Company representatives often ask me whether they should outsource their search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns.

I've read many articles by those in the industry who claim that search engine optimization and placement is oh-so-hard and that you could never do it correctly in-house.

Don't believe them; SEO can be done in-house, as long as you have someone with the proper knowledge and skills.

How does one obtain these skills? By reading, reading, reading and practicing, practicing, practicing.

I can confidently tell you that everything anyone would need to know about search engine optimization is freely available right now on numerous sites on the Web. See Danny Sullivan's Search Engine Watch and my own Rank Write Roundtable for starters.

Still, simply reading about how to do SEO does not suddenly create an expert. Because I've been doing it for six years, it's easy for me. However, when I first started, I had to learn by trial and error just like anyone else.

Old-Fashioned Fashioning

I used to constantly study the results that would come up in the various engines. I'd look at the copy of the highly ranked pages, and, of course, at their title and meta tags.

Then I'd go back and tweak my pages accordingly, resubmit them, and wait to see what happened. I did this on a daily basis, and it became my passion. I approached it as a game that I simply had to win. And believe me, when you win at something after working so hard on it, there's no better feeling in the world.

Some "specialists" out there love to scare people by telling them search engine optimization is constantly changing and that hiring their companies is the only way in the world to keep up with it. But there's no truth to this.

Algorithms do change. But the basic rules of fair play haven't changed one iota since I started in this business back in 1995. Anyone can get high rankings for Web sites and keep them there for the long term. It's just a matter of guts, determination, faith and time.

Skill Building

If you decide to work in-house, here are some other tips to keep in mind.

Don't pass off the search engine optimization duties to just anyone. If a current employee already has many other functions within the company, don't add the SEO duties on top of everything else. This is especially true if this employee has never done SEO before.

If you want someone in your company to learn SEO from scratch, find an employee who is interested in it and make the task his or her sole duty. Give the employee time to read, read, read and practice, practice, practice.

Consider hiring someone new who already has SEO experience. If there's no one currently in your company interested in concentrating full-time on the SEO for your Web site, consider hiring an experienced specialist to come on board full-time.

There are zillions of webmasters around the world who have taught themselves SEO by working on their own sites. There's no reason they couldn't translate their successes into your successes. And someone who already has the knowledge and the skills will get up to speed faster.

You still need an excellent copywriter. No matter who you have working in-house on SEO, the chances are that person is not a great copywriter. The two rarely go hand-in-hand. I recognized early on in my SEO career that I needed to hire out the copywriting to professionals.

Even though I felt I could do the writing, I knew the client would be better served with a professional writer. If you already have a great copywriter on staff, then you've got a good start. If you bring on an experienced SEO person, the two should be able to work together to weave those keyphrases into the body copy.

I'm afraid, though, that if your SEO person is just learning, that individual will not be qualified to also train a writer in SEO writing. It's quite a specialized skill, and this will truly be an uphill battle for everyone involved.

Acting Out

If all this sounds too daunting, it's time to look at outsourcing. If you outsource, ideally you'll work with a company that knows exactly what to do to get your site high rankings. The project should go much more quickly than if you brought someone in-house. If time is of the essence, strongly consider outsourcing.

If you do decide to outsource, carefully choose the company you hire. You'll find countless so-called SEO firms out there, but many of them simply don't get the results you'll want. Make sure you get references and see ranking reports.

Another thing to keep in mind is that more expensive SEO firms aren't necessarily better. For most sites, it shouldn't cost $100,000 to $250,000 (U.S.) a year to get and maintain high rankings, whether in-house or outsourced. Plenty of good SEO firms exist that can get you the rankings you need at a price within your budget.

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