Alastair Kane Search Marketing, Search Marketing Partner 1200 627

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1 September 2022


Table of contents

  1. The Consultant vs Agency Debate
  2. What is an SEO Consultant?
  3. What is an SEO Agency?
  4. Should I Choose an SEO Consultant or an Agency?
  5. SEO Consultant Pros
  6. SEO Consultant Cons
  7. SEO Agency Pros
  8. SEO Agency Cons

The consultant vs agency debate

So you’re thinking of bringing in outside help to spearhead the SEO strategy for your business?

Hubspot’s research indicates that 75% of searchers never click past page 1. So if your customers are on Google, SEO is essential to drive awareness for topics that are relevant to your businesses’ prospects.

However, when it comes down to making the choice on how to hire in outside talent, there may be a debate amongst stakeholders over whether to go with an agency or hire an SEO consultant.

I worked at an agency as Head of Search in a former life and now I’m a full time SEO consultant, so I feel qualified to discuss the arguments both for and against.

There are valid arguments supporting both options. But what is right for you?

The debate on whether or not to go down the consultant or agency route is a common one, and I’m not trying to sway you one way or the other. I hope that this post will present the pros and cons clearly, so you can make a choice that is right for your business.

What is an SEO consultant?

An SEO Consultant is a person, usually a sole trader, hired to improve a website’s visibility in search engines. They often have a marketing background but have become specialists in SEO.

They are paid either on an ad hoc or retainer basis, and are responsible for the overall SEO strategy. Their duties include technical SEO, keyword research, content strategy and link building.

Some of the activities an SEO consultant will perform include:

  • An audit of your site to identify any issues impacting search performance
  • Interviews to understand which terms your customers are searching for
  • Develop an tailored strategy for your business to follow
  • Work with your content team or a content writer to produce SEO-optimised content
  • Monitor your performance in search and make optimisations
  • And much more!

Depending on the agreed process, they may work more on strategy or they may support your team with implementation.

What is an SEO agency?

An SEO Agency is a business with a number of employees, hired for the same reasons you’d hire an SEO consultant. Some Marketing Agencies also offer SEO services, with experts on their team.

Agencies will generally also have people that can carry out non SEO related tasks such as web design and development.

Should I choose an SEO consultant or an agency?

There are a number of things to consider when deciding between a consultant or an agency.

It will help to anticipate whether or not you have additional marketing needs in addition to SEO, as this would suggest you may require a team, meaning an agency would be a better fit.

You should also consider your in-house resources – if you have lots of marketing and web knowledge in-house and your team is growing but you’re not quite ready to hire an SEO specialist, then a consultant can help plug that gap.

That aside, below I have listed a few pros and cons to help you with your decision.

SEO consultant pros

Consultants are experts

SEO consultants tend to be experts in their chosen field. They will likely have cut their teeth in the agency world and have amassed a wealth of experience during that time.

Of course I’m not saying that everyone that claims to be a consultant is an expert. It is important to do your due diligence prior to making any hiring decisions.

As consultants tend to be sole traders, you can be reasonably certain that the expert you interact with during the hiring process, will be the same person doing the work.

During initial calls with a consultant, make sure you find out who is going to be responsible for delivering the SEO services you’re paying for.

Consultants charge less

Most consultants don’t need to charge the high daily rates that agencies do, as they don’t have as many overheads impacting their bottom line.

Renting an office is an obvious overhead which won’t apply to many consultants who tend to work from home.

Agencies also have to pay utilities, employee salaries and a plethora of benefits to keep staff happy.

As a consultant, my only overheads are the tools of my trade – the computer and software I need to get the job done.

Consultants provide a more personalised service

Being a team of one, consultants are able to offer a more personalised service which helps in building and maintaining a long term partnership that can function as an extension of your business.

With an agency, you will tend to work with a team. Employee turnover is par for the course at agencies, so you may find you need to build new relationships as team members responsible for providing the service, leave the company.

SEO consultant cons

Consultants are one individual

Agencies have access to a team of people that have varying levels of experience, knowledge and skills.

This is an advantage when you need to scale quickly or require skills that are outside of the standard SEO remit.

For example, you may need copywriters and web developers to complement an SEO strategy.

Although these skills can be outsourced by a consultant who will often have a network of other freelancers to work with, an agency will usually have easy access to this talent in-house.

SEO agency pros

Access to a team

Following on from the previous point, the main benefit of hiring an SEO Agency is that you get access to a team rather than one person.

Many agencies are ‘full service’ which means they have the skills in-house to address web development, content creation and social media advertising requests when needed.

Having access to an agency’s team is also beneficial if there is a problem that needs to be solved. A group of people with their combined experience will likely solve the problem faster than an individual.

Greater scale and speed

Working with a team at an agency will mean you can scale quicker though this would obviously come at additional cost.

Whether this is a benefit will depend on the goals you have for your business, so it is important to consider these goals when choosing between a consultant or agency.

SEO agency cons

High rates

Having access to a team at a full service agency comes at a cost.

There are salaries to pay, employee perks to consider and obviously office rental which attracts a whole host of additional expenses.

Who will be doing the work?

When you meet with an agency to initially discuss working together, you will likely meet with people that have a high level of knowledge and experience.

However, it is debatable whether or not they will be the ones actually doing the day to day work.

Although you can be reasonably certain the experts at the agency will be the people responsible for creating the strategy, execution will fall to employees with less experience.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to understand who at the agency will be involved in providing the services being bought.

Less skin in the game

Employees will usually still receive their monthly pay cheque whether they do a stellar job or perform at a mediocre level.

If a consultant does a mediocre job, it is likely their client won’t renew and a loss in revenue will result.

This is perhaps unfair towards the many hard working agency employees that give it their best each day, but when all is said and done, a consultant has far more to lose in terms of revenue and reputation, than an employee.

Closing thoughts

When choosing between a consultant or an agency, it is important to anticipate your needs further down the road, your in-house resources and plans for growth. Look at your marketing goals and these will dictate the skills you need to hire for.

If you have a lot of marketing resources in house already but need support defining your SEO strategy then a consultant may be best suited to your needs.

However, if you require broader marketing resources and functions such as web development and content creation, then a full service SEO Agency might be what you’re looking for.

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