Whether you have a physical business that you want to attract more people to, a business that does its selling online, or simply a website where you want a larger slice of advertising revenue, you’re going to want to take advantage of Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. SEO is a powerful tool that uses keywords and links to get your website higher in the search rankings on Google, Bing, and other websites. Use SEO right, and you can get your website into the first few results of anyone’s search. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t simple, especially if you have a limited budget to spend.
In order to take full advantage of SEO and take your website to the next level, you’re going to have to hire an SEO firm that knows what they’re doing. But how much should you plan to spend on SEO? How much do large corporations, the kind that is #1 in Google results, spend on their SEO? How can you tell a great deal from what’s practically a scam?
Planning Your SEO Strategy
Before you even begin thinking about your budget for an SEO firm, you should carefully consider your SEO strategy. Not only will this help you decide what kind of firm you should be looking into, but it will also help you nail down your budget. Depending on your goals and the type of SEO that you’re asking for, the costs associated with SEO will vary wildly. Planning your strategy beforehand will ensure that you don’t waste money on a firm that doesn’t fit your needs.
In general, there are three types of SEO you’ll need to consider when planning your web strategy – on-site, off-site, and technical SEO.
On-site SEO is probably what you first think of when you hear the phrase “SEO.” It relates to the actual content of your website, including keyword optimization, target demographic research, and creating quality content. It’s also often the first thing that an SEO firm will advertise.
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Off-site and technical SEO
Technical and off-site SEO, on the other hand, is less talked about but still absolutely vital to your SEO strategy. Off-site SEO is mostly concerned with backlinks – that is, with other, relevant sites linking to your website. This shows your website to be established and trusted within your milieu. Any quality SEO firm will offer this as an option, though it may cost you an extra fee.
Technical SEO is everything that goes into your site behind the scenes – backend structure, site speed, indexing, mobile-friendliness, and security. Many SEO firms will see this as outside their specialty, so you may need to hire someone with experience in website building to help with technical SEO. It should not, however, be considered as a separate concern but as part of your overall SEO strategy.
Strategies for Hiring
According to SEO for Dummies author Peter Kent, the SEO game is “full of conjecture, misinformation, and snake oil. And when it comes to hiring for your SEO goals, you’re going to have several options, and while many of them are the right approach, inevitably others are not; so understand that you need to take countervailing viewpoint in order to make sure your team is making the right decision.” You should carefully consider your overall SEO strategy when weighing the pros and cons of these various SEO hiring options.
The first option that you have probably thought of is hiring an internal SEO specialist or team of specialists to work for your company or website full-time. This tends to be a more expensive option, but there are circumstances where it is a good investment. If you have a large business that needs full-time, dedicated SEO service, this might be the right option for you. If you need a large amount of SEO work to be done, internal hiring can be more efficient than engaging the services of a firm. Just be sure that whoever you choose has the right skills to take care of all aspects of SEO.
SEO with Marketing Strategy
If you’re not just looking to improve your SEO but your overall marketing strategy, many content marketing agencies offer SEO services, either as part of their base package or as an add-on. This is a great option if you already have a marketing agency on the payroll and need SEO help quickly. One disadvantage, however, is that SEO isn’t their main specialty, and therefore you may get substandard service. This is also a more expensive option if you don’t want the other content marketing services.
An SEO-specific firm, on the other hand, tends to have the best quality of SEO service due to specializing in this area. They will often have experts in the different types of SEO, meaning that you’ll be able to easily diversify your SEO strategy. You also will have more options when it comes to packages and pricing than with the other strategies. Unless you’re a massive business or looking for a simple SEO fix, you’ll probably want to go with an SEO-specific firm to fulfill your SEO strategy.
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How Much Should You Spend for SEO?
The vast majority of SEO firms will ask for a monthly price, which your business or website will find easy to work into its budget as a predictable expense. This price varies wildly, however, and in order to get the best possible SEO service while not destroying your budget, you’re going to have to learn what to expect at each price point.
Less than $500/month
If you see an SEO firm that offers its services at less than $500 per month, you shouldn’t bother with them at all. Unless you’re a small, local business that knows its own competitors, you won’t get the dedication or the expertise that you need to find out who your competitors are and how to beat them in the search rankings. These companies will automate processes that need personal attention to be effective and outsource their work overseas.
$1,000 to $5,000 per month
On the other hand, a small, local business will probably be well served by paying between $1,000 and $5,000 a month for an SEO package. This amount will generally guarantee consistent content for your website and a certain degree of link building. Just know that, on the lower end of this scale, the quality of work you get will be suboptimal. This amount per month generally means that you’re hiring a smaller company or an individual, which comes with a certain degree of personal attention but can mean a lower amount of work and lower standards.
$5,000 to $10,000 per month
$5,000 to $10,000 per month, on the other hand, tends to get you great quality SEO for any small to medium-sized company. These SEO firms will have a variety of specialists on staff, which means that you’ll get better quality content creation, web development, and link outreach than if you’re relying on a few individuals. While the price tag may seem a bit hefty, especially if you’re a smaller business, this is generally the price range you’re looking at for quality work at a relatively lower price.
If you want an aggressive SEO strategy and have a larger budget to spend, there are packages in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. This is often the budget of smaller national brands, and it will get you an experienced SEO team that will be able to give you high-quality results. If you’re trying to crack the first page of Google results in a very competitive keyword or market, this level of investment in SEO can pay dividends in the long run.
Red Flags for Bad SEO Practices
Since SEO services have such a low barrier of entry, you should keep an eye out for these bad SEO practices. No matter what level of financial investment you’re looking to put into your SEO strategy, it won’t do you any good to hire an incompetent or scam SEO firm.
First, be wary of firms that promise instant results. SEO is often a long game; even the best strategies often take around six months to make their results known. If an SEO firm is overpromising and talking about fast results without a detailed SEO strategy, then there’s a chance that they’re using shortcuts that can actually hurt your SEO in the long run.
One of the most damaging of these shortcuts is using quick link-building techniques. Google and other search engines see organic backlinks as a sign that a website is trusted and quality. This means that link-building cheats like spamming large numbers of links, faking email lists, and buying massive amounts of followers can have an initial effect on your rankings but fail you in the long run. Google will even penalize you for suspicious link-building, sometimes going so far as to blacklist your website from their searches.
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Ultimately, the best way to find a quality SEO firm that will help your website rise to the top is to look at its track record. Ask any firm you’re considering for client references. Then use various search engines in Incognito mode to see whether their strategy is showing results. Contact those references and ask about what kind of service you can expect. You should also ask the firm for an idea of what their strategy for your business would be. This will ensure that you are on the same page.
You don’t need the same budget to spend as a massive national corporation to get great SEO results. Consider your budget and your goals carefully. You too can find your website in a great position for getting the links your business needs.