Agency or In-House Management

When you need someone to manage your website, do you need someone in-house, or is it smarter to outsource?

The question came up in conversation when Josepha shared with me the list of qualifications a company had posted in a want ad for someone to care for their website: Someone skilled in HTML, AJAX, CSS, JavaScript, SEO, API, coding & testing, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla & SiteCore, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word, Excel & Powerpoint, mobile design, publication design, typography & computer-based illustration… must love dogs…

I made up the part about the dogs.

Many ads for in-house web people look like this, though. I assume that the people who write them don’t realize that they’re doing the equivalent of advertising for someone who can write, direct, act, run the camera, build the sets, take charge of the sound and lighting, compose and play the music, edit the film, and make the popcorn for the theater.

It’s not so much that there aren’t people who can do all those things, as that people usually specialize more than that. If you hire an extreme generalist like that, you run the risk of getting the jack of all trades and master of none.

If your company is big enough to consider hiring someone full time to take care of your website, chances are good that you will need more things done for and with your website than one person normally does. For complete success, your website needs regular updates with fresh, high quality content, so you’ll need a writer — preferably one who knows about SEO and usability. You need someone to look after your social media and linkbuilding, of course. You need someone who can get actionable data from your analytics and use it to create a strategy, someone to create design elements as needed, and of course the ideal candidate will be able to use your CMS well, which means they’ll need not only the skills involved in using the CMS but also some proficiency with the language it’s written in. You may need a photographer, videographer, and animator, too, for your multimedia. Add the occasional tech issues that arise, and you’ll have — well, a team.

This is probably the most important reason that it makes sense for a company that isn’t big enough for a digital media department to consider going to an agency instead. We discovered, during some research that Julianne conducted, that our local small businesses were most likely to turn for web help to their computer repairmen, or the closest thing to it — including, in some cases, their cable guy. One of our clients recently made a budget request for a webmaster and was turned down, but offered a “tech guy” instead. There might have been such a thing as a full-service computer guy at some point in the past, but nowadays the people who fix hardware are not the same people who design websites. They take different classes in school, get different degrees, have different skills, and can’t really be expected to do the same things equally well.

If you’re a smaller organization, the main reason you should consider going to an agency is that they will do just the work you need, more cheaply than bringing in a new person. They will very likely have people with all the skills you need, or at least be able to track them down for you, so you won’t be paying one person to do the things they’re good at and the things they’re no good at.

I’ve been an in-house SEO myself, and I know that there are real advantages to having an in-house person. Their level of involvement, knowledge, and dedication to your company may be greater than that of an agency. They can distribute their time more freely, lavishing extra time on content provision when things are quiet and jumping in to handle the cash register if it gets really busy around the shop.

Is that a good trade-off for their inevitable lack of skills? If you have only one person doing all your website maintenance, you will end up doing what they know how to do every time, not the best thing.

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