SEO Build VS. Buy

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 09/12/2005

I work on many different fronts. I manage existing client relationships, manage the SEO team, develop new business, and do my own computer programming. My programming has to be cutting edge to stay at the forefront of the ever-evolving field of search engine optimization (SEO), where everything you do can become quickly obsolete, and you always have to be ready to adapt to change. To keep a competitive edge, I often choose to build systems.

Working on all these fronts can stretch me thin. As you see here, I also blog publicly. So, in order to keep up this pace, I have to go for the big efficiency gains. My blogging has to actually BE my work. In other words, I blog as I work. I have done this for years – before even blogging. It’s like using yourself as your own best sounding-wall. It’s like living life in the narrative, like you see on TV shows like Scrubs. Yes, it’s funny to think about it in those terms, but it really does help you stay on-topic and on-plan.

So, while I’m nurturing what I feel will become the most advanced SEO team on the planet, I have to be careful not to give away too much competitive information. But it’s worth it, because this sort of writing is a large part of what forms Connors’ and my notoriety. It’s rare to get a public relations firm that has invested so heavily in in-house technology people. There are managers, programmers and writers on my team. Once we have the formula hammered out and a bunch of success stories under our belt, we will be attempting to “cross the chasm” as Geoffrey Moore would put it. The natural or organic optimization market will always be much smaller than the paid advertising market, because it is more difficult to explain, and often harder to get results, albeit much cheaper (just like PR). Consequently, the correlation to the public relations industry, and Connors having brought me onboard. I blogged about this connection before. In this post, I want to talk about the soul-searching I do in the build-vs.-buy question.

SEO build-vs.-buy is one of the hardest questions in the industry. Doing whole scale building isn’t efficient, because I could hardly hope to program an analytics package superior to Urchin or WebTrends. But I can hope to build systems that can reach in and grab information that is nearly impossible to pull from traditional analytics packages, info that allows us to be hyper-competitive in SEO. You can’t get that from buying. Similarly, when going from content management system (CMS) to published data on the web, there are a host of options. But there is so much need to keep the publishing step flexible. You need to be able to tweak page construction, URL construction, sitemap construction, and syndicated data feed construction. You don’t want to rely on a single vendor’s method, or there are hundreds of other people doing things exactly the way you are, and competitive advantage goes out the window. Yet, we don’t want to build our own CMS or convince clients to replace the one they have already chosen. So, we build the “transform” process where data flows out from the CMS to the Web (publishing).

Yes, we have built our own SEO-specific analytics package and our own SEO-specific CMS package. We use these systems on behalf of our clients without requiring the client to learn or buy into any proprietary technology. We do this by doing most of the work ourselves, matching the look of the client site, and providing back publish-ready files. In some cases, we are so successful that the client completely replaces the website that was output directly from their CMS with files that were transformed, optimized and output by Connors. All the client needs to be able to do is publish their data to us as a Web service.

Yet, with all this building, I still wish to get the benefits of the best ready-made software. My personal blog is a great example. I’m using Blogger, because I can go right from Word to my blog. The pages, while not perfectly optimized, are optimized enough to make it worth it. But this is an area dear to my heart. Given the time, I would certainly put the polish on my own blogging system to fix most of the things that are wrong with Blogger, MovableType and WordPress from an SEO perspective. I have some very cool features in mind that could make some of the most influential blogging sites on the Internet. Hopefully, blog posts like this will help provide me the motivation and focus to keep on-track with these projects, and you will be able to get the inside track on some very advanced projects.