The author’s views are entirely individual, except for the very unlikely event that a person is hypnotized, and they do not always represent the views of Moz.

Many times, SEO specialists tell me that they just “fell into” this industry and didn’t know anything beforehand. Well, I am certainly not an exception. Before I graduated college, I searched far and wide to find employment in the marketing industry, but it was my sister who introduced me to the concept of SEO. She suggested I apply to the agency that she was working at. I quickly went on google to find out more about the concept. After completing the brief research and a few interviews, I ended up working at a large agency for digital marketing.

I enjoyed working at the agency because of the quick-paced work day and constant opportunities to learn and grow. But after nearly three years working with clients, managing roadmaps, and compiling deliverables, I was ready to change. A great number of my friends left agencies to work in houses, and I wanted to know what they looked like on the other side of the desk.

As I write this piece, I am sitting at a large media holding company. I still focus on seo strategy, but my attention is now on one brand. With the Great Resignation period still in full swing, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of the things I learned during my transition from an agency to an internal SEO. If you are thinking about a career shake-up, this article will help you along your way.

Similarities

Things are different from day to day in the office, but some things never change. Below is a summary of the biggest similarities between the roles – at least what I have experienced.

Same kind of SEO knowledge.

That was a surprise! You need to have the same sort of SEO knowledge at your office and at an agency. From testing a robots.txt file to optimizing on-page content, to recommending site speed improvements to boost Core Web Vitals, all the SEO skills that I need have not changed.

Keep in mind that this is not necessarily true for everyone, depending on the nature of your business and the responsibilities that you have every day. When you work at an agency that focuses on local SEO, you will experience a very different day-to-day if you moved to an in-house position at a large corporation. However, if you’ve taken the time to build up your content, technical, local, and international SEO skills, then you can take that knowledge and apply it in any SEO position. Being well-rounded will serve you well during a career transition.

They are the same tools.

As part of the agency, we had access to a lot of platforms and I was able to pick the tools that I wanted and learn the tools inside and out.

There are also five different keyword research tools, three different site crawlers, and multiple analytics platforms. Occasionally I did not have an option, like when I was working with client’s analytics, but typically I chose any of the seo tools to use.

Some of the tools that I have access to in-house are smaller, but all of them are familiar favorites. I have been fortunate in that my favorite keyword research and crawling tools are still a part of my day-to-day. But if you are moving to a new company, you may need to familiarize yourself with new interfaces based on your company’s subscriptions.

So, even if your company uses slightly different tools, all of them will serve the same purpose: Keyword research, rank tracking, crawling, and analytics. It is always possible that even if your internal company has no paid tools, you can still rely on a good old Google search console to get your work done.

If you are the first SEO hire, and you have made the choice of the tools to use, I suggest checking out moz, semrush, and screaming frog. They are great starting points.

When you are trying to synthesize information, you also must synthesize the information.

At the agency, I learned very valuable skills – like analyzing SEOC data and putting the facts together to understand it for non-seos. This includes the “why” and “how” behind your analyses and recommendations. If that is the case, you may have a point of contact who is a product marketing manager, and they may not understand the importance of creating top funnel content. They believe that users convert to make money from bottom of funnel content. Some of them may think to themselves, “Why are you ever going to create content that does not direct to converting a sale?” You may be thinking, “So why wouldn’t they want to build their authority by using top funnel data that builds trust with their users and search engines alike?” That’s when the value of providing the “why” behind your recommendations is so, so important.

Even though I’m no longer working for my clients, I still connect with other stakeholders who may not be familiar with SEO like I am. They may not understand why top of funnel content is such a priority. The ability to synthesize data and explain why it is important and how it fits into the larger picture is as important for internal teams as it is for external agencies.

Differences

These were some of the most surprising and exciting experiences that I had during my transition. Each role and every company has different learning curves, but here are some of the biggest differences that I noticed during my experience.

It is possible to work with other teams.

As I worked with other SEOs regularly at the agency, I didn’t spend much time talking to other departments. In the past I understood the channels that were used in other channels, like sem and display, but often I did not get the chance to work together with them on a holistic strategy.

I also usually communicate directly with my points of contact. There was also the occasional dev team on the line to discuss some of the technical implementations. As a result, I rarely had the opportunity to talk to my editorial teams about content creation and content promotion.

