Growing a small to mid-sized business is no easy task. Determining whether to contract certain jobs or do them yourself makes the path to business growth even more difficult. Any analyst or marketing consultant knows about the growth potential that search engine optimization (SEO) offers. Knowing how to execute SEO initiatives is a different story. This article is for you if you find yourself asking any of the following questions: Should I hire an SEO company? Can I do SEO myself? Do you have to pay for SEO? You’re an expert at running your business, not SEO. This article will help you evaluate whether or not you should do your own SEO or hire an agency for the best results. Hiring an SEO Company The following frequently asked questions will help you learn what value SEO agencies provide, and if hiring an SEO company is right for you. What is an SEO Company? An SEO company uses search engine optimization best practices to help businesses improve their organic rankings and increase relevant website visitors. This process includes improvements to business web design, code, and content for better user experience and marketing performance. What Does an SEO Company Do? SEO agencies improve your site’s content and its availability to align your service offerings with existing user demand. In addition to content improvements, an SEO company will improve technical SEO elements on your site by making coding improvements or adding structured data markup. Finally, SEO firms will build links to your site from relevant third-party websites. For example, imagine you’re a divorce lawyer. An SEO firm does competitor keyword research to identify how users are searching for divorce lawyers in your area. Next, the agency will optimize your divorce law services page to exhaustively address the searcher intent behind the relevant keywords. This may include elements about pricing, office location, and your billing process. The agency will add the necessary content to make sure that your page is the most helpful page among competitors in your locality. Most search engine optimization firms will develop a content marketing strategy that answers questions related to your main services. For a divorce lawyer, this might involve blog posts about how long it takes to get a divorce, what papers to file, and how to split assets during a divorce. Content like this helps your target audience find your website while searching for related topics, and also improves the ranking of your divorce law services page. The above process is just a summary. For a more detailed description of our example scenario, this guide on SEO for law firm websites will help. Lastly, an SEO company will build links from related websites. This may includes links from relevant directories, or websites that offer divorce law advice. Next time you ask yourself – what do SEO companies actually do? – know that their work may not be highly visible, but the right strategy will undoubtedly improve your bottom line. How to Tell if Your SEO Company Is Working Because of the nature of SEO, agencies rarely hand over deliverables. You’re not paying someone to execute a task, or provide you with marketing collateral like physical business cards or trade show displays. Because of this, knowing how to tell if your SEO company is working can be difficult. Compare organically sourced customers each quarter to best measure the success of an SEO agency. It is reasonable for the first six months to remain stagnant in terms of organic customer acquisition. However, the third quarter of an SEO campaign should realize ROI. If you’re not seeing new customers from an SEO campaign within nine months, fire your agency. They’ll try to talk you into staying longer, but an effective agency will be able to show you growth within the first nine months. Don’t waste your hard-earned money. How to Do SEO Yourself Learning how to do SEO work yourself is possible, but you’ll really only reach 40% effectiveness. Where am I pulling 40% from? The majority of SEO can be applied through on-page optimization, content marketing, and link building. Due to the time required to implement each of these respective strategies, on-page SEO is the only task you will realistically be able to do yourself. As the leader of a small to mid-sized business, learning how to build links to your website and blogging on your own will never produce ROI. These tasks are simply too time consuming and difficult to execute in a profitable way. This isn’t bad news! Being that you’re a leader in your industry, you’ve got an advantage over your competitors’ marketing teams when it comes to on-page SEO for your services. You know your products or services better than any marketer can understand them. With a fundamental grasp on keyword research techniques, you can build high-performing pages that the competition is simply unable to match. This will get you the 40% improvement you need to see a return on your time investment. The most powerful SEO expert for your industry is a subject matter expert that learns SEO, and not the other way around. With some basic on-page optimization skills, that’s exactly what you are! Do You Have to Pay for SEO Tools? While you technically don’t have to pay for SEO tools, I would recommend using SEMrush and Screaming Frog. This will cost approximately $115 per month, and will cover all of your on-page SEO needs. You can use free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console for the rest of your on-page optimization needs. You can also check out some TYB SEO tips for more actionable information about optimizing your site. Final Thoughts on Hiring an SEO Agency vs. DIY SEO At the end of the day, the biggest factor between hiring an agency vs. doing your own SEO will be the level of competition in your industry. If you try doing your own SEO, and see little progress after a year, it’s likely that your industry is too competitive for DIY SEO to work. At that point you’ll want to turn to a search engine optimization company that you’ve thoroughly vetted.