Hard to believe as it may be, as we head into 2012 (depending on who you ask), the SEO industry is anywhere from 12 to roughly 16 years old. Equally surprising is how little the core business model of SEO consulting has changed in the last decade. Comprehensive SEO site audits coupled with design and social media recommendations are where many of our friends make the bulk of their income, with longer engagements typically being structured around ongoing link building campaigns and outsourced content marketing.
SEO Consulting Today
Site audits, in particular, are a lucrative source of income for many consultants, once you have enough deal flow. Prices for these range from $3K on the low end up to $100-200K on the high end (for very large customers, of course), with the average being between $5-10K per audit (anecdotally speaking). As an individual consultant, if you can line up 4-6 of these a month, you’re making great money. From the customer’s perspective, even though site audits look very basic to experienced SEOs, good ones really help customers understand what a coherent SEO strategy looks like in the context of their business.
Add to this ongoing project work, typically set up on 1-6 month contracts, and you can start to expand into a multi-person practice, if you’re so inclined. From the perspective of the consultant, it’s a great model and it will continue to be so. Customers who are fortunate to work with above-board, knowledgeable consultants also benefit through a better executed strategy.
More Companies are Moving SEO Operations In House
However, if you’ve spent any amount of time in the SEO industry, you know that more companies are building in-house teams. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the SEO consulting industry is going away but there is a growing sector of companies, quickly growing businesses with money to spend on SEO and online marketing, who are deciding to do more in-house. This trend, combined with the emergence of high-quality automation tools in recent years, have given many business new options in how they manage SEO. As a consultant, surely you would want to find ways to work with this segment as well? Rather than ignoring this opportunity, SEO consultants and agencies can expand their businesses even further by creating new types of engagements.
Specifically, there is a big opportunity in helping companies build their own SEO (and content marketing) strategy. At first glance, this may sound like something that is included in any worthwhile site audit, but it’s actually quite different. Where most SEO audits and consulting engagements focus on the day to day content creation and optimization strategies, what in-house teams need help with is understanding how they can turn their organization into one that intuitively executes a strong content marketing strategy.
This is a hard problem and the challenge for SEO consultants is to be able to communicate not only with one or two people in the web marketing team, but with executives as well to help them understand the reason for building a strong content strategy. Then get the executive team agree to build the right processes in the company to execute that strategy.
Help Companies Create Their Own SEO Operations
This admittedly sounds all very MBAish and, to be sure, how this works in practice depends on the nature and size of the company in question. In my experience, however, the larger the company, the more you need to get the executive team to understand and promote SEO and content marketing to the entire company. Paid advertising is a convenient fallback for most companies and it has its place, but missed opportunities abound when companies fail to understand the impact that SEO can have on their business. Your job is to help them see that and then help them build an organization to take advantage of this opportunity.
Some companies simply aren’t ready for this. You can usually tell if they are ready by whether or not they have already made their first two or three key hires in the SEO department. If they haven’t, you’ll need to figure out if they are committed to an SEO strategy or are still floundering.
If they have, then they understand the benefits and can probably use some help in building their organization. I’ll cover a lot more details in a later post on how to build an SEO operation in-house, as it is a large topic in its own right. In this post, my goal is simple to promote the idea that there is plenty of opportunity for people with years of SEO experience to provide value to companies building an in-house SEO team. The focus is organizational vs. tactical so it will take a certain type of personality and experience, but don’t let that stop you from reaching out to potential customers to see if you can help.