Why is SEO so expensive? What should SEO cost, anyway?
Many SEO’s and developers have heard people say: “Can’t you just make my site #1 in Google? Isn’t that your job as a web developer? Can you do it for $150 a month?”
In a word, no. Here’s why SEO isn’t cheap.. and why, when, and how investing in your healing or coaching business using SEO will help it grow. (stick with me to the end of this blog, I promise you will be glad you did!)
Most people really don’t know what SEO is, or why they may need the help of a real SEO expert.
Jargon alert: There are various reasons why you might need an SEO agency or consultant, especially for keyword analysis and competitive auditing to help with content marketing and metric analysis and adjustment, and link-building. “Quick rankings” is not one of those reasons.
SEO is a marathon, a long-term practice, not a sprint. If you’re desperate to rank in Google’s top 10 in a day or a few months after starting your blog, you’re making a very big mistake, and risking the integrity of your website.
I never promise clients that I have a magic bullet when it comes to SEO and ranking.
Many people think that SEO is a mysterious magical thing. The main reason is that many confuse “technical” SEO, which is what web developers typically do using Google web tools, console, etc, with SEO as a whole. However, the technical aspect only a start. SEO in the real world is much more involved.
These are often the same clients who want their site to “rank #1 in Google,” which doesn’t really mean anything. It all depends on what KEYWORDS you want to rank for. “Dalmatian Island boat tours” and “Acupuncture for wellness” are some pretty competitive keywords.
This is when it is worth it to find keywords that are easier to rank for, (more specific, like functional acupuncture in Arvada) but also not so obscure that likely nobody will be typing the keywords in a search query.
When it comes to standing out from the crowd, in the online world, you can’t game the system anymore.
And actually, this is a GOOD thing.
People want high quality, specific, and customized information. They don’t want to have to sift through a bunch of junk to find what they need.
It makes sense.
Imagine.. What if EVERY website owner just wanted to put up a low quality site, with a few blogs, no links to other sites, call it a day.. and expect that the world would flock to their site?
This is the equivalent of everyone building the same cookie cutter house, staying home to watch TV, and expecting that this will create an interesting neighborhood to live in. The online experience would be terrible.
Google knows this. Readers want more and more high quality information, with links to other sites. So algorithms are created in order for everyone, including YOU.. to have a rich, enjoyable, and useful experience when you are online.
We aren’t just consumers, we are contributors, and it’s up to us to make our websites reflect who we are and offer more than just a boring bio, a phone number, a few keywords, and info that is never updated. Nobody is interested in that anymore.
The GOOD news is.. now is the best time to express yourself and differentiate yourself from everyone else, via every piece of content you put on your site.
But..Why Is SEO so expensive?
I’m in groups where I hear people say “anyone know anyone who can “do” my SEO for a “Reasonable” price? I get it.
Complete SEO just isn’t one of those things that are fun to spend money on. At least with a website, you have something to “play” with. SEO, although totally worth it, can feel like a HUGE time and money suck because there is no instant, tangible product you can interact with at the beginning.
Here’s why it’s not cheap: (stay with me though.. I do have some solutions if your budget is tight.. please don’t give up!)
1. SEO experts are not trying to rip you off.
SEO is time consuming, labor-intensive, requires a very focused and specific skillset, and expensive data collection software. Many want to make SEO accessible to small businesses, but it also has to make sense for their business as well. This is why we also are into content marketing, as in giving free information, whether someone uses our services or not.
2. SEO provides a LOT of value, or ROI
It’s harder to become visible in a sea of already established sites when you are the “new kid on the block,” and it’s about to get even harder.
SEO, for better or worse, is essential to your business. (some businesses more than others) The return on your investment, once you make the leap, will make a LOT of sense, but it takes consistent effort, time, and expertise.
Remember when you debated on whether you needed a website 10 years ago? Now, creating content, which is linked to your SEO, is just as important.
