Since it’s introduction in the late 90s and early 2000s, SEO has remained one of the most popular digital marketing strategies.
There are many reasons that I believe SEO has stood the test of time. Not least that the number 1 spot on Google remains one of the most powerful pieces of real estate in all of digital marketing.
SEO is also remarkably simple in comparison to other strategies available, especially for those with limited budgets.
Not to downplay the work of myself or marketing counterparts, but once you’ve developed a successful blueprint for clients, it’s a simple case of replication.
Don’t get me wrong, some websites pose a greater challenge than others, but providing you have an adequate understanding of the mechanisms behind a successful SEO campaign, you should be able to improve a website’s rankings time and time again.
My point is, I believe there’s less variables of success to an SEO campaign than there is many of the popular social media strategies.
With Facebook Ads for example, to create a successful campaign you need to nail the:
- Ad Text
Get one of those elements wrong and your campaign could flop. When significant investment is on the line, this can quickly become a costly mistake.
Most larger businesses will employ an SEO specialist, or a team of SEO specialists to develop their strategy.
As a small business owner, the cost of a full-time or even part-time employee is of significant risk, especially given the nature of SEO and the fact that it can take time to see any results.
This is where SEO agencies and freelancers are often called-upon. For larger businesses, freelancers can give them access to resources outside of their local talent pool. For smaller businesses they can be a lower-cost alternative to a contracted employee.
With that said, which one is better for your business?
Now, being an SEO freelancer, you’re probably expecting me to use this opportunity to bash agencies and promote my services – that’s not going to be the case!
I’ve never worked within an agency before, but I have worked with several SEO agencies at previous workplaces and I continue to work alongside agencies as a freelancer – seeing great results in both scenarios.
This blog post isn’t about which one is better, as that’s inherently dependent on the quality of the company or individual.
Instead, it’ll hopefully give you a better idea of which one is right for you. Firstly, lets look at the benefits of each.
The benefits of an SEO agency
In most cases, an SEO agency will employ specialists in each area of SEO. This will usually include:
- Technical SEO
- Content Creation and Optimisation
- Outreach and Backlink Acquisition
This means that when you employ an agency to handle your SEO, you get access to real specialists.
If your site has an architectural issue, there’s a good chance the technical specialist has seen that exact issue a dozen times over.
Equally, if outreach is the only thing someone does, there’s a good chance they’ve got a decent portfolio of backlink opportunities suitable for your business.
SEO agencies will also have access to a wide variety of industry tools that may not be affordable to a sole trader.
Agency models will typically be very structured meaning you should receive periodic communication and reporting. Having dedicated project managers that simply manage the relationship may make it easier to organise in-person meetings if this is something you value.
If speed is paramount to you, then an agency may have more resources to commit to your project which may result in a faster completion time.
The benefits of an SEO freelancer
SEO freelancers typically have a much smaller client base than agencies which means they can have a much closer relationship with the client. As a company, this may mean you have more transparency surrounding the work that goes on behind the scenes and more frequent communication.
Of course, I couldn’t write an article about freelancers and agencies without mentioning cost! Without getting into too much detail, when you compare the hourly rate of a freelancer vs an agency, the freelancer tends to be cheaper.
Freelancers will have lower running costs than an agency. They typically work from home, meaning they don’t pay rent on an office. Freelancers don’t employ anyone and they may not have as many software subscriptions to cover. They may also spend less on advertising and marketing. Subsequently, they can afford to charge a lower hourly fee for their service.
You may also argue that the monthly fee you pay to a freelancer is a better representation of the work you’re getting.
You may find that a freelancer is more willing to work on flexible contractual terms. Where most agencies will look to secure a 12-month retainer, freelancers may be willing to work month-to-month. With that, you may find that the freelancer is willing to go the extra mile in order to secure you as a long-term client.
Decision making factors to consider
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits to outsourcing your SEO to both agencies and freelancers. Choosing the right one for you will be dependent on several factors, including:
It most instances, I believe that agencies are better suited to businesses with larger budgets and freelancers are better for those with smaller businesses.
A freelancer is limited by the amount of time they can spend on your campaign. What’s more, a good freelancer will already have a large roster of clients so their ability to take on a larger client that demands more attention is poor.
An agency on the other hand has more resources available and therefore a greater ability to take on larger clients that require more time and attention. In many instances, agencies may even recruit to accommodate for the acquisition of a new client.
For those with a smaller budget (less than £1,000 per month), a freelancer is likely to be your best bet. Due to the associated costs of running an agency, taking on clients for less than £1,000/month (in some cases less than £2000.00), simply isn’t worth the effort.
Most freelancers will be willing to work for significantly less per month – especially if they’re new to freelancing and looking to establish a portfolio.
One curveball that may be worth considering as a business with a large budget is employing a freelancer on a consultancy basis. Utilising a freelance SEO consultant to critique your current strategy or to create a new one would be a particularly good idea for businesses with internal teams that can implement the strategy. Many of the most experienced freelance SEOs will only work on a consultancy basis as this the best use of their skills.
Having spoken with agency workers and from my own anecdotal experience, the clients that get the best results are the ones that have built long-term relationships.
As a marketer, it can take a few months to align company goals with an SEO strategy that works. In addition, the more time we spend on the website and in the CMS, the better understanding we gain of the site structure, architecture, and capabilities of the platform.
If you are looking to enter a 12+ month contract, then both freelancers and SEO agencies will be viable choice, it just comes down to your budget as to which one is best for you.
As I mentioned above, a freelancer may be more willing to accept trials or enter contracts with more flexible terms. With that said, a lot of agencies will accept ‘project work’ with the scope to enter a retainer later down the line.
If you are looking for one-off SEO work as opposed to ongoing support (E.g. a site audit and technical clean-up), then I would recommend getting proposals from both agencies and freelancers and making a decision based on which one best fits your requirements.
Having a fundamental understanding of the product or service that a client is offering is often beneficial, especially when it comes to content creation and optimisation.
Therefore, as a client it may be beneficial to work with a company that has experience within your industry.
Some SEO agencies will specialise in helping companies within a single niche. For example, a simple Google search for “construction SEO” or “heathcare SEO” will present a plethora of agencies specialising in those industries.
Even if an agency or freelancer doesn’t specialise in a given niche, it’s worth browsing their portfolio for case studies demonstrating results that you are looking to emulate. If a company has developed a good blueprint within your industry, it fares well for your website.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this common question. Whilst marketing budget is certainly one of the largest determining factors in your decision, it’s worth considering the value that SEO could bring to your company in the long-term.
If you’re still unsure, I’d certainly recommend shopping around and speaking with a mix of both freelancers and agencies. Having little experience in SEO can make it tough to score a company on ability or talent, this is where it’s important that you choose someone that you believe fits the mould of your company and understands your vision.
If you would like to speak to an SEO freelancer about growing your website, then I’d love to chat. You can find all my details on my contact page.