On Wednesday 27th May, two generations, with two different sets of perspectives and life experiences, joined Dixon Jones to discuss how they approach’s differ depending on where they work.

The Old Guard:

Dixon Jones, Brand Ambassador of Majestic and previously founder of one of the UK’s earliest SEO Consultancies, Receptional, back in 1999.

Susan Hallam MBE, Founder of Hallam Internet.

Topher Kohan. InHouse SEO of Cox Automotive and previously the weather channel and IBM.

The New Blood:

Viola Eva, SEO Consultant and founder of Flow-SEO in Berlin.

Ruth Everett, Technical SEO analyst inhouse at DeepCrawl.

Transcript

Old Guard vs New Blood – Agency vs In-House – Transcript

Dixon Jones

Hello!

Thank you ever so much for coming back to another Old Guard vs New Blood webinar with Majestic.

Why don’t we just quickly go around and introduce ourselves.

Topher Kohan

Hi I’m Topher Kohan I am the senior SEO manager for Cox Automotive, based out of Atlanta Georgia. Before that I was the head of SEO for weather.com and then before that I did an agency stint – so I’ve got a little agency cred under my belt too.

Dixon Jones

You’re on the in-house side today!

Topher Kohan

Right, but before that I ran SEO for Turner Digital News, I was the head SEO for cnn.com.

Dixon Jones

Okay that’s great, Ruth?

Ruth Everett

Hi I’m Ruth. I work at DeepCrawl. I’m a technical SEO analyst in-house and I’ve also just started to move over to work more client side, but I’m in-house for this.

I also volunteer for an international animal charity where I help with their SEO.

Dixon Jones

Which one? Give it a plug!

Ruth Everett

Its IAPWA – the International Aid for the Protection & Welfare of Animals.

Dixon Jones

Congratulations, thanks for doing that! Susan?

Susan Hallam

Hi everybody my name is Susan Hallam.

I’m the founder of a digital marketing agency called Hallam, and I’m speaking to you from the beautiful city of Nottingham here in England.

Hallam are known for the fact that we are currently the holder of Google’s top award for high-performing agencies that help businesses to grow online.

Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard The Drum, but we’ve won a number of Drum awards for search and SEO.

You might be able to tell that I’m the Old Guard, I have worked in the digital industry for more than 20 years and my background is indeed SEO.

Dixon Jones

Hallam Internet… yeah you’ve been a force in the industry for a long, long, time ever since my agency days.

Susan Hallam

I’m not that keen on that “long, long, time” Dixon…

Dixon Jones

It’s okay – you know I’m going to ‘playfully insult’ you every other sentence – it’s how I’m built. Just feed it back to me!

Susan Hallam

I’ve known you as well – we’re probably of a similar generation maybe?

Dixon Jones

Yeah I started SEO in 97 and started my agency in 1999. I’m definitely Old Guard, there’s no doubt about it! Viola?

Viola Eva

Hello, so I’m the new kid. I run an SEO agency called Flow SEO, where we mainly work with digital businesses, so software companies, e-learning, ecommerce, and I’m calling in from Berlin, Germany today.

Dixon Jones

So this month we’re going to compare the differences between the demands on agency based SEO’s and in-house SEO’s.

So whilst we’re keeping the old guards, new blood divide between the groups, we’ve also split the panel along agency and in-house lines.

So this means that I’ve actually I’ve created the MBAs “guru thing” for two by two matrix, obviously it doesn’t fit very well on a five persons zoom call, but we’ve got one person in each quadrant from a veteran in agency, veteran in in-house, and younger people in each of those as well.

I think that’s good because somebody from each kind of perspective and I want to take the conversation down to two vectors of what are the different demands of agencies versus the seo’s in companies and also as individuals within those organizations if you’re looking at your career building path, are people happier, richer, whatever in agency or in-house.

So I think it’s going to be quite good and but I think that’s kind of a good place to start since we’ve got one person in each camp.

I’d like to start with a sentence from each of you on what you think are the biggest challenges in your quadrant, so “what is the challenge that you face on a regular basis by being a) in-house or agency and b) old guard versus new blood”.