3. You get what you pay for, and can’t “cheat” anymore. (Although some still try)
Again. and this is important: Many confuse comprehensive SEO with site SEO, or the technical stuff your web developer does to PREPARE your site to be visible. So web developers tend to capitalize on this ignorance.
They are partially responsible for perpetuating this misconception by saying things like “I’ll do your SEO for $300” when in fact, they are only doing one small part of what SEO really is.
This tends to really irritate SEO specialists. (I’m not an SEO specialist, and I get it)
The world of SEO has also been corrupted by sleazebags (link farming) who will gladly take your money, which may seem like a great deal, but engage in shady practices that will “help” your SEO at first, followed by a high likelihood of being penalized in the near future by Google.
This is because since around 2013.. a lot has changed. Google changes its algorithms almost daily.
Gaming the system really doesn’t work anymore. Those days are over. And if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
SEO is much like working with an honest financial planner and investment broker. It’s important to be honest, transparent, and steer clear of “black hat” or even “gray hat” methods, suck as purchasing links.
This takes time. It involves research, creating content, weaving keywords into your content, and building links, as well as the “technical SEO” that most think of when it comes to ranking on search engines.
I’m going to be super direct about this, so here’s my disclaimer: I don’t do complete SEO plans for “cheap,” (as in rock-bottom prices) and I don’t guarantee that your site will be at the top of Google. To me, this is just plain unethical. It’s like guaranteeing a “cure” for your patients and clients, or a coach guaranteeing athletes that they can win a race.
SEO is not just about YOUR SEO, but what the competition is doing. Be aware that some agencies and consultants will guarantee rankings for keywords that are very easy to rank for, but may or may not have value. This can be a deceptive practice. (Ask them for the reason they chose certain keywords!)
You may be wondering how this all got so complicated. Isn’t it just about keywords and placing them in the right places on my website?
Not anymore. Back in the old days, one could simply “stuff “ their site with keywords. And any old keyword would do. Today, the foundation of a successful keyword strategy is the content it’s placed in. It has to sound natural, and be useful and relevant to readers.
Not to mention that “bounce rate” will also affect your SEO.. if visitors come to your site but immediately leave, this will also affect your site in the eyes of the Googlebots.
The bottom line is that you need to keep producing high quality content. I know this isn’t what some of us want to hear.. but it’s the truth.
And yet.. I’ve heard many say “I don’t have time to blog.”
Some agencies and consultants engage in shady practices like link exchanges in order to artificially influence SEO to get “fast rankings.”
And many small business owners don’t see the value in investing more than an hour’s worth of what they would charge for their own services per month. SEO is one of those things you can’t do half-assed, or everyone ends up wasting their time and money.
In other words, I can’t just take a one time payment of a few hundred bucks from someone and tell them it’s going to help much. That money would be better spent somewhere else until one is able to consistently put some combination of time, money, or energy into SEO.
SEO is not about “quick fixes” which could actually damage your SEO and your reputation.
You may have heard the old saying: “You can only have 2 out of the following 3: Fast Service, Cheap Service, High-Quality Service.”
As a business owner, during various stages, this can shift. Even if you are DIYer, and have more time than money, this principle applies. Investing in your healing or coaching business is kind of an “all in” thing, but the good news is that you have choices!
4. Link building takes time and effort
Keywords is only part of a comprehensive SEO plan, and it’s not even the most important thing anymore.
PageRank, which used to be the number one factor in determining the visibility of a site, is no longer as important as link building.
Linkbuilding, in a nutshell, is about cultivating high quality backlinks, which are links on other people’s sites that point back to yours, with an indication that the link should be “followed.” This means that the site is saying “yes, this link is cool, I DO recommend this service, book, product, etc.
This isn’t a technical process done by your web developer. This would be considered hacking.. or at the very least, spam in the case of post comments… you can’t just “install” your links on another site.. you have to ASK the site owner or administrator to do it.
