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Should I Hire a Small or Large SEO Agency?

Neil Patel, a serial internet entrepreneur and seasoned startup blogger, recently stirred up somewhat of a debate regarding the differences in ability when it comes to execution and sales between large and small SEO agencies. In a thorough and well written guest post for SEOmoz – 7 Lessons Learned Running an SEO Agency – Patel ignited a spirited conversation that ran its course via the comments.

True or false: Smaller agencies might not always be as organized as the larger ones, but yet they’re still just as capable, if not more, than their bigger counterparts when it comes to delivering results.

While noting the clear bias that Sparkplug Digital falls into the former, as opposed to the latter category, it’s still a question worth chewing on. It’s one that will hold even more weight if your company happens to be seeking SEO services.

Let’s start with some common assumed advantages in favor of hiring a big agency:

Staff

Larger agencies with higher revenue tend to have more employees on hand at any given moment. Does this matter? The answer really depends on how organized the agency is when it comes to communicating with clients and managing expectations. An agency with 10 employees can be just as qualified, if not more, than one with 100.

Years in business

Many SEO agencies have come and gone, but some have stood the test of time and continue to be profitable year after year. As opposed to just years in business, the reputation of an agency should also be weighed when it comes to making a decision.

Some larger agencies choose to work with Fortune 500 clients, while others intentionally work with smaller companies. This may have much or no real significance. As opposed to size or number of clients, look for similarities in the work the agency has done. Who have they worked with that’s in your industry? What challenges have they solved in the past that most resemble what your company is currently facing?

Multiple disciplines

A number of agencies have grown big simply because they dive into many different disciplines. Instead of having a single focus towards SEO, a large agency may earn a majority of its income through design, branding, or a variety of different services. Again this really isn’t an advantage or disadvantage, but more of a mater of preference.

What about smaller agencies? What can they bring to the table that larger agencies might struggle with or often overlook?

Specialization

Leaner agencies can hold the advantage of specialization over larger agencies. A smaller agency may diferentiate itself by offering a unique skill set, such as being experts exclusively within a specific industry or choosing to only take on a certain type of client.

Support

It may not be an initial concern, but the client agency relationship can end up being a disaster if while working together an agency fails to meet the expected norms of communication and availability, both spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten. Yes it’s true that larger agencies should be just as capable when it comes to managing client relationships, meeting deadlines, and keeping an open dialogue, however there are some larger agencies that are notoriously sloppy in this department. It’ll greatly depend on the agency, but going with a tigther, more cohesive team might be a better fit in some cases.

Cost

It can’t be left unsaid that the bottom line costs of services will end up influencing at least part of the decision. A word of precaution is that the advantage shouldn’t necessarily go to the agency that costs less, but should rather be based on what the deliverables will be in conjunction to the final cost. Look at value over price and always try to think in terms of return on investment.

Despite the apparent and hidden advantages and disadvantages of big and small agencies, the end goal should be to find a partner who will value your goals and work hard to reach them. Expertise isn’t limited nor confined to size and in most situations there usually isn’t any merit to say otherwise.

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