Every once in a while my company comes across a web marketing prospect looking for SEO, link building and social media services to get their uber-competitive keywords ranked #1 on Google. And then the bomb drops - their budget is a whopping $500! Whenever I come across these people who want so much for so little I want to wave my magic wand, click my heals together and rub the magic lamp sitting on my desk so that I can wish for an intravenous injection of whatever kool-aid they've been drinking.

Good SEO isn't cheap, but that doesn't mean it has to be expensive, either. Getting a quality SEO campaign isn't so much about cost as it is about the value that the SEO campaign brings to the site. If the SEO campaign is profitable, then it really doesn't matter how much it costs. Heck, if someone could promise me $5 in return for every $1 I spend, I'd mortgage my house, my car and even my brother to pull together every bit of cash I have. Unfortunately, I've already mortgaged my brother, and even the best SEOs cannot make such guarantees!

SEO Investment is not about the cost but the ROI

But that doesn't mean SEO isn't profitable. Done right, it is. In fact, SEO is one of the least expensive forms of marketing out there. Why so many website owners still refuse to invest as heavily in SEO as they do other marketing, I'll never know.

Many small businesses spend more on building their website then they do on turning it into a business generator. Without SEO, your website is just a brochure. But an optimized website is a lead generator and a ridiculously awesome sales machine. Brochures are great and all, but I'd put my money on sales!

But many small businesses are "strapped" for money to invest into marketing. I get it, I've been there. But marketing has to be seen as an investment, rather than an expense. Smart investments are not always cheap investments. You can play the penny stocks all day and make $5, or you can invest in a company that's going to return dividends of thousands.

Can Small Businesses Afford SEO?

Many small business owners want enterprise level SEO for pennies on the dollar. You don't have to look too hard to find an SEO that's offering cheap SEO services. But you also don't have to look much further to find SEOs that provide cheap SEO services with very little optimization value.

Quality SEO isn't difficult but it does take both knowledge and the time necessary to implement that knowledge. Essentially, SEO is a combination of research, diagnosis and implementation. All three of these are necessary to create an effective optimization campaign.

SEO without Research is Like...

Imagine for a second you bought a vehicle and you want to enter it into a race. You take it to a mechanic and ask him to make it a winning vehicle. There are a couple things the mechanic needs to know: 1) What kind of race will you be entering? 2) What are the vehicle specifications or requirements for that particular race?

Without getting getting answers to these questions, you might find your vehicle is prepped for the wrong kind of race. You might have paid $500 to be the winner of the pinewood derby! Yay!

Everybody wants to be a winner, but unfortunately, that's $500 wasted because your mechanic (SEO) didn't do the needed research - not only find out what you're racing against, but also to figure out what needs to be done to get your vehicle (website) prepared to compete properly.

SEO without Diagnosis Is Like...

Let's say you brought your car to a mechanic because you've been having problems. The first thing the mechanic does is try to diagnose the problem. In some cases, this process can be amazingly simple, but in others, it can be incredibly difficult.

There are a lot of tools available to help you diagnose website problems, but these may not always find the core problem. Or they might find multiple problems. A good SEO needs to be able to identify and diagnose issues, and this ability comes from spending time educating themselves about good website marketing strategies. You don't know what's wrong if you don't really know what's right.

Show a website to a "cheap" SEO and they might tell you that your tags need to be better optimized. Show the same site to an experienced SEO and they might spend a couple hours doing some digging to find the real problem. The more educated the SEO is, the more likely he or she will be able to provide a proper site diagnosis.

SEO without Implementation Is Like...

Say you brought your car to a specialist. He or she researches and diagnoses the problem and tells you exactly what you need to do. You thank them, take your car home and then never do anything about it. Maybe you couldn't afford to do anything, or you were just looking to save a buck to do it yourself. Bottom line is, nothing got done.

What good is that to you? Sure, you know what needs to be done, but until you actually do it, you're not going to get the benefit out of the research and diagnosis. SEO is no different. Unless the SEO recommendations are implemented, either by you or someone else, the diagnosis and research are all for nothing.

The cost of quality SEO is almost directly proportional to the skill level of the SEO and the time it takes to do the work. A low-skill SEO might charge you only $50 per hour, but might take 50 hours to do the job. A high-skilled SEO might charge an "outrageous" $200 per hour, but can get the same job done in just 10 hours.