It is also very time-consuming, requiring research, content marketing strategies (via blogging, usually) and outreach.
You can’t just “buy” high quality links. As a matter of fact, the chances of getting penalized by Google for engaging in this practice is increasingly high.
As I mentioned earlier, Google does this so that the internet remains a healthy ecosystem, or a “good neighborhood.”
Site authority, a metric that tell us about the overall quality and trustworthiness of your site, is now considered to be a more important factor than keywords and is based on the number of high quality links that are pointing back to your site.
it’s based on the quality of your links and backlinks.
For example, if Facebook itself had a link to your site on one of its pages, your site would benefit greatly, because it has a “trust flow” of 100. It’s considered a “seed” site. On the other hand, linking to a spammy site is like associating with the wrong crowd.. it will eventually get you penalized.
Building links the right way takes time and energy, and is a surprisingly “human” and organic process. Essentially, it all comes back to offering a lot of high quality, relevant, and natural sounding content that real humans want to read. Then, finding a way to “associate with the right websites” that have a high site authority ranking, and eventually getting backlinks from these sites into yours via good, wholesome, old fashioned, honest outreach and offering something in return. That doesn’t happen in an hour.
A good site isn’t about making a some technical adjustments to your site. It has to be.. a good site!! And many people forget that this isn’t entirely up to the developer.
It’s up to YOU to make sure that you have the kind of site people will not only FIND, but stick around, revisit, or take some sort of action (conversion) via booking, a purchase, subscribing to your newsletter, etc.
How I help websites gain traction and get found in searches
Let’s look at an example of a travel client I’m working with, we do a lot of detective work to determine what topics to write about, depending on the season. I research trends, what popular in searches for our target audience, competitors, influencers, and potential partnerships.
Then I do keyword research. There is an art and science to this, and several powerful online tools that I use (with subscriptions that also are not cheap)
The next step is creating content.. usually a blog. This blog must then be formatted and configured to maximize on page SEO. This means that every time you research and write a blog, you are “doing SEO.” Keywords are carefully chosen. Influencers are researched and followed, and outreach emails are sent. Social media is used for each new piece of content.. typically FB, Instagram, and Pinterest.
This type of work can quickly become a part-time job, and requires skill, expertise, and in my opinion, knowledge about an industry.
To properly “do” your SEO will take time
There are dedicated SEO experts, but there is a LOT more to digital marketing than SEO.. Social media, copywriting, web design, branding, graphic design, marketing funnels, pay per click advertising, email campaigns and more. I would rather engage with most of these aspects in order to help a business grow, since they are all so interconnected.
In a nutshell… Complete SEO services are very time consuming. Learning SEO itself and keeping up with it is also time consuming. It’s a true professional service.
If you are a service based business, you know how important and precious time is. Even if you have a staff.
I can certainly do PART of your SEO.. via page optimization, content creation, and keyword research for a monthly fee that probably falls more into very small business price range. However, link building is one of the most important components of SEO.
This is why people experience “sticker shock” when they see the monthly fees for SEO services.
In fact, prices usually start around $3,000 PER MONTH for most professional SEO services. This isn’t cheap, but as they say:
I would be cheating you if I took your $197 (I just made up that number) and only did half of what your site needs to build ranking and site authority.
I never tell my clients they will rank at the top of Google. Again, it’s not ethical for anyone to make this promise.. and Google can back me up on this. Also, this is a meaningless promise because ranking is different for each KEYWORD that is used. For example, you might rank well with a “long tail” keyword such as “acupuncture for fertility in Lakewood CO” but the keyword “acupuncture” or even “acupuncture for women’s health” will be ridiculously competitive.
And I certainly won’t make any promises if I can’t do it properly because it’s not in someone’s budget to pay for link building, which is one of the most, if not THE most important aspects of SEO.
So you can see, offering a complete SEO package for bargain basement prices doesn’t serve anyone. And now you know I’m honest! But that doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t help. I can, in a way that makes sense for everyone.
