"There will be fat years and there will be lean years. But it is going to rain." --Don Draper, Creative Director, Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency

The fictional character on the TV show Mad Men, when speaking to the executives of London Fog, makers of rain coats, made this very astute assessment of their business. In the age of the web, this could easily be reworded, "There will be fat years and there will be lean years. But people are going to search."

We are currently in a lean economy, and many businesses are feeling the crunch. But millions of people continue to flock to search engines every day to find, learn and purchase. The question then becomes, who will they find, what will they learn, and will they purchase from you or your competition?

Boil that down and you get one glaring question that every small business needs to answer: Can you afford SEO? Or to put it in even starker terms:

Can you afford not to SEO?

The first thing many small businesses think about is cost. As more and more avenues for online marketing present themselves, costs of total inclusive SEO services can be quite hefty. SEOs charge anywhere from $50 to $1000 per hour, and SEO itself can be very time intensive, make it an expensive venture. Whether you're doing it yourself, engaging a consultant, or hiring an all-inclusive firm to manage everything for you, you will always be faced with the time/money issue.

If you are looking to keep SEO costs down while also wanting the benefit of having a website that gets you exposure, then you need to have a plan of attack.

There are four basic ways to approach SEO: Full-Service, Partial-Service, Assisted-Service, and Self-Service.

"Everybody can relax, I found the car. Needs some suspension work and shocks. Brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear-end... Also new rings, mufflers, a little wiring." (Full-Service SEO)

This will be your most expensive option and basically allows you to take an almost completely hands-off approach to your SEO. You are turning the reigns of the campaign over to an SEO firm or consultant and trusting them to do whatever is necessary to get your rankings.

Depending on your contract your SEOs will either provide you recommendations, will be responsible for making all necessary changes themselves, or a combination of the two. Your input will be needed throughout the campaign but the SEO will be the driving force behind what needs to be done.

Full-service SEO is as expensive as it needs to be to get the job done right. The SEOs have to be prepared to invest the hours to implement all aspects of the campaign. Like most businesses, you'll likely pay higher rates for more highly skilled SEOs. But you'll often get the results to match. If you think a particular proposal is too expensive then you need to take an honest evaluation of your site's needs to see if some of the other options might better fit your budget.

Just change the d**n oil, I don't need new wipers! (Partial-Service SEO)

Partial service SEO can come in many different forms. Essentially, both you and the SEO determine what it is your site needs and that's what you focus on. Do you want social media, website architecture analysis, wire framing, copywriting, keyword research, link building, or a combination of these or other services?

This type of program generally allows you to pay for each service individually. That doesn't mean it will be "cheap" but you know exactly how much each service will cost. You get a much smaller--but more highly focused--effort but never the complete and full package.

It's essentially like putting together a puzzle. You look for the piece that you think you need next and pay to have that done. Then you move on to the next piece. You can control your costs better, but you will often get results at a slower pace. On one hand you won't be paying for any services you don't need, on the other, you're not getting services you do need, at least not yet.

The key to managing partial-service SEO strategies is to set your expectations and know what you'll walk away with. The information gathered from a site analysis, competitor analysis or a keyword research report can be invaluable for your long-term success.

Hey buddy, can you give me a hand over here? (Assisted-Service SEO)

Assisted-service SEO is really no more than doing it yourself with the help of a consultant to guide you through the process. You'll be doing much of the work yourself, or whoever's job it is to implement the SEO's recommendations in your company, but you can often get a lot of great advice far cheaper than with contracted SEO.

Hiring an SEO to consult gives you the freedom to pay as you go and only for what you need. As soon as you have all the information you can handle, you're done. When you need more you go back and pay for another round. While SEOs can be expensive on an hour by hour basis, the information you get can be long lasting and provide dividends for many months and years to come.

I don't need any of your %^$&* help! (Self-Service SEO)

This is where you are on your own. You can read blogs, visit forums, attend conferences and enroll in workshops, but when the lights fade, you're left to your own devices. With self-service SEO you'll save money but you'll also spend a lot of your own time. More times than not, self-service SEO ends up being the most costly route of them all. You won't be spending cash, but you are spending valuable time doing something that you have to learn along the way. Not to mention the money spent on the books, conferences, seminars, etc.

There is nothing wrong with doing it yourself, just be sure you know what you're getting into. For most business owners it's a temporary measure at best, but be sure that you're getting the return on your non-financial investment.

SEO can always be affordable

SEO doesn't have to be expensive. The cost of SEO is relative to the return you receive. To some, anything more than a few hundred dollars can seem expensive. But if the value returned on that few hundred is several thousand dollars, then it's not so expensive after all. The same holds true if you invest several thousands of dollars. It's only expensive until you get multiple thousands in return.

A little can go a long way. SEO often has much more value than the sum of its parts. The more time, energy, knowledge and skill you invest (yours or a consultants), the more exponential the returns tend to be. The idea is to invest what you can, where you can, when you can. And when the returns come, reinvest that even further to expand your campaign and your return on investment. As long as your marketing campaign is returning a positive ROI, then the true cost of SEO is affordable.

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.

October 22, 2009

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


I created a SEO Resource and wanted to say I like your article. It's a common misconception that SEO is expensive and time consuming to do and it really isn't. I agree with you that you can't not afford to do it cause it will cost you more in the long run.

If you know what you are doing, then it can yield tremendous benefits.

Just wanted to say thanks!

Self service SEO is not that much of time burner. You can reach top10 position on google on niche subjects only investing an hour a day. The only thing it requires from you is to be serious and keep doing it on a daily basis.

Self service SEO can be done unless you have no other things to do its really a time consuming job. also hard to maintain if you want to be at the top list

Most consumers look online before making a purchase. If you want to stand out and get noticed by potential customers, SEO is the only way to shine through search engine clutter. It can also be inexpensive if you are willing to do the work yourself, but a lot of time must go into it if you want to do it right. This includes updates and keeping up with new keywords that can be used to search for your product or service. Outsourcing SEO work may be ideal for a company that does not have the time to update keywords.

I think people can do their own market research and depending on competition, find an seo in thei price range. No one really needs a $1000 an hour seo person unless they have huge sites they need ranked for terms with several million competing sites.

This is a great article. We are looking for someone to redesign our website. Do you have some idea about SEO as well? What is an ideal time frame to get recent page ranking?


Thanks for the rundown. Personally, reading some blogs and watching webinars have been very useful for me. Not only that I gain knowledge and able to update myself with the current trends around the blogosphere, I also understand and become knowledgeable enough in making decisions about SEO strategies. I think it is good to be personally involved with the SEO process itself. Although it took some of my time, it’s worth it, based from the tons of ideas I gained from collaborating with professionals.

Alex =)

Interesting post!

Because the majority of people who had been cautious in paying for services at economic downturn period, I've developed a service that is partly done by me and partly by my clients. I tell them what part they can do themselves and how to do it to get good benefits.

As a matter of fact, there are so many to do to promote a site that paying for all of it won't be easily affordable for everyone.

Really, Search engine optimisation is required for any E-Business now a days.

I suggest you get your SEO involved before you begin site development so they can ensure the site is developed to be search engine friendly. As for time-frame, it all depends on the industry, competition and keywords.

Another great and informative article. Good SEO takes time to achieve and putting lots of effort in to keep the rankings steady but doesn't have to be expensive. Some clients could be optimising a few keywords and still come up in the top ten along with companies that pay for many more keywords.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Affording SEO in Tough Economic Times