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The Benefits of Working as an In-House SEO vs for an Agency

By Adam Bruk on 6-23-14 in Digital Marketing Strategy

Internet marketing is a fast growing field and in-house SEO vs agency jobsmany recent graduates are considering SEO when trying to find a job after graduation. A common question I’ve been asked by several friends and recent graduates is: should I apply for an in-house SEO position or work for an SEO agency?

I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for two great companies in that crazy field of internet marketing. Before joining the Digital Third Coast team as an SEO analyst, I worked as an in-house SEO specialist for an e-commerce company in Greenwood, Indiana. The goal of this post is to compare and contrast the differences between working as an in-house SEO vs. at an agency and what you could expect from both positions.

In-house Benefit #1: Creative Flexibility

As an in-house SEO analyst, I feel like you get more creative flexibility. Working at an agency, you need to adhere to a client’s branding guidelines, with less flexibility. As an in-house marketer, if you can make a compelling case to your boss/manager that you should try a certain piece of content, you can usually get their buy-in that same day. Unfortunately with clients, they often need to pass it through to their team to see if you can veer from strict guidelines for a piece of content.

In-house Benefit #2: Faster Responses and Turnaround

Speaking of content, ideas definitely gets pushed through quicker when working as an in-house analyst. That’s because instead of having to wait for a client to respond to your emails, you can walk over to your boss’s desk and ask them a question. While clients do their best to communicate as quickly as possible, you can’t replace getting up and walking to someone’s desk.

In-house Benefit #3: Less concern over Failing

As an in-house, you also have a bit more flexibility to try new things. If the content piece doesn’t meet your outreach goals, you can go back to the drawing board. But clients don’t always have the budget to afford a second or third attempt at content. Additionally, they usually don’t have the same understanding as your boss would have. It’s because of this flexibility that I always recommend to my friends that they should start their careers as an in-house SEO. You should be able to try new things and not be afraid of failing. Failing as a consultant just once could end up costing you a client.

Agency Benefit #1: Helping multiple companies instead of one

With all that being said, agency lifestyle is more rewarding in my opinion. As an in-house, you’re only able to help one company grow their business through organic search. While it’s great to know your impact on your business’s bottom line, at an agency you can help multiple companies grow their business at the same time. I’ve worked with clients who have been able to hire team members and create jobs because of this new revenue stream we’ve helped them discover. As an in-house, you can’t make this same impact for multiple companies.

Agency Benefit #2: Exposure to More Industries

Working at an agency also gives you exposure to several different industries at once. As an in-house, you’re working on building your brand’s presence in the same industry every day, and this can seem repetitive after awhile. In agency life, you could work on accounts that are in 3 different industries before lunch! This also gives you the opportunity to see how certain niches receive your content. For example, you may learn that those in the financial industry respond better to visual guides or infographics, while those in fashion may respond better to videos. This gives you a variety of content to work on. However, if you work as an in-house and your potential customers only prefer one type of content, you don’t get to try new opportunities.

Agency Benefit #3: Opportunities to Strengthen Communication Skills

The third benefit of being at an agency is that you get to strengthen your customer service skills. Some may see this as a con, but if you’re an extrovert who loves meeting new people, agency life is certainly for you. It’s very rewarding being able to hop on a call and share your wisdom and knowledge with a client and their team. But it certainly takes the right personality, as you need to be able to answer challenging questions rather quickly.

While both scenarios are rewarding and any job in internet marketing is a great job, an in-house position is going to be preferable straight out of college. As a rookie in the industry, you’re going to fail and it’s best to make these mistakes (and learn from them) while working as an in-house. You’ll also get more flexibility to try new things and complete them faster, which helps you to build your portfolio and resume. Once your portfolio is built and you’ve learned from your mistakes, try giving agency life a try. You’ll gain a lot more exposure to multiple industries and get to enjoy the great feeling of helping multiple companies instead of just one.

Adam Bruk is a PR/SEO Account Manager at Digital Third Coast, an SEO firm based in Chicago. Connect with Adam on Twitter and LinkedIn. Connect with Digital Third Coast on Google+.


Hi Adam. 

Interesting post! I found the opposite in my experience. I've been working in marketing and public relations for about 4  - 5 years, however I didn't land my first SEO position until March 2013. Starting out as a Digital Account Executive at a global SEO agency allowed me to shadow seniors and consume everything SEO, quickly building up my experience and knowledge. 

Twelve months later, I'm now a few months into my SEO Consultant position and responsible for campaign management and search strategy. I never thought I'd make it here this fast, if it wasn't for being surrounded by so many people passionate about search. It'd be interesting to see what in-house was like though!



@SamCharlesUK Hi Sam, it's really great to hear about your experiences. I absolutely agree that the key to succeeding in SEO (and marketing in general) is to ensure your manager has a lot of great experience and is open to sharing their knowledge with you. It's amazing how much you can learn by surrounding yourselves with industry experts who are passionate about the work they do!



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