In today’s online world, SEO is an increasingly important area.
If your website doesn’t have good SEO, it will have low traffic and you will have fewer clients.
There are many SEO services out there vying for your business.
So how do you choose which SEO company you should work with?
In this post, I’ll give an overview of:
- The differences between SEO agencies, freelancers and consultants
- How much SEO should cost for small businesses?
- How to measure ROI on SEO
Why understanding all of these factors will help you choose the best SEO partner to work with
The differences between SEO agencies, freelancers and consultants
There are three main types SEO partners you can chose from:
- SEO agencies/companies: Companies/agencies with staff that each specialise in different areas of the SEO process (i.e., project managers, technical, content creation, etc.)
- SEO freelancers: Individuals who usually work alone (though who perhaps outsource some parts of the work) to cover all of your SEO needs.
- SEO consultants: Outsider SEO help that diagnoses and offers solutions for your SEO problems and strategy.
A fourth category would be internal employees who work partly on exclusively on SEO. Whether you need to consider this depends on a number of factors (your budget, how much business you get online, whether an internal employee would be more cost effective than an outside partner, etc.)
As with other industries, each type of partner has their advantages and disadvantages:
- Agencies are generally more expensive but have a larger capacity, can specialise in multiple areas of SEO, and can work faster.
- Freelancers are less expensive and therefore (sometimes) more cost efficient, but might not be equally strong in all areas of SEO.
- Consultants can be cheaper than agencies and high-end freelancers, but they will only point out what to do, not do it for you.
Should you use an SEO company, freelancer or consultant?
This is the first question to consider. The answer to this depends on three aspects:
- Your budget
- The scale of your project
- Your capacity
Firstly, SEO agencies are generally more expensive than freelancers and consultants.
Furthermore, all three kinds of partner offer different packages depending on how much work they do.
Generally speaking, the type of clients that use each kind of service should look something like this:
As you can see, this is a very general listing.
One point that isn’t present in the above diagram, which I must stress, is that your capacity is a very important factor.
Your marketing and IT teams are great resources for SEO.
If these teams have spare capacity, you may only need an SEO consultant. The consultant can advise the IT team on what changes need to be made to your website, and give your marketing team a content schedule plan (complete with a list of keywords).
By doing this, you are saving having to spend money on having an agency or freelancer fix technical errors and create content respectively.
You are also helping your team develop and learn more about the basics of SEO. Keeping your SEO integrated with your team is a great way maintain a coherent brand and service.
Now, let’s look at the costs of each respective type of partner.
How much do SEO services cost?
SEO costs vary hugely– but, when you look closer, so do the services on offer!
A quick Google search of ‘low cost SEO’ immediately brings top ranking results that range from £30 – £149 per month.
(But don’t be fooled: some of these results are simply advertising tutorials, others are starting from the low price they have listed.)
At the upper-end, you are looking at up to 6,000 (or more) per month.
And of course, in between there are hundreds of companies, freelancers and consultants with different offers.
Let’s look at the average cost ranges for all three:
It’s also worth noting, ‘how much does SEO cost?’ and ‘how much does SEO cost for a small business’ are slightly different questions…
If you are a small business many SEO partners will charge less. This is partly because there should be less work for them to do.
Small businesses are usually competing with other small businesses and usually have smaller websites, too.
What does an SEO company, freelancer and consultant do?
In short, there is more than one way to rank high on Google.
That said, there are some basics which every kind of SEO service should cover (or, in the case of consultants, advise their clients on how to cover), including:
- Keyword research
- Fixing (basic) technical errors on your website
- Making simple changes on your website
- Content creation (including articles and videos)
- Finding backlinks
How exactly they divide their time depends on both the techniques they favour using, their capacity, and the difficulty of the project (which itself depends on what industry the client is in).
Understanding this is crucial to understanding what you are paying for when you choose an SEO partner. This checklist is a lot easier to do if each task is divided up, which is why SEO agencies are usually able to help you rank quicker.
