We recently came across the search phrase, “What is SEO consulting?” in a list of terms during keyword research. It was a little surprising; we thought businesspeople would know the answer to this by now. However, only a brief look around the Internet and it’s clear why this is still a question. In short, while the definition seems obvious based on the words, the way it’s described throughout by various agencies is sort of a hodge podge of meaning.
This article is an effort to explain what SEO consulting services are – not just in the eyes of our business and what we mean by it, but in a generalized view to help you understand the differences between offerings. Most importantly, we want you to understand how to find out what you’re buying, why you’re buying it, and what you’re getting out of it.
SEO Consulting Services Aren’t All the Same
If you look at the definition of consulting, you’ll find that it is “the business of giving expert advice to other professionals, typically in financial and business matters”. In general, “consulting services” simply means that the consultant provides strategic advice. You’ll find in SEO, however, that consulting services can mean many different things to many different marketing and optimization agencies.
Taken at face value, SEO consulting provides you with online marketing advice wherever you need it. Here are three scenarios:
- You’ve developed an optimization campaign on your own, but you also know that a lot is riding on it. You want to have an expert review it for holes before starting implementation.
- Your ranking in search results isn’t what you expect it to be for a specific term and you aren’t sure why. You need an expert to look at the term in relation to your website offerings to locate the problem.
- You want to understand a certain aspect of your marketing better. Talking to an expert can help you learn more about the aspect and what you can do with it.
In all three scenarios, an SEO consultant can review your campaign or website at a high level and provide you with pointers on how to strengthen what you already have. Most of the time these are phone conversations or virtual meetings, provided on retainer, and billed hourly or monthly. It can also be included as a subset to a wider scope of marketing services.
This high-level SEO consulting fits the definition of “providing expert advice” most closely. From here, the scope of work becomes more broadly defined.
The Many Levels of SEO Consulting
SEO consulting and SEO services are often used interchangeably – even in the industry -, but they aren’t the same thing. Whether you need consulting or services typically depends on the level of involvement the consultant or agency has in your company, marketing campaigns, and optimization campaigns.
We’ve already covered consulting above. In summary, the consultant gives advice from the perspective of an expert in the field.
SEO services are action items – they’re the next step after consulting. They include actions such as (but definitely not limited to):
A typical service offered under the broad term of SEO consulting is auditing. SEO audits are called by several names and mean different things. Depending on the agency, an audit can include everything from technical SEO and content audits to auditing a business’ entire digital presence. We’ll talk more about this in later articles.
Search engine optimization is more than consulting or giving advice. It means “to optimize”, so there is an action there. If an agency is providing page optimization, the action is to make sure that page (or your entire website) is specifically optimized for the best performance for:
- A specific term
- Relevant traffic to the page or website
- Qualified visitors that are more likely to convert
- Better CTAs on the page
Typically, custom optimization strategies are included in SEO services and not under consulting. Having said that, we came across several agencies and sole-proprietor companies that market strategies under consulting. SEO strategies go beyond giving high-level advice to creating the actual tactics and steps to take in implementation.
More and more often, SEO consulting has come to mean “everything under SEO”, which includes actual implementation of the campaigns. However, implementation is a service, because it is in the realm of action – providing the services of optimization – rather than advice.
While the above may seem like splitting hairs, it should give you a clearer picture of how wide the scope of consulting is in search marketing and SEO.
Why Are There So Many Variations?
Unlike many industries, such as finance or healthcare, there is little regulation to determine which is what in SEO. Although there are areas where online marketing comes up against national or international regulations (think GDPR or security compliance, as examples), there is no body of regulation to set the description of activities offered under the title of SEO.
Not only does this make it confusing for business owners, but it also ups client expectations for SEO consultants and practitioners (and there is a difference between the two). This lack of definition merging with the level of expectation is the number one reason why we insist on filling out a client discovery when onboarding new clientele – so everyone is clear about expectations.
Making Sure You Get the SEO Consulting Services You Need
With all the variations, how do you make sure you use the right agency or consultant for your business? Here are a few points to keep in mind:
Set clear goals
Before you even shop around or ask your business friend who they use, take the time to lay out what you want. What do you specifically want to come out of your time with the SEO consultant? Not just “more traffic” or “better conversions”, but “2x the traffic within 6 months”.
Clear goals help you to better describe your pain points to the consultant. It also helps us understand whether your expectations are within our wheelhouse, and if they’re realistic.
Make sure your questions are getting answered
When talking to potential consultants for the first time, ask questions when you don’t understand what we’re talking about. If you act as if you understand and just agree, the chances go up that you’re not going to be satisfied.
On the other hand, while SEO has its own lingo, there’s no aspect that can’t be put into terms that are easier to understand. If you ask questions and aren’t getting answers, you might consider a different provider.
Pay attention to the questions asked
Do they ask questions about your business, industry, niche, and pain points? Or are they busy talking about their experience and what they’ve done instead of trying to learn more about your company? Part of being a good consultant is learning the client’s point of view instead of imposing your own. Pay attention to whether they’re asking questions that will help them learn more about you.
Learn about the process
What deliverables can you expect? Is it basically a long Q&A session or are there reports? What actions will they do to ensure the accuracy of their recommendations?
Expertise is all well and good, but we should be looking at something to answer your questions, whether it’s analytics, the website, or your marketing campaign outline. The exception would be if you just want general answers to your questions.
The consistent part about SEO consulting is that it’s a service designed to support your marketing efforts in a way that brings the best results. What that means per agency or consultant, however, can vary drastically. When talking to potential consultants – and before you sign the dotted line -, make sure you know what they mean by “SEO consulting”.