Imagine this scenario, if you will: You're an in-house SEO for a large e-commerce site, where you've had your share of successes and failures. You've become the resident subject matter expert on all things SEO, and you've made yourself readily available for anyone in the organization who might need assistance in gaining more organic traffic.
But over time, the struggle to get resources and funding for projects gets harder and harder. Each budget committee meeting becomes more and more frustrating. You think, "Why won't they listen to me? Why can't they see that I'm trying to keep our site up-to-date with the latest and greatest SEO practices? They hired me as an SEO expert, and now they're ignoring me!"
Before you take this personally, before you get too frustrated and quit your job, there are a couple of things you should know.
The Privilege and the Curse of the Badge
The first thing you should know is that what you're experiencing in this situation isn't uncommon. Large organizations have many priorities, and oftentimes, these priorities compete with each other. Let's face it. SEO should probably take a backseat to the project that will fix the shopping cart, which currently boots users out to a 404 error page when they try to complete their purchase. I think we can all agree on that.
Additionally, there is the very real struggle that SEOs face when they go from being a job candidate to a being a badged employee. As a job candidate, they are the experts that the organization so desperately needs. They carry the hopes and dreams of an executive team that wants to get as much free, organic traffic to their site as they can get.
The second thing you should know is that SEOs need a friend in times like this.
Meet Your New Friend – Not Someone Stealing Your Thunder
My first experience with an external agency was, quite frankly, very frustrating for me. For months, I had repeated my recommendations to my employer so often, they had become somewhat of a mantra. Everyone expected me to bring it up when they asked for my opinion. And yet, I wasn't getting any traction, and my projects were going nowhere due to a lack of funding and a lack of resources.
Then along came an agency saying that they had performed an analysis of our site and wanted to present their findings to our executive team. Our executives took the bait and listened intently to this agency's findings. And wouldn't you know it, their findings exactly matched the very recommendations I had made over the past few months … with one notable exception – the executives listened and acted on those recommendations this time.
I was at my wits' end. I was incredulous. In short, I was pissed off. And, sadly, I was going to see this same scenario play out over and over again.
This is another aspect of the "curse of the badge." In-house SEOs are not only just one of many voices vying for attention, they also have access to data that no one else can gain access to legitimately – log files, analytics, purchase path information, etc.. And the executive team knows that. However, if an external agency is able to find flaws in a site's search visibility, crawlability, link profile, or any other aspect of the search experience, then it's likely that a competitor can as well. And that is a scary prospect for an executive.
Three Immediate Ways Agencies Can Help In-House SEOs
In-house teams can respond in a variety of ways. I've seen a couple of ways play out. One way is to take it personally and stonewall the agency. I don't recommend this way. You can get more done together and working against each other.
The second way is to take advantage of having an external resource to help with both the search experience optimization workload for a site and with providing "social proof" when the in-house team is trying to get priority for a project.
If an in-house organization embraces the second of these two options, here are some ways a harmonious relationship with an agency will benefit the overall enterprise:
Agencies will usually reiterate what in-house teams have already told the leadership for an organization, but having that social proof presented to an executive accomplishes two things: 1. the project or key pain point will likely receive more attention, and 2. the in-house team's perceived expertise will receive a boost.
For a large enterprise-level site, oftentimes the workload contains repetitive and menial tasks, like reviewing the entire link profile to identify toxic links and create a disavow file or updating large XML sitemaps when thousands of new pages are created. Using an agency to handle the more menial tasks can free up internal resources to focus on more strategic items.
I'd love to say that I had an all-seeing eye that could pinpoint every single problem or opportunity for a large enterprise site, but I don't. Most SEOs don't. It's well-worth it to hire an agency to do an audit of your site, just to catch the problems or opportunities you may have missed. As I've said before, none of us is as smart as all of us.
Hopefully, this will give in-house SEOs a different perspective of the agencies they work with, and agencies can now understand why they may encounter resistance from internal teams.
Note: This is an opinion piece based on my experience. I should note that not all agencies are created equally. Larger enterprise sites have agencies of record that they use, and these are the agencies to which I'm referring in this post. If your site doesn't already have an agency of record, please proceed with caution and do your homework before hiring an agency.
Featured image courtesy Flickr