As a long-time in-house SEO, you'd probably expect that I did not consider myself a fool at the time I was doing that. But I have recently gotten that question from a lawyer who wonders if he should do his own SEO, which reminds me of the old joke that a lawyers who represents himself has a fool for a client. But is it a bad idea to do your SEO in-house? I think it depends on how you go about it. If you think you'll pick up everything you don't know without any help, you're probably looking at a rough ride 

When I ran the search marketing at IBM, I think I was a bit unusual in a few ways. First, I had a deep knowledge of search technology going back 15 years at the time, so a lot of the concepts were easy to me. Also, I had an education in marketing, including direct marketing, so I understood the business side, too. In addition, I had worked at IBM for over 20 years at that time, so I intimately understood the products and services as well as the potential clients, being an IT person myself. Looking back on it, I was an ideal candidate for the job. 

But I didn't do it all by myself. I not only attended conferences and read up on everything I could find, I also hired a search consultancy to tutor me in everything that I did not know. That is how I met Bil Hunt and how we ended up writing a book together. 

So, you might also be an ideal candidate for your own in-house SEO, but it would probably help you to take advantage of whatever help you can afford. And it's worth asking if SEO is even your biggest problem at the moment. 

So when that lawyer told me he was a newbie at Web sites who had a lousy experience with an SEO consultant, and then asked if it was a "pipe dream" for him to do his own SEO, this is part of what I told him:

I don't think that doing your own SEO is a pipe dream if you have enough technical skills to maintain your Web site. If you don't, then your goal needs to be to get someone who does. But you need to ask yourself whether you are ready for SEO. I'd focus first on the Web site itself and later on the SEO. It's not the advice that I would give to everyone, but there are so many skills that you are trying to pick up at once that I think you need to set priorities. I think that the two places to start are analytics and site building. Pick a site builder and create your site, enabling it with the analytics to see what people are actually doing. Start to tweak your site to improve the number of people converting and track that it is really happening. At that point, it makes sense to focus on SEO, so that you attract more people to come to your site. I know that you are in a hurry, but that is the order I would prescribe. If you are in a big hurry, you are probably better off trying again to hire someone to do things for you while you bone up on your new skills. It all depends on how expensive it is to get the work done vs. the opportunity cost of taking six months or more to have everything done by doing it yourself. Before becoming your own SEO client, you need to ask yourself whether you are the ideal candidate to do it yourself, and if you are, how you'll get the help you need (because no one knows it all). If you are trying to pick up many skills at once, you need to prioritize which ones are most important, but also ask yourself whether this is really worth the time you'll put into it, instead of doing a better job of getting an expert to do it.

Originally posted on Biznology Blog
July 13, 2013

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


I’ve heard and read lots of advice about SEO; what to do and how to do it. But I would like to single this article out and say that it is one of the most honest and practical advice I have read in a long time.

I agree that it all depends on what you already know and your capacity to do things on your own. Anyone reading this article should take it to heart. Thanks!

A very good basic overview. I think that a couple of points are worth adding...

Content may be King, but website architecture is Queen. The more content you generate initially the more value you'll get out of proper information silo's, internal link structure and a well designed "bowtie" structure balancing your outbound links and internal architecture.


One element to consider is the role of content creation vs website construction. I think that attempting to learn proper design and architecture while generating significant quality content is literally a full-time job for a non-technical person.

A second talking point is the combined role of social media and curation driven content.

When you combine the two your looking at a very complex task for an attorney. I'd recommend using a contractor to build the site, a virtual assistant for curation and social media management and focus on your practice + generating original high value content...

As you said in article - people (especially those, who don't own big companies) want to have some visible effects in search results as soon as possible, even in one-two weeks. It's important to educate them if there's only a chance for that. But some clients often "know better" what and how should be done - and that's wasting SEOs time.

Hmm.. I'm going to read a lot and be a lawyer in 6 months - is it possible? Come on...

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