Should You Hire SEO consultant, SEO Agency or In-house SEO
by Mike Khorev
SEO as a marketing channel is fairly unique compared to other channels like advertising or PR campaigns: SEO is mainly done in your own medium, so there isn’t any publishing cost associated with it. Compare it to, say, advertising, where you need to pay a certain fee to the ad publisher (i.e. Google Ads or Facebook Ads).
With that being said, SEO can be 100% free if you are willing to do everything by yourself—and if you have the time—. This is simply not possible with most other marketing channels (again, for example, advertising).
With this, comes the dilemma: should I do everything by myself to reduce cost, or should I focus my attention somewhere else? Sooner or later, however, as our website and SEO grow, we’ll need some help with the SEO implementations.
This is why, in implementing an SEO campaign, generally we have three different options:
- Hire an in-house SEO employee or build your in-house SEO team
- Work with a freelance SEO expert (can be an individual, or a small team)
- Outsource to an SEO agency or digital marketing agency
Choosing between the three, however, isn’t always a simple task. In this guide, we will discuss the different factors that might affect your decision, the pros and cons of each, and which might be the right choice for your current situation.
Let us begin.
In-House VS SEO Consultant VS SEO Agency: Cost
First, let us address the elephant in the room:
Cost-wise, typically hiring a freelance SEO consultant is the most cost-efficient alternative, while a full-blown digital marketing agency is typically the most expensive.
However, deciding between the three options is not as simple as analyzing the cost/benefit ratio, but generally (should) involve other considerations.
With that being said, below we will the concept and pros/cons of each alternative.
What Is In-House SEO?
Simply put, In-House SEO is when we either:
- Hire an employee to handle your SEO campaign
- Build an in-house SEO team consisting of more than one employee
As discussed above, typically the cost of this option lies between outsourcing to an SEO agency and hiring a freelance consultant (that is comparable in skill and experience).
Since in this case, the SEO expert will be your in-house, full-time employee, you might need to pay for various additional costs from insurance to permits and benefits.
In general, expect to pay around $60,000 in salary (according to Glassdoor) for an intermediate-level SEO specialist, plus an additional $10,000-$20,000 in benefits, so $70,000- $80,000 a year. For an expert level SEO specialist, expect to pay north of $100,000.
Assuming the annual salary+benefit is $70,000/year, then the monthly cost is $5,833.33/month.
Pros and Cons of In-House SEO
- It is wise to have someone in-house that really understand SEO, content marketing, and digital marketing in general even if you decide to outsource the process
- Versatility. Since the SEO employee/team is in-house, you can easily and quickly implement changes to your website during emergencies or when you need to quickly adjust your SEO strategy
- An in-house employee/team usually means better communication with you, rather than someone outside your company
- The in-house employee is more likely to implement best SEO practices and avoid using grey-hat/black-hat tactics that can get the website penalized
- There will be days when there aren’t any optimizations to be done or any content to be published.in such cases, this in-house employee won’t be as cost-effective
- Finding the right talent(s) to fulfill your in-house SEO needs can be very difficult. SEO by itself is a pretty broad field requiring expertise/experience like marketing strategy, data analytics, content marketing/copywriting, and so on.
- Good in-house SEO specialists are very in-demand, so the likelihood of them being approached by other companies—and even your competitors— is very high. They might simply go elsewhere after all of your investments in them, which is certainly not a pleasant feeling.
What Is an SEO Consultant?
What is actually the difference between an SEO consultant and an SEO agency? Or the difference(s) between consultants and agencies in general?
First, the term “consultant” is often used loosely and can generally mean one of two things:
- People, or group of people who ‘consults’, that is, providing expert advice. In this case, the consultant will only provide strategic advice and won’t help—at least not fully—with the execution and implementation.
- An individual (or a very small team) who is technically acting as an SEO agency for a cheaper price. We can probably more accurately use “freelance SEO expert” here.
If you are interviewing an SEO consultant, it’s important to first make sure which one they belong to—especially regarding whether they will be involved (fully) in the execution phase—
Typically, an intermediate-level SEO consultant will cost around $150 hourly on average ($100 to $300/hour). You might also pay the consultant on a monthly basis, ranging from $2,000/month to $8,000/month
Pros and Cons of Individual SEO Consultant
- Usually the most cost-effective between the three options (assuming all three has similar expertise/experience level). This is because a consultant typically work with several different clients while not employing too many people on their own, so the cost can be divided between the different clients
- More often than not, they are solely focusing on SEO, so they know about the current trends, latest Google algorithm changes, latest methods, and so on—this is assuming you work with a qualified SEO consultant—
- Typically, a qualified SEO consultant belongs to a network of search marketers, publishers, authoritative websites, and other parties that might be beneficial for your business. This is especially useful in your link building activity—which is a very important aspect in SEO.
- An experienced SEO consultant typically understands that SEO is much more than just improving SERP rankings and getting more search traffic, but must help the client in getting qualified leads and if possible, improving sales conversions. In short, an SEO consultant typically provides a more holistic approach to SEO.