I’ll start off code Topher.

Topher Kohan

So from an in-house point of view I think the bigger the challenge I have run into is getting the buy-in, getting the resources and the buy-in to promote SEO across the brand, across the business.

I’ve been doing this long enough to remember when I was the very first SEO hired for cnn.com in the history of the business, so the idea of having someone who did this for them was kind of “outside the box”.

It was new, and now it’s kind of old guard or old hat to have an SEO team. I have a pretty decent size team here at Auto Trader and at Cox, so I’m pretty happy with that. But you still have to get to buy-in and you still have to know how to get things done within the business and that’s the biggest challenge.

Susan Hallam

I think the biggest challenge for us on agency side, is what I would call “agency life”, which corresponds to culture.

I think we’re working in a really fast moving environment where we have rising expectations of colleagues, we’ve got demanding clients, were hard working and fast paced, and I think if anything these cultural demands, the expectations of colleagues, expectations of our SEO, expectations of me as a leader that these are really challenging times.

And I think they’re quite different to what they were 20 years ago. I don’t know if you would agree Dixon, and it’s even different to what it was let’s say six months ago in terms of what’s happened in terms of this pandemic.

So I think for me it’s agency life that would be my greatest challenge.

Dixon Jones

My world is a little different because I’ve gone from agency to I suppose in-house-y things with Majestic and now I’m kind of out on my own. I’ve kind of gone around the circle, but yes certainly we can talk about the changes that have happened with Covid, which has just change the world again.

I’ll come back to that though, after everyone has had a chance to answer. Viola?

Viola Eva

Also agency here, and I can relate with what you just said in terms of distractions and notifications.

Today has been one of those days where I think it’s like my seventh call or so, and then it’s obviously hard to actually get work done because you’re constantly being interrupted etc.

So building a calm company, relatively distraction-free has been one of my goals and purposes in the last year, but actually I can also relate to the in-house debate of buy-in in the sense that we are an SEO agency and people come to me when they want SEO, so I don’t necessarily have to sell them into the idea of SEO and that it’s an important channel.

But then I think the stretch between what we recommend is SEO, what brand people would like to do, what Google would like to see in terms of like content type on page 1 etc and making sure that everything is aligned there and we hit the sweet spot where everything everyone is happy, is definitely a communication challenge.

Ruth Everett

So for me I think one of the biggest challenges going in-house from agency side was when you come in, especially if it’s a small in-house team, is when your agency side you can bounce ideas of each other, with people that work in the same industry and with the same clients.

But when you’re in-house you can sometimes be a bit lonely, especially if you’re in a small team and you don’t have the ability to really bounce those ideas off and discuss things and you have to argue the case for SEO and make people realize the importance of it in-house, because before I was agency side and everyone agrees the importance of it.

Dixon Jones

So the challenge for you is that sometimes you’re on your own in an organization and your ideas have to carry.

Ruth Everett

Yeah.

Dixon Jones

Okay so there’s definitely some differences there which is always a good place to start a debate I think so that’s brilliant.

So the next question then for you guys is: “What’s your personal KPI in your own role, whether you are in-house or agency? When you get up every morning, is there something that you strive towards? either a target given by somebody else or a target that you that you got that you stick to and then the second question of that is what’s that target every in your job description?”

Ruth Everett

I don’t remember having KPIs in my job description, but it’s I guess the generic ones of driving traffic to the site, ensuring there’s no technical issues on the site.

I mean for me I work for an SEO tool, so we have an audience that are SEO’s and if something goes wrong on the site they’re going to pick up on that straight away, so it’s ensuring that there’s no technical issues.

Also helping direct visitors towards the goal of requesting a demo or purchasing the tool.

Dixon Jones

Okay so you’ve got a fairly logical funnel, probably similar to Majestic’s, of trying to get somebody down the funnel and through the system.

I guess that’s kind of a useful thing and a being in house it’s much more obvious what it is that you’re trying to achieve I suppose.

Viola what about you?

Viola Eva

I think one of the main things that I pay attention to is actually client happiness.

