SEO Agency vs. Consultant vs. Freelancer: Which One Is Right For You?

When it comes to growing your business, sometimes you need to leverage outside resources. There’s a world of options to consider, from hiring agencies to bringing on freelancers or enlisting consultants. But which option will suit your needs best? 

In this article, we’ll offer you a straightforward comparison of these three popular types of business support. We’ll point out the benefits and the potential downsides you should consider. We aim to help you make an informed decision that’s just right for your unique business needs.

an infographic showing the difference between agencies, freelancers, and consultants


Agencies are collections of specialized talent that work with different companies on their marketing. An agency will have multiple people who share similar skills and follow a process. When you hire an agency, you’re hiring a team who will plan, strategize, and execute an entire marketing project for you. 

Agencies often have multiple departments, including administrators, producers, strategists, and management. Each of these departments plays a crucial role in helping an agency work successfully with multiple clients.


Freelancers are individuals who work directly with companies to support their production. They often work on single projects with a defined role and limited scope. For example, a freelancer would be hired to design a new website, but would not oversee the content, SEO, or programming.


As their name suggests, consultants “consult” on projects. They’re hired to provide direction and strategic advice, often working directly with stakeholders who oversee the execution of the work. When you hire a consultant, you’re paying for their time + expertise but not their production. 

Consultants are often subject matter experts in a specific area. In SEO, there are technical SEO consultants who specialize in identifying crawling/indexing issues but don’t do link building, content, or other services. 

Many consultants are one-person teams, but there are also consulting firms that employ multiple consultants but still provide very little or no production work.

As you can see, the main difference is service level. The larger the project and the more help a company needs, the more likely they are to hire an agency. For one-time projects or strategic advice only, a freelancer or consultant makes the most sense.

What Are The Main Differences Between Agencies, Freelancers, and Consultants?

There are considerable differences between agencies, consultants, and freelancers, but it ultimately comes down to the scope of the project and the amount of work to be done.

When You Should Hire an Agency

1. You’re looking for a “one-stop shop”

If you’ve been piecemealing your marketing efforts between your internal team and a network of rotating freelancers, you probably realize how expensive and time-consuming managing so many people can be. For companies who need to consolidate their marketing efforts, an agency is an excellent choice. They won’t completely take over your marketing, but agencies can execute multiple parts of a project which frees you and your internal team to focus on other pressing tasks. 

2. Your marketing lacks consistency

Many companies are unable to get specific results because their internal marketing teams are focused on other marketing needs. Content marketing efforts like SEO get pushed to the side or neglected due to other priorities. 

Agencies excel in planning out long-term marketing plans and executing them. For an SEO agency, this means creating a content plan and writing/optimizing a specific number of content pieces each month. An agency ensures your marketing efforts are managed and implemented consistently. 

3. You need to scale your production

Agencies are the best choice when you need an exponential increase in your content output. Because agencies can assign multiple people (resources) to meet any client demand, they can handle a significantly higher workload than freelancers. And unlike consultants, agencies will handle both the strategy and the production.

When You Should Hire a Freelancer

1. You’re looking for short-term production help

For small projects or urgent help, a freelancer is the best fit. Once they are onboarded, freelancers can often plug right into your existing process and deliver work with minimal oversight. 

Because consultants aren’t producers, they’re unlikely to take on rush work. Agencies are producers, but they bring strategy and consultation along with production. Because agencies bring multiple people to the table, they often aren’t a good cost fit for small projects. 

2. You need help with one part of a project 

As discussed above, the main difference between agencies and freelancers is that agencies handle multiple aspects of a project while a freelancer handles one or two parts. If you already got multiple people handling different parts of a project, a freelancer can easily plug in and get to work. With an agency, you risk them taking over the project or bringing too much to the table and disrupting the flow. 

3. You want to work directly with the person doing the work

If you’re set on having direct access to someone at all times (similar to your employees), then a freelancer is your best route. Freelancers work directly with clients and report to them as quasi-employees. Agencies have account managers, project managers, or other directors who act as liaisons between the agency’s production team and the client. 

When you should hire a consultant 

You need advice and not production

Many of the same exclusions apply to freelancers and consultants. The primary difference is consultants bring their expertise, not production, to the table for projects.

As a rule of thumb, you should expect to handle all or most of the production when you hire a consultant. However, the consultant will provide extremely valuable advice, training, and processes that are crucial to the success of any marketing project. 

Why This Matters For You

Hiring the right outside help can make or break a business in the long run. The perspectives and support from agencies, consultants, and freelancers can supercharge business growth. However, adding the wrong type of help is a sure way to fall even further behind.

Before deciding which direction to go, consider your project goals and the type of help your company will need to see success. If your team has struggled with strategy or direction, a consultant can step in and get the ball rolling. A freelancer is a great way to be sure you’re meeting production goals while using your existing team for the majority of your marketing plan. However, if the anticipated workload is more than one or two people can handle, the best choice is to hire an agency. By understanding the size and scope of your marketing needs, you’ll be able to hone in on the best fit for hiring additional outside resources.

Austin Cline

Austin Cline

Austin Cline is the founder and principal at He is actively involved in the SEO community and frequently writes about the intersection of great content marketing and search engine optimization. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn and sign up to get his posts to your email by joining our email newsletter.

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