The Cost of SEO: Bring It In-house or Use An Agency?

Now that you’re hip to the most effective and sophisticated SEO practices, are you thinking about firing your digital marketing agency and hiring some young blood to take care of everything in-house? Are you thinking about going from an SEO renter to an SEO owner?

Of course you are. What a great idea! Good for you.

Or is it?

Infographic that shows the value of hiring inhouse vs using an agency for your digital marketing.

In case any of you snoozed through the fun part, here are the facts, again, in black and white: a top-level SEO hire will cost you $99-per-hour and work for you three times as many hours throughout the year with, at best, one third the skills of an agency team.

Not for you?

A top level, ass-kicking SEO team will cost you more than half a million bucks in the first year and almost half a million bucks each year thereafter, if, of course, you’re a millennial whisperer.

Not for you?

And a great digital marketing agency, in terms of skill, experience, and the almighty results-per-dollar, will blow both those other two options away.

(For you.)

First, we agencies hire the best SEO talent, well before you ever lay eyes on it. Why? Because they want to be here. They want a diverse range of clients, unique challenges around every corner, and guaranteed work. They want to be part of an established and energetic team that has a clear direction, clear formulas for success, and enough flexibility to experiment and conquer the future. Sorry guys, but we know the deal—it’s tough for you to give them much of that.

As you consider the merits of each side, there are many pitfalls to avoid. Most important, don’t get too hung up on cost… at first. It’s a tricky path coming to understand the results-per-dollar from both an in-house SEO hire and an agency, but the important points are plain and simple:

  • Agencies will cost more per hour
  • In-house hires will do more work per year
  • Still, there is no substitute for the abilities of a talented agency

By all means, negotiate a budget that works for you and your agency, but don’t ever underestimate the ability of a multi-armed monster.

How Do Marketers Really Feel About Conferences?

Marketing conferences elicit a lot of feelings and opinions. Some people attend as many as they can, hopping from session to session, listening to keynotes, hanging out at the after-party ice luge. Others can’t stand conferences, or can’t seem to justify the time or money.

As we’ve watched the list of marketing conferences grow every year, we’ve thought more and more about these special events in our professional lives. What makes them tick? Why do people flock to them? What factors get top conferences to the top? And how can organizers improve what they offer?

To answer these questions, we surveyed more than 300 marketing professionals who have at some point donned a name tag lanyard.

Marketers shared their opinions on what they want out of the marketing conferences they attend.

Conferences can be expensive, no question. Flights, hotels, meals, drinks, entertainment… it adds up. And, if you’re self-employed, or not lucky enough to work for someone who values conference experiences, you could be footing a big bill on your own. Not surprisingly, cost was the leading factor for people deciding whether or not to attend a given conference.

Marketers with one to five years of experience cite cost as the most important factor when deciding whether to attend a conference. For more seasoned marketers, it’s a bit different. While still cost-conscious, marketers with six to 10 years experience consider location the most important factor. Marketers with 10+ years experience say the lineup of speakers is most likely to tip their decision one way or another.

Conference fatigue

Attending conferences is exhausting. No matter the length, a typical conference will feature a jam-packed schedule with short breaks between sessions and all kinds of networking opportunities at night. With the amount of information covered, experienced marketers know how sessions and side conversations will already begin to blur together halfway through the flight home.

According to marketers we surveyed, the ideal length of a conference is three days (43%). The next most preferred length is two days (28%), followed by four days (11%). Single day conferences didn’t get much love from our respondents, with only 5 percent citing them as ideal.

Also of note, a whopping 45 percent of respondents have left a conference early because they didn’t find it valuable.

While some conferences gush about huge attendance numbers and all the big name companies involved, other conferences promote low ratios of speakers to attendees, highlighting a more intimate, personal setting (and shorter lines at the bar). Either way, organizers know the size of a conference is top of mind when people are considering what to attend.

More than half of our respondents prefer conferences with 250 – 1,000 attendees, and 23 percent prefer conferences with fewer than 250 attendees. Those who prefer larger conferences tend to be more experienced marketers, with 10+ years in the marketing game.

Education vs. networking

In a perfect world, all marketing conferences would be chock full of amazing insights and memorable personal connections that result in new business and partnerships. While a few conferences are great both for educational and networking purposes, most tend to excel in one way or the other. We asked our marketers which is more important, education or networking?

Forty-two percent of respondents say networking is more important than education, and 35% feel the opposite is true. The remaining 23 percent consider both equally important. Furthermore, women are more likely than men to prefer education, and men are more likely to prefer networking.