So I learned early in the game that being successful in your SEO, increasing organic traffic and increasing organic rankings it’s obviously good to also increase client happiness, but it’s not the only factor that this is reliant on.

So it becomes a lot more relational, making someone feel happy and reacting to that.

So client happiness for me includes obviously delivering them organic results that we agreed upon but it more so also it includes like an emotional component and the relationship that we’re building together.

And actually I just looked at my scorecard, funnily enough it’s not really on there so I mean kind of like the things that I hold myself accountable to is actually number of reoccurring clients, number of projects, number of prospect management sales goals proposals that arise so I would assume the number of recurring clients not dropping tells me that the clients are happy but now that you asked me, in our monthly scorecard that that we have is a company, that client happiness is actually not a factor.

Susan Hallam

Yeah I’d agree entirely with Viola.

The first thing would be that personally I don’t use KPIs, I use something called OKRs, which have to do with objectives and key results, so I think we’re kind of transitioning as an agency away from KPIs.

I think probably a lot of the people on the call think that our KPIs would have to do with rankings and traffic and those specific results and of course that is one component, but in terms of those OKRs, if we look at client satisfaction, what we need to be able to do is to pivot according to whatever the client wants at that moment.

So what we’re looking at is these kind of measures of satisfaction, so we use something called Net Promoter Score, which is a way that we can then measure that satisfaction.

I would also agree with Viola, we use something called client churn, we do a lot of metrics on what are called account management metrics.

In a nutshell, and I don’t think it’s a secret, but if you’re happy with us you’ll keep buying from us! So you keep sending more projects our way.

But I think my OKRs really aren’t necessarily just about the SEO metrics of traffic and rankings, they do have to do with their satisfaction and relationship measures.

Viola Eva

I want to add like one comment I think staying with you is obviously a matter of success, but then actually clients recommending you I think is a massive one as well as an indicator for how happy they are with your work, and also how good the return on investment as well as relationship is.

Dixon Jones

Yes, that’s a good point. I suspect on agency side that’d be a brilliant thing if you’re working there, but of course you can then help that along, you can push referrals, get people to refer friends and things, but that’s a very interesting point and probably not one that in-house, Topher, would care about in the slightest?

Topher Kohan

No the only time I want to get a referral is if I’m trying to get my next job, which hopefully won’t happen for a while.

So we use OKRs also, I’m a big fan about of OKRs, but we use them with KPIs so that they ladder up to the OKRs.

So my daily KPI is simple, and that’s to move the business forward.

Did I improve the business today via audience acquisition?

SEO in-house is just another audience acquisition stream, and the moment you can get executives to buy into that, that it’s just an audience acquisition stream, that it’s no different than paid, it’s no different than social, it’s no different than Facebook advertise, whatever it is it’s just an audience acquisition stream.

That’s my day – did I move the business forward yes or no?

Now there’s a bunch of the SEO KPIs on top of that like did we increase CTR, did we increase this way or that way, but really it boils down to on Wednesday the 27th of May when I go to bed tonight, did I move the business forward yes or no?

Dixon Jones

And you know you know at the end of the day? Do you have your own sort of school card thing that tells you?

Topher Kohan

I’ve been I’ve been doing this long enough that I have a good judgment call, and we do weekly and monthly actual scorecards.

I try very hard to not show executives a weekly, because as we know there’s so much volatility with everything moving and that, but I do that internally.

But I know, because of doing this for a hot second, that at the end of the day whether or not at the team we move the business forward today or not.

Dixon Jones

Okay so there’s clearly two different mindsets going on in there and I’ll see you would expect there are because you’re in you know a different space, but it kind of leads me to the next thing of exploiting that void for the point of debate if you like.

Topher and Ruth there are times where basically the agency side can’t survive without the in-house side paying for their services, so I’m going to ask you two really: “when do you both go and outsource?”

Topher Kohan

I hire out in one of two times if a) the team internally isn’t big enough to handle the workload.

That’s a really good time. I’ve worked with lots of digital agencies across my career, some really brilliant ones, some ones I wasn’t fans of, but ultimately that’s the first time I bring them in.

The second time I bring them in is that if I’m having a hard time getting the message across.

