At Internet World a few years back, I spent much of my time amazed at how the internet ‘service’ companies and consultants were repackaging relatively simple ideas as revolutionary (and costly) essentials for every online business.
SEO was a prime example – I agree that having a good digital marketeer on the books can be a valuable asset, but the bulk of their work can be done relatively easily by most companies on their own – content can be written in search friendly ways, competitors can be studied, URLs can be nicely formatted, tags can be used effectively, etc. For most small-medium sized businesses, considering their SEO needs early as part of the overall web strategy (such as in their choice of editorial style) would prevent the need to resort to some of the ‘smoke, mirrors and snakeoil’ offered by consultants.
If you are in the market for any consultancy services, do your homework first and enter into knowledgeable discussions with possible suppliers. My approach is to always be very well prepared, but often to let the consultant assume that I know nothing – it’s normally in those first few minutes that a consultant or agency with questionable skills will quickly drop into jargon and a sales-spiel that invariably puts them on to the back-foot and struggling to justify their presence once they realise that you’re actually fairly expert in the subject already.