Breaking the Ice

Conference organizers often try their best to make networking as easy as possible. They reserve private rooms at restaurants, provide one-on-one opportunities with session speakers, and, of course, loosen everyone up with their favorite beer, wine, and liquor.

But what types of social and networking activities really set a conference apart? According to our survey, people are interested in having unique experiences above all else. Second to unique experiences are sponsored cocktail hours, and rounding out the top five are entertainment, cash bars, and black tie events.

Are workshops worth it?

Most marketing conferences offer some sort of workshop experience, where experts offer up in-depth, interactive experiences in a classroom environment. Typically, they occur either before or after the main conference and cost extra to attend. We asked marketers if they attend these types of workshops, and what they think of them.

Only 8% of our respondents said they flat out disapprove of these kinds of workshops, and 35% of respondents say workshops either before or after the conference are equally acceptable. More people were likely to prefer workshops that occur before the conference, rather than after. Marketers with at least 6 or more years of experience are half as likely to attend a workshop after a conference.

Get out there

Conferences have evolved quite a bit in recent years. More than ever, there seems to be something for everyone. Just be sure to do your homework before you attend, and confirm a conference is the right fit for you. Looking for a great place to start that search? Check out our Ultimate Marketing Conference Guide.

How Much Time and Budget Should I Spend Promoting my Content?

This sounds like a question without a clear answer, but in reality, there’s actually a pretty consistent rule of thumb that you should follow when creating and promoting a content piece. And that is that you should spend at least as much time and budget promoting a piece as you do creating it. Though this rule of thumb tends to hold true pretty consistently, brands and agencies still tend to overspend on content creation relative to actually marketing their content. There are two main reasons agencies lose the balance of content creation and outreach. Let’s examine these reasons.

Reason 1: Good Content Takes Care of Itself

This is occasionally true, where a blogger or a business will publish a piece, and it will go viral. But it’s the exception rather than the rule. There are over 60,000 blog posts published every hour on WordPress alone, so promoting your content through effective outreach gives it a fighting chance to actually be seen. Think of it this way. When a studio makes a big budget movie, they promote it as aggressively as they can, from paid media like billboards, bus benches and pre-roll ads on YouTube to earned media like interviews on Conan and Jimmy Fallon. Does the fact that the studio is promoting the movie make the actual film “bad content”? Not necessarily, they’re just acknowledging that there’s a huge oversupply of content in the world, and good content needs to be promoted to succeed.

Reason 2: We Spent All Our Money on Design and Development

In part, because there’s so much content already out there in the world, it can be tempting to spend all your budget on developing the most amazing content piece you can. Maybe you add some interactivity or pay an amazing researcher to pull together the ultimate guide to ultimate guides. But if you overspend on content creation, and fail to leave enough budget to actually promote it, you’ll rarely make the most of your resources for the project. Think of the relationship between content creation and content promotion as one of multiplication, rather than one of addition.


When you are planning a strategic content marketing campaign, spend the same amount of budget on promotion as you spend on content creation. Any piece of quality content will benefit from time spent on outreach to authoritative, relevant sites and individuals. In a content marketing education workshop, Vertical Measures and content veteran Arnie Kuenn points out that TV and radio advertising campaigns often spend 20% of their budget on production and 80% on promotion. Traditional advertising and owned media campaigns are very different, but his point that content promotion should be a significant part of any campaign budget holds true for owned media campaigns.

When to Ignore This Rule

This rule isn’t hard and fast, and you may want to ignore it in certain situations, such as:

  • If you’ve developed a seasonal piece, and the window has closed, or;
  • If you’ve spent enough time on outreach to identify that it’s not really working.
  • If promotion the piece is getting a lot of traction, you might want to spend more time on the piece and push back the start of the next campaign to accommodate.

Nobody likes to take a content piece they’ve created and acknowledged that it’s a flop, but it occasionally happens. One way to reduce your strike-out rate is to do exploratory outreach before you actually spend the time and budget to create a piece. Share your ideas for content strategies and outreach with us too!

Eric Barry, I Hope You Find Your Beach

No doubt about it, riding a bike in the city is hard. Factor in 40 new pounds of fat and a gigantic chip on your shoulder, and it’s damn near impossible. But we’re glad you survived, Eric Barry. You make us all better.

Hello, Chicago. What a week! And so it continues.

