Are SEO Services Affordable or Too Expensive?

© Brian Rotsztein

Over the last few of years, search engine optimization (SEO) has become an increasingly difficult yet rewarding approach to marketing a website. While millions of dollars in revenue from “SEOed” websites continue to be generated, there exists a subset of the business owner population that believes SEO to be an expensive waste of time, energy, and financial resources.

Optimization as we know it today is still a fairly new field within website development and Internet marketing. Some companies make exaggerated claims about the reality of SEO and what they can do. If you have been taken in by them, it is truly unfortunate. But then, there exists shady companies in all areas of life, not just SEO. When was the last time you bought a furniture item, user car or a house and found out over time that it was damaged in some way? It happens all the time.

The difference is, with SEO, business owners are making an investment in future wealth. Since an extraordinary amount have unrealistic expectations from the outset, they are more likely to lash out and blame their failure to prosper extensively on the optimization company. Obviously this is not the case with every business owner but it is a very common scenario.

When you hire an SEO company, you have to see what they can do for you. It’s no different than when you call different contractors to assess who can best renovate your kitchen while offering you the most overall value, for your specific needs. In some cases you’ll find multiple able professionals while in others, only one or two will have the experience you seek.

That said, the real question is can you afford not to implement appropriate SEO techniques in your website. Are SEO services affordable, too expensive, or should they be viewed from a different perspective? That is what the rest of the article aims to discover.

Avoiding the SEO Scammers

It is important to recognize that there are a lot of SEO scammers out there. Many are claiming miracles of how they can place your website in the top positions of the major search engines within days of you hiring them.

The majority of approaches these SEO companies use are shady and many result in site penalization. Sure they can get you to the number one position on Google for a competitive keyword term. A few days later you’ll be scatching your head wondering where your site is (when in fact it was likely banned or penalized). Time to start over with a new site.

True search engine optimization takes time, patience, and know-how. Some companies offer SEO services as a side-venture. They want to build your website and to get the contract they claim that optimization is included or just a small fee beyond the cost of site development. In many cases these companies are just as guilty as the scammers in that they are not looking out for your long-term best interests.

What ARE You Paying For?

Suppose an SEO company provides quotes for their various services in a proposal. Let’s assume that the company is legitimate and does not base its approach on spamming the search engines. What are you paying for when you hire this company?

First, you are paying for expertise. The best SEO companies (whether they are individual consultants or have a team) learn something new daily and you benefit. They read up on what’s happening and immediately (or occassionally with time) adapt to the changes as needed.

As the search engines and the entire industry moves forward with tremendous speed, search engine optimization and search engine marketing (SEM) companies are doing their best to learn about the most important techniques and changes. Ever heard of MySpace? Blogging? RSS? These were once new and it was worth quite a bit to many businesses to consult and ask how they work and benefit their Internet marketing strategy. The ability to answer my clients’ questions on the spot lies in part of the fee you pay to hire me. The best SEO/SEM consultants do the studying, keeping up, and trial and error so you don’t have to. I’d almost say that point alone makes SEO services affordable!

Second, you are paying for time. A LOT of time and certainly a lot more dilligence than a non-optimized site.. It’s not easy to optimize a website properly. To really, REALLY, do it correclty, optimization takes a long time. There’s no reason a true professional should spend 40 hours on a project and get paid minimum wage or close to it. This is especially true given that the client stands to benefit with huge profits in the long run.

Moreover, the time it takes to put an optimized site together in a careful manner must be considered. Finally, many potential customers require hours of explanations before hiring a company to consult and perform the work. This is time that must be accounted for in the billing process.

An Example of Affordabilty

Here is an example from experience. One of my clients is in the manufacturing industry. The site was optimized for important keywords and the inquiries began coming in. In under a year, they began getting orders. In their industry, an order is easily $15,000-$25,000. In the case of this company, the website does not make up a large part of their business income, but it is bonus work that they would not have otherwise received.

Was it worth paying a few thousand for optimization? You bet it was! In fact, it is my contention that the more expensive the product or service being sold, the more your company stands to benefit from optimization. The Internet can be a powerful channel to add to your current source of business leads.

Another area that you are paying for is knowledge and know-how. SEO is not officially taught at any school on the planet yet it’s one of the most important parts of web design and development.

