In starting your SEO career pursuit, you can follow two well-defined paths: the agency path and the in-house path.
The agency path involves you joining an SEO team, working for various clients, and refining a range of skills - from link building to keyword research.
The in-house path will see you working exclusively for one single entity, becoming an expert in the relevant field, and working to boost the online profile of a business, person, charity, or any other title that may hire you as their SEO professional.
Although both are still umbrella-defined as a career in SEO, there are clearly glaring differences between the two paths. Not only does each have its own pros and cons, but both options also have the potential to define your entire career trajectory in the field in very different ways.
So, which is the right career option for you? In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at both options, what type of person you need to be for each, and define the potentialities of choosing one.
As far as you can gauge the success of a career path from the onset, SEO is currently a lucrative game to get into. In recent years, it has risen to the top tier of in-demand jobs as companies strive to find a voice online, out-rank their competition, and claim their niche.
With an exponential amount of SEO roles cropping up, it seems now is the prime moment to establish your career in the field. However, as promising a career as it may be, deciding how best to approach it can be tricky. The rate of your success can be definite by making the right decision regarding whether to go in-house vs. agency.
Why does deciding between agency and in-house hold such importance to your career? It mainly comes down to the skillsets you’ll learn from each and the opportunities that they could lead to.
If you’re just starting out in SEO, it could be a good idea to get agency work first, as this can grant you the range of skills, such as link building and keyword research, that you could use to carry out an in-house role better. While working for an agency, you can establish novel and transferable means of researching and writing that you could later carry over to an in-house position.
Agency work could also teach you a number of skills you may not get from in-house work that could lead you towards far more lucrative roles in the future. For example, a number of people who start working in SEO end up working in SEM and other top paying online marketing roles.
Working for an agency will also present you with a range of unique problems that require unique solutions. The more clients you work for and the more difficulties you overcome, the better experienced you’ll be in completing in-house work to an exceptionally high standard. You’ll become familiar with a number of strategies and tactics, rendering you prepared for anything that comes up in the future.
Finally, agency work can be seen as your experimental phase, where you explore as many online tools and software as possible. Working for a bigger agency, it’s normally easy to request new software to help improve your workflow. For example, you’ll get the chance to work with the likes of Ahrefs: SEO Keyword Tool, SEMRush, and Moz Keyword Explorer.
If you find any of these tools work for you, great - if they don’t, at least you know not to use them in the future!
On the other hand, if you feel as though you already have what it takes in terms of SEO knowledge, you should aim for a more prestigious - and, sometimes, higher-paying - in-house SEO job role. If you’ve already built your own websites, researched keywords for your own projects, or have successfully completed a range of freelance roles, aiming for an in-house role may be best suited for you.
Plus, if you’re looking to improve your business development skills, working in-house will expose you to the inner runnings of an established company.
In-house SEO is best for those who want to build an area of expertise, have a steady workflow, and fully integrate into the company that employs them.
If a company has an online presence, it could require an in-house SEO expert. With nearly all businesses online nowadays, you can find in-house SEO roles pretty much anywhere. For example, fashion labels, events teams, and real estate all require in-house SEO expertise - to name a few!
They can even be found in even more specific and unexpected areas, such as sports clubs, heritage organisations, and research facilities. Basically, anywhere that needs to regularly update their online presence requires SEO know-how, and they could be looking to hire an in-house specialist.
In order to get the most out of an in-house SEO career, it would be a good idea to define your hobbies and main areas of interest and only apply for in-house roles that relate. Or, choose a topic you’d love to develop your knowledge on and establish as your specialism.
In this way, you could land a job you’ll be able to stay passionate about for the long-term, which is the chief requirement - and, in many ways, the main benefit - of in-house SEO.
An in-house SEO job title will likely depend on the job's demands but may be something like ‘SEO director’, ‘SEO specialist’, or ‘SEO manager’.
In terms of the work you’ll be carrying out, it will likely be anything pertaining to the ongoing SEO campaign of the company. It might include:
Above all else, an in-house SEO career demands dedication to a specialised field of interest. This ‘field of interest’ relates to the product or service that the company provides, but it could also be related to the company mission if, for example, you work for a charity.
When working in-house, you need to understand every aspect of the business you’re working for in order to ensure the SEO you provide is as expertly written and structured as possible.
In addition to expertise, an in-house SEO employee is expected to deliver the utmost in terms of trust and authority to the company’s webpage and linked social media accounts.
In many ways, in-house SEO can be seen as a long-term undertaking or pursuit. Your job role requires you to carry out a long-term SEO campaign in the required field. This differs from agency work, where you carry out lots of short-term campaigns for several companies.
In this sense, you have a greater understanding of the direction of your job role at all times. In-house SEO grants you foresight, as you know what you’ll be working on tomorrow as well as in a month’s time.
So, in-house SEO could be argued as being the steadier option. You’re not going to be sprung with a writing assignment on a topic you’re unfamiliar with.
When working in-house, you may find yourself working as the sole SEO professional, or, if working for a major company, you’ll most likely join a dedicated SEO team.
