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Inbound Marketing vs SEO: Which Agency Should You Choose?

Firstly, before you employ a marketing agency to perform any marketing activity for you, you need to be aware of your marketing goals.

If you want to improve the design of your blog and you're searching for a social media agency — you’re knocking on the wrong door!


Before you read this article, determine what your goals are, and think about them as you progress.

If you don’t have any goals yet, you can use our SMART goals template to define them.

Goals defined? Great, let’s look at each agency and decide which one’s best for you!

inbound vs seo

In the Blue Corner...Inbound Marketing Agency

What’s an Inbound Marketing Agency?

Inbound marketing agencies are about providing a full marketing solution, which SEO is part of. Inbound aims to change the way a business operates and isn’t just a marketing technique, it’s is a business-wide philosophy.

Inbound changes the way you market your business, sell your products and services, and how you delight customers after this process is complete. If you work with an inbound agency, expect them to develop an understanding of your current process – and give you ideas about how to improve it.

An inbound marketing agency will develop a plan that will be tailored to your business and may include many different options and pricing plans.

There’ll be an onboarding process (as you usually commit to the HubSpot CRM), buyer persona creation, content plan drafting, SEO research, and various other workshops relating to sales, client management and content marketing. You have to buy into the philosophy if you're going inbound; otherwise, you’ll get lost.

inbound seo map

Why Would You Hire An Inbound Agency?

Here are three reasons you’d consider hiring an inbound agency:

  1. You need more traffic & better leads — generating traffic is SEO, generating meaningful traffic isn’t. Why? Because there’s no way to tell what positive impact it’s had on your business. If you want to generate meaningful traffic, you need inbound. And by meaningful we mean, how many leads did the traffic create? How many of those leads turned into customers?

    Here's a screenshot from HubSpot showing ur traffic increase, and how many contacts came into our CRM in the same period. To get more granular, we could look at the source of those contacts, or whether they became customers.

  2. traffic and contacts

  3. You want to overhaul your marketing — whether you’re the ‘what’s marketing?’ type or you want to ditch the unsuccessful techniques you use today, inbound can be your lifeline. Sure, it’s a big commitment, and it needs to be businesswide — but it’s worth it. Inbound agencies are ideal for those who want to grow but don't have the cash for expensive outbound campaigns, or expansive marketing teams.

  4. You aren’t one dimensional — SEO is a great tactic to have in your marketing plan, but that’s what it should be — a tactic, not a plan. If you want to reap the benefits of various areas of marketing: such as lead nurturing, sales enablement and PPC, you should use an inbound agency. They’ll tailor a plan to your goals and provide skills in areas you never knew existed!

What Should You Look for in an Inbound Marketing Agency?

Here are five qualities you should look for in your inbound agency:

  • Get the right skills — because there are so many fields in inbound marketing, you need the right skill set for your business goals. For example, if you are looking to improve your SEO profile, you should check out the inbound agency’s profile and see how well they’re doing. Here's a typical structure of a larger inbound marketing company, see how many skills you'd have to pick from here!

  • Is everything in-house? — ideally, you want to work with an agency that does everything in-house. It means you’ll never be passed to anyone outside the agency, and everyone is working towards the same goal. If you do work with an agency that outsources, make sure they work with trusted partners.

  • Clear plan — you need an agency that can give you a plan, for at least six months. Everyone has to be flexible with that plan. But an agency that doesn’t provide a clear timeline is one you should avoid.

  • Analytics-driven — the best inbound agency should focus on giving positive metrics that are tied to your goals. For example, if you wanted to generate better marketing qualified leads for sales, you could check the close percentage rate and compare it to last year’s performance.

  • Helpful — this may sound obvious, but inbound is a big change for everyone at a company, so you need the right support. An agency that’s willing to educate you is one that’s worth partnering with.

How to Tell if Your Inbound Agency is Ripping You Off!

  1. They don’t understand your business — this isn’t an overnight process, but if your inbound agency doesn’t understand your business or your goals after 3+ months, they aren’t doing it properly. Always monitor how thorough the sales process, onboarding process and campaign execution are — and always check the agency delivers what you ask them to.

  2. They sugar-coat everything — sometimes things go wrong in marketing, it happens. Sometimes that extra service you offered didn’t produce the ROI predicted. So make sure your agency tells it like it is. If you go to a meeting and there are ten positives and no negatives, alarm bells should be ringing.

  3. Upsell, upsell, upsell! — the best inbound marketing agencies always give you the services you need. If you end up with three extra services that aren’t offering you any value, you should consider whether the company is right for you.

The Number One Reason You Should Use an Inbound Agency?

