You’ve likely heard about SEO if you’ve looked into launching a website, promoting your social media profiles, or advertised anything online. SEO stands for search engine optimization, and while it might be new to you, it’s actually been around since 1991. Of course, today’s SEO is much different from the basic SEO of the early 90s, though, thanks to the changes Google and other search algorithms have made. What was once considered great SEO techniques are now avoided, while new methods have become the standard.
Hiring an SEO expert is costly, though, and it might not seem worth it to you. However, the benefits of SEO simply can’t be denied. If you’re considering hiring an SEO expert, but aren’t certain about the benefits, the pricing, or the right way to go about finding help with optimizing, this guide will help by answering many of the basic questions about SEO.
Benefits of SEO
There are a number of different benefits to having a website that is optimized for search engines, but most of these benefits fall into one of four different categories.
SEO Brings in Free Traffic and Improves Your Reach
It doesn’t matter how great your website is if no one can find it. A good SEO expert knows how to use keywords, metadata, and other SEO information to get your site ranked on the first page of Google, Bing, and other search engines. This results in what’s called organic traffic. According to a study done by Conductor, organic traffic makes up 64 percent of all traffic to websites. This traffic comes from users who are searching for something specific but do not have a specific website or company in mind.
This means the websites returned in the results are the ones the search engines has determined, via SEO, to be of the most value to the user. If your site isn’t optimized for search engines, it won’t be on that first page. According to these statistics from Chitika, page rank is vital. While they are from a study done in 2013, this information is still as relevant, if not more so. According to their study, the number one result in a search received 32.5% of all traffic, with the second result receiving about half that (17.6%). Only the top three results received over ten percent of traffic. Ninety-five percent of users clicked on results that only appeared on page one.
Beat the Competition
If your competition has SEO on their website and you don’t, the simple fact is that their site will be ranked higher than yours. It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with your competitors if your website can’t be found via search engines. With only five percent of users even looking at the second page of results, you’ve got to be on page one to be competitive. While paid advertising, marketing, and social media can help offset a lack of SEO, none of these results will help with your organic traffic.
Lower Your Online Costs
The average cost per click of an online CPC ad has risen from $0.92 in 2013 to $2.14 in 2016, and you can expect that cost to grow. In fact, Entrepreneur reports that some keyword phrases can cost as much as $28.55 per click. If you have thousands of people clicking through your ads, it can very quickly blow through your budget.
If someone clicks through a search engine result, on the other hand, you pay nothing. While it’s true that SEO costs do often recur over a year as your expert fine-tunes your keywords and other SEO tools, it’s also true that those costs are often not as expensive as ads are, especially if the keywords you’re using are some of the more expensive ones.
Grow Your Business Long Term
SEO is definitely a long-term investment. As mentioned above, it requires an expert to create an “SEO map (Technical + Content Strategy)” for your website and then test that “SEO map” over a period of months. While some of the keywords and metadata originally used may in fact be the best options, that’s not always the case. You’ll want to test various combinations of keywords and other SEO data to determine what gets you ranked higher. Online ads, on the other hand, often bring in more traffic faster, but they are costly. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly solution that will have long-term benefits, SEO is the way to go.
Why Are Good SEO Services Expensive?
Good SEO services aren’t cheap. You may pay anywhere from $500 to $5,000 a month to retain an SEO expert’s services. Hourly, these experts often price themselves between $75 and $150, while a per-project fee can be as much as $50,000 if you need SEO work done from scratch on a large website. But why are these experts charging so much, and is it worth it?
SEO Has Changed – Then vs Now
When SEO first became popular in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was fairly simple: add as many keywords into your website as possible to get search engines to rank it higher on the list. This included stuffing keywords that had nothing to do with your business into the site using hidden text and other methods that are now considered bad SEO. Everything was focused on getting a higher rank through any means possible.
Today, Google and other search engines have changed their algorithms. They now actively punish keyword stuffing another bad SEO methods. Instead, they look for relevant content that’s helpful to the user.
