You’re at Victoria Park in Ontario, preparing to swing from an 80-foot cliff and fly 200 feet across Elora Gorge before rappelling down to the river like a human spider.
Your guide asks you to pick a rope.
Would you ask for the cheapest rope — or the strongest?
Will you look for the shortest length — or one long enough to reach the ground?
Yet, business owners rarely apply the same logic when it comes to making business decisions. They look for the cheapest SEO solutions, wanting to pay the lowest hourly rate, for the fewest hours just to save a few dollars.
Their business, not surprisingly, is left dangling in mid-air — with no way to land safely!
Asking how much SEO costs isn’t logical. It’s the wrong question. The same goes for comparing SEO services on a price-per-hour basis. After all, when it comes to search engine optimization, there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution.
What’s Involved In Effective SEO?
In order to help your business leverage search traffic optimally, SEO consultants must first understand your business and your goals or targets. They will have to:
- Assess risks and opportunities
- Analyze the marketplace and your competition
- Review your current activities and resources
Only then can they begin to develop a strategic SEO plan designed to rocket your business website to the front page of Google.
Each business is unique. Even within the same industry, individual companies are at different stages of growth and evolution. And, SEO services are diverse and varied.
Every marketing campaign is distinct from one another. Effective SEO service providers rarely price on a fixed-price plan — most will quote you for their work based on:
- How long they expect to spend on your optimizing your website or executing your SEO strategy
- The level of insight, knowledge and experience they bring to the table
Some SEO firms prefer being on a monthly retainer while others will contract their services at a fixed price. A few set budgets based on a specific project or might quote you a “per hour” rate.
What Should You Expect To Pay For SEO?
Pricing is never precise. Some consultants will base their quote on guesswork, often making tall claims or over-the-top promises that are difficult to fulfill. Others will be overcautious, requiring extensive analysis and a trial run or a pilot project to gain insights into what might be required before they will provide an estimate.
As a part of the preliminary assessment, you may be asked for estimates of organic search traffic, sales data and ROI metrics. This will help an SEO expert identify profitable target keywords and evaluate their conversion rate and profit potential.
The additional preparatory work might cost more, but it’s easy to justify the additional expense once you realize that it will make all subsequent SEO efforts more effective and profitable.
The SEO Litmus Test: How To Spot Quality SEO
There are some SEO service providers that peddle package deals — off-the-shelf solutions that promise a series of actions for a fixed rate. No prizes for guessing how well those work!
In contrast to these “cookie cutter” solutions are the premium, custom-designed hardcore SEO services, where specialist consultants with more than a decade of SEO experience will personally handle your account.
And then there are content management system (CMS) vendors who throw in SEO “for free” or at a “rock bottom discount.” Or the web designer whose cousin (or nephew) is a “great programmer” who can “fix” the SEO and save you a lot of money. Picking these options just because they cost less is a risk. Your aim as a business owner should be profit maximization, not cost cutting at the expense of lost sales and revenue.
The worst kind is what I call “checklist SEO,” where a vendor will follow a standardized process and go through a list of things to do, checking them off a list when they are finished. This happens more often than you might imagine and quickly leaves your business website in a sticky situation.
Instead of a sustainable, adaptive long-term plan, you’re left with a series of one-off tasks which likely won’t be relevant a year from now. Before you know it, your search rankings sink as your competition gains ground. You got “cheap SEO” — and it cost you the business!
Is Limited Service SEO A Good Deal?
So, if “cheap” SEO is bad and your budget is limited is “limited service SEO” a valid option?
Look, let’s be bluntly honest here. A good SEO consultant doesn’t just come in, tweak some text content, build a few back links and say goodbye. There’s a lot more to sustainable SEO.
SEO training is a part of the deal, so that important knowledge can be shared with your team and value added to the project. Some of my search marketing clients just want SEO “installed” or rankings achieved. That isn’t how it works.
Your future search traffic depends on understanding the rationale behind your SEO strategy, modifying your online processes to incorporate this strategy, and regularly updating your strategy to adapt to the ever-changing search landscape.
SEO Is More Than Link Building Or Even Content Marketing
Business owners sometimes view SEO as pure link building and little else. They ask for a quote to build x number of links every month and then evaluate bids based on the cost per link — without really understanding how these links are created or how link quality differs based on location.
All links are not created equal.
- Site-wide footer links differ from low-quality blogs with high outbound link counts
- Forum signatures, blog comments, press releases and social media back links have varying weight and impact on search ranking
- Links from authoritative sites are worth their weight in gold
- Great content marketing can attract links of high value and long-term benefits
There’s no single magic tool that will by itself dramatically improve your site’s ranking. Even if there once was, those days are long gone. SEO just doesn’t work that way anymore.
Modern SEO Is A Living, Dynamic Thing
As an SEO consultant, my toughest challenge is to convince business owners that SEO is not a one-off “project.” In 2013 alone, Google released 665 updates to its search algorithm or user interface. In the face of such rapid and frequent change, SEO cannot afford to remain static.
- It must adapt and evolve
- It must be nurtured and maintained
- It must expand and explore
Businesses must decide if they’re going to stay ahead of the competition or lag behind in the race to the top — and staying ahead begins by changing the way you think about SEO. If you keep flitting from one short-lived tactic to the next without understanding the big picture or SEO strategy, you’re putting your business at risk.
Sure, SEO is hard to sell or justify because it is “invisible,” and the constantly changing algorithms make it difficult to attribute results and better rankings solely to the changes you’ve made. So it is tempting to select the vendor that:
- Dazzles you with pretty pages
- Demonstrates a formulaic model of submitting X articles
- Promises to build X links
- Guarantees page 1 rankings on Google (as if anyone could control that!)
The thing is, if SEO is done by blindly following a formula or checklist, that means that your strategy is failing to take into account the unique benefits of (and challenges faced by) your business.
User Intent Has Never Been More Important
The only “guaranteed” way to reap SEO advantages for the long term is by creating focused content that addresses your prospective buyers’ burning desires or most pressing problems.
Great content can set you apart from the crowd. If it’s link-worthy, then your audience will spread it virally across their online networks. Social media is excellent for amplifying reach, bringing you quality traffic for weeks, months or even years.
Modern SEO Is Hybrid Marketing
True SEO specialists are multi-faceted marketing experts. They need deep insight, knowledge and expertise across many different areas and disciplines. This isn’t something you acquire by going to college or getting a degree. It comes from long, hard, in-the-trenches practice.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying programmers or web designers cannot become good SEO service providers. But they will need a lot of practice. A good SEO specialist should:
- Know a bit of coding
- Have a smattering of designing knowledge
- Study conversion optimization
- Understand user interfaces
- Know buyer psychology
- Learn about sales and economics
- Get familiar with Internet methodology and technology
And that’s not all.
Today’s SEO consultant needs to be an expert on Google search and stay abreast of the hundreds of yearly changes, understanding how each impacts and influences existing ranking factors.
This means you can’t judge an SEO consultant by looking at academic qualifications alone. Someone with no formal education but extensive practical experience could be 100 times more valuable to a business than a brilliant, highly qualified marketing graduate with no track record.
The SEO playing field is changing rapidly. Tactics become quickly outdated and lose effectiveness. Often, tactics that were once considered legitimate are now considered spammy and thus may incur penalties which drive down your rankings.
High quality SEO delivered in a personalized fashion by a truly versatile expert can inoculate your business against these risks — ensuring that it not only survives but thrives.
How much is that worth paying for?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.