When You Want an All Inclusive, Tailored Marketing Plan

Inbound doesn’t do second guesses. You can be guaranteed a thorough planning phase, accurate execution and a meticulous review. It’s all about attention to detail, and if you get an agency with a proven track record, they’ll deliver success.

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In the Red Corner...SEO Agency

What’s an SEO Agency?

SEO agencies are all about providing visibility. If you appear in search engines ahead of your competition, it’s always a good thing. If you optimise your site regularly, there’s more chance of this happening. Simple.

Well, not quite. SEO is a complex marketing technique that requires experience in various areas: technical, off-page and on-page. SEO agencies will usually have experienced marketers in all these areas.

An SEO agency will develop a tailored plan that’ll help you achieve your business goals. The best companies will not only have in-depth knowledge of SEO but your website and your business — and will be able to create your strategy with a ‘what’s best for your business overview’.

Why Would You Hire An SEO Agency?

Here are three reasons you’d consider hiring an SEO agency:

  1. SEO changes, a lot! — search engines are always changing the way they rank content, so you need someone who knows what the trends are and someone who can keep you up-to-date. Whereas it’s crucial for all members of an SEO agency to have in-depth SEO knowledge, it would depend on the size of an inbound agency. Smaller agencies may have an SEO expert, but their output may be limited even if they have broad knowledge.

  2. It’s cheaper — the average agency SEO retainer is between $750-1500, which is more than half of what you’d pay for a starter package for inbound (usually start at about £3000). For the more tentative or cash-strapped businesses, SEO may be a better starting point.

  3. inbound vs seo

  4. No software investment — an SEO agency will have all the software they need to execute your strategy, so there’s no need to do anything. You can relax and hope the results come in! Most inbound customers pay for the HubSpot CRM, which is expensive when paired with agency costs.

What Should You Look for in an SEO Agency?

Here are five qualities you should look for in an SEO agency:

  • Improve your rankings — it’s no use employing an SEO agency that doesn’t improve your search rankings, that’s why you hired them in the first place.

  • Dig out opportunities — whether it’s a keyword opportunity or a guest blogging opportunity, a top agency will always have something to surprise you. Spotting an opportunity is one thing, seizing it is another.

  • Prominence in the right area — if you’re looking to improve your on-page SEO, there’s a good chance a freelance writer or digital marketing agency can help (there are also free tools like Yoast that can help WordPress users). If you’re looking to improve your technical SEO as well, you’ll probably need specialist services.

  • yoast screenshot

  • Integrity — over the years, there have been a lot of reports of businesses and SEO agencies indulging in black hat SEO — which is bad/dishonest SEO. Although Google penalises those companies, it’s worth checking out company reviews to see what people say.

  • Foresight — Google’s reluctance to share any information about its algorithm means SEO is an industry built on educated guesswork. So it would help if you had an agency that is aware of the latest and emerging trends. The last thing you want is a hefty penalty to disrupt your flow.

How to Tell if Your SEO Agency is Ripping You Off!

  1. Check the basics — if someone can’t get the basics right, there’s a good chance the complex stuff isn’t great either. Check your title tags, it’s one of the most basic on-page SEO tactics, so if your agency isn’t getting them right, they probably aren’t getting a lot else right.

  2. Who’s linking to your site? — SEO is all about getting quality links to your site from other quality sites. If you don't have the knowledge or the software to do this, you can use open explorer, which is the free version. If nothing is happening, alarm bells should be ringing.

  3. Check Google Analytics — it’s simple but effective. Is your organic traffic going up? If it isn’t, there may be a problem. Use your common sense; if you have a sale on or you see natural spikes of traffic at certain times, this may have something to do with a decrease.
yoast screenshot

The Number One Reason You Should Use an SEO Agency?

When You Need Help With a Particular Area of SEO/Odd Jobs

Let’s say you’re generating more leads than ever, you get plenty of traffic to your website, and business is fantastic. However, you know you need to speed your site up or create new meta tags. It would be pointless hiring an inbound agency for these jobs, and they may even turn you down. So you could outsource it to an SEO agency — or a digital marketing agency.

The Questions You Should Ask Yourself When Picking A Marketing Agency

Before you make any decision, sit down with the key decision makers at your company and discuss the following:

  • Why are we hiring an agency?
  • What are our goals and are they tied to a metric?
  • How much do we know about marketing agencies?
  • What are the different types of marketing and what do they offer?
  • Do we know the difference between SEO and inbound?
  • Can we get in touch with anyone who’s had a positive/negative experience with either agency?

Of course, we’d be happy to answer any more queries!

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