Yes, keywords still play a part in SEO, but the focus is on using those keywords naturally in information that helps users. While ranking is still absolutely important, it’s not the be-all, end-all of SEO. Rather, SEO is more about getting a good return on your investment.
The focus is now on what the user needs, what’s relevant to your business, and what adds value. If a keyword isn’t related or doesn’t provide information to the user, it needs to be replaced. The same is true for links. Originally, all search engines really looked at was how many links pointed to a page. The more links, the better a page was ranked.
Today, that’s not the case. Rather than looking at the number of links, search engines now look at the quality of links. Pages that have many links from what are called link farms (sites that do nothing but link to other sites, often requiring the websites to pay for a link) are no longer ranked as highly as those that have quality links. Websites that are related to each other are considered higher quality links, too. The goal has shifted from any link is a good link to how linked websites relate to each other.
SEO Requires Extensive Research and In-Depth Analysis
While the basics of SEO are the same for every website, the keywords, metadata, and best links are not. SEO experts have to do in-depth research for every website they work on, and that time and work are reflected in the cost. These experts have to continually evaluate how the current SEO is doing compared to the previous months and decide if more research is needed. Often, it is.
In some cases, if the website isn’t bringing in much traffic, the expert may have to scrap all of the work done and start over. Even if that’s not the case, more research into alternative keywords has to be done every month to determine if the SEO needs to be adjusted.
Additionally, when Google or other search engines announce changes to their algorithm, experts often have to re-evaluate every website they’ve worked on. Sometimes the changes are small and may not require any SEO adjustments. Other times, search engines may decide a method of SEO is being abused or is no longer valid for some reason. For example, when Google determined that keyword stuffing was hurting websites and users, it began penalizing websites for using it. That meant SEO experts had to redo all of the work on those sites in order to continue ranking high in search results.
Bad SEO Is More Expensive in the Long Run
There’s more to the cost of bad SEO than just being out money. For every day that your website is either not optimized enough to make the first page or is being demoted for using black hat SEO, you’re losing money. Every user who does a search for products or services similar to those you offer is being directed to one of your competitors.
On top of this lost revenue, you also have to pay to have your SEO revamped so that it follows accepted standards. That can be expensive, especially if the expert you hire has to go through and strip out all of the negative SEO before starting from scratch.
SEO Is More than Just Keywords
Most people equate SEO with keywords, but it’s much more than that. When you hire an SEO expert, you’re hiring someone who will do multiple tasks:
- Research to determine the best keywords.
- A/B testing to determine which keywords are stronger for your website.
- Link building from relevant, established websites.
- Overall SEO analysis and adjustments each month.
- Content Strategy & content creation, when necessary.
- Regional SEO that targets local users as well as standard SEO.
- Metadata creation.
- Audits of existing SEO to determine what, if anything, needs to be changed.
- Evaluation of content with an eye towards what’s useful for users.
- Removal of any negative SEO techniques.
This is actually a short list of what an SEO expert may do. Some may include creating blogs and other content for your website, helping with social media marketing, and handling your Google AdWords or other PPC campaigns. The more an SEO expert offers, the more you can expect to pay.
3 Ways of Hiring SEO Experts
Now that you see what an SEO expert does and what they offer, it’s time to look at how to hire one. There are three different options:
- Outsource to SEO Agency
- In-House SEO Experts
- SEO Consultants/Trainer
In-House SEO Experts
Hiring an in-house SEO expert is similar to hiring an employee (usually the job title is SEO Specialist). This person will become a permanent member of your IT department or marketing team. You’ll pay them a salary and benefits just as you would any other employee.
If you have a large number of websites or a very large website with hundreds of pages, you may always have some SEO work for this employee to do. If you don’t, you may want to hire someone who has other skills in addition to handling your SEO. For example, you may want this person to also take care of your social media marketing or your online advertising.
(Screen shot needed: Payscale)
Outsource Your SEO
If you only need someone to handle SEO for a small website, you may want to bring in an outside expert. This contractor will likely charge you a monthly retainer or hourly rate to work on your website. For those who don’t have a lot of SEO work or are on a strict budget, this can be more affordable than bringing on an employee full-time. The downside is that the SEO agency will have other clients. They won’t be a dedicated expert, and there may be times when your tasks aren’t high priority.