For me, I’m working in my internal role at a company that is very successful. And every day, I interact with those other teams. I have partnered with other marketing channels, like email, but also editorial, video, social, and design teams, which has resulted in more opportunities for our content to double (and even triple!)! duty.

So, what does this difference look like in action? In this example, I wanted to get a blog page set up because I recognized a strong keyword opportunity that fit into the pillar of content that my team was already working to build out. My team at the agency recommended that we set up a blog page that ranks in organic search, and that we promote it on our own channels. However, because I did not work directly with those teams, I rarely saw my content being promoted on other channels, so I saw that its potential was limited.

In my role, I would recommend creating a piece of content that is valuable for SEO purposes, but that also makes a strong video opportunity, and I would recommend that I convey that to the video team. Youtube, embed that video on your web page, splice up that video, and add it to Tiktok or Instagram reels. I may also include a link to the final blog page in the upcoming email newsletter, to help spread the message to a wider audience. What I’m doing is that I am constantly in-house with those other teams, and I am constantly in constant communication with them. So we can make sure that we get the most value from our content that we possibly can through collaboration.

There are fewer hard deadlines.

One of the biggest things that I noticed when I moved from my agency role was that I had a greater need to prioritize projects, because there were fewer hard deadlines. While I was at the agency, I had weekly meetings with my clients. We discuss deliverables, issues, and performance. Because of that, I always knew when I needed to do my work before that meeting.

In the position that I have been given, I decided at my own pace. It is true that there will be times when I must set deadlines for other stakeholders, but I am primarily concerned with setting and meeting my own goals. As someone who is very organized, and has a lot of areas that are important to me, I needed to really refine my skills in deciding what to prioritize. So that, with the result that I am completely free and thus I have a better balance between the work I do and the impact of the projects that I do every day, I have to work harder.

More work that is SEO-adjacent.

As I mentioned above, I think that my favorite thing about working internally is the freedom that I have in my role. That may partially be because the nature of my new company has changed. I have the opportunity to learn more about how other departments function and dip my toes in some SEO-related projects.

So instead of spending most of my time doing audits, sops, and deliverables, I am able to spend more time thinking about how to better engage the users that we get from organic search via ux improvements. I am a member of our customer experience team. We plan a/b tests, qualitative user tests, and experiment with new content formats. So I will go directly into the CMS to add the FAQs and the schema that goes with those FAQs. It is intended to help rank for long-tailed keywords. I get to learn new technologies, like Aweber for emailing, because we didn’t have a dedicated team when I joined.

For myself, I absolutely love how flexible I am. As I was the one directly responsible for the success of the site, I was surprised at how many areas of the site I was able to touch.

Takeaway from other SEOs.

It is possible that some people have reached this part of the article and they are wondering, “is it better to have an agency or to have an in-house?” So I will say it in classic SEO fashion, “it depends.”

Both of these roles offer unique opportunities, and the one that you choose will be more likely to help you learn certain skills than the other one. In which department I worked, I have put together a summary of what I learned. I hope that it will help you better understand what to expect and how you should prepare.

Summary of insights from working in-house vs an agency.

Learnings

  • Agencies are great for building a strong foundation of your seo skills, because they are often able to provide a training program that will help you build your skills. If you’re just beginning to work in this field, this could be a good option to fast-track your abilities.

  • When you work for agencies, you develop remarkable communication and presentation skills. While you work with your clients often, those skills are highly transferable to an internal role. My suggestion is to take any opportunity to present yourself, because that experience is valuable wherever you go.

  • When working in house, you can be more flexible, and you are more likely to prioritize your tasks and stay focused. Having a weekly effort vs. Impact analysis and writing down my daily priorities and sharing them with my team has helped me stay accountable and on track.

  • It is important that leaders regularly report to each other, because they want to know what is happening in the business. We focus mainly on monthly reporting for my agency, and we also provide weekly reporting for my current job. When you are producing reports, keep in mind the people who are viewing the data, and decide how detailed or how high-level your reports are.

Skills

Even if I always use the same skills in each role, I’ve discovered that some skills are more important in some positions than others. Here are my top three soft skills for SEOs that I consider, whether it is agency work or in-house work.

Agency

In-House

Then, below are the top three skills that I recommend implementing in order to succeed in any type of company.

I’ve mentioned that everyone will experience different things, no matter where they are, so hopefully you have an understanding of the possible experiences before you start transitioning from one role to another. Both of your roles have been valuable in helping me to build a career in Seo. I wish you good luck in your future.