I don't know about you, but sometimes I get completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of time, energy, and raw hours that go into properly marketing a website online. The thing that gets me the most is that, with SEO and other forms of online marketing, there really is no situation when you can sit back and say "we've arrived." Once you optimize a site, there are still so many things that can be assessed, analyzed, uncovered and corrected that you never really can say, "It's Miller time!"

This is what I envy about web designers. They get to produce a finished work, then go and collect awards for their work. But, online marketing - that's a different ballgame all together. Sure, we can celebrate top rankings, but tomorrow there is another keyword that needs improvement!
Make a smart purchasing decision when choosing SEO services

Making a Smart Purchasing Decision

Ninety percent of the online marketing services my company provides are based on the amount of time we guesstimate the job will take to get results. There are a few expenditures the clients may have to buy into (directory submission fees, requested analytics tools, etc.), but most of the cost associated with SEO services comes down to determining how many hours are needed on a month-to-month basis.

We look at time needed for researching, writing, analyzing, tweaking, optimizing, communicating, reporting and linking, just to name a few. Sometimes I think it's difficult for clients to fully appreciate the time invested in doing a job properly, especially when they see "less expensive" options floating round. Sure, you can hire some kid down the street to mow your lawn, or you can hire the gardener to take care of your lawn, garden and flowerbeds and to get rid of unwanted rodents, weeds and other pests while making sure everything is properly fertilized and pruned each week. The time difference between the two is substantial.

The problem comes, in SEO at least, when many people are expecting to hire the gardener at lawn mower kid wages. There is just no way the gardener can do their job effectively in the time it takes for the kid to mow the neighbors lawn across the street. Can't happen.

How Much Time Does a (Good) Job Take?

When it comes to purchasing an SEO or SEM strategy for your online business, there are two things to consider: How many hours does it take to meet your expectations, and how much are you willing to pay for each hour that goes into meeting those expectations?

Many SEOs charge a pre-determined package price. That just means they have pre-determined how many hours they will be providing you for their service. If you purchase an SEO package for $3000 per month, you can get anywhere from 30 hours ($100/hour) to 10 hours ($300/hour). The question you have to ask yourself is - can the $100/hour guy get the same results as the $300/hour team?

If you can confidently say yes, then maybe that's your guy. If not, maybe you need to consider the more "expensive" option. But we all know, cheap and ineffective usually turns out to cost a lot more than the expensive option that gets results!

Ten hours per month on SEO or SEM doesn't seem like much, but in the right hands, a lot can be accomplished. Here is a simple breakdown of what I would consider the average, high-quality SEO campaign:

  • Site Architecture and Site-Wide SEO: five to 10 hours needed at the onset to analyze the initial site architectural problems and create a concatenation schema to make all pages "search engine friendly."

  • Keyword Research: initially, up to five hours to research the site's core terms, determine which pages/keywords are a top priority for optimization and create an optimization plan moving forward. An additional 30-60 minutes of keyword research can go into each specific page being optimized.

  • On-Page Optimization: one to two hours per page to optimize keywords into the text, streamline the code (if necessary) and implement onto the site.

  • SEO Maintenance: two to four hours each month to review past optimization efforts and implement tweaks and changes designed to improve site performance. This also includes reviewing site usability and conversion issues.

  • Link Building/Social Media: five to six hours each month, at a minimum. New or competitive sites can, and often do, need much stronger link building or social media campaigns.

  • Analytics and Testing: three to five hours per month. No SEO campaign is complete without some way to analyze the overall performance of the optimization, usability and conversion improvement efforts that are being invested. The better the analysis, the more hours that must be invested.

These numbers can fluctuate depending on the size of the site, but this is what we would consider a pretty basic campaign. If you're looking for the best pricing option, how much from this do you feel you can cut before you're cutting into your success?

That's the key question. If you're looking solely at pricing and not factoring in the actual work, you're bound to make a bad purchasing decision. The real question is, will the price you're paying (or willing to pay) give you the ROI you need to make a profit? It's probably not a good idea to purchase SEO until you can answer that question affirmatively.

