SEO Pricing: You Get What You Pay For

Deciphering differences in price and value for search engine optimization (SEO) agencies is almost as confusing as understanding how Google’s ranking algorithms work. 

Are you getting what you pay for? 

Every SEO agency — and I’ve managed SEO in five of them over the last 15 years — determines their fees using the same criteria, listed below.

  • How quickly you want results: Lower fees typically mean that the agency is doing less work, which in turn means that your organic search results will improve more slowly — or not at all. If the number of things a low-cost SEO agency produces is high, the effort required to produce each thing will be low. For example, a low-cost agency usually delivers 20 or so optimized title tags in a month. That sounds like you’re paying for a lot, but you’re paying for work that doesn’t completely optimize those 20 pages. It’s much faster to optimize 20 title tags than it is to fully optimize the pages, and it looks like you’re making quick progress if you’re not well versed in SEO. As a result, they can afford to charge less for their services.
  • The type of work you need: SEO is based on three pillars — content, technical, and authority. Each pillar focuses on a different skill set, from creative writing to technical code- and server-based knowledge, to data analysis or networking skills. Sites that require work across all three pillars can expect to pay more because they require more advanced skill sets. Low-priced SEO agencies typically focus solely on content optimization. While this is a critical area, issues in the other two pillars can actually prevent you from ranking, even if you have the strongest content out there. When this happens, you’re essentially pouring your SEO fees down the drain.
  • The results you need: Discount SEO agencies love to talk about rankings. And they can produce great rankings results — for keywords that have no competition and no value. If you’re already using a low-cost SEO agency, examine the keywords they’re optimizing your pages for closely. Your monthly report is probably filled with rankings for long, obscure phrases with incredible rankings. That feels like value, but it’s worthless. The only metrics that matter to your business at the end of the day as key performance indicators are the traffic, leads, and revenue driven by your organic search channel.
  • The level of expertise you need: It’s as true in SEO as it is in your own business: Talent costs more. Low-cost agencies typically rely on cheap labor and have high turn-over rates in their staff. Everyone starts somewhere, and today’s low-cost newbie could be a superstar after several years of training and experience. However, they’re not going to get that mentoring and expertise at a low-cost agency. It’s not in their business model. Rather, newbies in every type of agency — not just SEO agencies — use low-cost agencies as stepping stones to bigger agencies after they’ve gotten a little experience. Do you really want them cutting their teeth on your site, or do you want someone with experience who has helped other sites through similar challenges? 

In the end, you get the SEO that you pay for. It’s important to examine the value you’re receiving for the fees you’re paying. There’s no value in paying for low-cost SEO because it almost always delivers poor results where they matter: the sessions, leads, and revenue your organic search efforts generate.

That return on investment will also multiply over time as the SEO work begins to see results across many pages on the site. The page you optimize on day one will typically still be returning increased traffic, leads, and revenue on day 199. Because of this, you can’t judge the value of your spend based on a single month’s performance — you pay for it once and receive benefits over and over again.

It’s true that you can’t ignore the total sticker price when you’re choosing an SEO agency. But make sure to weigh that cost against the true value you’re getting for your dollar.

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