SEO Agency VS SEO Consultant VS In-House SEO: Pros and Cons

choosing an SEO professional

Finally deciding to invest in SEO, but not sure how to start?

If you want to start an SEO campaign, we have three main options:

  1. Hire an in-house employee or an in-house SEO team
  2. Outsource your SEO to an SEO agency or a full digital marketing agency
  3. Work with a freelance SEO consultant

However, choosing between the three can be easier said than done. Below, we will discuss the pros and cons of these three options, so you can make a better-informed decision for your SEO investment.

In-house SEO

An in-house SEO is when we hire a full-time employee to handle our SEO campaigns, or several employees to form an in-house SEO team.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of an intermediate-level SEO specialist is $60,000, a year. Since this is a full-time employee, expect to pay an additional $15,000 in benefits, so $75,000. An expert-level SEO specialist can cost above $110,000/year.

Pros:

  • It’s always a good idea to have at least one SEO expert/specialist within the company.
  • Usually, but not always, an in-house SEO employee will translate to better communication within your organization
  • If the SEO team is in-house, you have more versatility in implementing your SEO campaign
  • You can, for example, implement quick changes to your website optimizations any time
  • More likely to have a sense of ownership’ and so they are more likely to implement SEO best practices and avoid black-hat tactics that might get you penalized

Cons:

  • Typically, the annual cost for just one in-house SEO specialist will cost you more than outsourcing to an SEO consultant.
  • In ‘off days’ where there aren’t any optimizations to be done, you will waste money on these employees.
  • Good SEO experts are always in-demand, so they might be ‘snatched’ by other companies and even your competitors. This is especially annoying when you’ve invested time and money (i.e. courses and certifications) just to see them go.
  • Finding the right talent can be very difficult, building an in-house team can take a very long time and a lot of money.

SEO agency

An ‘agency’ refers to an organization or firm that provides a specialized service. In this case, SEO. However, some full-fledged digital marketing agencies will also offer SEO services.

Usually, the main difference between an agency and a consultant—-which we will discuss below—, is the implementation of the SEO strategy. An agency with its full team can also involve themselves in the execution and evaluation process, and this is why they are usually more expensive.

Typically, an SEO agency will cost $6,000/month to more than $20,000/month.

Pros:

  • An experienced and qualified SEO agency typically has worked with various clients in various niches, so they might provide broader insights and might offer advice from different angles. This can be extremely valuable in certain situations.
  • The SEO agency—or a ‘full’ digital marketing agency—- generally have their own team, so they provide the full service from planning your SEO strategy to execution and evaluation. The implementation/execution stage is generally the most time-consuming and labor-intensive phase.
  • Digital marketing agencies often offer strategic implementations across various marketing channels, not only SEO. So, they might be a more cost-efficient investment overall.
  • Since you are getting a full team and a more holistic service, it can be a more cost-effective investment overall—-even if it’s a more expensive initial investment—.

Cons:

  • Not every agency is a good fit for all businesses. Finding the right fit for your business might require some trial and error—which might be an expensive experiment—.
  • Generally, an expensive initial investment—most expensive across the three options—-, and might not be affordable for all businesses.
  • A full-fledged agency is involved with the day-to-day implementation of SEO (and marketing activities), so they might require access to internal resources. This can compromise your organization’s security while on the other hand might affect the agency’s effectiveness when they are not fully trusted.

SEO consultant

An SEO consultant can refer to:

  1. An individual—or a very small team—who performs as an SEO agency (see above). Since their team is smaller, they are generally more affordable. We can also use ‘freelance SEO expert’ here.
  2. A team of people who provide expert advice about SEO. An SEO consultant here will help with the planning/strategizing aspect of SEO but won’t help with the implementation process.

If you are interviewing an SEO consultant, ask clearly which one they are.

An intermediate-level SEO consultant usually costs around $150/hour to $300/hour. So they might cost around $2,000 to $8,000 monthly.

Pros:

  • In most cases, usually the most affordable investment between the three options. An SEO consultant typically works with several clients at one time and doesn’t employ too many people, so their cost is divided between these clients.
  • Experienced SEO consultants offer enterprise grade level SEO services and typically have partnerships with other websites, search marketers and influencers. This can be useful in your link-building activity and might provide value to your business.
  • Usually only focused on SEO as expertise, so they are more knowledgeable with current SEO trends, working tactics, Google algorithm changes, etc. It might contribute to a higher chance of SEO success.
  • No hidden costs like SEO training investments (unlike in-house SEO employees). The SEO consultant is most likely well-trained.

Cons:

  • Typically handles several clients at one time, so they might not focus on your business and your SEO. In the worst case, you might only get 10% to 20% of their time in total.
  • In most cases, they solely focus on SEO efforts and don’t want to handle other aspects of your digital marketing.
  • Since they are not an actual member of your organization, they might not care as much about your business—unlike an in-house employee—, and might resort to black-hat tactics just for the sake of results.
  • An SEO consultant typically consists of a small team—or an individual—, so they might only deal with the planning aspect of your SEO strategy and not the execution process. So you might still need to hire a content creator and programmer to implement the SEO strategy—which might increase the overall costs.

Wrapping it up

Cost-wise usually working with a consultant is the most cost-efficient investment, where your monthly investment should be lower than hiring just one in-house SEO employee.

However, each option has its own pros and cons—as we’ve discussed above—, and we should consider different aspects beyond the cost/benefit ratio.

In general, figure out your SEO objectives, and assess the current situation of your website/content portfolio. Invest in the best possible option that can help you to achieve this goal.

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