Search Marketing Generalists Vs. Specialists: Pros And Cons

Search marketing is a unique aspect of digital marketing in that it requires multiple skills and “hats” to wear if you want to have a person or team manage it from end to end.

SEO, especially, requires more disciplines than just those with SEO titles. Even paid search requires more than just managing ads in a search engine ad platform.


Experienced search marketers should know the full range of what goes into SEO or paid search. However, they often will gravitate toward aspects of each discipline they like the most, are the best at, or have seen the most success with.

That could mean an SEO pro who is more focused on technical SEO, one who is focused on content, or even a backlink specialist.

UX design, copywriting, web development, and even IT overlap with both SEO and PPC responsibilities. Plus, depending again on the number of hats worn, measurement and analytics could be an outside resource, too.

There are a number of different types of people you can hire to your in-house digital marketing team, agencies you can hire, or others to partner with to work toward your search marketing goals.

Within each decision and type, you have pros and cons to face to make sure you get the right type of partner and resource to cover the range of needs you’ll have for SEO and PPC.

There’s no single right answer for everyone, and it is important to understand your needs and ensure they fit with the type of partner you select.

I encourage you to consider the pros and cons of both search marketing generalists and specialists to make the best decision for your needs.

Search Marketing Generalists

A search marketing generalist is a person or agency that does everything.

That could include both SEO and paid search. Within that, services could include all aspects of search marketing.

That means everything from strategy to tactics to measurement and everything in between.

Generalists: Pros

  • Single entity facilitating communication.
  • A deeper understanding of your brand and subject matter.
  • Greater accountability for performance is achieved by having one person/team/agency.

Generalists: Cons

  • Potentially lacking depth of expertise in granular areas of search compared to some peers.
  • Strategy and implementation may be more big-picture-focused and less tangible.
  • May lack experience in certain channels, networks, or aspects of search.

Generalists will have a lot on their resumes. If it’s an agency, it will do all aspects of search and likely a lot of other digital and traditional marketing as well. SEO may be a line item amongst many others.

That doesn’t mean they lack the skills necessary to be a good fit for you. However, you might need to dig deep during the interview process to ensure they have the depth of knowledge that you need for your brand.

There are a lot of advantages in the areas of communication, depth of connection with your business, and the cost of their salary or fees scaling well if a generalist.

You may not want to be a general contractor managing many specialists or agencies. Or, you may want one relationship to be ultimately focused and accountable for search performance.

You want to be careful when you have complex search issues that a generalist isn’t familiar with or able to address in depth.

If SEO or PPC are just a single line item on a resume or agency of record contract, you need to dig deeper to ensure their experience and what they bring to the table matches your needs and desires.

Search Marketing Specialists

A search marketing specialist is a person, team, or agency focused on a specific aspect of search marketing.

That could mean they focus on just SEO or PPC.

They could be even more focused than that on specific aspects of PPC or within the spectrum of SEO, like the technical layer or content.

Specialists: Pros

  • Deep expertise in specific channels, networks, or aspects of search.
  • Ability to go to extremes in troubleshooting and problem-solving.
  • Can go deeper than competitors.

Specialists: Cons

  • Likely further away from business outcomes and goals.
  • Lack of ability to manage broader effort and team.
  • More expensive resources and possibly more resources needed in total.

A specialist person or agency can bring a competitive advantage to your team. They can take your efforts to a deeper level than your competitors and solve some of the biggest business, digital, and search challenges.

Overall, with a specialist, you’re getting a resource who will bring strategy and recommendations and will be balanced in focusing on what works now and staying up to date on what is coming in the industry.

However, they can be more expensive on their own or when added up against other hires you have to make.

They might not integrate as well with your ultimate business goals because they spend their time deep in the subject matter. They might also have a limited toolset to bring to the job.


If you’re looking for a bias in this article and think you’ve found one, I’m okay with that. However, my goal wasn’t to overstate any pros and cons or endorse either search marketing generalists or specialists.

I think you lean a certain way on what you want or need in your organization.

While I own a digital agency focused on search, I could categorize my agency overall and its employees into both categories and see both sides of the generalist vs. specialist conversation.

There’s not a clearly defined line showing where a generalist vs. specialist starts and ends.

I like that aspect of both paid and organic search.

While I started my career as an SEO professional in the early days when I could do about 90% of the job by myself, I’m happy with how the industry has shifted over time away from being siloed and more into the mainstream.

My goal in this article – now that search is so much more mainstream in marketing plans – is to emphasize that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution or approach.

Whether building an in-house team, hiring an agency, or a combination of creative ways to resource search, it is important to know what resources you have, your strengths and weaknesses, and to set ROI expectations accordingly.

With so many people having SEO or PPC on their resume and so many agencies saying they do it, you really need to work to understand what you’re investing in so you get the right fit for where you are as a company and where you’re going.

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Featured Image: Wichien Tepsuttinun/Shutterstock

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