OREANDA-NEWS. September 23, 2016. Consider this scenario. You are looking to improve your visibility, derive additional value from your website, or remedy a previously shoddy reputation or ranking in a search engine. You may already be implementing some search engine optimization (SEO) measures as part of your digital marketing strategy, but ultimately, you want an expert to help solidify a positive standing for your organization through search.

Given this situation, or one similar to it, you have two primary options: 1.) hire an SEO consultant or 2.) hire an SEO agency. SEO consultants (or consultant groups) offer a more specialized and holistic service. They provide general advice, share techniques, and train you in specific SEO strategies. On the other hand, SEO agencies offer more general digital services but specialize in SEO. They tend to operate on a project-by-project basis and specialize in large or long-term projects.

While both SEO agencies and consultants can help improve your overall search ranking and performance, the methods by which each operate, deliver services, and charge, differentiates them.

Regardless of which option you choose, its important to know that SEO takes patience, particularly when it comes to long-term organic search optimization. You are not going to hire a consultant or agency and immediately become the top result on Google for relevant keyword searches.

In fact, results are not guaranteed with an SEO campaign. A Moz survey, completed earlier this year, compares the results of SEO campaigns led by consultants versus agencies. It found that 88% of SEO consultants and 85% of SEO agencies do not provide guarantees for their work. And, less than 15% of either charge based on performance. This pricing structure indicates that both SEO consultants and agencies are cognizant that their services do not provide huge returns on investment automatically.

So, with this in mind, which option is best for you? What should you consider when deciding between a consultant or agency when it comes to SEO.

SEO Consultants

Three traits differentiate SEO consultants from agencies, according to research conducted by Clutch. Consultants offer,

  1. Customized consultations that are tailored to fit your organizations unique challenges or needs.

  2. Specialized training for employees to ensure the future effectiveness of a strategy.

  3. A paper trail of expertise as proof of a consultants expertise in the field.

SEO consultants may be individual experts who are retained for indefinite periods in a purely advisory role, providing macro-level advice on SEO strategy. They may be contracted for brief periods -- even on an hourly basis -- to evaluate an organizations digital presence or reinforce the effectiveness of a companys current SEO efforts. They may be a team of highly specialized experts that works with you to optimize your search performance.

Despite this multifunctional role, Rhea Drysdale, Moz blog contributor, points out the distinguishing identifier of a consultant, as opposed to an agency. A consultant informs the SEO decisions and strategies of their clients. This emphasis on informs demonstrates that consultants are more likely to formulate, advise, and direct an overall SEO strategy, rather than implement the tactics themselves.

Some benefits of this advisory role include close, more consistent communication between the consultant and your organization and more in-depth training on how to maintain your SEO strategy.

Given the level of attention consultants provide your entire organization, they, in return, demand ample time and resources. This means executives need to make time to meet and discuss strategy, and employees have to attend training sessions. Not to mention the financial cost associated with employing a consultant, as they usually charge higher rates for their services than an agency.

SEO Agencies

SEO agencies often are full-service digital marketing agencies that specialize in SEO tactics and are contracted on a project-by-project basis.

Hallmark traits of SEO agencies, as opposed to SEO consultants include,

  1. Having a large SEO footprint in the industry

  2. Demonstrating a diverse skillset when it comes to SEO tactics

  3. Having a transparent method for tracking metrics

SEO agencies are better suited to handle broader, long-term SEO projects than consultants. And, they often have an established process or proprietary technology to handle these big projects.

Also, due to the breadth of their offerings, your organization can trust that an agency will handle your entire project, from auditing your existing approach, to designing a plan, to implementing the strategy. Consultants, on the other hand, may outsource some components of your companys SEO if they do not specialize in a particular tactic.

However, Stoney deGeyter, CEO of Pole Position Marketing, an SEO consulting firm, warns against SEO agencies generalist approach. Digital marketing is too broad to be able to know everything, so if you try to be the jack of all digital marketing trades, you end up being the master of none, deGeyter says.

Despite this warning, SEO agencies offer a number of benefits. First, agencies tend to charge lower rates than consultants. Second, they require less attention and effort from your organization, allowing for a higher degree of flexibility than with a consultant. Third, they provide tangible analytics that you can use to track their work. Consultants, by nature of their advisory role, often cannot track performance as easily.

The Takeaway

The differences between SEO consultants and agencies are mostly defined by the level of attention and resources your organization can devote to improving its organic performance in search engines.

If your prerogative is to address a shortcoming in a specialized search area or to find macro-level advice on your digital strategy and you are willing to pay a little extra, an SEO consultant is the best choice.

However, if your goals are more expansive and you want a more tangible way to track progress, an SEO agency is a better choice for you.

Grayson Kemper is a marketing analyst at Clutch, a leading B2B ratings and reviews firm based out of Washington, DC. He primarily focuses on enterprise mobility and telecommunications solutions.