An SEO consultant is similar to outsourcing, but these individuals are normally not a part of an agency. They are a freelance or contract worker who partners with companies to handle their SEO. A consultant, like an agency, may have more than one client at a time. They often don’t have the same resources as an agency, but they may charge less because they don’t have as much overhead.
SEO Pricing Models
When hiring an SEO expert, you want to pay close attention to their pricing model.
- Hourly experts may charge as much as $150 or $200 an hour. This can become quite costly if you need a lot of work to be done. If you simply need a few hours of work done every week, however, it’s often quite affordable.
- Project based costs can range from a few hundred dollars to $20,000 or more. It all depends on the size of the project and what you need done. For large projects, this may be a better option than an hourly rate. You pay one flat fee for all of the work regardless of how long it takes the SEO expert to complete the project.
- For long-term SEO work, you may want to pay an SEO company a monthly retainer. This retainer may include a set number of hours a month or may cover any SEO needs you have. Depending on the particulars of the retainer, you may pay anywhere from $250 a month to $10,000 or more.
- Performance based SEO pricing is a rather unique pricing model in that if the SEO doesn’t bring in sales, you don’t pay the contractor. If your SEO is a proven success, you pay out a percentage of the income or a flat fee if your site gets a specific level of traffic. Different companies charge differently, but the overall idea is that you don’t pay anything unless you see results.
- Profit sharing is similar to performance-based SEO. The SEO expert agrees to provide their services in exchange for a percentage of the profits each month. This can be a tidy amount of money if the business is highly successful. The SEO expert is always paid that percentage regardless of the overall amount of sales. Often, these arrangements are made for a specific time period or have payment caps in place.
Which Way Should You Choose?
Now that you have an idea of the various SEO services and payment models, you need to determine which type is right for you. Some people make the mistake of simply going with the company that’s ranked highest on Google or that appears on a list of “top SEO companies.” While these SEO companies may be right for a lot of businesses, they may not be right for you. You need to keep a few things in mind:
- What are your SEO goals? How will you determine if your SEO has succeeded or failed?
- What is your budget?
- What is the overall scope of your project?
- Do you have SEO work every month (other than analyzing current SEO and making changes as needed)?
- What type of contract are you looking for?
Once you’ve determined these things, you want to look for SEO agencies you think fit your needs. Narrow the list down to three to five agencies. Next, contact them for more information and to discuss your needs. Using this information, determine which one fits with your budget, needs, and projects the best. Don’t necessarily limit yourself to freelancers, consulting agencies, or local companies. SEO can be done by anyone, anywhere, so cast your net as wide as you’re comfortable doing.
If your SEO work is going to be at the core of your company, it’s likely that you need an in-house expert. You’ll likely have more than enough work for this person to justify their salary. On the other hand, if you don’t expect to have that much work, a contractor may be the best option.
How to Interview an SEO Expert?
Interviewing an SEO expert/specialist, whether it’s a freelancer or a team, can be difficult if you’ve never worked with one before. It helps if you’ve made a list of your SEO goals and other information as outlined above. Once you know what you need, you can ask the important questions. Here are a few good things to learn:
- How will you help me accomplish my SEO goals?
- What type of reports do you provide?
- What’s the best way to communicate with you, and how long do you usually take to reply to emails, calls, etc.
- What will you need from us?
- What if you can’t reach my SEO goal right away? What do you do?
- How do you keep up with changing algorithms?
Remember to ask any questions you have related to your particular industry and needs. You want to work with someone who understands your business and the unique SEO challenges it presents.
Conclusion: SEO Is an Investment
Remember, SEO is an investment. Without it, very few people will find your website naturally through search engines. You have to be willing to put some money into SEO, but you also have to evaluate the ROI and make changes when it’s necessary. The right SEO expert can help you reap the benefits of being optimized for search engines, but you do have to be ready to pay for quality work. Whether that’s by hiring someone, paying a per-project fee to a consulting agency, or contracting an hourly freelancer depends on your needs, your budget, and your SEO goals.