While the $50-per-hour SEO might sound like a good deal, once you do the math, you realize you just spend more money on the same job. To top it off, the low-skilled SEO very likely didn't do as good of a job, so you just paid more for less. That's not good value!

SEO Can Always Be Affordable, but It Isn't Always Cheap

SEO doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, the expense of an SEO campaign is just relative to the return. To some small businesses, anything more than a few hundred dollars can seem expensive. But if the value returned is several thousand dollars, then it's not so expensive after all. Similarly, you may save money on cheap SEO, but $500 spent on SEO that provides $500 is much more expensive.

SEO often has more value than the sum of its parts. Investing in research, diagnosis and implementation can appear to cost a great deal, but the returns are often exponentially greater. The idea is to consider SEO an investment, rather than a cost. Any good investment gives a good return. And as long as SEO is delivering ROI, there truly is no cost at all. With that, every small business can afford enterprise level SEO. How much you invest isn't a matter of how much you have, but how much return you want.

Image credit: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

November 7, 2012

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.


So many people think that just because they have a website, it will be successful and their business will flourish. Local SEO is extremely important. Ultimately, with SEO, the benefits are going to outweigh the costs, so more companies need to start incorporating this into their budget. I'm currently interning for a company, Chatmeter, who deals with local SEO and helps businesses improve and monitor their online reputation.

All of our clients are either small business or home-based professionals. None of them see the value in putting any significant amount into SEO. A few work from constant referrals (good for them), but others who rely on their website could really be doing better. Thankfully, I will be sending this article to a few 'non-believers'. Hopefully they will see the light.

Great piece!

A lot of small businesses dont have time to wait for SEO to come around and create sales, to them its an investment that does not guarantee results. Everyone is scared by pandas, gorillas or other algo changes that might wipe out their investment overnight. They end up retreating to more traditional advertising channels like PPC which shows you instant results. That is why their budget is skewed.

I know that most small businesses are strapped for cash, which is why they turn to the cheaper SEO providers. I always tell site owners that if they can't afford full service than sign up for consulting or attend a workshop---learn the basics so you can do a little SEO on your own (the right way) and reorganize your budget.

We are spending $500 a month on SEO's and can't get our site to rank higher than the bottom of the 3rd page and another site we did with Wordpress from a small time developer is ranking higher currently at the top of the second page. We have heard that Wordpress has excellent keyword stuff and we are still have 6 months left of our SEO contract which seems a bit of a waste.

I really like how this article addresses the number one question for small business owners looking to get into SEO. I agree with everything you say, but I truly believe that SEO can be affordable and effective for small business websites. I have established a scalable system that would work for both the SEO provider and small/mid-sized business alike.

The first comment on this article made a lot of sense when it comes to local/regional companies that would benefit significantly from a localization standpoint, which I consider to be SEO. You're right though. It really comes down to how much you're willing to invest. It's one of those businesses that you really get what you pay for. That doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune to benefit greatly in your locality or region.

Zachary, I agree that SEO can work for small businesses as well. Just like any business the return needs to be greater than the investment. Not an impossible task.

Tim, Wordpress has some great SEO features, but doesn't automatically optimize a site for search engine ranking. If the two sites ate in the same industry and your competing against the same keywords it could be an architectural issue on the site not ranking well. If you want to email me I can take a look and see if there is anything we can help you out with.

People call us asking for SEO and say company X have said they can do this for $100 a month.

We never understand how, but then when you realise they are simply doing a a boost and no on-page or real off page SEO it is easy.

When a new client asks for a price we always have to investigate the sector first and understand the competition yet other companies can have a fixed price for all SEO?

It is frustrating...

I think SEO is best option if you planning to use PPC services. According to me, SEO is better then PPC boz you have pay less then PPC.

Yes, I do also agree with all of you, SEO is batter then PPC if you want more traffic with less money. Small business owners can afford SEO price so SEO is best option. Thanks for nice article;e glad to read it.

Definitely SEO is beter than PPC as price you have to pay, but if you are doing SEO, PPC is very quick option to check whatever keywords are working or not for your business. After that you can be confident that you optimizing on the right keywords and not wasting your time and money. Thanks for the article!

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