Podcast | SEO agency v. in-house marketing: is the grass greener?

SEO agency v. in-house marketing: is the grass greener?

Josh Whiten, a Digital Marketing Consultant, join’s us on the podcast to discuss what he’s learnt throughout his marketing career working for both agencies and in-house. 

We explore:

  • Which side utilises data sets more
  • How SEO is used in an agency and in-house
  • The challenge of selling in the value of SEO
  • Josh’s golden tips for both agency and in-house marketers

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AI Transcription

This podcast has been transcribed using an AI transcriber. There may be some errors and this is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

You’ve worked both in house and agency side in a number of roles. But can you tell us a bit about your current role and responsibilities? 

Sure. So I’m a partner at a consulting firm now called Digital Works Group or or DWG, and so basically, after many years working on agency side now I spend my time working embedded in clients in both sort of interim contracts and consultant type roles, but really sort of client side working within brands. Which is obviously a bit of a change of scene for me. Yeah. 

How much of your career would you say has been centered solely around SEO? 

Probably the major part of my career actually, because I originally started out working in offline marketing back in 1991, dare I say, which is a very long time ago. And then I kind of drifted into digital by accident around 2003. So I guess looking back, I’ve done digital online marketing for longer than I’ve done offline marketing. And at that time, I kind of self taught myself SEO, when it was all very different, much simpler, so much easier. Basically, I remember just you know, getting a big printout of a list of directory websites, if you just went and submitted your website to all of the sites, you’d get ranked, so yeah, then I kind of very quickly realized SEO was something I was really interested in and started to specialize in that. 

So over the years that followed, I did consultancy, that led and grew into my own small SEO and PPC agency. I did that for a few years. Then I kind of had a type of Aqua higher situation where a larger agency kind of took over my agency and took on board, myself and my team and some clients. I did that for a few years I was on the board there. That was a really interesting experience. 

Then for the last 18 months or so I’ve been back out let loose into the wild and done what I’d always been interested to do really which is shift to working on client side just to see what that’s like. So I’ve got one current main role, which is I’m the Region Head of Ecommerce for a brand. So yeah, it’s been really interesting moving from agency to client side. 

Do you have a preference towards agency or in house

I mean, they’re both so different. And what’s been really interesting over the years I’ve heard, everyone seems to think the grass is greener on the other side. So I’ve worked with so many agency colleagues who’ve been quite envious of clients, people say they must have such an easy life. They’ve only just one thing to do one site to worry about. And then I’ve had lots of conversations with clients who are kind of like, our life is so boring, it’s full of bureaucracy, we can never get anything done – agency life looks so cool, dynamic and sexy and exciting and everything. So it’s, really hard to know which is better. I think at the moment, I’m really enjoying client side, I guess, you know, deep down, I’m pretty much an agency person through and through. 

On which side do you find yourself using data more? 

That is a really interesting question actually. I think both sides use data a lot bit in very different ways. Thinking back to agency life would be using data to generate those insights, those little gems to go to the next meeting armed with something, you know, to try and sort of show a client that we’ve discovered something they didn’t know. Because you always want to be one step ahead of the client. Telling them something they don’t know to add value. So data lead into insight. And that’s where tools like Pi are really so helpful, because you can find your way and really quickly discover some interesting insights to share. And also an agency side using data obviously, for reporting as well. And again, that’s where I like Pi as well in terms of showing someone a graph. It’s like you did rank here I look now it’s tanked. And you’ve gone from second to 100. And here’s the evidence. Yeah. quite compelling.

Client side, I found use of data is totally different. Yes, base, daily management, weekly management reporting that needs to be done. But actually the use of data everyone just wants to know if we do this, how much money is it going to make? Yeah, impact dollar impact, you’re using the data to try and forecast. So I was doing an exercise recently, I’d never had to do before which was forecasting, if we improved the ranking for a certain term, from say, position three to position two, how would that impact the click through rate what extra traffic would that generate, times the average organic ecommerce conversion rate equals X amount of potential revenue? So a lot of math Yeah. I’ve never really done that on agency side. Yeah, really needed to get that in depth on client side. People want to know, okay, if we invest in this SEO activity, how much money is it basically making today?

Yeah. And then also the other thing I use data a lot for is always seems to be a lot of firefighting on client side. Something’s changed, something happened. Why is it? Why is it gone well all of a sudden, so we can scale up – scale scale scale! Or on the other hand, we suddenly stopped doing as well. And, you know, what are the reasons why. 

