Outsourcing SEO to Search Agencies or Doing SEO From In-House

  |  October 4, 2011   |  Comments   |  

Evaluate these factors when hiring an SEO agency.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a natural and inexpensive method to get visitors and potential customers to your website through search engines. To decide whether to outsource the search engine optimisation of your site to a search agency or to do the SEO work from in-house, you should consider the ability of the search agency and the ability of your in-house SEO team on the following factors:

  1. Understand the specific industry
  2. Get the traffic data and the purchase data, and connect the two sets of data
  3. Authority to make changes to the website
  4. Deal with historical issues

1. Understand the specific industry

Professional search agencies should have vast experience in doing search engine optimisation for a wide range of websites within multiple industries. Whether the specific search agency you may be choosing is suitable or has the experience in your industry is very important. If they have the experience optimising sites in your industry, they would be able to ask the right questions regarding:

  • Your customers' behaviour on using your website
  • Your customers' behaviour to purchase on your site
  • The bottleneck that may have been caused by your business or your industry
  • The technical bottleneck that hinders the growth of your site or business

2. Get the traffic data and the purchase data, and connect the two sets of data

As an external search agency optimising your client's website for SEO, you are required to access and analyse their 'data' before you can propose an SEO solution.

A web analytics tool that has been previously integrated onto your site offers the basic traffic source data (e.g., 20 percent external traffic of your site is from organic search engines), the specific landing page traffic (e.g., what URLs have been picking up how many organic search engine clicks per day), and the specific keywords (e.g., keywords that have been driving organic search clicks to the site).

The web analytics tool should also provide information about the site's visitors: new visitors vs. returning visitors, frequency of a user visiting the site, and the frequencies of each of the feature/element being used/clicked on the site.

Web log files are able to provide some of the data that web analytics tools offer, however, in SEO you are dealing with search engines (i.e., robots and algorithms), so you must dig as deep as possible into the search engine robot behaviour from your web log files.

From the web log, you can get data including, for example, the total number of times a Baidu robot visited and crawled your web pages, the number of times a Baidu robot visited and crawled a specific section of your website, the average time and total duration Baidu robot spent crawling your web pages, and the bandwidth in bytes downloaded by the Baidu robot.

Purchase data of your customers: This type of data can be considered sensitive to some of the websites/businesses, and so they are not always willing to share with any third-party vendors such as even search agencies. One way is for the search agency to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the business.

Depending on the industry the business is in, search agencies may require a different set of data, but normally data as daily reports, weekly reports, monthly reports, and quarterly reports would be helpful.

Connect the two sets of data: If a third-party web analytic solution is used, normally the business struggles to connect well between the traffic data and purchase data.

3. Authority to make changes to the website

The search agency has gathered the data, analysed the data and figured out the solutions to optimise your site, now they have to face the different teams that own each stage in the website development process:

  • The approval of the CEO or board members of the business
  • Each of the website product teams who are the owners of each section of the website
  • The web developers/engineers who can access the source codes of the site
  • The data center/server technicians who are responsible for the stability of your site and your site's infrastructure

4. Deal with historical issues

Even after understanding the industry, getting the required data reports, and having the support from CEO, website product teams, and web developers/engineers, search agencies may still need to overcome issues that were left unresolved in the past. These historical issues may prevent search agencies from doing their jobs and worst, from getting the expected SEO results.

Historical issues may include:

  • Website and database infrastructure that were set up over a decade ago. Now when you are to grow SEO traffic by adding a large amount of content, the implementation of your solutions is limited as your site is unable to scale.
  • Often, the site you are working with may already be sitting with severe duplicate content issues and many other issues that may be penalised by Google or Baidu even before the search agency takes over.


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Gordon  Choi

Gordon Choi is the co-founder of, a Shanghai-based firm specializing in data analytics and data integration solutions. Gordon also volunteers at Web Analytics Wednesday China, assisting in the conference and content operations, and volunteer recruitment. Gordon's previous experience includes leading in-house teams at and Alibaba. His areas of expertise include strategy, solutions and workshops for multi-screen data integration and mobile SEO for the local Chinese market.  

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