One of the biggest concerns I find with business owners and marketers apprehensive about starting a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign is the cost; they’re worried they may end up paying too much for an SEO agency or for a full-time hire, and will fail to see a positive ROI on their investment.
On one hand, it’s an understandable concern; an agency can cost as low as several hundred and up to tens of thousands of dollars a month. If you don’t see a return on that investment, it could be devastating for a small business.
However, qualified agencies are more than capable of generating a substantial return on investment. A bigger danger is actually investing too little in your campaign, falling behind while your competitors outpace you. I typically see this manifest with business owners opting for the cheapest services they can find, which usually ends up hurting them more than helping.
But is trying to save money on an SEO strategy bad? And how cheap is “too cheap,” anyway?
Let’s dig in.
The Dangers of “Cheap” SEO
There’s nothing wrong with finding a good deal on SEO; the challenge is ensuring you’re getting something of value in return for your investment, and this is often difficult for business owners with little SEO experience.
The SEO industry is full of self-proclaimed experts and gurus who toss around industry lingo that’s lost on industry newcomers. If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Excessively cheap services can often lead to the following:
- Poor content. Content is the main fuel that makes SEO strategies effective. High-quality content increases your site’s conversion rate, builds your reputation, earns you links, and increases the number of indexed pages on your site. However, it takes time to research, write, and edit high-quality material, and that costs money. If you pay $200 for an article, you can bet a highly experienced writer on the other side will be spending at least a couple of hours on it, including research, writing, and professional editing. If you pay $10, you’ll end up with hastily written garbage, which not only won’t benefit your website, it’ll actually just hurt your brand’s reputation and may even get your site penalized.
- Black hat techniques. There are hundreds of things you can do to improve your website’s SEO (here are 101 of them), and not all of them are good. Some are what’s called “black hat” techniques, and they deliberately go against Google’s standard policies. Some black hat techniques include keyword stuffing and link spamming, which were once effective ways of increasing your search rankings but now are more likely to earn you a penalty. These tricks may get you a short-term boost, but they’ll burn you in the long run.
- Plateaus. Cheap agencies are often composed of inexperienced, low-wage staff, which means you’ll have fewer options and less talent on your side when you inevitably hit an SEO plateau. When you stop seeing forward momentum, you’ll need to analyze your current situation and try something new to break out—and only seasoned experts will be able to help you do it.
So how can you tell if an SEO agency is “too cheap” or just a really good deal?
Too Good to Be True?
It sounds clichéd, but you can usually trust your instincts when you first encounter an agency; if the deal sounds like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Look at other, similarly sized agencies and see what they’re charging. Gather several quotes and compare them.
If one is drastically lower than the other, it probably isn’t performing quality services. If it’s making big promises that don’t seem feasible—they probably aren’t.
Do Your Research
Beyond that, if you’re suspicious of an agency or if you want to see if it’s worth its salt, do your research to learn more:
- History. First, look to see how long the agency has been around. While some new agencies are capable of doing good work for a good price, there’s value in an existing reputation. If an agency has been around for 10 years, with a reputable blog and a host of clients, they’re probably a safer bet.
- Knowledge. Get on the phone and talk to the people you’ll be dealing with. How knowledgeable do they sound? Are they familiar with black hat techniques, and the latest Google updates? Do they seem to prioritize the importance of high-quality work over production quantity?
- Case studies. Ask to see some case studies of past clients. They should be able to produce at least one client for whom they’ve grown traffic consistently over time. They should also be doing SEO for themselves—so take a look at how they rank compared to their competitors.
- Reviews. In Google, search the name of the agency to find reviews and reports online. Are there any disgruntled or unsatisfied customers? Those can be major red flags.
- Communication. Finally, pay attention to how easy it is to communicate with this agency. Are you able to get in contact with someone immediately? Are they clear and easy to understand? Or do they speak ambiguously, and try to change the subject when you ask them questions about their services? This should speak volumes about the agency’s priorities and experience.
There are thousands of SEO agencies out there, and all of them offer unique service levels and pricing. Your goal shouldn’t be to spend as much as possible, but rather to invest money in the service that’s going to get you the best results. It will take time to find the best fit for your business—so do your research, and don’t jump on the first “good deal” to cross your path.
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