience focusing on a single domain and site for a long period of time, working in an agency means I'm exposed to multiple clients every day. There are days when I speak to 6 clients and go through tasks of 12 of them. This constant change between domains requires us to switch quickly, and it's not always easy. In that sense, there's a lot more headache for an agency. Especially when a big SEO dilemma is left open, you just know you'll need to get back to it later.

Agencies, both owners and employees, that can't switch easily and pivot quickly won't make it. Agency work is super dynamic. Only yesterday, I pulled a team member in the middle of a big research project to a different client entirely. It's not always fun, but it happens multiple times a week, and that's the business we're in.


Igal Stolpner

Founder of Webify

When it comes to being organized, and I'm not saying that it isn't super important for in-house teams, but for agencies, not being super organized with notes, tasks, summaries, and reminders means you're done. You're toast.

Effective Marketing Strategy for In-House Teams

What are the essential components of a successful marketing strategy for an in-house team? How do you align the marketing strategy with the overall business objectives and target audience?

In short? A true understanding of the audience. In-house teams have a distinct advantage in comprehending their existing audience better than anyone else.

This advantage stems from their access to various resources, including support tickets, the product team, management, an example, the Facebook page data, or the ability to ask the audience any question. This access is crucial, truly allowing great things to happen.

The alignment of the marketing strategy with overall business objectives and target audience hinges on the strength of the marketing team. A strong team possesses access to these essential components, ultimately driving success.

Customized Strategies for Agency Clients

When working with agency clients, how do you approach developing a customized marketing strategy? What steps do you take to understand the client's goals, industry, and target audience?

When working as an agency with clients, time constraints set us apart from in-house teams. Our initial focus is to quickly get the product and competitive landscape.

To achieve this, we engage in thorough questioning to understand the client's goals. This includes requesting product demos, videos, and insights on their competitors. Notably, we've observed differences between the competitors they share and those we identify for SEO. This discrepancy comes from their limited understanding or divergent competitors in Search.

Our processes have become more efficient over the past two years since establishing our agency. While we acknowledge that an in-house employee's deep market understanding takes time to develop, as an agency, we sell limited time that must be adjusted to meet the requirements of comprehending a new industry and product.

We prioritize establishing a smooth understanding of the client's product and distribute tasks among our team members. This allows each individual to specialize in a specific aspect of the company and effectively communicate it to the rest of the team.

Personally, building these processes has been one of the most challenging aspects of running the agency over the past two years. But also one of the most rewarding ones.

Choosing Between In-House and Agency: Key Factors

Based on your experiences, what factors should organizations consider when deciding between an in-house team and partnering with an agency? Are there specific industries or situations where one approach tends to be more effective than the other?

The truth is, I've always favored in-house teams. Generally, if a company can afford and effectively manage an in-house team, that often should be the preferred option.

But the most significant difference between hiring an in-house team and an agency is time-to-market. Hiring an agency can yield faster results, period. When forming an in-house team from scratch, it's crucial to consider hiring a manager and juniors or seniors who will do most of the work but require proper supervision. Somebody needs to do the same, somebody needs to manage that, and somebody needs to know what needs to be done. These are not always obvious.

My personal rule of thumb is that companies that primarily focus on online operations (Most B2C or publisher sites), where the website itself is the center of the business, should ultimately establish an in-house team. Starting with an agency is not a bad idea, but eventually, I'd strive towards having an in-house team that can fully understand the operations and be totally integrated. Even the best agency in the world won't be able to integrate as well as a great in-house team.

On the other hand, companies utilizing their sites to promote their products (Most B2B firms, not to mention offline businesses with a site) can find agencies as better alternatives for them. Partnering with an agency allows for a quicker start, providing more expertise for a lower cost. Instead of hiring a single senior person, agencies provide access to multiple individuals with diverse expertise. While not working full-time, these experts can support, assist, and guide the company.

ChatGPT & AI's Impact on SEO

What insights can you provide about clients in 2023, considering the transformative influence of ChatGPT and AI on SEO?

There's no doubt that chatGPT has confused clients a little bit.

There are two things that clients are asking about:

First, it was chatGPT alone, which made some people believe it could just replace writers. Then, the drama around Google's SGE.

We still don't know enough about SGE, but we know it's coming and will impact the SERPs. Do clients think it's going to kill SEO? Not really. But I did hear from two prospects over the past few weeks that they prefer to wait a bit and see how the story evolves. I don't think they will see anything new soon, but clients often ask about it.

And regarding chatGPT, it's fair to say that ALL clients are interested in expediting processes and lowering costs with chatGPT's new capabilities. We are using it every day now, but at the same time, or maybe I should say, luckily enough, most clients also understand chatGPT's limits by now.

Every single client asked us about chatGPT, but not even a single one hasn't been convinced that it has its own limits.

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