I’ve often been asked what average consultant and agency rates are for SEO and other digital marketing initiatives. Until recently, no one really had great data on it. There’s data around how much agencies make per year, but nothing has been published around what consultants and agencies charge hourly and for minimum monthly rates.

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That changes today.

In order to not bury the lede, here are the raw numbers:

Metric Value
Overall Average Hourly Rate $171.00
Overall Median Hourly Rate $150.00
Overall Average Monthly Retainer $1,185.80
Overall Median Monthly Retainer $750.00
Consultant Average Hourly Rate $136.25
Consultant Median Hourly Rate $112.50
Consultant Average Monthly Retainer $887.50
Consultant Median Monthly Retainer $375.00
Agency Average Hourly Rate $203.08
Agency Median Hourly Rate $150.00
Agency Average Monthly Retainer $1,461.15
Agency Median Monthly Retainer $1,495.00

You can play with this interactive table to drill down by vertical type (SEO, content, etc) and see the differences between agencies and consultants:

Consultant and Agency Rate Graphs

As you can see here visually, the average hourly rate across Credo is $171 per hour. The average minimum monthly retainer project size across Credo is $1,185 per month.

Real marketing help costs real money.


Potentially interesting as well, though not surprising, is that agencies are more expensive both hourly and monthly than freelance consultants. On average, agencies charge $1,461.15 for a monthly retainer and consultants charge $887.50. Agencies charge on average $203.08 per hour while individual consultants charge $138.25.


The median breakdown is fairly similar. The overall median hourly rate on Credo is $150.00. The median hourly rate for consultants is $112.50 while the median hourly rate for agencies on Credo is $150.00, exactly the same as the overall.

Agency/Consultant vs All Median Hourly Rates

When comparing monthly retainer statistics, consultants are cheaper than both the average and median across Credo, while agencies are more expensive than the average and median.


Finally, we examined just how many consultants and agencies even state a monthly minimum. For data clarity, we put all of the consultants and agencies that price by hour as $0 because they may do small projects as well as large projects. As you can see below, almost 54% of agencies do not have a stated monthly minimum whereas 50% of consultants do not. It’s  a small difference, but one that surprised us here at Credo.


What’s The Story?

The data is cool, and we all love charts (right??), but data is useless without interpretation.

Here are the reasons that we believe agencies charge more per hour and have higher monthly retainers than consultants:

  1. Agencies are bigger and have multiple areas of expertise instead of just one or two like most freelance consultants
  2. Agencies are often able to do production of content/assets or implement their suggestions, and that hands-on work takes both time and money. If they commit a person to implementation for one client, that’s another client they cannot do it for unless they staff up, which is also very expensive. It’s an opportunity cost.
  3. Agencies have more overhead because of larger headcount, and that is passed on to clients.

Meanwhile, here are the reasons we believe consultants charge less and have lower monthly minimums:

  1. They undervalue their work and are afraid to ask for what they are worth because it might mean fewer clients short term. We expect this to change.
  2. Because they undervalue their work and charge less per hour, their monthly retainers are going to be smaller than an agency’s for the same number of hours per month.
  3. Consultants have less availability and hours to work each month (especially if they have a fulltime job as well), so they cannot take on as much work. See 1 and 2.

We hope this data was helpful for you. What are your thoughts around the differences in rates between consultants and agencies? And more interestingly, why don’t more agencies have a minimum monthly retainer/project rate?

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/john-doherty-300×300-150×150.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]John is the founder of Credo and a freelance growth marketing consultant based in beautiful San Francisco, California. He builds Credo and consults with companies worldwide on growth marketing. Formerly a head of marketing and agency consultant, he now enjoys the entrepreneur life. In his free time he spends time with his wife Courtney and their black labrador Butterbean.[/author_info] [/author]