Why “In-House Syndrome” is Killing Your Company

We recently completed a facelift for our company website.

Though it’s something I probably could have winged on my own, if I put in enough time, I simply didn’t have the time or energy to learn and make mistakes as I go.

And the website I would’ve come up with wouldn’t have been as good as the one my web developer designed.

That’s because I’m a link builder, not a web developer or designer.

Though I love learning, my plate is full.

Different Hats

I imagine I’m not the only business owner, who wears many hats.

Between overseeing my link building teams, speaking with current and potential clients, writing blog posts, and hashing out accounting minutiae with my bookkeeper, there’s a lot to juggle on a day-to-day basis.

There’s a lot involved in running a business, and whether you’re a business owner or an in-house marketer, you probably don’t have a ton of extra time to diversify your skillset.

I absolutely believe you can learn how to build links successfully. But link building takes focus and a specific set of skills. It also takes a lot of time and dedication. And there are only so many hours in a day.

If you’re already spread thin and want to try building links on top of all your other obligations, I believe you may suffer from what I call “in-house syndrome.”

Now, don’t get me wrong– many small businesses have excellent in-house marketing and SEO teams that are capable of building great links.

I’ve learned more than a couple of things from in-house link builders, whom I respect and admire immensely. But they’re not the norm.

Normal people get distracted by other aspects of their job and focus on the things that produce immediate results– and link building falls by the wayside.

People, like you and I, who can only do so many things at once, sometimes, need to ask for help for projects that don’t exactly fit our skill sets.

I needed help with my website, and you may need help with your link building efforts.

A Cookie-Cutter System

I find that companies keep their link building in-house for two reasons:

  • They don’t have the budget to hire a link building agency.
  • They don’t trust link building agencies.

Budgets are a difficult thing to discuss.

Every company has a different budget, and budgets comprise an almost infinite amount of variables. I can’t tell anyone what to do with their budget or the best way to spend their money.

All I can say about budgetary concerns is this– when you pay one of your employees to build links, that comes out of your budget.

And if you’re not successful in your link building efforts, that’s wasted money.

Even when you find success, there’s a real learning curve.

How long will it take you to build your first link? One month? Three?

You’re now a few more months behind your competitor, who’s going forward with full force.

That’s two months of delaying the benefits of link building and traffic– and traffic equals revenue.

And even after you get the hang of link building, how much can one or two employees scale?

How many links can such an agile team produce?

You may get some links, but are you getting enough links to be relevant and give yourself a competitive edge?

What are these lost links costing you in time and revenue?

So budget is a valid concern, but you have to look at it from multiple perspectives.

Trust is an equally valid concern.

You may not trust link building agencies, because you don’t want to put your brand integrity in their hands.

You may fear link building companies might not produce the amount of links you want, or the links may not be the caliber you want, or they may even overcharge you for low-quality work.

But I often find it’s equally about control, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

You don’t want to trust your company and your brand to an agency that uses cookie cutter methods. You don’t want to pay for a service that’s not custom-tailored to your unique company.

Basically, you don’t want to place your company on a conveyor-belt. If your pet supply company is getting the exact same campaign, with no extra thought, as a tire wholesaler, you probably won’t be happy with the results.

You want a custom link building solution for your brand, and that’s understandable.

If you hire a company that throws careless, assembly-line links at your website, it will likely do more harm than good– both for your overall SEO efforts and your brand integrity.

I liked a recent piece Greg Gifford wrote on Search Engine Land. In that piece, he addresses local SEOs and tells them to make an extra push to understand their clients.

Here’s his advice for link builders:

“Every business owner thinks they’re the best, and that they should be #1 in local search results. The important question to ask is, “Why do you DESERVE to be #1?”

If you work in-house, ask around and get the answer. If you’re freelance or at an agency, insist on a detailed answer from the client. You’ll inevitably hear answers like “Because we’re better than everyone else” or “Because we treat our customers better” — but don’t settle for generic fluff. Don’t be afraid to push them for a better answer.

If you can dig in and get a serious, detailed answer to that one question, then your job is incredibly simple.”

If you’re afraid of paying for a cookie cutter service, find an agency that will ask you that question.

If you hire reputable link builders, who understand why you deserve to rank, they won’t do your brand a disservice.

Doing it All Yourself

It’s probably because so many link building agencies use cookie-cutter solutions that there’s an inherent distrust from business owners and their marketing teams. So they opt to do it themselves.

There’s a difference though, between wanting to do it yourself (to grow, learn, and eventually succeed) and having a chip on your shoulder.

If keeping link building in-house is simply a matter of pride for you, it may be time to reconsider.


If you’re trying to build links out of stubbornness, you’ll lose. You probably won’t develop a sound process, and your success will be minimal.

