Examining the Costs of an In-house SEO Team

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Search engine optimization remains a critical component of digital marketing. Various research has found that over 90 percent of all web traffic flows through search engines, and considering that most web users will not look beyond the first 10 or so results, it is essential that companies enact digital marketing strategies that ensure their webpages’ appearance toward the top of the results list.

Because SEO is all but mandatory in the digital age, many companies — digital marketing companies, included — consider adding permanent SEO professionals to their in-house marketing teams. Yet, before taking this step, leaders must consider the steep costs associated with maintaining high-quality SEO in house.

SEO Compensation

A digital marketing firm could hire a single entry-level SEO specialist for as little as $45,000 per year — but the quality of SEO services they are likely to receive from such an unskilled and poorly paid professional are almost certainly not up to the standards of any respectable digital marketing agency. In truth, digital marketing companies need a team of SEO professionals to manage the needs of their clients, and at least a few of those employees should be true experts.

Unfortunately, an SEO expert does not come cheap. Well-qualified SEO specialists often demand six-figure salaries, and the median pay for well-trained, early-career SEO professionals tends to hover around $70,000. Of course, salary is only one component of the compensation packages employees expect; a digital marketing firm will also need to cover the costs associated with health insurance, retirement contributions and other perks, which could amount to up to 30 percent of each employee’s salary. In total, the cost of compensation alone for a small SEO team for a growing digital marketing firm could be nearly a half-million dollars per year, and those costs will only increase as the team grows.

SEO Professional Development

Any employable SEO professional should have some established knowledge and skill in SEO, ideally through a combination of formal training and real-world experience. However, SEO is far from a static field; in fact, SEO strategies and techniques are constantly shifting in response to the continuous evolution of search engine algorithms and the internet in general. Thus, most employers contribute to professional development programs to ensure that their SEO staff are trained in the latest SEO tools and tactics, which ensures that clients have access to the best possible methods of climbing search results pages.

An agency will get out of professional development what it puts in. Sure, there are free and inexpensive online resources to keep SEO specialists in-the-know, but self-guided professional development is not always as effective as more formal training. Expert-led courses, seminars and conferences can be effective at providing the skills and knowledge that SEO professionals need to remain valuable in the workplace, and these should cost digital marketing companies between $3,000 and $5,000 per year per SEO specialist on the team.

SEO Software and Tools

While some digital marketing services can be accomplished with little more than a word processor, SEO is a highly technical field that demands a number of specialized tools. SEO professionals often need access to subscription services that allow them up-to-date analysis of various components of their SEO strategy, such as keywords and page rankings. Different SEO experts will have different preferences for their toolkit, and most of these tools are as vital to SEO success as the professionals themselves. Digital marketing agencies should expect to spend between $500 and $2,000 per month on SEO-related software.

Compared to Outsourced SEO

An in-house SEO team is undeniably expensive, and for many smaller digital marketing firms, it is well beyond their budget. Fortunately, there is a way to deliver high-quality SEO at a much lower cost: white labeling. White label SEO providers focus on producing SEO services for digital marketing firms with existing clients, adopting their branding to ensure clients have a cohesive digital marketing experience. Many white label SEO agencies can even offer specialized services, like white label local SEO or content generation. Because their business operations are pared down, they can offer their services at an affordable price point; though exact costs will depend on details like services provided, region and more, many firms may be able to acquire white label SEO for between $1,500 and $5,000 per month.

Most digital marketing firms find that maintaining an in-house SEO team is much too expensive — especially considering that they can have so many of the advantages of in-house SEO through white label services.

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