For whatever reason, and I don’t know why this is, I’m sure there’s some really smart person who’s written 15 books about this or at least some really smart white paper that talks about why they’ll listen to an outside person opposed to the guy they hired to be there in-house SEO.

I worked with a couple of really smart agencies who would say to me ‘what do you want me to say’. Tell me what you want me to say and then I and then they pared it. I probably said it in 10 meetings and then they say it in one meeting… and ‘well that’s brilliant, we should do that’.

I don’t care who gets the credit for it as long as we get the work done.

Ruth Everett

For me it’s the same kind of thing. When the team is struggling with resources, but also yeah, to get people to hear your opinion, which always confuses me because they hire us as in-house SEO’s but sometimes they won’t listen to us. The same exact thing comes from someone else and they’ll listen to straightaway, so yeah I completely agree with that.

Dixon Jones

That’s really interesting, when I was agency side many moons ago I didn’t see that at all, didn’t see that at all, I just assumed that in-house SEO thought that they didn’t want an agency person in there.

Topher Kohan

The other thing I do, which Ruth brought up earlier, is the fact that if I bring in a digital agency I use them as my sounding board quite often to make sure that before I go in front of the executives or the c-suite, to make sure that I’m not missing something.

I hired them, so I assume they’re smart and I trust them, so I’ll get on a call and go through with them: this is my hypothesis, this is what I’m going to recommend we do, they work it through with me, then I go great, then I’ll walk in front of the c-suite and pitch the ‘what’s next kind of moment’ and I use them as that sounding board.

Dixon Jones

Okay so and the other thing was interesting on the in-house SEO side is neither of you said that you want it for a very narrow definition, like just for the social media posting tweets or just for the Twitter PPC or whatever it may be, so that that’s not really a forefront in your mind then? You’re happy if you need to get resources you’ll get resources so you’re saying?

Ruth Everett

Yeah

Topher Kohan

I’ve always hired a separate PPC team, let me be very clear about this, I can burn through your budget in like four seconds flat. So I’m sure somebody does that, particularly with social, I find someone who is going to work with me and consult with me, but yeah that’s the kind of stuff we outsource often.

Dixon Jones

Okay, so on the agency side, I mean these are these the things that you sound like you sell to or these not offers that you put forwards to people?

Susan Hallam

I think it’s really interesting to hear, because if we were to look at when we set the agency up 20 years ago, we had SEO people, and we had PPC people, and we had social media people, and they actually sat at different desks on different islands – we actually had separate teams.

But I think SEO has changed so much now that we look at SEO and you need UX, you need Python scripting, you need all of these skills that you can’t really just stuff SEO into a box anymore.

We’re also finding the work that we’re doing, when you’re looking a really innovative leading-edge type stuff, we’re informing our SEO strategy with our PPC learnings as well. We’re taking our data and we’re creating different kinds of dashboards that were unifying data from so many different kinds of resources.

I think SEO has really changed and it’s forced us to reorganize ourselves, to look at the kind of offerings that we’re making, because it is so many different skills.

And then finally if I could just say, I do think there is this kind of credibility thing that an agency will bring and I can understand that entirely, and that’s because we can drop into the conversation ‘oh by the way I was over at Google HQ last week’ or you could say ‘oh my colleague Ben spoke at SMX last week and he was sharing his…’.

So agency people I think have the luxury that in-house doesn’t have to be able to be doing this really high level networking, you’re traveling in these circles, and its actually part of our job. We have to do it, so maybe that has something to do with it.

But I wouldn’t say we’re any smarter than you, I’m not saying that at all, and I agree with Topher entirely that a lot of it is if you let me know where you want to steer the ship, we back you up on that.

Dixon Jones

Viola feel free to carry on that conversation as well, but I’d just like to add when you’re thinking about it you’re a younger agency than Hallam, so does that mean that if Topher wants resources galore is that a challenge for you compared to an older more established agency? Or is that just a case of matching the right pitch to the right customer?

Viola Eva

I mean we’re less than ten people and we are kind of like a new kid, so if you come on-board and you give us a workload you for all ten people then that would be an issue.

