Search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t necessarily difficult, but it can be technically complex. It also requires knowledge of hundreds of different interacting ranking variables; if something goes wrong, you need to be able to pinpoint the root of the problem, and take meaningful action to maintain progress.
While there are many excellent resources that can help you learn the basics of SEO, many entrepreneurs prefer to outsource their SEO campaign to a vendor. Though they typically cost somewhere between $1,000 to $10,000 a month, the good ones are worth it.
But what if you’re unknowingly overpaying your vendor for SEO? It can happen in a few main ways:
- You’re paying above market prices. If you’re paying more than what’s widely considered reasonable ranges, you could be overspending.
- You aren’t getting services for the full value of your money. You can also overspend if you’re paying within accepted reasonable averages, but aren’t getting as many services, or the same quality of service as you could or should be.
- You aren’t seeing adequate results. You might be paying a fair rate for fair services, but if you aren’t getting any positive results, then your ROI is negative, and thus you’re overspending.
Any of these circumstances can compromise the effectiveness of your campaign (and waste your money), so how can you tell if they’re happening?
Step 1: Look at Your Results
First, take a look at the results you’ve been getting over this period of engagement. How much of an increase in traffic have you seen? How have your rankings changed? There is, of course, a caveat to this; SEO is a strategy heavily dependent on timeframes.
During your first six months of engagement, you might see little to no results whatsoever. During your next six months to a year, you may see an explosion of results, followed by a taper of diminishing returns that level off to a steady rate of growth. Keep this growth curve in mind when judging the quality of your results.
Step 2: Calculate Your ROI
Your SEO agency may be able to boost your organic traffic, but how much is that really benefiting you? Take a look at your ROI by determining the average value per web visitoryou receive, and multiplying it by the average monthly growth in traffic your SEO agency is returning to you. Then, compare that figure to the amount you’re spending with them every month.
Are you getting more in value than you’re paying for? If you’re a year or more into a campaign, you should be. There’s only one exception here: if your web visitor value is low because you have a low conversion rate or a poor profitability model, you can’t fault the SEO agency for your low ROI.
Step 3: Analyze Your SEO Package
Work with your SEO account manager to evaluate your current package, and what services are included with it. You might be surprised to learn that there are some services missing, or that you’re entitled to certain services that you aren’t taking full advantage of.
Work to understand which of these is truly imperative for seeing more results, and which serve as extraneous fluff. Take notes here, as your package description will be important for the next step.
Step 4: Research the Competition
Use Google to research SEO agencies (after all, if they’re doing well in Google then they are more likely to be able to help you achieve your ranking goals). What types of packages are they offering? What types of prices can they give you?
Here, you should be able to determine whether your package is “normal” in terms of services and/or prices, and make a firm determination of whether you’re paying above fair market value.
Step 5: Consider Qualitative Factors
Not all value is inherently tied to objective services rendered, or even measurable results. Before finalizing your conclusion, consider how these qualitative factors may influence the value you’re getting from your current partner:
- Customer service. The extra customer service you get, including the friendliness and rapport of your account manager, can make running your campaign smoother and more enjoyable.
- Flexibility. It pays to have a partner who’s willing to make changes to your account on the fly, and who’s available for conversation at any time. It may be worth the extra money to get this.
- Commitment to results. When your campaign is straggling, how does your agency react? If they go out of their way to boost your campaign, or give you extra services, they may be worth the extra money you’re paying every month.
- History. How long have you been with this company? At some point, you may have to cut your losses, but it’s always favorable to work with an agency that’s already familiar with your brand. Starting from scratch with a new agency is a bit of a gamble, and may cost you time to warm up with them.
If you find you’re paying too much for SEO, there are a few steps you can take. If you value the people you’ve been working with, you might be able to renegotiate your contract, getting a lower price, or more services in exchange for the money. Otherwise, you can shop around for new quotes from competing agencies.
If you tell them what you’re paying, and why you’re unsatisfied with the work, they may even work doubly hard to keep you around. Just be careful not to base your decision to heavily on cost; in the SEO world, the phrase “you get what you pay for” is exceedingly true.
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