One of the things that first attracted me to search engine marketing was the ability of small businesses to utilize new (and affordable) marketing tactics to help themselves compete with larger companies with deeper pockets. Unfortunatey, as search marketing has exploaded, so has the cost of a search engine marketing campaign. In his "Small is Beautiful" column over at Search Engine Land today, Stoney deGeyter asks "Can Small Businesses Really Afford SEO?"
I've asked myself the same question lately. While I've always had a fairly strong stable of SEMs that I refer business to, I'm finding that as time goes by and demand increases, they've all raised their rates enough that they're now out of reach for most small businesses. That's not to say these firms don't still provide a solid ROI for their clients, simply that the initial cash outlay is usually too high for the average small business owner to swallow.
(Aside: I know that you skilled and affordable search marketers are out there...start submitting articles or participating in our forums so that I can find you and start sending business your way as well.)
Stoney offers up some advice:
The trick to keeping your SEO costs down is efficiency. That can mean different things to different people. Finding the most efficient balance between time, budget and what is absolutely necessary for success, is the only way to keep your SEO campaign affordable.
Investment of Time: Time is one of the primary investments of SEO. You're either spending your own time, paying for someone else's time or a combination of both. With the vast amount of work that goes into SEO it all boils down to how much time one has, vs. how much time any particular task takes. Depending on those two factors, you then need to factor in which tasks are more urgent—more worthy of the time being invested. Focus on those first and then start working your way down to the less important tasks.
He also explains the need to invest what is necessary. You may not need to farm all aspects of your search marketing out.
For example, some companies with work with you as a consultant. These companies will put together a plan of action for your site, outlining the changes that you need to make without actually implementing them. You get the benefit of ongoing advice, but with a lower price point since you'll do most of the work yourself.
You also might consider farming out some of the work (say, keyword research and copywriting) while taking on some of the work yourself (site optimization and link building) in order to save money.
Of course you can also go hunting for one of the many skilled search marketers that focuses on doing optimization work rather than putting time toward conference speaking, blogging and networking. After all, those forms of marketing take up time and time is money. If you're traveling to speak at a show every two weeks, you have to make sure your billing rates are high enough to cover the fact that you have less time to log billable hours. Remember, just because someone doesn't speak at every major search conference doesn't mean they don't know what they are doing. That's what checking references is for.
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