Outsourcing SEO

Few terms see as much use as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in modern digital marketing. Far from a passing trend, SEO has been around for years – and continues to evolve as search engines do. However, it’s not the easiest endeavor, nor is it without challenges. It may help grow your business, but it can also be prohibitively costly and hard to monitor and measure. Especially for small businesses, these are notable, practical challenges that pose a crucial dilemma; outsourcing SEO vs. DIY SEO. There are no easy answers to this dilemma, so let us explore both sides.


For many small businesses, DIY SEO is the very first option they consider. It’s likely easy to see why; in-house operations are usually less costly, more transparent, and more organic. But it wouldn’t be a dilemma unless it also had disadvantages, ones that many tend to overlook.

The advantages of DIY SEO

First, let us become more specific as regards the advantages.

#1 It’s less costly.

Cost is a nearly self-evident advantage of DIY SEO – and for many, it’s the primary one. For reference, Indeed notes the average SEO specialist salary in the US is roughly $52,000. For many small businesses, that in itself is understandably prohibitive. Small businesses can’t often devote much of their budget to outsourcing SEO, so taking it up in-house is only logical.

#2 You get involved first-hand. 

Cost aside, there’s another element of DIY SEO that many small businesses value: first-hand experience. As search engine algorithms change over time, many view this benefit as a safeguard toward future-proofing. That is, personal experience is an easier – and less costly – way to ensure these businesses keep up over time.

Moreover, many small businesses already engage in SEO copywriting in one way or another. For them, it makes more sense to broaden their in-house SEO scope than look elsewhere.

#3 It can inform your content creation.

Finally, on the subject of content creation, DIY SEO can more holistically inform content from its fundamentals. For many small businesses, that’s primarily blog posts, and that’s where this advantage shines the brightest. With DIY SEO, you will personally select topics your visitors will enjoy; you will use your insights to adapt to your audience; you will promote content on your blog in your own way.

That’s not to say that agencies will firmly constrain your creative process by any means. However, outsourcing SEO does introduce an outside influence on it – which many businesses can’t manage, or simply don’t like.

The disadvantages of DIY SEO

These and other advantages make DIY SEO undoubtedly appealing. That said, to reiterate, there would be no question between outsourcing SEO vs. DIY SEO unless there were two sides. Put differently, DIY SEO is not without its flaws and drawbacks.

#1 It still costs time and effort.

Perhaps most crucially, DIY SEO is still SEO, and thus costs in one way or another. While it can indeed save businesses money, it will, in turn, cost time and effort. For smaller teams in particular, this drawback becomes notable, as it drains their time away from other tasks.

#2 It has a steep learning curve.

Moreover, SEO has a steep learning curve, as it is a very deep, elusive aspect of marketing. Backlinko notes that there are over 200 SEO ranking factors. Moreover, SEO delves into a plethora of elements, depending on its subset:

  • On-page SEO; images, video, and other on-page elements
  • Off-page SEO; baclinks and other off-page metrics
  • Technical SEO; sitemaps and other factors of technical health

In addition, small local businesses will also often need to delve into local SEO; a subset with its own factors:

  • Locally valuable keywords
  • Local visibility
  • Google My Business (GMB) profile activity and optimization

Understandably, then, SEO can pose many challenges for the uninitiated. It’s here where the debate of outsourcing SEO vs. DIY SEO typically manifests first.

#3 It may be less effective than outsourced SEO.

For this reason, DIY SEO may be less effective than outsourced SEO. Put simply, SEO professionals know their profession well – in most cases. They won’t face the challenges you will, and will thus offer more reliable results. Especially considering that missteps may hamper your traffic for long periods, inexperience can be costly.

Outsourcing SEO

It is for that reason why outsourcing SEO becomes an appealing option for many. After all, it’s an external service like any other, which promises hyper-focused implementation and demonstrable results. Still, the cost is not the only disadvantage to consider here.

The advantages of outsourcing SEO

First, let us reiterate the advantages of outsourcing SEO vs. DIY SEO. Some may be self-evident, while others may warrant some more exploration.

#1 Faster implementation.

As highlighted above, SEO professionals don’t have to face the learning curve in-house teams might. They know how search engines tick and just how to implement effective strategies. For example, most agencies have been discussing Google’s Page Experience update since it was first announced. Therefore, they’re now prepared to address it, quickly and efficiently.

#2 Less room for error.

In turn, outsourcing SEO has less room for error by definition. This advantage is crucial, as BrightEdge finds search traffic accounts for 53.3% of all traffic. Thus, any mistakes during the learning process can cost, both short-term and long-term.

#3 It frees your hands.

Finally, while some may dispute this advantage, outsourcing SEO also frees in-house teams to delve into other matters. This is indeed a bit subjective, as some teams may prefer to take the holistic approach outlined above. But smaller teams with few resources and little time to spare will typically appreciate this subtle advantage.

The disadvantages of outsourcing SEO

Having highlighted the above, there are also some distinct disadvantages to outsourcing SEO. What’s more, they all relate to cost and return on investment (ROI), which small businesses will understandably keep in mind.

#1 It’s more costly.

Before even considering ROI, one must consider upfront costs to begin with. That’s why we started this article with this advantage of DIY SEO; outsourcing SEO simply costs more. While many agencies will adapt to your budget, in-house SEO offers the same advantage with more control.

#2 Not all professionals are equal.

Cost aside, ROI depends on your chosen agency’s efficiency. For one, since SEO is so broad and holistic, SEO scammers abound – so much so that Forbes reported on it. But scammers aside, professionals will vary in experience and efficiency, as will any others. Here, you may consider evaluating agencies through such means as:

  • Reviews and testimonials; do other clients vouch for them?
  • Case studies and specialized experience; do they offer case studies, and have they worked with businesses in your industry?
  • Promised results; do they overpromise, in terms of realistic traffic gains or timeframes?

#3 Results are not guaranteed.

Finally, on the subject of results, SEO results are not guaranteed. Of course, this applies to DIY SEO even more so. But when outsourcing SEO, you will expect good ROI – which will inevitably vary from one agency to the next.

This is due to a plethora of factors, such as:

  • Professionals differ; as highlighted just above, not all agencies are equal or produce equal results.
  • SEO ROI is harder to measure; as HubSpot notes, SEO is not easily measurable by nature.
  • SEO is a long-term effort; as algorithms change, what worked when you started may not work when you conclude.

Conclusion: outsourcing SEO vs. DIY SEO for small businesses

In conclusion, then, it should now be clear why this dilemma is so prominent. DIY SEO offers distinct advantages; a lesser cost, hands-on experience, and better integration with content creation processes.

However, it still costs valuable time, especially for the uninitiated, and may not offer optimal results. Outsourcing SEO does, by relying on professionals who know their craft while in-house teams tackle other matters. It typically does so at a steeper upfront cost, however, and results may vary quite significantly. Thus, there can be no definitive answers – only case-by-case ones, depending on your own business needs and goals.

About the author:

James Briant is a freelance digital marketer and web designer based in Houston, TX. He frequently authors content on SEO, PPC, and other marketing practices, with a keen focus on SMBs and local businesses.