Stay tuned. In my next post, I'll discuss your options for hiring in-house vs. outsourcing, and making sure you're spending your SEO budget wisely in an uncertain economy.

Follow me at @StoneyD and @PolePositionMkg.

June 10, 2011

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 love this!! I get so many of my readers/clients saying they want to hire someone to do SEO and they rarely have the money it would take or understand what is involved. When I explain they should be prepared to spend thousands of dollars and wait months for results, they probably think I'm being a jerk, but I'm really trying to help them. I don't want them to have the expectation that they can hire the teen with the lawn mower and get good results. Such a waste of their time and money.

For small companies with really small budgets, I always recommend that they learn about SEO on their own. That way they can get started, even if they don't have the money to hire a pro, and by the time they do, they'll know how to evaluate a pro they're considering hiring, because they understand what the pro needs to do.

Regarding envying web designers, I suppose different strokes for different folks... "we can celebrate top rankings, but tomorrow there is another keyword that needs improvement!" - & I personally love that :)

Interesting, as a webdeveloper Im on the other side of the fence...

Unfortunately I've seen too many Seo company's charge a monthly fee that rivals my one off design fee and then do absolutely the bare minimum, or nothing at all, whilst blinding the client with black magic and acronyms

Ultimately, clients have got to see a real return on investment in what they spend on any business service or else that service eventually runs out of clients

Twenty five years ago, when desk top publishing became popular, designers had all the power and charged exorbitant fees, it was a goldrush and everyone was suddenly a graphic designer, clients eventually got sick of overpaying for bad design and the bottom fell out of the market

Same thing happened fifteen years ago with Webdesign, I remember an article in 'create online' stating that a designer with flash experience should expect to earn £45k, add actionscript to that and you could add another £20k... Anyone remember boo.com??

Then they all wailed and gnashed teeth when they lost their agency jobs with fat bonuses... eventually the market prevailed and, like graphic designers, you get a fair days work for a fair days pay

Sem has enjoyed a long honeymoon, it won't last forever :)

A good developer, like a good sem, should revisit their work regularly and have a long term relationship with both their clients as well as each other and offer a service that is sustainable or else they won't survive

one to two hours per page to optimize keywords into the text !!!!!!! it sounds like a long time to spend however i think the big deal is to get links from high pr pages.
good content, high pr and good design (at the first place) will do the job.

Ahmed, it all depends on what you're starting with, how long the content is, how many keywords you're working in and the quality of the end result. Skilled craftmanship takes time. I'm not a big fan of drive-through SEO.

It is really like the wild west out there with SEO pricing. You have to use your best judgement when purchasing SEO and explore all the factors. If it sounds to good to be true it probably is.

Great post. You really do get what you pay for and SEO is no different.

Cheap Price + Best result == False Advertising.
A brand new company can provide good services for getting popular but if a already popular company is providing services in cheap price then you need to think twice.
Always read previous customers review and of course that review is not testimonials from their own site.You need to ask for review in different forums.
Good article though.Thanks.A must read.

SEO is not one of the places you want to cut corners. If you find a deal that is too good to be true, it probably is. A lot of site owners don't understand just how much time it takes to conduct a solid SEO campaign. I am also noticing the same thing with social media. Clients want it, but aren't willing to pay for it. They'll choose a cheaper service and get shoddy work.

Thank you for that post. Don't underestimate keyword research. I remember one of the first websites I set up. I jumped into it way too quickly. Finally realizing that I had picked a keyword with the wrong search option selected and it was completely useless. Unfortunately I already purchased a domain for 5 years with the containing keyword. That made we think twice when setting up a website too quickly without any or little research.

I'm not sure if I envy web designers, lol. The ones I know typically have sporadic jobs and envy the cashflow that SEO work/maintenance can bring. Bookmarking this post!

I have a site just getting off the ground and honestly to spend that kind of money per hr is not an option. The comments on this site have really helped though in terms of stressing the importance of keyword research and link building for a new site. I guess I always underestimated the difficulty that is SEO but at this point I know way better - Thanks for writing the article and to everyone who posted. The advice is truly valuable instead of wasting the little money I have b/c at this point the ROI will be nil.

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