Buy vs Build SEO Software: How to decide?

APIs for SEO software

As a digital marketing agency, balancing between the immediate needs of clients and long-term business goals can be extremely challenging. Issues arise when a company starts to outgrow solutions that seemed to work fine when initially implemented. One of the most difficult ones is “build vs. buy” SEO software.

The overwhelming majority of digital marketing agencies start with purchased SEO tools because they are ready for use and seem so much cheaper. However, eventually, it turns out that a seemingly perfect off-the-shelf solution can’t offer all the necessary features.

Some ready-made tools are not flexible enough and can’t offer solutions to peculiar challenges your business is faced with. Other tools require you to pay for features your business doesn’t need.

There are only two options: cut corners and choose from the variety of available tools, or take the bull by the horns and build a custom SEO software.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of purchased and custom SEO software and try to define which of them is better for digital marketing agencies.


Features included in packaged software may be no different from custom solutions. Therefore, only two things are lying between in-house and ready-made software: cost and time to develop.

However, it’s true only on the surface. The thing is that software development companies are focused solely on the functionality that the overwhelming majority of their customers make use of and, what’s more important, pay for. Often it leads to building a product that only meets the needs of the SEO software market, but completely ignores the needs of individual users.

It doesn’t matter how much customer-focused this or that software company declares to be, in reality, their ultimate goal will always be supporting their own marketing strategy along with sales volumes and customer acquisition trajectory.

On the contrary, custom software is devised to meet the needs of a particular company and always tied up to that company’s business processes. Even if such software is not developed completely “in-house,” i.e., outsourced, the consistency is ensured by the continuous meetings along with the overall control of stakeholders. As a result, custom software tends to be focused on the internal goals of a particular business rather than the needs of software’s mainstream adopters.

Another thing to consider is the compatibility of your new SEO software with other tools your company is already using. For instance, your agency may be using CRMs and databases for storing client data along with an existing production control system. With a custom SEO tool, you can integrate obtained data in the existing CRM and tie it to the production control.

In addition to that, the custom-designed application provides you with full control over the entire development process, meaning that you can make any adjustments at any time. What’s even more important, all changes will go well hand-in-hand with the existing tools.

That is something paid solutions will never allow you to do. The integration process of paid tools with any existing in-house systems is practically impossible. You can spend tens of hours struggling to implement the data from the purchased rank tracking tool into your CRM, but any minor upgrade will nullify all the efforts you invested.

Let’s sum it up.

  • Custom SEO software
      • Process focused
      • Developed for accomplishing business goals
      • Integrates with other tools a company is using
  • Purchased SEO software
      • Market focused
      • Developed for the marketplace and mainstream adopters
      • Almost impossible to integrate with existing tools

Data Management

The issue of moving data between different SEO tools can have a tremendous impact on the choice of software and usually prevents marketers from switching to a better solution.

For example, an SEO agency has been working with a client for five years. They use third-party software to track rankings and traffic as well as to conduct content analysis. This software may be old, slow and doesn’t fit into the agency’s growing operations. Nevertheless, they can do nothing but stick to the tool they’ve been using for so long.

The problem with purchased SEO software is that they typically don’t allow to transfer sufficient information from external databases. Sure, you can export a few hundred of CSVs, but what does it give you? There is no way you can move historical data from software A to software B.

The main reason for that is that there’s no universal technical standard for the vast variety of data different SEO software providers offer. In fact, every tool has its own list of metrics and uses data formats that are not consistent across the SEO software industry.

Even worse, this vicious circle doesn’t seem to be coming to an end any time soon. We all remember the lawsuit filed by BrightEdge against Searchmetrics and stubborn criticism of SEMPO’s attempt to establish a Code of Ethics for companies working in the SEO market. Taking all that into account, it becomes evident that SEO software businesses care only about proprietary advantages and customer retention, leaving aside the need in the universal standard for SEO data.

On the other hand, with custom software, it’s up to you to decide which metrics to use and which data formats to implement. An in-house tool is built on the top of the standards of a company-developer. What’s more, this way you can easily move important datasets between various in-house apps, and even third-party software (if this software has the same standard).

Also, consider using external data sources for your SEO tool. With DataForSEO APIs you get standardized data that can be easily implemented across different custom software solutions. Basically, you get an ultimate resource of data for any SEO application you’ll ever need.

Let’s sum it up.