If you or your marketing team are already focusing on SEO, content, social media, paid search, and other marketing channels, then realistically how much more time do you really have to build links?

I like the way Shane Jones said it:

“Link building is time and resource intensive and often not the most preferred part of an in-house SEO. Plus, it’s tough to justify an additional head count just to build links.”

A successful link building campaign is labor intensive. It’s often a full-time job which requires at least one person exclusively dedicated to building links. And probably many more.

Slowed Down, No Results

If you’ve been building links in-house, how much success have you seen?

I’ve spoken with many business owners, who felt they followed all the right definitive guides and have taken all the right steps. They’ve created a lot of good content but haven’t gained many links.

That’s because link building is the hard part.

Here’s an apt quote from Tom Schmitz:

“Why are search engine optimizers and agencies more interested in link building again? Because the search engines are getting good at rooting out unscrupulous links, and the internet is getting noisy.

Link building never died, but real link building is difficult, time consuming and costly. It involves a lot of dead ends and frustration. Because advanced link building shares much in common with media relations — a proficiency most internet marketing agencies lack — managers and directors became accustomed to seeking shortcuts, working around link building or avoiding it altogether.”

If you’ve spent a lot of time, talent, and money on content over the past six months, but haven’t been able to build many links, that’s understandable.

Link building is difficult, and it’s often frustrating.

It’s easy to give up or not spend time on it, because you feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

And putting time into something that’s not paying off could be slowing you down. It could actively hurt your company.

Sometimes, I ask business owners to think of what they might have done with all of the time and resources they spent on link building. If they’re not learning and getting better, it might be a waste of time.

If you’re going to build links in-house, be realistic and know what you’re getting into. It’s not going to be easy. That’s why I created the Realist’s Guides to Outreach and Link Prospecting.

I want people to know what they’re getting into and be armed with the necessary know-how.

Why Not Both?

I own a link building company, so you may think I’m being biased.

Believe me; I’m not trying to talk you out of marketing your company. And I’m not saying you should turn over all your link building efforts to an agency and wash your hands of it.

You know your company better than anyone. You’re talented, and you likely employ talented people.

So here’s what I propose– why not do both?

Take the African rhinoceros and the oxpecker bird, for instance. The rhino is vulnerable to ticks and other parasites, and it might spend too much time scratching itself and being miserable to live a healthy life. The oxpecker can help the rhino with its parasite problem. And the rhino helps the oxpecker, who has bad eyesight, stay safe from predators.

It’s a symbiotic relationship.

You can form a symbiotic relationship with a link building agency.

That may mean you produce the content, and they build the links. It may mean you focus on a few guest posts a month, and they build resource links.

It doesn’t mean you’re not talented and you can’t get results. It may just mean you need help with the more difficult, more frustrating work.

Why spend all day fighting ticks if there’s a bird willing to do the grunt work for you?

Again, here’s Tom Schmitz:

“Don’t give-up your content marketing program and replace it with link building. Do both. Whether publishing articles, infographics, tools and resources or any link-worthy material, solid content meant to attract traffic, combined with visually pleasing, up-to-date graphic design, is a must. Link building does not replace content marketing; it requires it.”

If you don’t want to put your brand’s integrity in someone else’s hands, I understand. And if you want to get good at building links and put in the time, knowing full well how long it takes to get good and see results, I back you 100%.

If you build links in-house, simultaneously with a link building agency, you won’t be slowed down. You will complement one another.

If you plan to keep your link building efforts in-house, I urge you to be realistic.

Know that it’s tough, and know that it will be a slog. Know that you need a process. Know you’ll fail many times before you succeed. Most importantly, know there’s no magic link building formula that works every time.

If there was, we’d all be effortlessly building killer links, and this blog wouldn’t be necessary.

If you’re willing to keep pushing against failure, until you succeed, and you have the resources to spend until you develop a solid link building process, you can benefit from keeping it in-house.

And if you decide you need help, it’s always close at hand.

  1. Some very nice points here David, especially about building a symbiotic relationship between the client and the link building firm. I’ve been on hundreds of campaigns and the most successful ones always work together, communicate well and especially…develop linkable assets and good content.

  2. Great post David. I would totally agree with you on agency link building but would also say at some point it should be moved in-house. Back in the day we were trained by Jim Boykin and after a year finally took our link building in-house and killed it and the company is still killing it. I will also say the associations I’ve made the years has been incredible resources from company to company i’ve moved to. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Yes, I am guilty. I also note that I could probably write a good article if I replaced “link building” with some other task that would be better outsourced than kept in-house. But since I’ve identified the single greatest weakness of my own marketing efforts as a lack of incoming links, thanks for giving me something to think about.

  4. An awesome article, David! It is indeed a good idea to keep link building both at in-house & at agency sides. And businesses which hire link building agencies should collaborate well enough to produce relevant & high-quality backlinks.

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