On the other hand, hiring an SEO agency can be overkill for small companies with a small website and working in a not very competitive industry (from an SEO standpoint). In these cases, a freelancer could be both adequate and more cost-efficient.
When to consider hiring an SEO consultant
For some companies, the ideal situation is that the SEO provider gets on with their work so that they (the client) can get on with theirs.
But if you look a bit closer at the above SEO checklist list, you’ll see that almost every point would benefit from the client’s input.
Let’s look at how:
- Keyword research:
The SEO partner should make sure you approve of the keywords they select.
Their instinct will be to choose keywords that will best suit their advised strategy to rank your website.
However, these may not best reflect the services you offer, perhaps meaning your increase in traffic won’t necessarily be an increase in the best possible quality traffic.
- Fixing (basic) technical errors on your website:
This is, of course, something your IT team (if you have one) can take care of if you want your SEO partner to be getting on with other tasks.
- Making simple changes on your website:
These will include rewording and adding content to certain pages.
You should work with your SEO partner here to make sure that the changes reflect your branding and messaging.
- Content creation (including articles and videos):
As with the above point – you want branding and messaging here to reflect your companies’ other marketing.
If the content the partner creates has a different tone of voice to your other material, does this look good to potential clients?
- Finding backlinks:
This includes emailing other organisations (both other businesses and media outlets) so in a sense can be seen as lightly crossing over into PR work.
Here, you may want to decide a list of companies not to contact and approve the messaging of the backlink requests.
As you can see, the main issue at stake is how an SEO partner’s work reflects on your company’s branding and messaging.
Of course, if you are a small firm uninterested in these aspects (which isn’t unusual for some industries), then it’s not something you should worry about when choosing who will work on your SEO.
But if you are concerned about your branding and messaging, you should be careful to choose an SEO agency or freelancer whose copywriting and content creation abilities are up to your standard. (Consultants are unlikely to write content for you).
With this discussed, let’s conclude by looking at some practical measures for how you can choose what SEO company to work with.
Step 1: Decide which kind of SEO partner you need
Step 2: look at the potential SEOs partner’s current and previous projects
Look at a few different potential partner’s websites.
Do they rank highly when you search (for example) ‘SEO services’? This is a moderately difficult term to rank for, so if they are on the first page for this, they might know what they are doing.
Next, look at their previous projects. Don’t just go by their reviews and testimonials, look up the companies they have mentioned working with and see if they still rank.
And don’t forget to read through the content on their website and posts – what do you think of the copywriting? Is it well-written and professional?
Step 3: Find out what you are getting for money
If it isn’t provided in a contract, be sure to find out a breakdown of what they will be doing. For example:
- How many hours a week do they estimate their work will take?
- How will their work change as the weeks and months role on?
- How long will the project last?
Besides these questions, you should also use the above list (from the ‘What does an SEO company do’ section and repeated again in ‘Should you leave the SEO company to it or work closely with them?’) a checklist to find out their proposal more about the nature of their work.
Step 4: Keep an eye on ROI (return on investment)
How to measure ROI on SEO is a difficult question. It varies widely depending on the difficulty of the keywords you are targeting.
The first question is time, which depends on the capacity of your partner and the difficulty of your target keywords.
If, for example, I want to rank for SEO-related keywords (many of which are listed as ‘super hard’ to rank for), I might need a small team to work on this for anything up to a year…
Industries with easier keywords take less time to rank for, sometimes as low as 2 months for a single freelancer to help you rank for.
To work out if you are getting a good ROI, simply count how many new projects you get from customers who found you online after you begin ranking. (Of course, to do this you will need to ask customers how they found you.)
If the value of the projects you gained/products you sold is significantly higher than what you invested (say, 10% or more) then you will know you have made a right decision.
Of course, don’t forget that the precise ROI you will vary depending on what industry you are in.
Furthermore, SEO services are usually more expensive at the beginning than they are later on.