Most of the companies I work with are kind of like small-ish in the sense that they are for sure less than 100 people and they usually themselves maybe have like five to ten people in their marketing team and they either come because they have too much work, or they don’t have the time or experience to fully hone into the SEO strategy because they are overseeing many other things.

I think as well it’s twofold, it’s exactly what has been said is like people like to develop the strategy with someone. I actually also think, at least at the size of companies where I work with, the marketing managers, the CMO’s, they also want someone to talk about their project, they want someone to mastermind with and talk about the things that are going on.

And then what we also try to do is so we still try to do like some of the unloved work. So some of the stuff that people often don’t really love as much is the digital pr, content distribution, link acquisition, and this is something where often if you only have a marketing team of five or ten people that is doing everything, you don’t really want to put two people on a link acquisition and this is where we can come in and help them.

Dixon Jones

I think that’s a good point. I think it’s very difficult for an in-house person not to get drawn off onto another project, but once you’ve modulated a project of some kind of description then you know giving it to an agency makes sense or giving it to an outside person whose job it is to do that makes sense, but that doesn’t necessarily give the creativity that an agency can bring, so maybe the creativity is a bit left over there.

I’m going to bring in a question from the audience now. It says “Hi, I’m looking at starting approximately twenty to twenty-five websites in the same niche at different locations. I’ve learnt quite a lot in the last four years, but my question is: am I best off hiring my own in-house SEO or an agency?

So I think they are looking at one SEO or engaging with an agency, they also say the only agency in my niche works with my competition, so if they are going to have a specialist agency then they have got a challenge on their hands.

I guess that the agency people would veer towards the agency answer, so I’m going to leave you two again at the back and I’m going to ask Ruth and Topher first.

Ruth, I’ll start with you.

Ruth Everett

I think that’s where in-house comes in handy, because when you’re working agency side you might have a small retainer and they only work on it a few hours a month, whereas in-house you’re dedicated to that niche and that industry and those websites.

I guess you could be a bit more proactive when you’re in-house rather than waiting for an agency to help you with something, and as well you own all your data whereas if your agency side they might take your data or set things up for you and you don’t get access to it.

Susan Hallam

We do not!

Ruth Everett

I’ve known that to happen with agencies!

Topher Kohan

I’m going to pick a step higher and maybe not hire an SEO but hire a director or a someone of search marketing and have them and then also hire an agency right.

Ruth hit the head there’s no way, and I don’t care how good they are, that an agency is going to give you unlimited hours – they would go out of business in a heartbeat.

So having that point person that’s looking at the holistic view of how to digitally market your site across paid, social, and organic and working with the agency to make that happen and using those hours to the best of their ability, I think is really the way to go, especially if you know for a fact that the only agency that you know of works work for your competitor, then you’re going to have to go outside of the box and having someone who that’s their day job to manage and to look for that, that’s the win in my mind.

Viola Eva

I would say just to make the point for agency is that when you hire an agency you get a team of people who can work it. So when you hire just one SEO you’re basically bound to the knowledge, and time, and expertise of that one person, whereas if you hire an agency they might have a really good technical SEO that works on your campaign, and they might have a really good content marketer that helps with the content calendar, and you can basically profit from two or more people having expert knowledge over just having that one in-house person.

I think that would be kind of like the standard agency argument.

Susan Hallam

I think the question for me as a digital marketing consultant and working in SEO, I have to say that the question raises more questions from me than answers I can give you.

I think the benefit of working with an agency, and it sounds almost like you are suggesting what the SEO solution is already, I think the benefit of an agency, even if it were just as Topher was saying setting the strategic direction, is are you even going in the right direction or are there alternatives that you could be thinking about.

And I agree with Viola as well as the benefit, so the agency could help set the direction, because we have experience doing this. We’ve been doing it for 20 years. There’s nothing new under the Sun. It may be new to you, but it’s not going be new to an agency in many respects.

Then the second thing would be to think about the fact that you’re going to need scalable resources. You’ll need a little bit of this, need a lot more of that, and you’re not to be able to hire all those people, but with an agency you can just parachute them in on a “smorgasbord basis” as and when you need them.

