Lee Odden

5 Pros and Cons of SEO Consultant vs Agency

A reader commented recently about not wanting to hire an entire agency, but rather an individual consultant for search marketing services. From a service provider perspective, I’ve tried it “both ways” so to speak, working at an agency, then as an independent consultant and now with our Public Relations and Online Marketing agencies.

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to hiring consultants vs an agency engagement, but over time (10+ years) I think I’ve gained a fairly practical and experience based perspective.

As I see it, here are a few of the pros and cons of hiring consultants compared to hiring search marketing agencies.

Hiring a search marketing consultant


  • Specialized – you can get the best
  • Personal attention from a senior practitioner
  • Each campaign treated uniquely
  • Holistic view – consultant is intimately aware of all aspects of the campaign
  • Relationship – it’s easier to form a long term relationship with the owner/operator than an account rep that may change jobs


  • Specialized – yet another vendor to manage
  • Has to wear many hats (eat what they kill)
  • Physical limitations on number of clients that can be serviced
  • Can be more expensive per hour
  • Limited in the number of things that can be done well

Hiring a search marketing agency


  • Cumulative experience from specialized teams
  • Financial stability
  • Intellectual and physical resources
  • Structured processes and scalability
  • Dedicated account managers


  • Senior team does the pitch, junior team implements
  • Structured processes that are not flexible
  • Over emphasis on packaging of reporting analytics and not on insight
  • Small clients/budgets get small attention
  • Substantially greater overhead

I do believe the situation is largely dependent on the type of services needed and the size of the project. I don’t think there is any hard and fast rule that would apply to all situations since there are so many variables at play: SEO or PPC, budget, time frame, client internal resources, etc.

After having the experience as a individual consultant, I think the appreciation for personal attention and service along with the benefits of constantly evolving processes, specialized teams that spend a portion of their time testing and learning emerging tactics as well as truly talented account/project managers gives a small to medium sized agency a big advantage over the one person shops as well as the big dogs.

What’s your opinion on hiring individual consultants vs agencies? Is every situation unique or are there some hard and fast rules that companies can use as a guide?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he’s the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he’s likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.