What does it take to build an effective SEO team

I recently spoke to a former employee who has been working for quite a few years for Kaplan International Colleges, which offers a series of schools throughout the English speaking world that focus on teaching English, and English courses. He mentioned in amazement that they now employ in the range of 30 people that work on SEO for their site, and that he was basically blown away by how important SEO had become and how many of their leads come in directly via their website, primarily due to the SEO.

Kaplan is a great example of a company that has done SEO right. They employ managers for each language or country that they target, their site has a ton of great content, and they have the site properly translated with SEO elements included for each target language or country. The site is full of unique content and actually has nearly 7,000 pages indexed in Google many of which rank very well for competitive terms.

This leads me to ask the question: Is it better to create an internal team to do your SEO, or does it make more sense to hire a consultant or company to do it for you? Obviously the answer varies from company to company. The following are a few thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

A few advantages to creating an internal SEO team include the following:

-The SEO team is 100% dedicated to your site and you have access to what they are doing at all times, and know they are working on your site at all times.
-The SEO team and other teams such as marketing or web development are in close proximity and can easily communicate.
-Over time, the SEO team should become experts marketing your specific industry.
-If you hire the right people, or provide proper training they can be as knowledgeable as a consultant.

A few disadvantages of hiring an internal SEO team would include the following:

-Hiring employees with specific SEO knowledge can be expensive.
-Your SEO team may require multiple employees each with full time salaries.
-If you hire someone without specific SEO knowledge, there will be a learning curve and you may put your site at risk.
-Multiple full time salaries can be very expensive.

Building an internal SEO team is not easy. It requires putting together the right type and combination of people. You will need people who are sales and marketing focused, technology focused, customer focused and analytically focused for different tasks of the SEO puzzle.  Depending on the budget, you may need to find a single individual that can wear each of these hats.

In the case of my friend’s company, it seems to have worked out very well, but they have been at it for some time, and who knows what kind of growing pains the company may have gone through while learning to do it right. Maybe there were few, but they also may have wasted tens of thousands of dollars in the process of learning to do it right before it actually worked out.

The other option is to hire an SEO consultant or an SEO company. I pretty much consider them one in the same. In general, you are going to save money outsourcing your SEO work, and the odds are, at least in the short term, they are going to be more knowledgeable than creating an internal team, but a big question remains, are you going to get the same level of dedication from them as you would from an internal team. In many cases the answer is likely “no”. There is also a chance you strike out on your hiring and end up with someone that does poor work or uses out of date or black hat techniques.

Ultimately, there is risk either way, but I feel that small to midsized companies are often better off going the consultant route. This way, they can set the budget at a rate that is affordable for them, and if something is not working they can easily go in a different direction. Larger companies, especially those where web leads are a major component of their marketing might be better either hiring a specific SEO team or SEO manager, or implementing the job into an existing employees responsibility and giving them proper training so they can properly handle the task.

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