- No hidden cost including training investments, the consultant should be well-trained and possibly certified in SEO. (note: no “official” certification for SEO, but there are several credible ones)
- Since an SEO consultant typically handles several different clients, they don’t solely focus their attention on your business. You might only get 10%-20% of their time in a worst-case scenario.
- Since they don’t actually belong in your company, they might not have a similar ‘sense of ownership’ like an in-house SEO expert would. In short, they might not care as much about your business’s performance.
- They might solely focus on SEO efforts and might not want to deal with other important aspects of your sales and marketing activities.
- Since they are an individual (or usually a very small team), they might only deal with the strategic part of SEO, and not the actual implementation/execution. You might still need to develop content on your own and have an in-house programmer to handle the technical optimizations (make sure to discuss this part when interviewing an SEO consultant).
What Is an SEO Agency?
SEO agency—again, often confused with SEO consultancy, as discussed above—, generally refers to a firm or an organization that provides a specific service.
Thus, an SEO agency provides SEO services (and usually only focuses on SEO), while a digital marketing agency typically provides a more holistic service covering various aspects of digital marketing from (obviously) SEO to content marketing to email marketing and others.
The main difference between an agency and an SEO consultant—as discussed above—, is mainly about how involved they are with the execution/implementation of the B2B SEO strategy. With an agency typically you’ll get the full package from planning to implementation to evaluation and thus they are typically more expensive.
Expect to pay around $5,000/month to more than $20,000/month for a qualified digital marketing agency.
Pros and Cons of SEO Agency or Digital Marketing Agency
- An experienced, full-fledged digital marketing agency usually has worked with many different clients across different industries/niches. So, they can work with a broader knowledge and can come up with an in-depth strategy that is custom-tailored to your current situation
- A digital marketing agency typically provides a more holistic service across different digital marketing channels (social media marketing, PPC/search ads, email marketing, content development, etc.). Not only these channels can contribute to your SEO success, this can make the overall outsource experience more cost-effective since you get more overall value from what you pay.
- Since an agency typically have their own team (and can be a very big team), they can handle the day-to-day execution of the SEO implementation like SEO content development, link building, and technical optimization, which are often the most demanding aspects of SEO.
- Although the monthly/annual cost might seem high on the surface, since you are getting a full team, it can be more cost-effective than hiring just one in-house SEO expert for a year.
- SEO agencies, on the one hand, are typically involved in the day-to-day marketing activities—especially those related to SEO—, so it might require access to your internal IT resources. This might compromise your security and if not given, might hinder the agency’s effectiveness.
- Can be a very expensive investment (most expensive across all three plans), so it might not be an option if you have a limited budget.
- Not every agency is a good fit for any business. Finding the right agency that can work together with your business can be difficult and will require some trials and errors—that might be costly—. With an SEO consultant, the cost of this is relatively smaller.
Which Is Right For You? Important Factors To Consider
Although we have discussed the different pros and cons of each option above, at the end of the day, your choice should be made according to several different factors:
It’s tempting to discuss cost as the first factor to consider, but in our opinion, it’s better to discuss your SEO goals or objectives as our point of departure.
What is the objective of your SEO? Remember that ranking is not the end goal of SEO, just a means to an end that could be something like:
- Organic traffic
- Lead generation
- Awareness building
- Online reputation management
- Sales conversion
And so on.
The main idea is to figure out your SEO objectives and then find the most cost-efficient option that can help you in achieving these goals.
Pretty self-explanatory. How much budget you have available for SEO—or digital marketing overall—.
There are two common issues related to SEO or marketing budget: when the budget is too tight, which is pretty self-explanatory, or when you don’t know how much budget is appropriate to assign—which is actually more common than we think—.
You might check out our previous article on how to calculate SEO ROI —and thus the appropriate money to spend—.
3. Your Current State of SEO
The current state of your website based on SEO audit (note: it’s fairly easy to perform a basic SEO audit for this purpose), which keyword(s) you already rank for, the number of content you have published, etc.
Based on this state and your SEO objective(s), we can properly assess our needs.
If, for example, we are going to need a lot of optimizations and content development, then we can probably assign more to our SEO budget—which will affect our choice—.
4. Current State of Your Team
Do you already have someone in your team that is capable of doing SEO (at least, some aspects?). In this case, you can either add more people and build an in-house team and/or invest in a consultant to help with an enterprise-grade level SEO strategy.
In such cases, hiring a full-fledged agency is probably going to be an overkill.
To summarize, find the most affordable option to assist your current team (if any) in achieving your SEO objective.
There are four main options in implementing your SEO: doing everything by yourself (for free, except your time), building an in-house time, hiring an SEO consultant, or outsourcing to an SEO/digital marketing agency.
Cost-wise, usually hiring an SEO consultant for your SEO is the most affordable investment, but each option has its own advantages and disadvantages that go beyond simply calculating cost and benefit ratio.
Above, we have also discussed the four main factors you should consider when making this decision, and with those, you can have a better insight into which investments you should make.
June 6, 2020