It is time to talk about something near and dear to my heart, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short. Everybody knows they need to do it. They want to drink from the fountains of free search engine traffic. And why wouldn’t they? Search engine traffic means the difference between getting a predictable stream of qualified visitors or buyers and, well, not. Since most companies don’t have in-house SEO specialist on staff, they’ll often turn to freelancers or traditional SEO agencies to support their goal of first-spot-dominance in Google.

SEO Freelancers:
Freelancers come in all shapes and sizes. You can hire off-shore talent for pennies on the dollar, or on-shore talent for domestic rates. In my experience, you should always be careful and highly selective when going after overseas freelancers. They’re good at gaming the most notable freelancer-for-hire sites out there. They’ll have inflated reviews, and make false promises of getting you to the top. That said, there are some good ones out there if you can find them.

Domestic freelancers will be more expensive than off-shore talent. However, having someone that is fluent in English does help with communication as well as cut back on content iterations (if content creation is part of your SEO strategy – which it should be).

The problem with Freelancers is that they’ll often charge for specific tasks, like building x number of links or writing x number of articles. There isn’t a focus on building a cohesive strategy to achieve ranking results. As a result, often less experienced organizations will get frustrated by not seeing results right away, and abandon the program before there is enough time to have a meaningful impact.

You also have to watch for black-hat SEO techniques when using freelancers. Being independent often means less accountability. This is especially true when you’re working with overseas talent. They may spike your rankings temporarily, but Google’s algorithm will catch up to the games being played. At best you’ll lose the ranks you’ve gained. At worst, you’ll be blacklisted from Google altogether.

The net on freelancers is that once you sift through some potentially poor experiences, you’ll likely find the right one that can help your organization make big moves. Plus it will be less expensive than hiring a domestic SEO marketing agency. You just need to be prepared to keep up with the program long enough to see sustainable results.

Search Engine Optimization Agencies:
SEO agencies have staff on hand that typically includes expertise in both on-site and off-site SEO services. On-site being edits and changes to optimize what you can control on your website, and off-site being focused on link building. Hiring an agency will mean playing the long game, i.e. committing to results over a potentially elongated time-frame. They will also cost a whole heck of a lot more than freelancers.

But sometimes good things simply cost more and require patience. Domestic SEO agencies typically use white-hat techniques. Realistically, they have to be accountable to their agency brand and need to uphold an industry reputation. White hat techniques will help you achieve sustainable traffic. They’ll also ensure you aren’t forced out of the listings altogether.

SEO agencies will often put you on a retainer for a minimum number of months. This tactic ensures proper time to see the results. It keeps brands from having that knee-jerk reaction to quit too early in the process. With the right SEO agencies, you’ll get regular reports and meet via phone or in person on a regular basis. You’ll also be able to hold them accountable to actual ranking results. Remember, you’re not paying for individual SEO tasks. The retainer is designed to get you rankings and tends to help in the execution of a full strategy.

As with anything, there are top marketing agencies and poor ones. SEO is both a science and art. A focus on experience in your specific industry vertical is less important than a high IQ in SEO strategy and approach. You’ll want to make sure the agency you select has a good portfolio of example clients that they’ve helped. I highly recommend speaking with past clients of any agency before making your final selection. Ask about where their client’s rankings started, and what was specifically done to achieve ultimate results.

Again, there are options out there when you’re ready to put a great SEO strategy in place. While I’ve used all three options discussed in this article, for my money, I typically opt for domestic seo agencies. It may be slow and steady, but it’s going to pay off in the end. That said, for the budget conscious, going with a freelancer can be a good first step to kickstart your program. Just be sure to watch out for black hat SEO techniques, and be prepared to navigate the strategy portion of the program on your own. Good luck!