The 6 Hidden Identities of an SEO Consultant


Rhea and I were having a conversation about our business recently when the topic of vendor vs. consultant was brought up. I can’t speak for Rhea but I’m not sure I had ever really thought about the difference. Luckily for me, there was a third-party present who was able to perfectly put it into terminology that I understood.

When you talk to someone about putting a new roof on your house and they tell you exactly how much it will cost without ever looking at your roof or assessing your needs – that’s a vendor.

When you talk to someone and they spend time getting to know you before pricing out your roof based on elements specific to you (the condition of your current roof, noted damage spots, etc) – that’s a consultant. It’s a higher level of service, through which you have the ability to foster a better and more long-term relationship.

At Outspoken Media, that’s always our goal. We want to grow a team of SEO consultants. Not SEO vendors.

But truly calling ourselves that means we take on quite a few responsibilities when working with clients. Because if you’re a true SEO consultant, you’re actually a lot of things, too. I thought maybe I’d break them down.

What six OTHER hats do SEO consultants wear?

1. Hunter & Gatherer

Fine, you may not run around your client’s business with a bow and arrow in hand (we don’t want to know if you do), but your relationship starts with you in the role of Hunter & Gatherer. As a true SEO consultant, you spend that initial few phone calls on the hunt with your client as you try and gather information about their value proposition, the way they seem themselves in their market, where they want to be, their strategy for getting there, and what their plan for their business looks like. Sure, you can create some keyword lists and recommendations without this information, but you won’t be able to provide them with real value without understanding their business, their goals and their core objective. So yes, if we ask you about your business plan and where you want to be in two years, we’re not feigning an interest. We need to know so we can do our part to help you get there.

If you’re NOT asking your clients this information before crafting a strategy for them, you’re doing them a huge a disservice. And you should stop it.

2. Translator

Let’s play a game! What are these?

To me they’re rain boots. Or rubber boots. Or the boots that gave me an infection so bad in my heel that it needed to be SCOOPED out with a tool reserved for SCOOPING out infections (you’re welcome).

But if I was an expert on boots? If I looked at boots every day? I’d probably call them something more clinical. Perhaps I’d use the term “Wellies” because it more accurately describes them and it differentiates them from all the other boots in the world. I would definitely use Wellies if I was a shopper coming from the UK.

As an SEO consultant you’ll often have to remind your client that their audience is not an expert. You’re going to have to use keyword research and your own brain to act as their customer translator and help them customize the language to not meet THEIR needs, but to meet their customers’ needs. Because, let’s face it. In business, those are the only needs that really ever matter. People don’t so much care about your needs.

3. Interpreter

But you’re not JUST a translator, you’re also an interpreter. It’s your job to interpret that when a client tells you they want more Twitter followers, what they really want is more traffic to certain service-specific landing pages. It’s your job to know that the reason the client wants them to visit that page is to make it through the end of that video and take a specific action.
You need to be able to hear what the client is telling you and then figure out what they really mean. Otherwise, you can’t look shocked when you triple your client’s traffic and they’re still looking at you all pissed off.

4. The Ruler

No, not that:


It’s your job to not only help your client to identify and achieve their goals, but to understand what parts of the process were the most important in helping those goals be achieved. So that they can set even higher goals the next time. That’s why you’re there. To help them with their mission and provide the insight a simple SEO tool can’t give them. Otherwise, they can just go use a tool. And then you’d be out of a job.

Of course, you’re also there to make sure they’re measuring the right elements. Sure, rankings are nice and make for pretty charts when the search engines are behaving themselves, but they’re not the best measure of anything. By really getting to know your client and understanding their business, you’ll be able to help them pinpoint what the real data points are that they want to be measuring. It’s a consultant’s job to work with them and be that ruler.

5. Educator

As an SEO consultant, your job doesn’t end with simply identifying and recommending what changes need to take place on your client’s site. You must also educate your client so that they understand the reasons behind the changes and can become an active part in their business’ SEO and success. It’s your job to balance the two roles of expert and educator to help them get a more strategic understanding of the work you’re doing on their site. Doing so not only helps you run a smoother project, but it helps that client understand the need for SEO and how to help their business over the long-term, even if you’re no longer with the project. That is your job. If you’re not educating your clients and you’re simply implementing the work and then getting the hell out of dodge – you’re a vendor, not an SEO consultant.