Because so many people from Eric Barry’s life have come out wielding essays in defense of themselves and our great city, it’s time for me to get involved. Who am I? I’m the guy who authored the study Eric criticized in his HuffPost article, the guy who supposedly declared Chicago’s beaches the best in the country. And I’m here, ultimately, to propose a special meeting of Chicago minds and mouths, featuring a very special guest. More on that in a minute.

Eric, I have a few thoughts to share with you. Qualifiers: I’ve lived in Chicago 10+ years, and in other cities, including Boston, D.C., Minneapolis, Adelaide (Australia), and, yup, your hope-filled new home, New York City (loneliest year of my life, entirely my fault). Also, you and I have some things in common. We’re about the same age, both white men of significant privilege, and both buoyed by liberal educations and enterprising spirits (I too want to do “extraordinary things”). Through my adulthood, in search of my own community and comic relief, I too have experienced isolation, rejection, confusion and depression-fueled burger eating. But I never once blamed my city. Blamed everything imaginable, but never my city.

I agree with you, this could be a more sex-positive place, and yes, we could be less segregated, and yes, we could take a zillion streets and buildings and scrunch them into a much smaller wonderland through which you could skip to your friends’ houses without breaking a sweat. Thank you for the feedback. Now, let’s talk about where we’re at. All of us—you, me, this city.

The bar incident. You’re a funny guy and a sharp writer, I will give you that. Now, if you could just add to that mix “respectful bar patron” who empathizes with the incessant hounding many women endure, we’ll be looking at a true-blue triple threat.

Also, dude, one out of two women who acknowledged you was friendly and made conversation. That’s batting .500 in spite of a brazen sorry-I’m-not-sorry interruption. This isn’t Love Actually, and you don’t have a British accent; this is adulthood, celebrate the wins.

Meeting people. I’ve made plenty of friends here, and met a few women too. That’s after I stopped drinking seven years ago. Also, I look stern and judgmental when I’m not smiling (heavy brow, arched eyebrows). The point is, if I can do it, you can do it.

You whined about people “being a grandma” and going to bed early instead of acquiescing to the demands of your edgy comic lifestyle. First of all, let’s be honest, you heard that one time from a woman you were hooking up with, as she was starting to lose interest. Second, that’s how Chicago grandmas get down, man! They rest up during the week, then blow it out on the weekends.

The food. I’ve had all kinds of incredible food in this city, and yeah, I’ve had to pay for it. But the notion that it lacks nuance is horseshit. And your argument is particularly out of touch considering Bon Appetit just named Chicago “Restaurant City of the Year.”

Just this past Saturday, I tasted one of the most divine things I’ve ever tasted, at Mindy’s HotChocolate—it was a small purple carrot with Swiss chard tzatziki. If you find our fare carnivalesque, it means your appetite is carnivalesque. In a city this big and diverse, expect to see your reflection. Life is not a place, Eric; it’s a series of choices.

Your criticism of our “study.” First of all, if you get news on elevators, expect news to be sensational. Second, if you’re gonna call out people who authored a study, a) bother to read the study, and b) spell their name right. We’re called Digital Third Coast, and we never once mentioned Chicago beaches in our “study,” which was actually just a ranked list featuring cities around the world that have dramatic and iconic relationships with water. Considering Chicago is nestled up to one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, yeah, it made the list. Our food, comedy and bike friendliness did the rest.

Our pride. No question, this city’s pride runneth over. Sorry we’re not sorry. It’s interesting though; as Katie Rife points out, “we have a very low tolerance for bullshit.” Proud… and intolerant of bullshit. I call that a neat combo!

Amid our pride, we do think we’re important. We are important. And I hope every other city dweller around the world feels the same about their city. I love this country, and no part more than its cities. As much as ever, this is a time for American cities to feel big and proud, to celebrate each other.

On that note. Eric, my friend, I’d like to propose a celebration—a celebration of your views and our views. You’re a comedian, Chicago’s home to other bright comedians, let’s all get together and have some fun with this, shall we? You remarked in an interview with DNAInfo that you will happily embrace a conversation if it’s off social media and there is room provided for context, nuance and intelligent discourse. We will provide that room.

If you’re up for it, my friends and I at Digital Third Coast will fly you back here for a live debate with a TBD Chicago comedian (we’ll run a contest on Facebook and have people make the case for why they should represent Chicago). We’ll hash out the topics in advance, as a group—Chicago food, making friends after 30, sex positivity, Steve Harvey, you name it.

This is a serious offer—airfare and venue are on us, you can do a live episode of your podcast Disclosure Full (see what I did there?), and we’ll have some good-spirited fun, keep it smart, keep it constructive, and maybe even raise a little dough for charity. You in?