But I think in this particular question it has to do with setting a strategic direction and I think that’s where an agency could really make a difference.

Dixon Jones

So putting that all together I think there’s an interesting thing I just go back with in that we can all be experts at something, but we can’t be experts at everything. So if you if you think that your expertise is in SEO maybe you can be Topher’s point man effectively in your own organization and instead of getting an agency maybe get individual contractors or whatever to do things that you need to do to make up an ad hoc team, but then you have to be just spending your time on that. You can’t be also then setting up partnership deals with data suppliers, and doing the accounts, and the other parts for an organization that make up a business, so the more that you try and do everything the smaller your business is going to be.

I think one of the challenges, certainly for me through life, has been that ability to grow beyond around about 20 people. I’ve come to the view that when I got an organization up to 20 people I should just leave, because I don’t scale very well and so that’s what I’ve generally done. When the organization gets to a certain size, I step back a little bit and try and do something else, because I know that I try know everything, and I really don’t and I make it worse at some point.

Okay we’ve got another question here: “I’m curious to hear if any of the panellists had experience where a client assigned a dedicated development team to work only on SEO and what worked in that setup and what didn’t?”

Topher Kohan

So I had that that set up at weather, I had a set of dedicated developers.

So opposed to, I assume, how Ruth works and how I work now is that we have to lobby to get out any technical SEO fixes or updates done just like everybody else, whether it’s a UX fix, whether it’s to get the title tags updated, or the h1 tags moving around, or any simple technical stuff, or add new schema or whatever, just like the same team that wants to add a new module that tells you how to buy your car from home.

So we have to show the business value, go in there, pitch it, deal with it.

When I was at weather, for a long time at weather, I had a dedicated team of three developers, a lead and two other developers, and they just knocked out SEO stuff, they rebuilt how we published XML sitemaps, they add in the schema, they updated the amp templates, it’s one right after another, that’s all they did.

And it was interesting in the fact that we got a lot of stuff out the door, but ultimately I don’t know that’s the best use of that level of talent is to have them just dedicated, because at the end of each quarter I was struggling to make sure they were busy, because there was not enough long term SEO stuff for them to do after the first three quarters.

All the low-hanging fruit was taken off the table and then it was really about okay what’s next, what’s next, what’s next, so there was a lot of research and a lot of information and so I would then lend these guys out to other teams. I would lend them out to other teams to get their work done, they help other teams out because I didn’t have any physical work for them.

Viola Eva

I think that struggle, because I have a lot of software companies, so there’s also the difference of do the people who work on the product, who work on the software, who work on the app, do they also have to take care of the website? And then it’s the same, it’s like do the website updates compete with the feature update in the app.

But I’ve have the experience, at least now, that most people have like a designated person for the website that then I can work with and then we just have to prioritize between the things that they are changing, which they want to be changing things, and the things that I want to be changing, and the all-time favourite stuff like web speed, mobile friendliness, and then the design changes that come with that etc so again it’s the same, it’s like we have to make a point on why that’s valuable and why we all think that will rise the tide for the entire website.

Dixon Jones

I’m going to move on to the next question because it’s I just want to get through a few more questions. I wanted to take that other vector of thinking about things rather from the corporation’s point of view back down to the individuals point of view.

So everybody that’s watching is going to obviously be you know either employees or some of them running their own companies, but let’s say that people are employees either within agencies or in-house and there you know they’ve got a career to run, so I guess what are the advantages and disadvantages of being an employee, I know that we’ve got two people here that are running and founding on the agency sides but think about it from your employees sides: “what do you think is good about the in-house and what do you think might be good on the other side of the fence?”

Ruth Everett

I’ll start agency because I started in agency and I think that was a good place for me to start because it was very fast-paced, there was a range of different clients in different industries and I was – I was able to try out different things. So I tried out content and I tried out link building and I found my niche in technical.

So I had all of that experience and then I was able to take that in-house and specialize in something.

Dixon Jones

So it let you become a sort of a t-shaped marketer as they say?

Ruth Everett

Yeah.

