The True Cost of Quality SEO
As any digital marketing manager or business owner will tell you, the world has turned a corner. Where once it was enough to be savvy at greasing the proverbial palm and grinning a lot at the right people, you now need something else, namely lots and lots of digital acumen. In today’s hyper-connected world, people grab their cell phones or hop on their PCs before they step outside, and the Internet has replaced word of mouth as the primary vector for trends and information. Put plainly, if you want your business to have a prayer, you need the big G on your side – and we’re not talking the Sunday school version…True SEO Cost Guide | Table of Contents:
For the uninitiated, SEO (search engine optimization) is the art and practice of positioning your business well within the results of Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other major search engines. While it might seem an insurmountable task to work out a quality, cost-effective SEO plan, if you’re reading this guide, then there’s good news: It’s not only possible to do so, but once you know what things actually cost in real terms, success becomes an almost facile achievement. Things that seemed so grim before – cost estimations, marketing trajectories, and the like – will simply fall into place, and your business will flourish like a flower after a soft spring rain. Of course, first you need the right information, and for that, you’ll have to keep reading.
Don’t Hire For Price, or You’ll Pay DearlyThe first and most costly mistake a business owner can make is lacking understanding, both in a general sense and in terms of what it will take to make their SEO efforts come to fruition. We’re talking optimization of search results, not “meh” results, so why would you hire an SEO firm based on anything but the solid, well-formed goals for your business? So many people hire their teams based on price alone, or because of price and the recommendation of a friend / colleague, or for some other reason, and then react with surprise (and much wailing and gnashing of teeth) when their money and time disappears in a puff of smoke. Make no mistake: You literally can’t afford to hire an organic SEO agency on the basis of anything other than its compatibility with your commercial goals and its ability to carry those goals forward. There’s nothing wrong with considering the advice of those you trust, or looking at prices, or taking auguries, or doing whatever else you want to do, but you must make those things secondary to the goals of your business.
There are a couple of routes you can take when hiring a firm; you can see sample paths below.
Hiring from Within: Hiring from within your own organization can save you lots of problems over the long haul – it’s a matter of preference, really. Would you rather hunt down a reliable contact in the wider business world, or have one groomed by your own hand who’s ready and waiting to serve? If it’s the latter, be advised that initial SEO costs can be quite high, with training and salary packages mounting well into the six-figure range, and that you’ll almost certainly need to give your new hire some support staff. Of course, once planted by training, the skills are there forever, much like a Google-approved fruit tree. It’s up to you to decide if you want to make the investment in time, money, and manpower to grow such an orchard.
Content Marketing Plus: Not every firm will do this, but many content marketing agencies will happily tack on WordPress SEO services to your existing order if you let it be known that you need some work done in that area. This is a great time saver for folks who need site content, social media presence escalation, or other content related services, yet could also benefit from search engine exposure and modulation. You should understand, however, that content marketing shops are just that – content marketers. When they offer SEO services at all, it’s as a secondary courtesy. As such, it may be rather expensive to procure, and you should monitor it carefully to make sure you’re getting what you need when compared to a dedicated SEO agency.
SEO-Only Firms: A dedicated SEO firm is the gold standard when it comes to hiring your SEO work out to others. After all, this is their bread and butter. They do work like yours every single day, and as such, they know all the best tips, tricks, and tactics to keep your SERPs ranking the best it can be (and in compliance with the search engines’ ever-shifting regulatory codices). Due to their expense, however, and because of the fact that these firms only deal with larger, more multi-faceted projects, they tend to be reserved for and by larger, more established concerns.
What’s This Going to Cost Me?, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Pay My SEO Company
When asking how much a search engine optimization campaign will cost, one answer doesn’t necessarily fit all. That’s because in addition to the fact that no organization’s needs and desires for their future are exactly the same, a variety of payment and billing options exists when it comes time to pay the piper for services rendered.
What a Retainer will Buy You
Assuming you haven’t chosen to hire / promote an SEO team from within the ranks of your own organization, putting an outside agency on retainer is a time-honored way to go about the task of getting this facet of your business put in order. As with costs in general, there are a number of options here; a representative sample can be found below.
* $500 USD per month: This is the realm of mom and pop shops, would-be YouTube superstars, and most dangerously, complete and total frauds. The world is awash in people who are perfectly willing to scam you with promises of cheap SEO miracles, but that’s exactly what they are – scams. Unless you’re doing business in Mayberry (and thus have no need of a true impact beyond your tiny sphere of influence), it’s worth your time and effort to loosen up the purse strings.
* $1,000-$5,000 USD per month: This is the lower portion of the range into which the majority of businesses looking for SEO falls. According to this infographic from Ask Your Target Market, Inc. and Forbes Magazine, the greater part of the SEO community is concentrated on serving the needs of folks in the so-called middle class of the business world. In the one to five-thousand dollar USD / month range, you’ll most often find SEO firms who, while legitimate, are likely newer or smaller themselves. This presents a problem, in that you get a more boutique experience, but you may not get the reach and feature set you require. SEO is about consistency and balance, and while a firm whose asking price is in this range can deliver that, they will bear more scrutiny than a larger, more expensive outfit with a greater reach and larger operating capacity (at least at first).
* $5,000-$10,000 USD per month: In the upper middle range, you’ll find companies in this budgetary range. Paying a retainer of this scale will net you a solid mid-sized SEO company, often with their own in-house teams of writers, analysts, web developers, and more. As an aside, don’t be afraid to ask for proof of past successes; any company asking for a retainer of this size should have a nice portfolio for you to look at with independently verifiable results.
