Search engine optimization is the most important component of any online marketing strategy, at least for a business that wants longevity within an industry. However, many small and medium sized businesses on a budget are faced with a rock / hard place choice: Do we spend the money outsourcing our search engine optimization requirements or spend the time and manpower to learn it ourselves?
This is hardly an easy question to answer, and the answer certainly depends on the unique needs of a business, but there are some guidelines to follow to determine the answer, as well as certain analyses that can be done.
Ever since the Google Panda update, certain industries like residual copywriting web sites took a massive nosedive. The staff at a site like this is usually quite proficient in search engine optimization, as that is what produces all revenue on the site. However, learning SEO in a situation like this is almost a hindrance, as many of the techniques that they learned no longer work.
This same Google Panda update made some industries much more easy to optimize. Engineering and entertainment web sites, which both rely on a precise writing style, both benefitted from the update, which began to rank sites more by the “total experience” rather than any one metric, like number of one way backlinks or keyword density.
The first way to tell if learning SEO is worth it in your industry is to see how your industry was affected by Google Panda. Did the nuances change the rankings in an unexpected way, or did the update perform as it should have, catapulting great sites to the top of the rankings?
If the best sites are at the top of your industry, you can easily find out how by using the many free analysis tools provided by search engines. You can see exactly who they link to, who they are recommended by, and what keywords they are targeting. You can then match their links, likes, and keywords while adding your own “total experience,” which requires less technical knowledge. In this way you can run what almost amounts to an A-B test with your competitor.
This will definitely save you money if you are on a budget; however, make sure that your webmaster is not also your customer service representative or sales manager. The manpower used to actually run the business can not be compromised.
A third party company which focuses on search engine optimization will undoubtedly be more familiar with the nuances of SEO than you; the real question is whether you need this type of expertise or not. Also, since the Google Panda update, many components of search engine optimization are much more qualitative. If you hire an outside company to do your SEO, make sure that they have an artistic division (web design, copywriting, etc.) as well as a technically proficient SEO representative.
If you have the budget to hire an SEO specialist, you should basically test him or her for the first 6 months. Do they get better results than your employees could get themselves? Hiring an outside company should pay for itself and then some. Do not be fooled into thinking that metrics like site visitors or unique views are what SEO are all about. There are many tricks that can be used to get completely unqualified traffic to a web site and waste your time. Sales is the bottom line. Conversion. If you outsource your SEO, your conversion rate should pay for the hire.