What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization Explained

If you’re reading this you either don’t know what SEO is, you kinda sorta know, or you’re looking for a world-class example of how to explain it. The good news is, you’re all welcome to stay!

If you don’t know what SEO is, you’re not alone. Ready to learn more?

SEO is not search engine optimization.

Yeah, SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” but it’s got nothing to do with optimizing search engines. You know who optimizes Google? Google does. Every year Google pours many millions of dollars into making their search algorithm an incredible beast that pushes the boundaries of computer technology. They do this because they have a billion customers to please on a daily basis. Google wants search to be accurate, reliable and blindingly fast.

SEO is not about optimizing search engines. SEO is about you.

Let’s say you’re lucky and you’ve got yourself a nice little website. Well like it or not, Google’s gonna interact with that website, and SEO is about optimizing that interaction. The stakes are dizzyingly high: if Google likes you, it’ll help its customers find you. If Google doesn’t like you, you might as well not exist. (Are there fascist undertones to all this? Sure. But you have more control than you think.)

Google don't like you meme.

SEO is not just another thing on a list of things to do for your business.

Over the past 15 years, the exponential increase in the importance of search engine visibility to businesses constitutes the most ground-shifting development in the history of marketing. Seriously. This is the new reality: there are businesses for which search engine optimization is extremely important, and there are businesses for which it’s a life or death matter.

Let’s talk dollars…

As you may or may not know, Google allows any business to pay its way to the top of search results, using a program called AdWords (this is the quick-and-dirty way to achieve some of the same goals you’d pursue with SEO work).  Pick a keyword you wanna show up for, make sure you’re the highest bidder and boom, when someone searches that keyword, you’re at the top of the page. Then, if that someone clicks on your ad, you pay Google the amount you bid.

Wanna know how much Google made from businesses bidding for those top spots last year?

$67 billion.

Sixty-seven billion dollars. As in significantly more than last year’s global box office revenue or global music industry revenue. Yup.

Oh and check this out…

Last night I made Google charge some law firm more than $600, for no reason, with one click of my mouse.

According to this infographic, “San Antonio car wreck attorney” is the most expensive keyword on Earth, ringing in at $670.44. What does that mean? It means lawyers in San Antonio who work in the lucrative personal injury business want so badly for people searching this phrase to visit their sites, they’ll pay $640.77 for any single person Google can deliver, no matter the reason that person a) searches or b) clicks on the ad. Including me, last night.

Most expensive keywords

OK, so right now I’d bet more than a few of you are thinking…

“Oh yeah, I remember, SEO’s like that thing where you put words all over your website and in your blogs, then when people search those words Google puts your website higher up in the results.”

If that’s what you’re thinking, congratulations, you’re right and terribly wrong. Yes people use words to articulate searches and yes, words on a website help search engines understand what that website’s all about. But the series of things considered between the time a search is initiated and a few microseconds later when Google offers its response, represents a highly complex, esoteric world that’s always changing, frequently misunderstood, and the total focus of SEO work everywhere.

It’s also a lot like a crowded nightclub in South Beach, Miami…

The process search engines go through to produce search results, and the way they consider individual websites, is a lot like your standard nightclub scene. That’s not a coincidence. While Google is a fascinating artificial intelligence that continually reshapes our world, it’s also a very blunt reflection of basic human nature.

When Google is tasked with performing a search, it becomes something like a hot young single who has just entered a nightclub. What do hot young singles do when they enter nightclubs? They scan the crowd. And what are they concerned with? Two things:

  1. How people present themselves
  2. Who people associate with

A hot young single looks at smiles, clothes and dance moves. It watches to see what people drink, it listens to what they say, it checks to see if they have tight shoe game. This is exactly what Google does when it scans and judges websites. It measures how sites look, how they perform and what kind of substance they have.

The other thing hot young singles are concerned with, is associations. As a hot young single considers each person in a club, it considers a number of things beyond appearance and performance. Does a person have friends with them? How many friends? Do their friends seem cool? What about staff at the club, does the person know the bartender, the bouncer? And what about the holy grail… do they know the DJ?

How google works visualization.

This is how Google works.

So here’s what SEO experts do:

SEO experts provide real intelligence to businesses so those businesses can cooperate with Google’s artificial intelligence and hopefully get a fair shake in the world of search. There are three ways SEO experts do this:

1) Design and development

A website should appeal to search engines and visitors alike. Returning to our nightclub analogy, a site needs to dance well, have a nice smile and generally not be a hot mess that’s spilling drinks everywhere. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into this. Way, way, way more than you think, even once you’ve advanced past the idea that this is all about keywords. We’ll look at some of that stuff in a minute.