Which side do you think buys into SEO and digital more? 

Well, I mean, obviously, agencies, I think we’re the ones that embrace SEO, love it. And having run my own agency and sold SEO for many years. I’ll be honest, it’s kind of like a dream product or service in a way to deliver as long as you’ve got the right people, obviously, to help you in the right process and tools to help you deliver SEO well, but it is a great service because it’s little enough. So it’s a nice monthly retainer type service. It never ends. Once you start doing SEO you’ve never, you know, achieved perfect. And it’s quite good to sell because, you know, generally speaking, a lot of clients don’t really understand it in depth, which can be a challenge as well in terms of explaining it.

So I think agencies get SEO and see the value commercially of providing it, but also as part of a really joined up multi channel approach and they should be advocating

Client side I have observed appointing an agency to handle your SEO is almost seen as a tick box exercise. So all we need to do SEO, or we’ve appointed an agency, we’re paying them this fee, that’s good. We can move on to something else. And there’s often a real kind of lack of scrutiny and also understanding and unfortunately that can lead to, in the SEO industry, some agencies out there that are, to put it bluntly, taking the piss. I call it the world’s most expensive spreadsheets. I’ve seen this on two occasions, and one of them was a significant size agency who was selling a client in the nonprofit sector, I think six or seven days a month of SEO, for which we delivered a very complicated spreadsheet with about seven tabs on it, that the client was probably one of those ones that said, we just get the spreadsheet, but what does it mean? Nobody knows. And I think I kind of had to scrutinize it a bit. And I think that’s pretty much all they were doing. So that’s where that lack of scrutiny I think clients are sometimes a bit afraid to ask or agency. What actually are you doing? What have you done this month? What do you think we should do next month?

Yeah, how client side kind of embracedaAnd sort of see SEO and how they buy into it or not is is really interesting. It can vary a lot. But overall, I think it’s, that’s both the biggest risks I think. 

What has been your biggest challenge when trying to sell in the value of SEO and search?

Okay, so within brands, the silos internally can be a challenge, just to try and get kind of agreement on the value and also if you’ve got different teams who think they own search or for different purposes. You know, I worked with another nonprofit client actually. And their internal structure was they had one whole team that managed acquisition and another team that managed nurture and sustainment of their supporters. And the two teams really didn’t talk at all. And one team owned, in quote marks, SEO, and one wanted to own it, and this sort of disparity. And so that made it really difficult to get them to kind of see what was really important. Because in that case, they were suffering from a really important issue that no one seemed to want to deal with, which was there US site was totally dominant in UK brand search.

So everyone’s squabbling over who owns SEO, and no one’s actually fixing this massive issue. You know, they were spending a large amount of money in front of raise brand awareness to stimulate one would assume brand search. And then the first result was the US side with all of its original complaint. Yeah, and maybe this US site primacy, no one wanted to tackle. Also though, I find what I have to do a lot of is just getting people to stop wasting time on, you know, optimizing all the image alt tags in the site, if you’ve got this significant international brand conflict issue to deal with. 

So can you leave us with one piece of golden advice that you’ve gleaned throughout your career? 

Well, kind of having just said maybe I bend the rules a bit, I’m going to try and offer two pieces of advice!

So for agencies, this might sound strange, but I think you really need to try and bring your clients value working with you but also enjoy working with you. You know, add value with the data, you know, stay in contact a lot, come up with the insight so you don’t have to come up with a lot to read but you know, clients will value it. So you know, really just make it easy to work with you and make clients enjoy and value working with you. 

For clients, you probably won’t be surprised to hear me say actually be bold, have courage, you know, just do it. Or at least just test it. I mean, I’ll be honest, I’ve been a bit naughty. In the past when I’ve been told, oh, we can’t do this. We can’t do that. I’ve just gone and tested it anyway. I might come back, and say, ‘Oh, I might have tested it.’ But at least now I’ve got data. If we do this, we could generate that. And then they’re like, ‘Great. Let’s roll it out.’ But I think you do need to take what I would call managed risks. So you don’t want to be too cavalier and put your job at risk. But, you know, I think, an educated risk was based on some initial data from which at least you’ve had some sort of insight, or, you know, speculated a hypothesis, of actually the data seemed to suggest this, I think if we try best we could achieve best. Let’s go and try it. Yeah. would be that would be my kind of main takeaway, I think for client side.