What's the difference between freelance SEO consultants and agencies?
The main difference is obvious, freelancers work as independent consultants. They're usually self-employed and their client base is often localized, although in theory freelance SEO's can work from anywhere with clients from anywhere.
SEO agencies offer similar consultancy services but they have a large team. The size of an SEO agency will range from anything from a couple of people to hundreds. SEO agencies often offer other internet marketing services like web design, as well as SEO.
As with other service based industries typically freelance SEO's are cheaper than SEO agencies. Agencies have higher overheads like offices and sales teams, finance departments and account managers. Most freelancers work independently from home offices making their overheads significantly lower.
Most agencies an freelance SEO's price their work hourly or on a day rate.
The actual SEO process which agencies and freelance consultants follow is usually quite similar. There's a fairly well developed best practice process for optimizing a website which usually looks something like:
- Keyword research
- Technical optimization
- On site optimization
- Link building
Terminology and the details of each part of the process will vary from agency to agency and consultant to consultant but most will follow this formula by and large. Some freelancers may focus on a particular part of the SEO process like link building but most are all rounders who can complete all parts of the process.
The largest difference with an agency is probably the level of account management initiative which can be useful for larger campaigns with big brands.
The quality of SEO work delivered by agencies and freelancers varies very so no real comparison can be drawn and as a business considering working with either a consultant or a consultancy it is your responsibility to seek assurances about the reliability, credibility and performance of who you hire to do your SEO.
Seek references from other customers about the experience of working with the agency or the freelancer and check their clients results in Google search results.
Agency's often sell themselves on the benefit of having a multi-disciplinary team at their disposal made up of departmental specialists like link builders and copywriters. This can certainly be an advantage but just as often freelancers can offer a better quality of service and results by having more personal experience on your project.
Having a team may give agencies an advantage in this respect but often freelancers are ex-agency employees who have been in the SEO business longer and are at the top of their game. When working with an agency be sure to seek assurances about the experience of the team members working on your project. Sloppy SEO work conducted by under qualified consultants can in some cases damage your websites search rankings more than it helps.
Managing an SEO campaign has different challenges in different industries and often specialist experience working in a certain sector can be a big advantage. Some freelance SEO consultants will specialize in a sector like travel, retail or finance or in a certain geographical area like local businesses in London. Most SEO agencies do not specialize in a sector because they would soon run out of potential clients (as an agency should only work with one site in a particular niche to avoid conflict between clients) this means they may be more generalists however they will often be able to draw on knowledge from other campaigns in the same niche.
Some larger SEO agencies have developed bespoke tools to manage their clients campaigns and generate reports. Technology is certainly an important part of SEO however for the most part the best SEO tools are available to everyone (at a price). Most agency tools are designed to create reports and streamline parts of their SEO process. They can certainly help but be aware that there's no secret tool or piece of technology that will deliver you higher search rankings-only good solid SEO work will do that and it always involves the human touch.
There's certainly no one size fits all answer for whether a freelancer or agency will be a better fit for your SEO project. When you're seeking proposals I'd recommend talking to both, comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each and quite choose based on the quality of their proposed solution and integrity of personal references.