To Consult or Not To Consult, That is the SEO Question

If you are reading the SEO blogs in recent months (or at least some of the ones that I read), a hotly debated topic (an SEO challenge if you will) has been brought to the table by many well-known SEO’s in the industry. The subject is in why “SEO Experts” work as SEO Consultants versus optimizing and developing their own revenue generating website properties? In my opinion, there are three underlying issues that bring this subject together:

  • What drives individuals to pursue a career as a Search Engine Optimization (Marketing) Consultant?
  • Is the SEO Consulting model a model that can provide sustainability for an SEO Expert?
  • Should you (the client) trust or work with an SEO Consultant that is not engaged in their own unique enterprises and/or running them successfully, outside of the SEO consulting that they provide?

A Multifaceted Debate
First off, I have a ton of respect for the SEO’s that I reference in the first paragraph, as well as any individual working in search, that is successfully achieving their goals for their own websites, their client’s websites, or the company that they are responsible for bringing SEO into an overall marketing strategy. It’s also important to note that there are just as well known and respected SEO’s explaining their reasons for being a search marketing consultant and those defending (or at least validating) the consulting business model.

Why I Work in SEO Consulting
From my perspective, I work as an SEO consultant because I enjoy working with clients that are looking to be successful in industries that I would never have even considered or have had experience in. I enjoy the challenge of being a part of a strategy to drive traffic, visitors and leads and in the discovery of how prospective customers find, read and react to a client’s online message. Finally, working in search engine optimization allows me to collaborate with people and research, build and collaborate on websites that are leading innovation and technology online (SEO’s love being first adopters for new ideas).

I realize that I got into the search engine optimization field because I wanted to have greater control over my career, and I didn’t really considering the entrepreneurial implications of the industry when I first started teaching myself the ropes. In the end, it’s the same reason I left the financial industry to start building web pages. There was just more money and more opportunity for growth in the near term. The reality today is that I get paid pretty well for something that I enjoy a ton and end up giving away a lot of free advice to people, either because I don’t have interest or experience in their industry or do not have the time available to dedicate to projects that I feel could be owner driven if given the right information.

SEO Consulting Challenges
Working in the SEO consulting industry brings its own set of challenges and obstacles. In order to remain profitable and sustainable as a business model I feel there are key issues that need to be realized and addressed:

  • There has to be an operational balance that allows for earning an acceptable income while being able to continue to learn and understand the ever changing industry of search.
  • Client expectations have to be managed and recommendations/campaign strategies must be delivered in a way that is digestible, understandable and defined.
  • An SEO Consultant has to be accountable for everything they recommend and implement.
  • In my opinion, you cannot continue to succeed in search engine optimization if you are not building (or paying someone to build) your own websites and at least experimenting with the tools, websites and resources that are continually being developed.

It’s easy to tell people what the right things are to do in search and it’s easy to provide reputable sources of information that provide support for “SEO best practices” and recommendations when it comes to link building, content development and website architecture. It’s much more difficult to have the implementation plan in place to roll out a recommendation designed for success and the management expertise and technology experience to see that plan through to fruition. As the web evolves, there are more opportunities to be found, more people building new technologies and more users influencing what becomes important or “of value” online. How can a client trust a search engine optimization consultant that does not utilize or have experience working with the various tools and resources that they are recommending? Hiring an SEO specialist is more than a $50 per month investment and goes beyond meta tagging and directory submissions.

SEO Forces You to Keep Learning
This post is not about challenging why a successful SEO believes or does not believe that SEO consulting is a worthwhile endeavor, or why you are not creating your own million dollar websites. This post is about the fact that if you are consulting in the search engine marketing industry, you must build, invest in and grow your own online endeavors as well, because this industry changes too fast to rely on last year’s information. There is a reason why SEO companies fail in their efforts to grow revenue, larger clients and in managing client expectation, and it can have nothing to do with how talented the people were that worked there. You cannot succeed in this industry if you are not continually learning and practicing what factors influence search rankings, because the rest of the world isn’t taking a vacation from developing new websites or building new communities.

Unfortunately, I don’t own a website generating enough revenue to afford the beach house in St. John or the sports car for Sundays, but I have sites generating Adsense revenue, affiliate income and subscriber fees and I build profiles in popular (and developing) social communities for my own interests and because I find them interesting overall. I highly recommend archiving, in detail, all of the places you visit, contribute to or collaborate with, because you never know when you will want to revisit these resources in the future. I don’t believe there will be an end to SEO Consulting, because as long as prospective customers are searching for information online, companies will need guidance in creating a marketing strategy to get their message to those people. But if you are not continually developing new projects internally, testing search factors and contributing to the community (in a meaningful way), your SEO consulting business (or SEO career) will fail in the long run.


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