Do I need an SEO Consultant or an SEO Agency?

When deciding to hire external support to help with SEO for your website the first decision that you need to make is whether an SEO Agency is the right fit, or whether you would get better results with an SEO Consultant. The answer varies from business to business, and having had senior leadership roles in SEO agencies and now working as an SEO Consultant for Ecommerce I’m here to break down the pros and cons of each to help you decide.

Consultant, Agency, What’s the Difference?

Firstly let’s break down the difference between a consultant and an agency.

Broadly speaking an agency will be made up of multiple SEO practitioners and will usually offer additional services. Your account could have multiple people working on it, and process will be important in order to ensure a seamless service without requiring consistent named resource.

A consultant will typically be a one-person operation, the service will be delivered by the person you hired.

Pros and Cons of an SEO Agency

At first glance from the description above you might think it’s a no-brainer, an SEO agency will have more resource and more robust processes so why wouldn’t you opt to go that route? For many businesses this is exactly what I’d recommend, there are a number of great reasons as follows:

  • An SEO Agency will have skills redundancy, meaning that if resource is unavailable then other members of the team can step in and continue to work on your account
  • Having more team members means that there should be a range of specialisms meaning that the breadth and depth of knowledge they can bring to complex engagements should be greater, for example they can often bring dedicated technical, on-site, and link building experts to the table
  • Agencies often have more clients which means that it often makes more commercial sense for them to invest in developing proprietary tools. Worth noting not all agencies do this and you might want to ask the question during supplier selection
  • Even if they don’t have proprietary tools the chances are they can afford a more extensive toolkit than the average single hand consultant
  • Process means they are often more methodical in their approach

A good SEO agency should get you great results however there are a few negatives too and these should be considered. Your agency won’t advertise these so make sure you ask how they mitigate them

  • The economics of an SEO agency versus a similarly priced consultant means that you are very unlikely to get the same level of experience with an agency. This is because they typically have much greater overheads such as offices, non-billable staff, more aggressive profit targets etc. which means the bulk of the work needs to be carried out by cheaper, less experienced members of the team
  • Due to these economic drivers they also need to ensure that all their skilled resource meets a minimum percentage of billable hours per month. This means that an agency might attempt to sell you a service that you don’t require in order to make up a shortfall in billing for a particular team
  • Having a rigid process is great for ensuring consistency across teams but it can mean slower results if they don’t have the scope (or expertise on your account) to deviate from process
  • Staff churn in digital marketing agencies remains a huge issue which means that even when your agency allocates a named specialist to take ownership of your account you could find them being replaced frequently. This means specific knowledge of your business may need rebuilding in the agency which will put an overhead on the client and a drag on results
  • Typically an agency will require a 12 month minimum contract on retainer

Although I’ve decided that the best way for me to service Coleman Marketing clients is closer to the consultant model than the agency model I’ve tried to be as balanced as possible, and as mentioned agencies are often the right route. However there are also advantages (and disadvantages) to working with consultants too so let’s examine them

Pros and Cons of an SEO Consultant

Let’s assume we are talking about a typical single person SEO consultant, what are the benefits over an agency?

  • Consultants will typically have lower overheads than an agency which means they can often offer lower rates for the same quality of work, or you’ll get more experience and a higher skill level for the same fee
  • Having a named expert working on your account means they develop specific knowledge of your business which should lead to better results
  • Many consultants have specific specialisms which means you can choose to work with an individual with highly relevant skills for your industry, your tech stack, and your business processes
  • The best SEO consultants will have their own proprietary methods and may even have developed some of their own tools to give their clients an advantage. Note this is probably more likely with an agency however
  • Consultants are often more flexible with the nature and length of their contracts

So that’s the positives, what about the negatives? There are a few

  • If you are working with a single person company and they are unavailable through sickness or schedule conflicts then you have nobody else to pick up the slack
  • They are likely to be less effective when taking a project outside of their niche so please ensure you hire consultants with relevant experience
  • Many (not all) are unable to invest in the same standard of SEO toolkit as a full fledged agency
  • Whilst they often have deep skills in specific areas of SEO they are unlikely to be able to cover all bases, for example they might be excellent on-site but not have the digital pr expertise needed to generate link building campaigns

So as you can see there are advantages and disadvantages with both approaches. There is however a middle ground, and that’s what I’ve tried to create at Coleman Marketing.

The Coleman Marketing Approach

At Coleman Marketing I try to mitigate the cons with the consultant approach while delivering all of the advantages. I do this in several ways

  • Having been around the block a few times in the last 25 years I have a strong network of very experienced SEO practitioners to call on. I have one other experienced SEO taking the lead on some of our projects and between the 2 of us you have more than 40 years combined experience. This means we have a certain amount of skillset redundancy, and the ability consult with each other on tricky issues
  • For specific skills that sit outside our core area we have other experts who we can call on. These are not salaried & we don’t have a minimum revenue required to make them viable so we won’t recommend them unless they are absolutely necessary
  • With a couple of very specific exceptions I only take on SEO engagements for ecommerce websites, having been in the industry for far longer than most I know what works, and what activity is a waste of time
  • I’ve invested in a suite of SEO tools to rival most agencies
  • I have the technical skills to build my own tools when required, and have some that are reused across several engagements. I’ve also got strong connections to certain SEO agencies who allow me to make use of their proprietary tech
  • If I don’t believe a consultant approach is the right fit for you I’ll tell you and introduce you to a shortlist of agencies
  • I build deep connections with your dev team. In fact a number of dev agencies hire me directly to support their clients, and I provide Magento SEO services for a number of UK based developers

So, if you are thinking you need to make more of your SEO for your ecommerce business and this article has you thinking it might be worth a conversation with a consultant why not give me a shout?

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