If you’re a business of any size, you know the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Your online presence in today’s digital age can mean the growth or death of your brand, and proper SEO is essential.
Unless you know how to execute SEO yourself, you most likely need to hire help. The big question becomes if you will hire an SEO consultant or an SEO agency. SEO consultants and agencies perform different functions, serve various roles and costs vary between them.
Choosing the wrong SEO help can mean money wasted which is a risk that any business can’t afford. We will break down the differences between an SEO consultant and SEO agency, and how to choose what’s right for you.
What is an SEO Consultant?
An SEO consultant is one person that specializes in SEO. They typically work by themselves or have a small team of support and service a select few clients. Consultants give one-on-one services and guidance in your SEO strategy. Many SEO consultants will have a specialty such as organic search, so it’s important to speak with them about their range of services that your business needs. Here are some points to consider when looking to hire an SEO consultant:
SEO consultants are very hands-on from start to finish simply because they are typically the only employee in their own company. Consultants understand your brand inside and out, and they are in constant communication with you versus another member of their team. Consultants are willing to dig deep and do the work to get the results in implementing the strategy that you two develop, and they do what it takes to make you happy.
Some consultants have small teams that work under them who are all specialized and seasoned in other areas which will help create a larger SEO strategy if it’s appropriate for your business, but typically the consultant (who is essentially the business owner) will be your go-to source. Consultants are great if you love the super personalized attention so that you don’t feel like just another client at a big agency. Consultants take responsibility for providing the services even with a team to support them, versus larger firms where clients get passed to junior members right off the bat.
You can achieve significant results with lower rates when going with an SEO consultant, simply because consultants have significantly lower overhead versus an agency. You can typically get the same expertise of an agency but at much lower rates with a consultant. And since consultants can only service a select number of clients at a time, you will still receive very personal attention even with the lower price point of their services. Some SEO consultants can even do custom programming or web applications for a much lower rate versus a larger agency.
-Responsibility and Speed
SEO consultants take an enormous responsibility to make sure that any issues are fixed with speed and accuracy. There are no hierarchies, bureaucracies, or going through the accounting department to go back and fix any mistakes or to quickly course-correct if needed. Issues are less likely to be buried or put off when working with a consultant because of the highly individualized attention that a client receives.
SEO consultants usually worked in a large corporation or inside an SEO agency before going on their own to become a consultant, so they typically bring a lot of years of experience to the table. Consultants also typically leave their former employer at a senior or management position, so hiring an SEO consultant is equivalent to hiring a seasoned SEO specialist from an agency or corporation.
An SEO consultant (even with a small team for support) isn’t able to automate their consultancy like big agencies. This means that you won’t have a robot from an agency to send you emails with numbers and metrics but without any explanation of what those numbers mean. The biggest value of a consultant is their ability to both gather the data and analyze it for you. Each client’s campaign is unique to them and doesn’t follow a set formula or standard practice like what how agencies set up their account managers to do for clients. This unique treatment is essential to your overall SEO strategy success.
It’s much easier to build a long-term relationship with an SEO consultant because they are the owner of the company and know that they must be hands-on with the client. Agencies typically have a revolving door of junior account executives that service clients, so you may be forced to switch your agency contact every few months if your rep decides to quit.
What is an SEO Agency?
An SEO agency is a more substantial firm with employees who specialize in a range of different services. Some SEO agencies can get so big that they offer services outside of SEO such as digital content and web design.
There are different types of SEO agencies to be familiar with such as full-service agencies, small agencies, boutique agencies and niche agencies.
-Full-service agencies are one-stop for anything related to your online and digital presence. These agencies can even provide paid advertising help, creative such as graphic design, influencer marketing, and more. These agencies go after the largest clients possible, which means smaller or less well-known businesses might not even get in the door.
-Small agencies are different from full-service agencies because they focus on delivering specific services in addition to SEO such as local search marketing or pay-per-click. Small agencies have fewer services that can be offered simply because of the size of their workforce. Small agencies are great because they can usually take clients who want to employ a risky strategy versus full-service agencies who typically go by the book and won’t take on the risk.
-Boutique agencies are even smaller than small agencies. Boutique agencies usually couple SEO with graphic design, so if you’re in need for a complete overhaul of your visual branding in addition to SEO, then a boutique agency may work well for you.
-Niche agencies offer SEO services for a specific industry such as automotive SEO, medical SEO or even plumbing SEO. They have experts in that sector and understand the business aspects in addition to what a robust SEO strategy for that industry should be. An issue with niche agencies is that if they get lazy, then they will treat your SEO strategy like that of your competitors’.
Now that you have a breakdown of the types of SEO agencies available, here are some points to consider:
Because of the overhead associated with agencies, their client fees are higher. You get the knowledge of many people on their team, but you get what you pay for even if you don’t use every single service the agency offers.
SEO agencies will have a salesperson that pitches you to become a client, and then they will assign another account manager to work with you. This could be a downside if you chose that agency because you liked the original salesperson, and then you get passed along to someone else in their company. It can also be a rotating door of account managers, so long-term relationships are difficult to create since that’s known in the agency space. The employee turnover can mean that you lose weeks or months for a new account manager to become familiar with your strategy.
Some SEO agencies will focus their attention and resources mostly on their highest-paying clients. This means that if you are a small or medium-sized business, you may get lost in their agency unless you can pay.
SEO agencies who can give your account the attention it deserves are very turnkey, where you can sit back and let their team handle every aspect of your SEO and digital strategy. This can significantly help you focus on other parts of your business because your time will be freed up from managing these kinds of projects yourself. Just remember that the more services you use from an agency, the higher the monthly fee will be, but you are buying a whole workforce at this point.
Since SEO agencies can be so large with many clients, the agency can institute standard strategies for all clients across the board to automate their own workflow better. This means that unique or personalized strategy for your brand may not be created when working with an agency because it’s simply not their standard protocol for servicing clients.
How to Hire an SEO Consultant or Agency
No matter which route you choose, here are some factors to consider when you are looking for an SEO consultant or SEO agency:
The more years of experience an SEO consultant or agency has, the higher their fees will be. If your budget is very low, go for a fresh out of college consultant. Or if you are a large corporation, consider a full-service agency.
Consider the SEO consultant or agency’s previous work and clients to get a better understanding of their capabilities. This is especially handy to see if the consultant or agency has worked with one of your competitors.
Set up an initial consultation meeting with a prospective SEO consultant or agency that you’re looking to hire. This should be at least a call or video chat, but the best is in-person, allow yourself to get a feel for their personality to make sure that you can work well together.
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right SEO consultant or agency based on your current needs as well as future goals. To see how an SEO specialist can help your business in today’s competitive online space, contact us today.