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Netflix Outsources, So Should You

Netflix is a streaming video service, yet it owns very few servers. Instead, the company outsources nearly all of its server needs to Amazon AWS. Is that because Netflix couldn’t do the job themselves? No, it’s because they recognize the power of comparative advantage.

If that logic holds for Netflix, why are so many policy organizations doing unnecessary technical work? Surely you have less expertise at web technology than Netflix.

Yet I see it over and over again. Think tanks, magazine publishers, and research centers working in the public policy space are rolling their own solutions to complex web hosting problems rather than choosing a specialist.

In our 2021 Think Tank SEO Ranking, we found that the majority of think tanks are using WordPress as their CMS (content management system), yet nearly every time we onboard a new client we find that their WordPress sites are hosted on all manner of strange, bespoke setups created by in-house developers or outside web agencies. This is a mistake for the same reason it’d be a mistake for Netflix to host its own movies and TV shows.

Services like WP Engine or Pantheon are built on top of cloud services like AWS and Google Cloud Platform and deliver better results for the price than dedicated hosting or trying to build your own solutions using a cloud platform. Sure, you might be able to build a faster, responsive website by piecing together your own solution, but at what cost?

So why do orgs do this? I think it’s because expensive outside services are viewed differently than staff time, despite both being paid for with dollars. The logic goes like this: we’ve already paid for the staff time, so just have them do it. But of course this leads to those staffers being strapped for time, hiring of junior staffers, and swelling of budgets. You end up paying a minimum of $60k/year for a new employee instead of $10k or $20k for a service.

Specialized services can also make working with multiple developers much easier. We’ve found this to be the case with Pantheon especially. Their multi-dev environments allow our team to make SEO changes to a client’s website while their in-house developers or outside agency continue to make CRM integration updates or take care of regular software upgrades. In traditional hosting setups, these changes would all need to be run through a centralized testing process, creating process bottlenecks that place our time-sensitive marketing changes in a queue behind time-consuming upgrade tests. Or to put that in English: opportunity costs start to pile up when your processes are slow and cumbersome.

Your organization doesn’t get better when it has a bigger headcount with more people doing more things—business is not the same thing as busyness. Instead, your organization gets better when you achieve greater outcomes. Outsourcing to specialists is key to achieving those greater outcomes because comparative advantage is a such a powerful reality, especially in esoteric realms of technology.


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