6. Mythbuster

Who are we kidding – along with your role of Educator, you’re also a Mythbuster. You’re there to listen to everything your client THINKS they know about the search engine optimization process and then hop in to help them see fact from fiction. It’s a position that requires a lot of patience, understanding, and the ability to clearly explain and define things which may be foreign to them.

It’s a big job being an SEO consultant, however, we think someone’s gotta step up and do it. ;)

Your Comments

  • Tammy

    What a wonderful overview of the profession! Thank you for this!

    I am just entering the field, and I will use this to help explain to people what I do!

  • Zeph Snapp

    Great post Lisa!
    Can we add Cat Herder to this mix?

    With some clients I have to make sure that the IT manager, the Sales Director, the Engineering team and the Social Media point person are all doing their part. With all those different personalities, each with their own agenda, workload and budgetary issues can be interesting to say the least.

    Since we do quite a bit of international work, we also sometimes have to work side by side with SEO’s from other countries, targeting different search engines. This makes keeping ongoing projects and the website consistent very difficult.

    That being said, this is the best job in the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything (besides a small island).

  • netmeg

    Only 6?

    I have a few more.

    You’re a cop – you have to get in there and prevent crime before it happens – both internally and externally (some of the worst sabotage comes from well-intending client employees)

    You’re a spy – you have to sneak around and use all your stealth tools and super powers to figure out what the competition is doing well, and where their holes are.

    You’re a truck driver – because you’re behind the wheel in the truck you’re gonna drive through those competitor holes.

    You’re a mom – sometimes you have to bandage knees and dry tears, and explain how an ‘owie’ now will be all better tomorrow.

    You’re a punching bag – because the client can’t punch Google.

    I’m sure there are more, but I need lunch.

    (and oh yea – I’m a consultant)

  • Jen @ Search Engine Optimization Tips

    That’s a really nice explanation of vendors vs consultants. I hadn’t ever really looked at it that way before but I think it’s right on. Consultants do so much more than simply sell you a product. As you’ve explained in your breakdown of hats – a consultant becomes a productive part of your team.

  • Chris Countey

    I don’t know how you guys do it again and again, but this felt less like a blog post and more like I was listening to a good story.

    I’d like to add one more: Lawyer, because sometimes you need to convince your client to make a change they’re totally against, even if they’re unsure why they are.

  • DCeezy

    No SEO “hidden identities” list is complete without “rockstar” and “ninja” ;)

    BTW Zeph had it correct up there. “Cat Herder” is pretty accurate. But with smaller clients sometimes you’re the herd too.

  • David August

    “usability consultant” may be missing, since making sites delight people tends to make it delight Google. “network speed analyst” could also be included since no one has ever said “gee, this site loads too quickly.”

  • Bo Vejgaard

    I would add Change Manager to the list. You often have to convince copywriters, technicians, managers etc. to change the ways they think an do stuff.
    Knowing a bit about the change management and the psycology of change has helped me a lot.

  • Maciej @ Brandignity

    This post makes me feel so much better about sticking my face in my computer monitor all day long!

  • Romela

    SEO Consultancy is really a “value-plus” in the search industry. We’re looking forward to more posts like this just to keep us on track and away from just being “SEO Vendors”. More power to your team :-)

  • Mat Bennett

    I’d also add ‘Detective’ to the list. I’m currently wearing my deer stalking and trying to uncover the cause of a nice little ranking drop for an old client. If that goes well I’ll probably then switch it to my developer’s propeller topped beanie to fix the issue.

  • Lannon

    That’s a pretty accurate list I’d say, sure we can all add our 2 cents, but that’s the crux of it. I’m tempted to print this out and use it as my job description wherever I go… they’ll never understand… :)

  • Nick Stamoulis

    This is a great list. Many people don’t fully understand the scope of being an SEO. It’s not just looking at code all day long. It’s marketing and in order to do it right you really need to take the time to get to know your client and their target audience.

  • Yogesh Gautam

    It is a great post Lisa. Great explanation of vendors vs consultant. I have found some hidden identities in myself because i am a SEO Consultant.