Dixon Jones

Okay so you’re happy with starting agency to get the experience in a broad range and then going in-house.

Susan what do you think on the other side of things?

Susan Hallam

I think a lot of it has to do with your personal disposition and your temperament and what you’re looking for in a career.

Hallam is an agency, we employ I think 52 or 53 people and we’re known for paying well, so if you’re looking to make good money you might make more money in an agency than you might make in-house.

The other thing we have to think a little bit about, which I thought was very interesting, is you talked about t-shaped marketers, which is kind of like that you know a lot about everything and I think also we might want to look at an inch wide, mile deep as well because I think that either you’re going to be a strategist, and even being a strategist now is its own discipline in in terms of being able to do these kind of things.

So I think in terms of which is better, I personally think that I have loved working in SEO agency-side because it fits my disposition. I want the variety, I want the speed, I want to learn new stuff, to be honest I want the kudos, I want the recognition, I want to speak at conferences and I think you can get more of that agency side.

However, I also know that we have hired people who are brilliant and wonderful and just didn’t suit agency life. That kind of pace, that kind of demand, the fact that you have to turn up every day and be creative on demand, there is no hiding in an agency, there is no hiding, but you have to thrive on that.

Viola Eva

I thought that was just a perfect pitch on why I chose the lifestyle that I chose. This like novelty, creativity, exposure, talking with different people. I know that sometimes people also complain about “I don’t want to talk with the clients”, but I actually really enjoy it. I like the kind of like problem-solving, the creativity, I like the connection.

And then even though I have an agency, one thing to consider for going in-house is if it’s a project or company that is really aligned with what you think will have a positive impact or a cause that when you want to contribute to or something that you find worthwhile, then I think that there’s a good reason putting all your waking time, and your expertise, and your creativity towards one company or one organization, if you feel that this is going to leave a dent in the world in a way that you want a dent in the world to be left.

Topher Kohan

I did exactly what Susan said. I think I’m ok at what I do, but I was not the right fit for the agency lifestyle. I think it’s not just personality, I think it’s also the quality of life you want.

I’ve worked for 24-hour news organizations, and I worked for weather, so it’s not like I wasn’t on call 24/7, it’s just that you hit it on the head that when I walked in the door I had to bill every single hour no matter what was happening and that’s just not how I work and how my mind works.

I love being in-house, I think it’s brilliant for me and my personality and the quality of life I want out of life.

Dixon Jones

I think when I started out, I mean I hated agency life by the end of it, so you know I ran an agency way before I started with Majestic, and there was a big overlap between those two things as well and but when I started I didn’t even know what an agency was.

In 1999 I kind of thought I want this, I get this. Adidas are bidding when somebody types in murder mystery games there’s an Adidas advert at the top of Yahoo here, and I think I can do better and so that’s how I kind of figured out SEO, so setup a consultancy and in my head I was being a consultant and that’s what I thought I was going to be and then these agency people that were selling TV advertising started to figure out what all this stuff was and my world changed, but how that grew I didn’t like hate the growth in the agency world because I couldn’t get stuck into a website, I couldn’t get stuck into a marketing plan and just try and see that whole thing grow.

So I think I thrive better when I kind of moved sideways on and moved into effectively in-house myself.

Susan Hallam

I don’t think that’s an agency versus in-house issue, that’s more like do you want to be hands-on, loving what you do or is it the fact that you want to be sitting at a desk managing?

I mean they say agencies are the most fun if you didn’t have any customers and you didn’t have any staff.

[LAUGHTER]

So this is something else to think about, is where do you want to fit within the culture.

I’m sure my colleagues at Hallam are going to have loved hearing me say that, but it is hard. I think Viola mentioned that it isn’t always easy dealing with unhappy customers, or demanding customers, but it’s also in terms of just being part of the large team.

So Dixon’s does it have more to do with being part of a big team?

Dixon Jones

No not really, except that I’m not necessarily the best people manager in the world.

Viola Eva

I would like to really kind of like challenge you on this because I think that maybe because we’re drawn to it personality wise, the novelty, the fast pace, we ended up in an agency, but I also want to challenge the notion that an agency has to be hectic and busy and that the client who screams the loudest is the one that you tend to.

