As an SEO, there are a number of ways that you can work. You may have met a few accomplished freelancers, high-flying consultants and entrepreneurial types who have started their own agency.
At the beginning of your career, it can be hard to know which path to take, so in this post we’ll discuss the two main gateways into professional SEO, and the differences between them.
What are in-house and agency SEO?
When you speak to SEO and digital marketing professionals, most of them will have started their careers in one of two ways. The first is by joining an SEO or Digital Marketing agency, where you will work on campaigns for different clients and allow them to use your expertise for a set fee.
The second is in-house SEO, where you are hired by an organisation as part of their in-house team. The idea is that you will put all your skills towards building your employer’s online profile. Large businesses, charities and even celebrities may hire a dedicated SEO – either as a single person or as part of a larger team.
There’s no one way into SEO which is better than another. It all comes down to what suits you, your skillset, and your own preferred ways of working.
DISCLAIMER: None of the things we will list below are entirely exclusive to just agency or in-house SEO! Both in-house teams and agencies come in all shapes, sizes and will have cultures that are completely unique.
Before making any decision that will change your career trajectory, it’s essential to research the organisation you’re thinking of joining. Read company reviews online, prepare some questions to ask at the interview stage and have a good think about where you want to be – now, and in five years’ time.
Now, without further ado, let’s get on with the list!
You could be an agency-based SEO if you…
…prefer variety in your day-to-day work.
As an agency SEO, you’ll get the opportunity to work on and even develop strategies for businesses of all sizes, that cover a variety of sectors too. You might be working with a household name in the morning, then a local business you walk past every day in the afternoon.
You’ll also write content on a wide range of topics, from how to make the perfect breakfast pancakes, to investing in bitcoin. This helps you to exercise a wide range of skills, like researching, fact-checking and matching a brand’s tone of voice. You’re also likely to become the MVP of your pub quiz team, if you have one.
Although you’ll turn your hand to a number of subjects, that isn’t to say there’s no room for your own expertise. A good agency will look to match their SEOs with clients and campaigns that will most compliment their skills.
For example, having started my career writing product copy for an online mattress retailer, being assigned to a similar client years later was like slipping on an old pair of shoes. All that dormant knowledge about pocket springs and memory foam suddenly came in handy!
Perhaps you won’t spend every day writing about your Mastermind subject, but if you like a healthy challenge and the chance to broaden your understanding of different markets, agency work could be the one for you!
You could be an in-house SEO if you…
…have, or are building an area of expertise.
Whether your specialism is as broad as ecommerce, or as niche as the history of antique dolls, if you have a unique interest alongside a knowledge of SEO, you could be an incredible asset to somebody’s business.
We already know that E-A-T (Expertise, Trust and Authority) are important if you want to rank, and it’s highly beneficial for a company to have that expertise embedded in every department.
If you’d like to be that unicorn that recruiters are hunting, start thinking about your hobbies, passions and interests outside of work – and keep an eye out for roles that could combine these things with SEO.
If you secure an in-house position and have a real passion and understanding of the company’s product, service or mission, you’re bound to enjoy the work all the more. Marketing something you believe in can make a big difference, and give a real sense of meaning to your work.
You could be an agency-based SEO, if you…
…are an accomplished juggler of tasks.
If the thought of doing the same thing every day makes you itchy, a dynamic agency environment could be the perfect place for you. Agencies offer plenty of opportunities to be creative, try out new ideas with different clients, and network with dozens of interesting people.
If you have great time management and organisational skills, these will come into their own as you liaise with clients and work on a number of deliverables each month.
It’s important to feel that you are trusted to manage your own workload, and a good agency will allow you to do this. They also won’t overload you with too many projects, so you have the time and space to do each one justice.
Ask any professional juggler, and they’ll tell you it’s better to juggle three balls well than six balls badly. Thankfully, agency managers tend to agree. If you’re self-motivated and know how to make the most of your time, you’ll fit right in with an agency.
You could be an in-house SEO, if you…
…like to focus on a single strategy.
Although a certain amount of task-juggling is required in any job, it could be that you prefer to focus on the trajectory of a single campaign rather than tracking multiple ones at once.
With in-house SEO, there’s something to be said for being able to focus on the success of a single organisation and to single-mindedly work towards improving their ranking, traffic and online visibility.
It isn’t to say you can’t enjoy some variety from working on a single campaign, particularly if your strategy combines multiple aspects of SEO. Perhaps one day you’re working on Digital PR, and the next you’re making technical suggestions to improve site speed. Knowing that everything you do is to drive growth for a single organisation can be very satisfying – particularly, as discussed above, if you see value in the company’s mission, the product they sell or the problem they’re looking to solve.
You might be an agency-based SEO if…
…you work best in a bigger team.
One of the biggest benefits of working within an SEO agency is the number of creative, experienced people you will end up working alongside.
Any issue you run into or question you have, it’s likely that there’ll be somebody who’s come across it before. A support system like this, particularly when asking questions and sharing ideas is encouraged, can be transformative for a beginner SEO.
All agencies differ in how they’re structured, but if you like to get feedback from peers, bounce ideas off somebody or are looking for an SEO mentor, an agency environment should provide you with all of this – and more.
You might be an in-house SEO if…
…you work best in a small group (or by yourself).
One challenge that in-house SEOs often face is that they are normally part of an organisation where not everybody will be well-versed in SEO. However, there is a certain agency that comes with this.
If your SEO team is quite small, you’re likely to be able to have more input into things such as strategies, processes and what ideas to try next. As a beginner, it’s likely that you’ll still have a strong mentor at work (normally a line manager), who will be able to share the knowledge that they have with you.
If you are able to work well and form strong relationships in small teams, this will be helpful for in-house SEO. In order to benefit from the knowledge of others outside your organisation, you may also like to bolster your knowledge by attending conferences or seeking mentorship from other SEOs. For instance, the Women in Tech SEO Network have a mentoring scheme for women in the field, which many mentees have found valuable for their career development.
How do I find an agency to apply for?
For most roles these days, it’s important to make sure you can be found by uploading your CV to job sites and setting your notifications to alert you when certain positions become available. You should also make sure your LinkedIn page is updated with all the experience and skills you have that are likely to appeal to a recruiter.
If you think you’d like to go down an agency route, research the agencies in your area and pay particular attention to any which have achieved industry recognition or even won awards for marketing. Since what they’re doing already is effective, you can be confident that the skills you will learn there will be truly beneficial to you.
If you think you’d be a good fit for our Sheffield-based agency, known for delivering great results and investing in our team, feel free to visit our Careers page to learn more about our open positions. Or if you’d like to find out more about The SEO works, visit our About Us page to see all the services we offer and some examples of the work that we do.
How do I go about applying for in-house SEO positions?
If you’d prefer to look at in-house SEO, start by making a list of companies or organisations that you’d be interested in working for and check their career pages. If there are no open positions, it may be worth checking whether they are currently utilising SEO and if not, another option could be to get in touch with their recruitment team and pitch your services.
SEO may not be an area of marketing that they’ve previously considered, and if you can convince them of the value you’d add, they may be willing to hire you on a freelance – or even permanent basis!
Whichever path you take, remember that you can always make a change and all the experience you gain can be applied to a new challenge in the future. Best of luck on your career journey and feel free to follow us on Twitter for regular SEO tips, recruitment updates and practical advice.
Lois is a Sheffield-based SEO Executive who is passionate about writing content that adds value to the reader