In this case, you may be given a specialised skill set or aspect of SEO, such as digital PR or link building. However, this is not always how in-house SEO works, and you may find that your job role requires you to be flexible in carrying out an array of different tasks.
Either way, you’ll be joining the wider in-house marketing team, who you’ll work alongside to essentially boost the image of the company. This allows the in-house SEO expert to understand the company’s mission; to work as part of a team is to integrate fully into the day-to-day runnings of the company and, therefore, get a clearer sense of what is needed from the SEO side of things.
The wider marketing team may not be as savvy with SEO techniques and approaches as you are, so you may find the job demands some degree of teaching and monitoring the work of others.
Working for an SEO agency is recommended for anyone looking to take on a variety of different projects, work as part of a team, and expand on their SEO skill pallet. Generally, for those looking to make a start in the world of SEO, agency work offers a chance to those who have no prior experience or qualifications in the field.
SEO agencies work alongside a number of different companies and clients, and provide SEO services for them for a specific fee. To meet the demands of working for several clients at once, SEO agencies tend to hire a range of content writers, researchers, proofreaders, and so on.
Given that there tends to be far more vacancies available with an SEO agency, it’s typically easier to attain a job with one than it is as an in-house SEO professional.
Unlike working as an in-house SEO specialist, the responsiblity of campaigns does not rely solely on you. There will likely be several managers above you, who are also SEO professionals, that will help organise your workload, provide detailed instructions, and offer opinions on things you are not sure about.
Although some degree of prior understanding of SEO - i.e., keywords, link building, etc. - is recommended, agency work can sometimes best suit those yet to fully come to grips with the world of professional SEO work. With plenty of team members to ask for assistance from, you are unlikely to be in the dark about an unfamiliar SEO concept for long.
Plus, with a clearly defined work procedure in place, rookie SEO professionals can become comfortable in the job role more easily than working in-house.
As aforementioned, there are many SEO job roles available as per the demands of the agency. Even smaller SEO companies will likely have several different well-defined roles, such as content writers, proofreaders, managers, keyword analysts, and so on.
Some companies, particularly those on the smaller side, may offer flexible job roles that will see you working as a content writer one day and a proofreader the next.
Agency SEO tends to have a lot more of a rigid work structure, and you may find that your role in an agency demands you to complete a certain amount of work per week. For example, working as a content writer at an SEO agency, you may be expected to complete a fixed number of words per day, regardless of the subject matter.
Furthermore, despite variety being a good thing in some ways, it can be difficult to keep up with the sheer range of subject matters that agency SEO work demands you to appear as an expert on. Of course, it’s challenging to appear an expert in a myriad of different fields as opposed to just one!
Generally, you’ll need to be open to working on a variety of different topics and campaigns, from writing content for Bitcoin and NFT websites to completing work for dietary and fitness blogs. However, there is a chance that you’ll be able to work on campaigns that meet your interests and areas of expertise. A good agency will identify your strengths and weaknesses and will assign you work accordingly.
Want to look for an agency to hone your SEO skills, or figure you’re ready to ascend to an in-house SEO specialist at a major company? Well, it’s time to start vigorously looking through job openings on traditional online job sites, such as Indeed and LinkedIn - or is it?
On top of being difficult to navigate, polluted with misleading job roles, and generally not built for the working from home online-job generation, sites like Indeed will provide you with only so many job postings linked to your search.
This is where SEO For Hire comes in:
SEO For Hire is a job listing site dedicated exclusively to SEO jobs - one of the only recruitment companies in the UK that specialise in this area of digital labour. So whether you’re looking for an in-house or agency role, you can find all the latest relevant and UK-wide job postings with us.
On our homepage, you can scroll through the latest ads, get an accurate wage estimate, and look for either part-time, full–time, or temporary work. Based on your job requirements, we’ll be able to find you a job posting that perfectly matches your salary, SEO niche, location, and so on.
Benefits of using us:
Clearly, in-house SEO roles are very different from agency positions, and you need to consider your current capabilities before deciding which path to follow. Each role requires a unique set of skillsets, demands distinct commitments, and each sets your career in SEO off in very different directions.
Echoing our sentiments on the conflicting environments of each job role, Charlie Whitworth, head of SEO at Misguided and founder of Whitworth SEO, shared his story with us:
“Switching from agency to in-house after 12 years agency side, my move in-house wasn’t one that I took lightly, and the main lure for me was the opportunity to immerse myself completely into one brand and focus. Although that has been the case, I wouldn’t say it has necessarily lightened the workload, though, so don’t make the mistake of thinking it will be easier.
There is less new business, client care, and reporting, but this is substituted by admin, supplier liaison, governanc, and also having to explain and justify SEO strategy to colleagues who aren’t marketers. These can be fun challenges, but they do take time away from being able to get stuck into the nitty-gritty of your campaigns.
My advice would be that the grass is always greener, and like most things in life, there are pros and cons to both. If you enjoy your current role, then swapping could be a risk, but it all depends on the brand you’re moving to and culture.”
So with that, consider what’s best for you and your SEO skillset, and find the right job for you on SEO For Hire!