When performing SEO on a site there are literally an endless number tactics, strategies, changes and combinations that can be implemented to help you achieve search engine rankings. Google alone analyzes hundreds of different factors, all to varying degrees, when determining how it ranks pages in the SERPs. Once you get outside the realm of looking only at achieving search engine rankings, a near infinity of factors come into play as you look for ways to improve traffic, draw targeted visitors and improve conversion rates.
The interesting thing about SEO, and even website marketing as a whole, is that making a change or two here or there may not make much, if any, difference. But it's the combination of changes that often total up to create a meaningful result. Sometimes its about hitting the right combination of changes, other times it's just a matter of changing a few things that you know tend to work time after time.
Successful SEO requires a tremendous investment of time. To say that SEO is a full time job is a vast understatement. One can spend weeks or months dedicated to learning and employing just the more common aspects of SEO. Add to that the learning curve in credible implementation of copywriting, link building, usability testing, data analysis, and the myriad of social networking opportunities that seem to spring up over night, and you can see why today's SEO is not just one, but several, full time jobs!
Get into the investment mindset
Because of the overwhelming number of options SEO presents, many small business are like a dear caught in the headlights. They don't know where to begin or even how to start the process of finding some help.
Hiring a good consultant or firm for a short-term SEO campaign can cost more than a small business owner has in their total yearly marketing budget. On the other hand, to attempt to perform optimization in house, one finds that there is often an insufficient amount of time available for both that and running the business effectively. There are only so many hours in the day!
The small business owner has three options: Do it yourself, hire someone to do it, or hire someone to teach them how to do it. The path chosen is most often dictated by money and time.
If the small business has the money, the route most often chosen is hire someone to perform the SEO for them. This frees up the time needed for the business owner to run the business.
The cost of SEO should not be considered without a full understanding the value behind the work being performed. Such value should be determined by the quality of the information gathered, the skill of the person implementing the information and the ability of the implementation to achieve positive results. Paying more does not necessarily mean that you get more value. On the other hand, rarely can you find great value on the cheap.
It's important to ensure that you're paying only for what is necessary. There are a lot of components to SEO, but not all of them will be needed at any particular time, if at all.
The most successful SEO campaigns utilize various forms of online marketing, but success itself is not determined merely by doing everything possible. Success comes from doing the right things at the right time in the right way. If you can determine what avenues of SEO need to be pursued for your campaign, then you'll ultimately reduce the "cost" involved in getting results.
With any job in life you're either spending your own time, paying for someone else's time (or a combination of both.) With the 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 and most worthy of the time investment needed.
If time is in short supply the only real options are to hire a consultant for SEO guidance or sub the work out completely. The more abundant time is for the business owner the more SEO work they can take on themselves and "save" on SEO expenses in the process.
Invest what you have into what you need
While money makes the business world go round, time is often our most valuable resource. Money is renewable, time is not. Either way, every business owner must analyze their time and money resources to determine which route is best for them.
The one thing that must be kept in mind whichever route is chosen is that SEO is an investment. Too often businesses look at their marketing budgets as an expense, when instead they should be looking at them as an investment that brings in a return. As with any investment, it must be carefully tracked, analyzed and determined if it brings in a positive ROI.
Another component of time comes into play regardless of who performs your SEO and that is simply one of waiting. Very few sites can become an overnight success. Any investment you make into SEO must consider the period of time it takes for SEO changes to work through the system. The length of this time can vary on a number of factors so you should have understanding of this before you even start.
Make the investment work for you
Most investments don't give you an immediate return. SEO is no different. Many small business owners fail to understand that in order to succeed online a significant investment must be made. Gone are the days when you could throw up a website and expect to become an overnight success. Most of today's overnight business success are back by investments in time, money, resources or any combination of those.
While starting and running a business online is easier than off-line, the investment considerations should be no less. And with that, you must decide how, when, and where to invest your resources; whether those be financial, personal time, or whatever else you have available to you.
If one chooses to hire a consultant or firm, she must consider what that firm will ultimately provide in terms of benefits and, ultimately, return on investment. The fist thing many companies look at when looking to hire a firm is the cost. Making a choice such as this on budget considerations alone is a decision based on faulty logic. You must choose a firm based on the tasks you want accomplished. If "top rankings" are your desire, then you can probably hire relatively cheaply. But if you are looking for a more solid marketing plan that considers reputation and conversions as a measure of success, you'll likely shell out a lot more marketing dollars.
Conversely, if a small business owner chooses to optimize the site themselves, I suggest taking baby steps through the process. Set aside a specific amount of time each day dedicated to the education and implementation of SEO strategies. Don't worry about the all the peripherals such as social media, link building, etc. but instead start by focusing on the on-page aspects of search engine optimization.
As you learn, don't take a single source as gospel. Find multiple sources that can confirm each other and also take in opposing opinions. These can only serve to confirm what you believe is the right approach. But most importantly, learn by doing, testing, and analyzing what you have done. Don't expect big immediate payoffs, but be patient as you work through the SEO process and its implementation of your site.
Finally, if you were to choose a hybrid option, hiring someone to guide you through the process you can get some hands-on expert advice while at the same time saving money by implementing yourself. This can eliminate a lot of the guesswork and even trial and error, though some of that always exists.
Invest what you can and re-invest what you get
Depending on the size of your site and the amount of time you can dedicate to it each day, the latter two options may take you several months to a year to "perfect" the on-page optimization. But once you get through the on-page factors, you can start learning more about the off-page factors.
Again, baby steps are required here lest you become overwhelmed. SEO is literally a sea and if you try to take it all in you'll likely drown in it. Instead, just take a small area to learn and master as best you can before moving on.
The decision you make in how best to invest your optimization campaign is of great consequence to the long-term success of your business. It doesn't matter if its in-sourced or out-sourced, either way, realistic expectations must be in place and your decision must be based on the ability to meet those expectations.
One problem I find with many business that don't think of their SEO as an investment, is that it is often the first thing that gets cut during lean times. We've seen business after business cut their SEO and SEM marketing budgets and therefore cutting profits right along with it. Expenses can be cut to save money. Investments, when cut, only cuts into profits.
As a small business owner, you have to move forward in a way that is best for you, not just today, but a year from now, and five years from now as well. In any case, never be afraid to step beyond your boundaries if you believe the yield will be beyond your expectations. By moving forward, considering your investment options in SEO, you'll be better prepared to succeed in both good times and bad.
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.
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