What's The Difference Between An SEO Agency & An SEO Consultant

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What’s The Difference Between An SEO Agency & An SEO Consultant?

So you probably want to get more traffic to your website and increasing your rankings in Google is going to be one of the first places to start. If your business has been around for virtually any length of time, it’s more than likely that you already have some kind of website and that website probably already has had some search engine optimisation carried out on it and perhaps had some offsite work carried out as well. The thing is you’re going to want an expert in search engine optimisation to work on your website if you really want it to rank effectively and generate traffic through search.

So if you find yourself in this position you are probably going to want to hire an SEO consultant or hire an SEO agency. When I first started working on GrowTraffic all those years ago I did so as a freelance SEO consultant and over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to bring people onboard who have facilitated GrowTraffic’s transformation into an SEO agency. I’ve also found myself in the position during my career – whilst heading up various marketing functions – where I’ve engaged both SEO consultants and SEO agencies. Here are my thoughts on the differences between an SEO agency and an SEO consultant.

SEO Consultants vs SEO Agencies

If you are considering an SEO consultant then you are probably looking for more specialised advice and a one to one SEO service. That’s not to say that you can’t get the same, or better, level of SEO service from an SEO agency.

SEO consultants will usually just help you with SEO and many things that they do from an SEO perspective might involve some level of implementation from you or from your team. When working with an SEO agency, you’ll often find they have more generalised digital marketing skillsets with a specialism in SEO.

Here at GrowTraffic I’ve witnessed this evolution myself. When I was operating as a freelance SEO consultant I used to be focused on onsite optimisation, using a more technical approach to SEO and providing some backlink services. When there was just a couple of SEO consultants working at GrowTraffic we continued to offer the same services that I did but the other SEO consultant brought in their own skills, so we naturally began to organically diversify.

As we grew the business further and brought in new people we found people will skills that would be more appropriate to an SEO agency. In this sense we now have people with high levels of technical SEO understanding, employees with years of marketing and commercial experience, a qualified teacher to help with SEO training, as well as SEO copywriting and web copywriting experience. And this has changed our offering and to some extent, we’ve created our own methodology based on a blend of our skillset by reviewing what works for our clients.

I love the way other people change the things a business has to offer. It took a long time to learn how to empower people to develop and I guess it’s something every SEO consultant who wants their SEO consultancy to develop into an SEO agency has to learn to do.

The other thing is to work out how long you want to work with an SEO provider. SEO consultants will tend to have a faster turnaround of clients – working with a client on a project by project basis – whereas an SEO agency will tend to tie in companies for longer periods of time and deliver a longer-term SEO campaign.

The good thing is both SEO agencies and SEO consultancies will normally have what it takes to help improve your rankings and give you better results from search. The normal caveats apply here. Stay away from any SEO agency or SEO consultant that guarantees you specific rankings or won’t tell you what they’re going to do or can’t/won’t give you an example of other companies they’ve worked with.

You’ve also got to have realistic expectations. SEO is a long term marketing strategy and it plays in with all those other marketing channels and all the tactics you’ve implemented along the way. If you have a very limited brand presence for example, it’s likely your SEO is going to be more difficult. Either way, whether you engage an SEO agency or an SEO consultancy you’re not going to get to the top of Google right away and you may find you’re underwhelmed with the results when you do get the top of Google. SEO is just one tactic and organic search should only make up one part of the marketing channels you use.

You’re not really guaranteed any results when you engage in an SEO campaign, no matter whether you do it yourself, hire an SEO agency or hire an SEO consultant. You’ll tend to find that both SEO agencies and SEO consultancies all tend to price their work in the same way. We charge per hour and every customer gets a copy of our price list. We do have an pay on results SEO service, but we only take on certain clients for this service and due to the risks we take on board, the costs associated with this service can seem cost-prohibitive to many businesses.

What Are The Traits Of An SEO Consultant?

The key things to think about when thinking about an SEO consultant is they tend to provide:

  • One to one SEO advise on a retained basis
  • Bespoke SEO training solutions
  • Proof of ‘their’ SEO expertise

What Are The Traits Of An SEO Agency?

The key things to think about an SEO agency is they tend to provide:

  • SEO packages that can be customised
  • A diverse range of digital marketing skill sets of which SEO is the core tactic
  • Transparent, methodological approach that is transferable amongst the team

When GrowTraffic was an SEO consultancy, we tended to find that clients would stick around for a number of months before they went on to a different provider or before they took it in house. The latter was something we always wanted them to do. That’s because we believe that companies should be the masters of their own SEO. But as we evolved into an SEO agency it became necessary for us to retain clients for longer and we also found that having more people on the team and by working with a wider range of clients, we were able to develop more intricate/creative long lasting campaigns. I guess the types of clients we worked with also changed during that time.

SEO Agencies vs Web Agencies That Do SEO

So if you’ve decided you’re going to hire an SEO agency, how do you know that you’re actually hiring an SEO agency and not a digital marketing agency/web agency that also carry out SEO?

Bear in mind what I said early, most SEO agencies will have a wide range of skillsets but SEO will be at the core. If you are talking to a web design agency, it’s likely they will be telling you that you need a new website in order to improve your SEO. They might do some onsight optimisation and they might even offer ongoing optimisation, but what does that really mean and how will they value it?

I remember when I worked for a design agency that had recently become a digital/web design agency. The owners of the agency really hated digital marketing, but they knew it was something they had to do. They considered SEO to be a add on service and over the course of a year I had built up that side of their business to be at least as important as their design work. But they still wanted to be a design-led business and were distrustful of SEO.

So when speaking to your prospective SEO agency ask them why they got into it and what their passion is in search marketing. If they are a bit wooley about it, if they don’t see SEO as being at the centre of everything they do then I’d suggest they are probably a web agency or digital marketing agency who also do SEO.

I also have a caveat here. If they’re talking a lot about content and content marketing there’s still a chance that they’ve SEO focused. But you’ve got to ask the right questions to find out why they are using content as part of their SEO strategy. For exmaple, they should, be saying that the content is a way to add additional relevancy to a website and that they use content as a way to generate new links back to the website through an active distribution strategy or through offsite contributions.

The Cost Of SEO Consultants vs SEO Agencies

When GrowTraffic was a SEO consultancy we had a higher hourly rate than we do now we’re an SEO agency. There’s a number of reasons for this. When GrowTraffic was simply an SEO consultancy we didn’t require as much work to come through the door, so we could charge more and do less. As an SEO agency we have employees and managing the client pipeline and exapanding the types of businesses we’ll work with is important. This also recognises that we do more of ‘the do’ as an SEO agency than we would as an SEO consultancy.

Both an SEO consultant and an SEO agency are going to charge you at an hourly rate. I think somewhere between £40 and £90 an hour is reasonable for SEO. At GrowTraffic our hourly rate for SEO is £50. And all the prices on our price list are derived from that hourly rate.

SEO Consultant vs SEO Agency – The Takeout:

  • Understand what resource you’ve got internally before choosing an SEO consultant or SEO agency
  • SEO consultants are good for well resourced teams
  • SEO agencies are good for less well resourced teams
  • SEO agencies are more campaign/KPI focused
  • SEO consultants can be good for those looking for a sounding board
  • SEO agencies often offer more cost effective solutions

And after saying all of that, if you do go with an SEO agency, they will likely have one or two people with standout SEO knowledge who you may be able to work with on more of an SEO consultancy basis.

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