How Much Should SEO Cost?

A typical SEO inquiry to Razorlight Media goes something like this:

Caller: How much will it cost to get ranked on the first page of Google's search engine results?

Me: It depends on your keywords and budget.

Caller: My budget is the cheapest possible.

Me: Then you're not going to rank on the first page.

I receive these types of calls and emails daily. Everybody wants to get first page ranking on search engines. But they want it for $200 or less a month. I’m sure there are still companies out there selling turnkey SEO services (one strategy fits all), but since last year’s Google Panda and Penguin updates, turnkey SEO no longer works. Quite frankly, it’s a waste of money. It makes better business sense to put that money towards what will work and delivers the results you want. It means recognizing that SEO is a form of marketing and just like any business marketing plan, its goals and budget need to be defined.

The New SEO Landscape

Panda Penguin Google Updates

The reasoning behind Google's Panda and Penguin updates was to improve the quality of its search results. Google was getting flak from browser users that high ranking search result websites provided no value to what they were seeking, thus diminishing Google's search value.

So Panda was designed to knock low quality sites off the top of results pages. Google defined low quality sites as those that had keyword stuffed articles, copied content from other websites, had thin content, or provided no useful information. Taking over the top spot were websites better ranked for original content and credible information.

Then the Penguin update came along with its web spam targeted algorithm that penalized sites not following Google's quality guidelines. This update went after bad SEO tactics, like keyword stuffing, adding unrelated outgoing links to content for SEO purposes and other schemes aimed solely at influencing search engine results rankings.

As a result of these changes, a lot of businesses, particularly those who relied on turnkey SEO, saw a significant drop in visitors to their websites. They also saw their search engine rankings drop to the back of the pack. But more importantly, Penguin changed the approach to SEO in getting a site ranked. For those who used to pay a turnkey SEO service to add scripts to their site to improve rankings are forced to look at SEO as a form of marketing and formulate strategies just as they do for their other marketing initiatives.

Changing Your SEO Strategy

With search engines getting stricter with the use of SEO tactics for ranking purposes, businesses need to rethink their online objectives. The goal is no longer "to rank on the first page." Rather, more reasonable goals might be: "Increase leads 20% in the next six months" or "Increase e-newsletter subscribers by 50% in the next year."

Ranking high on search engines is now focused on specific goals tied to ROI. For example, ranking on the first page for your business name is easy and inexpensive, but how valuable is it to gaining paying customers? A more specific goal might be a first page ranking for your product or service, which is a bit tougher to achieve and costs more. Likewise, the timing to reach your goals needs to be more realistic. Panda and Penguin did away with quick results from SEO strategies. Now it could take anywhere from six to 12 months to begin seeing results.

SEO that works goes far beyond keywords. It's a strategic process that involves research, planning, testing and analysis. It's about finding areas of profitability, personalizing the visitor experience, delivering expectations and having landing pages that deliver value to visitors based on their needs or the reason why they are searching in the first place. A solid SEO marketing campaign that delivers long-term results encompasses your type of business, your target market and your business goals.

So getting back to the original question: How much should SEO cost? It all depends on how much you are committed to a long-term, quality SEO marketing initiative. It's not about a fixed price or per site price. It's about how much return on investment you receive from your SEO campaign. So SEO should be viewed not as a cost, but as an investment. Therefore, the question should be: How much ROI did my SEO efforts deliver? If the amount is below the mark, then your SEO marketing firm should be held accountable.

Going forward, consider SEO not as something that will get you instant top page ranking, but rather a marketing initiative that turns visitors into paying customers and provides your business a solid return on investment over the long haul.

John Crenshaw
John Crenshaw
UFO company founder. 15+ years experience in performance marketing.
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