I understand that maybe often this is how it goes, but I would like to challenge that this is the culture you have to create, and that this is the only way to have an agency.

So there’s a good book called “It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work” which I can really recommend, which talks a lot about busy-ness versus deep work etc, so I think even if you work with clients and a half pressure etc there’s a way to set it up that actually allows for distraction-free deep work, there’s a way where you’re not constantly scared of growth etc.

I think maybe agency needs like a facelift, like the way agencies are run it I think it needs to be overhauled for the 21st century in order to have work-life balance, so I don’t have my work email, and my Slack on my phone for that reason because I don’t want at 8p.m, I don’t want the work email on the Slack you know to be on my phone etc

I made a very strong point to grow an agency that does not disrespect people’s boundaries and that does allow for them to have a good life, and be paid well, etc as well as have the creativity and novelty. So I think we have to be more creative and stricter with ourselves when we talk about agency to actually make this a good and worthwhile workplace and there are many people who do and many agency owners and managers who are interested in that it’s a misconception.

Dixon Jones

That comes back into the culture that’s generated whether it’s in-house or whether it’s agency.

Viola Eva

I mean even in-house you can have a boss you know that calls you on a Saturday night right, that’s not an agency specific problem, it’s more how you choose to handle that.

Dixon Jones

Okay I just want to ask one quick question before we go, which is “when the lockdown goes who are going to bounce back quickest, in-house SEOs or agency teams?”

Susan Hallam

I’ll jump in there and say I think it will be agencies that will thrive more quickly afterwards.

Our own agencies are doing quite well at the moment, if anything the result of the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies, so some sectors particularly say b2b, manufacturing, industrial, they are actually moving into these, they’re recognizing the need to be using new technologies.

I think agencies are also able to pivot very quickly. So we’re offering new products, new services, responding to meet demand and I think that’s just the virtue of how agencies have to behave in any event, so Dixon my vote goes for agencies.

Dixon Jones

What a surprise the agency’s vote for the agency!

[LAUGHTER]

Ruth what do you think?

Ruth Everett

I agree agency. I think as Susan says with the ability to pivot and also I guess provide support for businesses that are struggling and they will remember that when things go back to normal and they remember the support you gave them and I think agencies are able to give that more than in-house.

Dixon Jones

Okay everyone we’ve hit time already – it doesn’t take long does it really!

If you’ve got any final thoughts and that’s great, but how can people find out more about you, what are you working on now, what would you like people to know about?

Susan Hallam

It’s been a pleasure Dixon, thank you for inviting me it’s been really interesting it’s been great to meet the other panellists. My name is Susan Hallam I invite everybody to connect to me on LinkedIn and also I do organize something called the Nottingham Digital Summit. We have postponed it because of coronavirus, it is a charitable fund raiser, it’s free to attend in return for a donation for our charity of the year which is the Nottingham Refugee Forum, so if anybody would like to know about our forthcoming conference I’d be happy to share those details as well.

Viola Eva

My name is Viola Eva, I’m also on LinkedIn first and foremost and also on Instagram to bring it back to the Young/Old think, but yeah basically reach me on LinkedIn and if not at Flow SEO you can read my blog posts which are mainly about how to integrate content marketing and SEO.

Ruth Everett

You can also find me on LinkedIn, Ruth Everett and Twitter sometimes @RvthEverett, that’s where I mainly play.

Topher Kohan

Just like everyone else I’m on LinkedIn at Topher Kohan with a K. I’m also on the Twitter’s @TopherATL, I would love to connect and chat.

Dixon Jones

That’s great, okay guys it just leaves me to round things up now, so I want to say thank you very much! I really absolutely appreciate you guys coming on, everybody at Majestic really is grateful for such strong panellists coming on each time and taking their time and educating the community, it’s really, really good.

Final last plug for Majestic – they’ve got a brand new Keyword Generator tool that does some cool things, you just put in a website and they will figure out everything in terms of keywords in all sorts of manners give it a try!

Thank you all for coming, and we’ll see you next time!

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