We’re a hybrid consultancy & agency, which means we execute on certain services while strictly consult on the others. When we take exploration calls with different companies, we notice that many bring up how important it is that they hire consultants and not an agency; either because of their specific needs, or past experiences.
On the flip side of that, we’ve talked with companies who aren’t sure what the difference is between working with a consultant and an agency, and how best each one can serve them. Well, this ones for you!
Sooo… What’s the difference between an SEO consultancy and an SEO agency?
First off, there ARE hybrids of both (like us!) so there’s definitely a grey area. Some agencies will have consultants available who solely advise, and some consultancies will have an agency arm, or team members, who can execute.
This will vary depending on who you talk to, because one size doesn’t fit all for these kinds of businesses and we do know agencies who operate like consultants, and vice versa, but let’s clear up some confusion about the strengths of consultancies vs. agencies from our experience both working within, and with, both.
We go hand in hand, but we’re not the same.
With that said, we definitely need each other, and in a perfect eco-system, we would be working in harmony with one another.
An SEO consultancy (or digital marketing consultancy, or “insert your own term here” consultancy) is a professional, or group of professionals who use their expertise and talent to help companies grow without the execution. Consultants work best when a company has team members available for us to work directly with, or when we’re able to work with a trusted pool of individuals who can execute upon what we’ve laid our for SEO strategy or recommendations.
So your next questions might be… what exactly is “execution”? Is it a bad thing if consultants don’t do that also?
Nah, not really. They’re just two different animals. Some of the best consultants not only have experience working in the weeds on client projects, but also growing and managing teams. Rather than continuing to execute, we love having dedicated time to really help a business or person figure out what they need to do to grow, and how to do that effectively with the resources they have — OR help them find the resources they need.
The goal of a consultant is never to become a permanent fixture or cost in your company. We often come in and work with startups who have just received funding rounds so we can help them focus on improving their metrics, and goals, in a way that truly helps them grow, scale, and become closer to profitability.
Example: You’re a startup that’s looking to improve their rankings and overall organic visibility over the next year. We come in, assess the landscape with an audit, competitive research, and any other deliverables we discuss, and create an executable strategic roadmap. That’s just a fancy word for “Here’s what to do, and how to do it, in order to reach this goal. I’m here to help you understand it, prioritize it, and get it implemented.” You have team members or an existing agency available to get out there and do what needs to be done, but they have questions and may need ongoing help. You’re also short a team member and need someone to help with outreach. We’ll work directly with your existing team members, and we can work with a trusted peer on our end that can execute on outreach.
With consultancies, you’re often working directly with the consultants, and are paying for their expertise rather than expertise + hourly manpower. If you have to pull the plug on consulting or tighten up your budget, you already have the training and execution in place, and shouldn’t see a major drop off in performance.
An SEO agency (or digital marketing agency, or “insert your own term here” agency) is one that may or may not provide the knowledge and strategy, but executes upon whatever services a client needs. For example, a consultant may provide the strategic roadmap, and rather than work directly with the in-house company teams, they may work with the client’s agency of record, or partner with an agency that can execute on the vision.
Example: You’re a startup who has an in-house team working on SEO strategy, but you don’t have the resources or time to hire internally to execute upon that plan, which includes reaching out to larger publications for links/press, pitching content to targeted bloggers, and manually making changes to the startup site. An agency would come in as a hired gun to execute upon these things.
With agencies, you’re often working through an account manager, and there may be additional costs due to manpower or overhead (if they’re not distributed). If you pull the plug on the contract or tighten up your budget, you’re going to have to bring the work in-house and may see a drop in performance initially.
Pricing Differences Between Consultancies & Agencies
This can vary wildly, but first, I’d like to set the expectation of what you’re getting when you work with a consultant vs. an agency. With consultants, you’re paying for our expertise, and not necessarily the amount of time we spend on something.
How do Consultants Work?
A consultant may have team members or assistants that help with the collection of data, but you’re working primarily with them. You’re paying consultants for their expertise, guidance, and ability to work with any type of team that you have. When we put together technical recommendations, we liaison directly with the tech/dev teams, and are able to translate “seo speak” into language that helps developers understand the WHYs and WHATs from our recommendations.
If we’re executing on these projects (for example, eCommerce website migrations, new eCommerce store builds, Shopify development, etc) we handle that process ourselves and deliver the final result.
The onboarding process when you start working with a consultant is fairly simple; we need access to all of the appropriate platforms so we can dig through your data, an onboarding document filled out that will document any past penalties, traffic issues, major structural/website changes, and so on, a kick off call, and then we get to work! We can integrate into your existing project management system, or handle everything through email.
It might feel like you’re paying more to a consultant because you’re working with an individual vs. a few people, however, agencies generally have much higher monthly retainers and annual contracts because of additional team members/resources needed to execute on the project.
How do Agencies Work?
An agency could be perfect for you if you need constant communication and enjoy working with multiple team members. The vibe of an agency is definitely better suited for certain types of companies with certain types of resources, and you’ll know quickly whether or not an agency or consultant is best for your needs. It’s great to also have an agency of record that can work hand in hand with your consulting agency, so that you’re working towards a common goal, and you can be a bit more hands off between the two.
The onboarding process that we refined at agencies in the past looked something like this:
You’d have the same process as above, but you’d also have a kick off call with an account manager, then introductions to the director of the department, and any team members you’ll be working with. The account manager isn’t typically hands on with the work, so they’ll likely be fielding questions throughout the month to the director and team members. The account manager will be your main POC, whereas with a consultant, it’s usually the consultant themselves.
There’s more red tape and checks/balances when working with an agency to ensure that execution is what’s entailed in your retainer on a monthly basis.
With agencies, you’re often paying for team members, overhead and many other things that factor into your monthly or annual contract, BUT you’re able to bring your strategic roadmap to life at scale.
We could honestly discuss this topic all day long because there’s a lot of intricacies we’ve experienced with consultancies and agencies – we’ve taken all of the positives and negatives into account with how we handle our projects, and will continue to shift as needed!
Looking to work with a hybrid company like us? Give us a shout! 👇🏼