* $10,000-$20,000 USD per month: If you’re willing and / or able to shell out a retainer of this size each month, then congratulations! You’re probably a company on the order of Nike, Apple, or Facebook (or poised to become one), and the future is looking very bright. Unfortunately, you might be “blobbing” on your SEO goals. What’s blobbing, you ask? It’s an old gaming term for getting too big too fast, or for growing to quite a large size and then not knowing what to do next, and it’s in the latter sense that we’ll be talking about it. Many companies of significant size collapse under their own weight due to a lack of direction. Luckily, when you’re working with a budget this large, you can partner with a top-level SEO firm that will help you pull down a favorable position for even the most relevant and competitive keywords in your niche(s). They’ll also be able to formulate an overall plan / strategy for your business that will provide you with a frame to build on for months or even years to come, propelling you safely and surely into the future.
“Choose Your Own Adventure” Pricing
According to Forbes Magazine, the a la carte / pick your price model of SEO reselling and budgeting has become the most popular payment model of all available options, and why not? After all, it allows for precisely tailored packages and cent-specific budgeting. You can check out a couple of the things a la carte pricing can buy you below.
* Consultation ($100-$300 USD per hour): A freelanced SEO consultant of any skill and reputation will cost you at least one hundred dollars an hour; price floors and ceilings may vary based on your company’s actual niches and targeted keywords, the age (in business terms) of your chosen consultant, your company’s precise goals, and so forth.
* Employee Costs ($50,000-$120,000 USD per annum): From time to time, it may come to pass that your organization needs specific services related to specific tasks, yet the hiring of an entire organic SEO firm would be prohibitive or wasteful in terms of resources. For those occasions, it’s time to hire your own employees. Whether they be contract or standard full-time hires, you ought to consider these new acquisitions to be investments rather than “one-off purchases”; this will put you in the right frame of mind to utilize them to their fullest potential while minimizing the sticker shock related to the salaries of some of the more premium, pricier options (SEO managers, for instance, can cost nearly a quarter million dollars a year if they have the relevant experience!).
SEO Perils and Pitfalls: A Hiring Guide
Every business venture carries an element of risk along with it, including SEO. Still, a lack of vigilance here can be every bit as perilous as outright mistakes in budgeting and the like. After all, everybody knows not to pay somebody for lackluster results, but in a business like SEO, where everything is essentially done on spec, it can be hard for the inexperienced business owner to know if they’re being taken. Sadly, you can’t rely on a handshake and the good word of your prospect – you need to do your due diligence. Don’t be afraid to ask for samples! In fact, don’t be afraid to do an on-the-spot mini-interview before you give anyone any money. The good firms won’t mind. They’ll understand it as their part of the cost of doing business.
For the curious, the fine folks over at Digital Current have offered up a template. Use it to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. In the meantime, you can get a taste of potential red flags you ought to be looking for in every SEO agency you’ve got a mind to work with by looking below.
The “SEOcerer’s” Apprentice: SEO is a chess match, and anyone who tells you different is feeding you a line. If the company you’re thinking of working with claims to offer results that are hot, fresh, and waiting at your door in 30 minutes or less, run the other way. Properly executed SEO can take months to mature, so be patient, because you can have a pizza delivered, or you can get a great SEO campaign, but you can’t have both.
Link-Building with a Distinctive Odor: This one’s easy to spot and easy to avoid. If a company suggests (or offers) the purchase of bulk links, email lists, social media properties or followers, or other such social media elements, drop them like a hot coal! This is one of the oldest tricks in the book for short-term gains, and while it isn’t strictly illegal (and yes, while it even works in the beginning), all of the major search engines will audit you faster than you can say “de-indexed”. In short, if you try to cheat, not only will you not see your web properties at the top of Google, Yahoo, Bing, and so forth, but you risk having them taken down altogether. A firm of good reputation won’t sully themselves or you by such tactics.
“Budget” Options: This is a tricky one. On the one hand, you get what you pay for, so an SEO firm offering their services at prices significantly below market rates might indicate a lack of experience, a damaged reputation, an inability to perform, or all of the above. On the other hand, the offering of deep discounts by newer, smaller firms is an age-old method of attracting start-up business and establishing a book of clients to show off to future prospects. To differentiate between the two, you’ll need to do your homework, and probe with pointed questions designed to sniff out the bad apples from the honest up-and-comers.
“Luxury” Options: At the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got firms who charge an arm and a leg for their SEO services, but they’re actually rather evasive if you want to know precisely what those services are. They’ll whisper sweet nothings, take your money, delay, delay, delay, and in the end, you might have moved up one position in the search engine rankings if you’re lucky. Just because someone says they’re a luxury outfit doesn’t make it true, even if they charge a retainer to match. Don’t be shy about asking for references, samples of past work, and other proof that they can deliver on the promises that they make.
You Can Just Put it on Repeat… Right?: One of the most deceptive things about quality SEO and the paying of money for such is the idea that you can find an agency, firm, or a la cart team with proven chops, hire them, and because they’ve got samples of SEO strategies and solutions that worked for their past clients, similar (or identical) options will work for your own company. This is entirely false. The optimization of your search profile is not a one size fits all endeavor; it takes careful planning and management, like a bonsai tree. Don’t trust a company that works off of a template. Instead, you should only partner with firms who are specifically dedicated to tailoring their strategies and platforms to you and your needs.
Conclusion / Closing Thoughts
SEO can be a labyrinthine world, but as with most other things, education and preparation are the keys to success. With that view in mind and with this guide in hand, hiring the best talent for the most realistic prices just got a lot easier. Thanks for reading, and best of luck!
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5-26-2016 Launch Date 05:00