As mentioned earlier, the best SEO companies have gone through the hardships of rises and falls in search engine rankings, learned by trial and error, systematically tested ideas and continue to do so, read extensively on various ways to make a website work its way up, and so on. As someone looking to hire an SEO consultant, you probably don’t have the time to come anywhere near the experienced professionals in their level of knowledge on the topic.

Could you figure it out in your spare time? Possibly. Then again, you could also figure out how to fix your car’s engine in that time but rarely do we see people trying to do so.

There are SEO books on the market but few have the many hours needed to read about the various approaches to SEO and implement them properly. Not to mention the fact that SEO books get outdated fairly quickly. As an SEO consultant with two Master’s degrees, I credit my understanding of optimization to the systematic study of it using the high standards of academic life. Few in the business world would be as diligent and take the time to think it through. That’s why you pay the professionals to do the strategizing with and for you. The trick is to find a company that actually cares about your business, not just your paychecks.

Why Your $300 Website is Probably Worth Less Than That

If you spent a few hundred dollars on your business website, chances are no one visits. Many SEOs repeat the common story of how people “freak out” after receiving price quotes because of the cost to optimize is far beyond the initial $300 spent to get it up and host it.

Anyone can piece a bit of information together but few know most of what’s out there. The best SEO companies can explain to some degree of detail how the search engines work. Can your $300 web designer say the same? Of course not. They may tell you they do but they don’t. If they did, you’d be paying them a lot more. Any web designer can build you a non-optimized website in a fraction of the time, but will anyone see it? No and that’s the point.

By the way, this is not limited to the SEO world. It’s like that in all major job sectors.

Just one quick mention here regarding copywriting and text editing. You can hire someone to write non-sense to fill your website for a few dollars but anyone who is truly proficient at editing and writing will not work for 3 cents per word. They will put together a cohesive, well-written and researched document but it will cost more than that. It’s the same idea as discussed above and it’s relevant because useful content is the key to your website’s success.

Important Considerations

There are several important considerations regarding the price you pay for SEO services. The difference between what is affordable versus what is expensive may be based on a false foundation.

First of all, if everyone could do it, every website would be at the top. If you could fix your own car, mechanics would be out of a job.

Similarly, if real SEO was easy to do, again every site would be at the top.The reality is that top experienced SEO consultants know what they are doing and if it were easy for the average web-savvy business owner, these professionals would be closing down all over the place.

In the early days of the Internet as we know it today (having begun in the early to mid-1990s), there weren’t enough businesses with an online presence to compete with your company. Today, just about everyone is online or getting online in some format. SEO is the solution for a giant portion of businesses. There has to be some limiting factor and a process of elimination. Advanced search engine algorithms is the answer. They are working like human minds more than ever. SEOs work to deconstruct them and implement what works.

Secondly, there is simple supply and demand. There are a few thousand SEO firms in the world. Many are not that good, although the companies who hire them don’t always know that until it’s too late.

SEO Vesus Pay Per Click

There are many billions of webpages that can be optimized. The vast, vast majority are not. As more businesses find out about both SEO and pay-per-click (PPC), prices will become increasingly forbidding for the next few years.

At some point more SEO “experts” will be around, watering it down. But the PPC market will also be so competitive that it won’t pay to do that either. A larger marketing plan will be needed.

As the large brick and mortar stores are wiping out the little guy, so too can this happen on the Internet. However, online, the little guy can look like the big guy and that’s important.

It’s About Value

A third point of view is that SEO is neither too expensive or merely an affordable option. Any business consultant will tell you that there is no such thing as affordable SEO services or expensive SEO services. The real issue is the value of what you are getting.
As recently as November 2005, according the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 60 million American adults use the search engines daily. This number is creeping up on email users and represents a large jump since the study was done in 2004. Serious businesses cannot ignore these numbers as they represent the current trend among those with large purchasing power.

If you invest $2,500 and make your money back and then more within let’s say a year, that is much more valuable than paying $300 on a site from which you get no financial returns. The value of investing time and financial resources will pay off long before “cheaping out” ever will.

Food For Thought

Take this article as food for thought. With advertising, 50% of your money is wasted, you just never know which 50% it is. SEO is a necessary marketing approach that will continue to be an important online approach.

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