Should I Hire a Full-Time SEO or work with a Freelancer?

A major decision any business owner will face when charting out their digital marketing strategy is whether to hire an in-house SEO or work with a contract-based freelancer. 

The efficacy of both of these options will of course depend heavily on the skill and experience of the individual you are working with, but with some foresight and proper planning, either can be an effective method of increasing your organic visibility within the search results of Google and other search engines. 

SEO Is a Long Term Strategy

Before we go any deeper into the hypothetical strategies you may be working with, we need to get one major factor out of the way: SEO is not a “one and done” initiative, it is an ongoing, long-term strategy. 

Technical problems can potentially be solved with one pass, but a future change to the site could break those fixes and negatively impact your rankings (or remove you from the search results altogether.) 

Keyword research and organic content ideation can be done in waves, but the chances are strong in whatever industry you are operating in that regular ongoing new content creation is a must have to rank competitively and draw in visitors from search engines. 

Finally, from an off-site perspective, your competitors will continue to develop new backlinks to their site regardless of your activity, so consideration for link development needs to be on your permanent roadmap. 

For Ecommerce Sites or Sites with Complex Taxonomies

If you are dealing with any type of site that relies more on the presentation of existing material (think of a catalogue, whether that be a typical ecommerce site that is selling products or perhaps a content aggregation site that is archiving pieces of content for users to find), and do not require a strong focus on new organic optimized content creation or pursuit of backlinks, you may be well positioned to work with a contract based SEO who can deal with technical and site structural issues, as these problems can frequently be addressed all at once. 

However, if you foresee the site evolving regularly or a redesign in your future, make sure you are working with a freelancer that you can return to quickly as needed, as any type of redesign, migration or developmental changes on the site should be reviewed by an SEO with strong technical prowess. 

If we’re dealing with multiple, distinct sections of the site with complex taxonomies, or you have seen evidence of Google running into any type of difficulty rendering or indexing your content (more prevalent on custom designed sites, javascript heavy platforms and single page application based sites), having this SEO on staff full-time can save you a lot of heartache in the long run. 

For Sites with a Strong Content Focus

If the regular creation and optimization of SEO-focused content is a major part of your digital marketing strategy, it may make much more sense to hire a full-time SEO to manage your content SEO workflows. In my experience, the content creation pipeline tends to be much more effective if an “iterative” process of optimization is allowed. From a very basic perspective, the ideal SEO-focused content creation workflow would be:

  1. A wave of Keyword Research is conducted to determine general keyword topics to create articles around
  2. Some initial optimization research is conducted by the SEO in order to construct a brief for your content writer to utilize while writing the piece
  3. The SEO reviews the final piece and recommends any missing topics/phrases/structured data elements for inclusion before publishing 
  4. (The part that frequently gets sidelined) Iterative optimization occurs – with regular changes being made to the article to test efficacy in ranking performance within the SERPs

The most popular pieces of organic content I have created have always involved this final step – it is rare that a piece of content will perform optimally the first pass through, and it is impossible to know what the piece is missing without frequent iterative optimization coupled with rank tracking for all the relevant terms. 

For Sites with Strong Competition

A category that is certainly getting more crowded each and every day, any site that faces stiff competition within the SERPs should have some resource dedicated to constantly acquiring new backlinks. This is typically best suited to an in-house SEO, but could potentially be filled by an agency or service dedicated to building backlinks. 

Unless you have a strong understanding of what type of backlinks you require in order to see success on the SERPs however, it is highly recommended that you work with a dedicated SEO to at least oversee the process and review whatever backlinks these agencies or services may be pointing to your site. Links can frequently do more damage than good, so this is a high stakes SEO initiative that should never suffer for lack of attention. 

Do you Want to Roll Up Your Sleeves and DIY?

One of the great aspects of SEO is that it is not particularly difficult to learn as long as you are going to the right places for your information. It is, however, extremely time-consuming to do well, and so one of the dangers of attempting to be your “own in-house SEO” is simply resource-creep; you could understand the basics of what need to be accomplished but not understand the sheer amount of time and resource required to execute these strategies effectively. 

However, any good freelance SEO worth their salt should be able to walk you through the workflows and implementations they are recommending, so if you’ve managed to find a contractor that you feel can impart their processes to you in a clear and easy to understand fashion, it is entirely possible, given time and desire, that you could attempt to replicate their work in-house (or have them train a broader digital marketer with little to no SEO experience.) Odds are this could be an effective strategy for brand new start-ups or small sites, but as you hope to transition into SEO being the dominant channel of audience acquisition, you’ll probably find there are not enough hours in the day to both run the business and accomplish this goal successfully. 

Ryan Huser has over 10 years of experience finding, hiring and training talented SEO-focused digital marketing professionals in Enterprise SEO.