  • Custom SEO software
      • Data can be transferred from other software
      • One data standard for all custom tools
      • Can use external data sources
      • Data can be exchanged between different custom tools
  • Purchased SEO software
      • Data is typically not transferable
      • No universal standard for data
      • Cannot use external data sources
      • Data is tied to a single tool you have no control of


Custom and purchased SEO software have completely different deployment approaches. The first one is often implemented by the developers that were in charge of developing the application, while the former one forces your team members to deploy software they didn’t develop and have very limited knowledge about.

In the case of custom software, developers are supposed to engage other team members at the initial stage of designing the software specification. Thus, employees not only get a solution that fits their needs but are already familiar with the system by the time of its deployment.

On the contrary, developers of purchased software are almost never involved in its implementation and usually, don’t communicate with their customers. Moreover, don’t forget the fact that they’re busy achieving their own marketing milestones and keeping pace with the competition. At the end of the day, your team members implement solutions they are not familiar with.

Let’s imagine that some agency bought an enterprise-level SEO software, but it’s not immediately obvious how to get keywords’ SV and rankings for a client’s website. In this case, team members can spend hours trying to figure out the way to solve such a straightforward problem. Of course, they may contact the support team of the software provider, but wouldn’t it be more efficient if they were already familiar with the tool’s functionality before they actually started using it?

Let’s sum it up.

  • Custom SEO software
      • Employees take part in designing the software specification
      • Employees are familiar with the software
      • No need in additional training
  • Purchased SEO software
      • Employees don’t participate in software development
      • Employees don’t know how to use software
      • Additional training is a must


As we already mentioned in the above paragraphs, agencies tend to benefit more from custom SEO software. Paid tools don’t come anywhere close to in-house ones neither in terms of compatibility with the agency’s internal processes nor in the scale of control over the data. The perfect match between business objectives and custom SEO applications is a key factor in deciding between custom and ready-made solutions.

Moreover, having in-house SEO tools your company can gain earn extra authority points in the client’s eyes. Think about how the custom interface with your brand written all over it provides your clients with branded, tailor-made SEO audits and reports, while also giving you an extra customer acquisition channel, not to mention the full control over the data you decide to provide them with.

On the other hand, even though purchased SEO software sometimes has a so-called “White Label” option, it’s customization possibilities are limited by the software provider. You may find out it’s not allowed to use own email server to send reports, or what’s even worse, choose what data to include.

In fact, limited branding and reporting capabilities is one of the main factors that get marketing agencies to think about developing their own SEO tools.

  • Custom SEO software
      • Everything is fully customizable
      • Own email server for sending reports
      • Full control over the data
      • Developed to fit the company’s business processes
  • Purchased SEO software
      • Limited customization options
      • Third-party email server
      • Little to no control over the data
      • Developed to fit the current needs of the industry


Ready-made SEO software is believed to be cheaper than in-house SEO software. However, it’s not always true. Paid solutions usually come with many hidden costs, which may not be seen as significant at first glance but can have a tremendous impact on your business in the long run.

For instance, the adoption of a purchased SEO tool requires particular changes in the agency’s internal processes, paid upgrades and add-ons, additional training and re-training sessions for team members, etc. Moreover, the lack of functionality may also result in extra costs because in this case, your team will need to build workarounds to compensate for it. That can happen if, for example, the purchased tool doesn’t allow to use the company’s own email server, or has poor reporting capabilities.

In addition to that, the packaged software may have functionality your agency doesn’t need. Of course, every business is different, and there’s no “one fits all” solution, but why pay for features you don’t need?

Nonetheless, the initial investment in a custom SEO software can be higher compared to a purchased one. Apart from the cost of writing the actual code and sustaining the database, the development timeframe may turn out to be vast and unpredictable.

The easiest way out of the situation is to find a reliable source of SEO data and build the system on top of it. By using APIs from DataForSEO you can cut off up to 60 percent of the cost and development time. Check our pricing page to learn more about the prices of API solutions for different types of SEO software.

  • Custom SEO software
      • You pay only for the necessary functionality
      • Takes more time to develop
      • Higher initial investment
  • Purchased SEO software
      • You pay for non-essential features
      • Requires additional training
      • Plenty of hidden costs


Although ready-made SEO tools are widely available and can cost less than custom solutions, this may not be true in all cases. Developing software in-house can take significantly more time and money. On another hand, though, tools developed internally give you more control over your business. At the end of the day, custom solutions can turn out to be more beneficial and cost-efficient in the long-term perspective.

George Svash

George is the Director of Content Marketing at DataForSEO, an API suite designed to help SEO software companies and agencies gather the SEO data they need for their projects. George is a tech and marketing geek with a deep passion for Big Data and SEO. Having a broad experience in content marketing and a degree in engineering, he is particularly good at explaining complex concepts.

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