2) Link building

In order for a website to be found by anyone, Google needs to like it and respect it. Taking care of design and development earns respect, and links from other respectable sites make Google like a site. This is the phenomenon of association: How many people do you know? How cool are they? Do you know the DJ?

Link building is a straightforward, time-intensive, salt-of-the-Earth pursuit. There are no fancy tricks, no corners to cut. It involves trading value for value, straight up. A business provides legitimate value to a website–often in the form of content that’s of value to that website’s audience–and that site, in turn, links to the business’s site.

3) Keyword Research

Keyword research is essential, but unlike design, development and link building, it’s less about getting Google to like you and more about what happens after that’s achieved. Once Google likes your website, Google’s ready to show you off… but a search needs to happen first and Google needs to associate you with that search. This the point at which words on the page really start to matter. Yes, you should populate your website with content that indicates who you are and who you want to attract. And no, it’s not as simple as that sounds.

Paid ads aside, Page 1 of Google search results show ten options. As you might imagine, there are often more than ten businesses or other entities competing for attention from a given audience. Successful keyword research and implementation requires a phenomenal creative strategy. More on that in a minute.

Let’s pretend you understand what SEO is. The question now becomes, “What can I do about it?”


If you make your own soap, your own towels and you’ve recently considered whittling your own toothbrush, this section is for you!

There’s something important to be understood about design and development (in nightclub terms, the looking good and performing well part… killer threads, killer dance moves).

Honestly, I’d recommend wiring a home for electricity on your own before optimizing your website on your own. Worst case scenario with the wiring, you get electrocuted… that’s nothing compared to not being found online.

That said, if you’re one of those really ambitious DIYers, here are some things you can do to optimize your website: Make sure all content is indexable, compress javascript files and images, make sure those files are loading asynchronously, leverage browser caching, make sure link structures are crawlable, confirm CSS is properly inlined, establish rel=nofollow links, optimize title tags, meta tags, H1 tags, image alt tags and URL structures, canonicalize your pages, make use of rich snippets, use tracking services or auto-pinging to defend against scrapers, implement schema, implement OpenGraph for social media, correct all 404 errors and customize your XML sitemap, splitting into submaps if necessary.

And if you’re one of those sane types not opposed to paying experts to be experts, do that.

The lay of the link building land.

There’s nothing tricky about link building, it just takes a ton of work. If you have a solid team of writers and designers, and a ton of media contacts to get your content published on big sites, that’s great, you’re almost halfway there!

All you need now is a series of catchy content ideas that synergize subjects relevant to your business with the fickle consumptive habits of the general public.

The key to keyword research.

The reason I said keyword research and implementation isn’t as simple as putting words on the page is because the world of search is indescribably competitive.

OK, maybe not indescribably… I’d say $670.44-per-click for “San Antonio car wreck attorney” is pretty descriptive.

But that’s just it, that’s a perfect example! An emerging personal injury law firm in San Antonio can’t just put “San Antonio car wreck attorney” on their site a couple dozen times and sit back to watch the leads come pouring in. There are fifty other firms doing the exact same thing, many of which have been at it a lot longer, have more substantial websites, and have broader link profiles. And still, even those firms are hedging their bets and also bidding $600+ per click.

The results earned through SEO work are called organic results and the ten spots for organic results on Page 1 are reserved for the hardest working companies in land, or the richest companies, or realistically, some combination of both. But more important than any of that, the pursuit of Page 1 visibility is about finding creative ways to compete for very specific attention from very specific people.

To continue with the nightclub analogy, great keyword work is akin to a brilliant opening line that sets you apart from the crowd. Sometimes it’s earnest and straightforward, sometimes it’s catchy and creative. The point is, not everyone can have the best smile or best dance moves, or the best connections, but if you know your audience and you know exactly what they’re looking for, you can always find creative ways to get results.

One very important point before you leave.

When it comes to SEO work, yes, we’re biased–we think businesses should hire experts like us to handle digital marketing. We know how much work and how many resources it takes to make an impact and get results. That said, we also appreciate that some businesses aren’t yet able to afford our services, even the most basic ones. That’s OK! If you’re one of those businesses, don’t leave this post discouraged. We’re more than happy to share wisdom and help you out until you’re ready to make us a partner and rock the search engines. So keep your chin up and check out the many free SEO guides and resources we offer!