Realistic Solutions for small business owners on a budget
I know what you are thinking.. and I’m on your side! it doesn’t seem fair that a small business has to invest so much time and money just to get some traction. The playing field doesn’t seem level.
I get it.. and it bothered me enough to spend some time thinking of ethical and realistic solutions.
If you stuck with me here.. You have my utmost respect. In turn, I’m going to first tell you how I can offer my help.. regardless of your budget.
THEN I’m going give you my best tips for doing your own linkbuilding, because yes, you CAN do it yourself, and save time by taking advantage of the things you probably already are doing: Networking, writing, speaking, and blogging.
The solutions I offer:
• Education. This will be a combination of free content, paid mini courses, referral to the right expert advice, and personal guidance and coaching in some instances. I’m also ok with referring you to a dedicated SEO expert. I just want you to know all your options.
• Keyword research. As I mentioned, this is both an art and a science, and it’s still an important part of SEO. You want to find keywords that hit the “sweet spot” between being too broad (competitive/difficult to rank for) and too specific (so obscure not many will type the keyword into a search query)
This is more involved that one might think. The best way is via using some powerful tools to gather data on the best keywords. But they are not cheap.
For those on a budget this CAN be done.. but it’s time consuming to learn about the process, gather the right tools, and put it all together. Some people have time and actually enjoy doing their own SEO.. which is great!
Whether or not it makes sense for a small business to DIY or outsource is highly individual. I offer as much free and industry-specific information about this, and my library will keep growing. I also provide this as a service on a monthly basis, with a minimum commitment of 8 months.
• Content creation. It’s really important to create high-quality content. Many agencies offer this service, but they may not know your business or your target audience well enough to be effective. The result is generic content, which isn’t good for SEO. I take on content creation when it makes sense for both me and my client. (I don’t work with everyone when it comes to writing content)
Creating content also takes time, but it’s important. Google LOVES fresh content on websites! For those who like to write and research about their expertise, it makes sense to maintain your own blog. So if you have more time than money and enjoy writing, this is a good solution.
Others may not have time, or dislike writing, and it makes sense to outsource it.
DIYer’s keep in mind: Gone are the days when you could post a basic article about qi and a one paragraph explanation of what acupuncture is.
A good SEO article is about 1500 to 2000 words of high quality ORIGINAL content. Yes. Not short blogs, but well-researched longer blogs rich with useful information, AND easy to read.
You gotta do your homework.
• Page optimization This goes hand in hand with content creation. Every page, and every post, should be properly optimized for SEO. This means Titles, tags, meta description, internal links, page layout, readability, and more.
• Analytics and reports This process involves creating a goal and metrics to measure. I ask my clients what their goals are: More traffic to their site? More interaction with your brand? More conversions? (bookings) This is something which can be outsourced, but I can also teach my clients how to track these metrics.
You can’t just post and pray for the phone to ring. SEO is a comprehensive and intentional plan, and tracking data is an important piece because it tells you the next step in your strategy.. what to promote, what to write, what keywords to use, etc.
• User experience and site navigation You can “do” all the SEO in the world but if your website is to generic, too boring, difficult to navigate, is confusing, or has outdated information, nobody is going to hang around on your site. Your site is just as important to your patient’s/guest’s overall experience as your reception area and all the ways you interact with them in person.
• Link building Although Google mentions that link building is “frowned upon,” it some industries, it’s more about sharing good and relevant content than “scheming.”
Much of link building is about research, finding the RIGHT sites to link to, and outreach. If you hired someone to do this for you, it could easily turn into a part time job, as far as time spent.
Some get around this by outsourcing cheap labor. I’ve seen proposed budgets of $40 for this work posted in Upwork.. with no responses, which isn’t surprising. You will get what you pay for.
Here’s the good news: My best tips for doing your own linkbuilding!
Much of this process is about networking! And you are already doing that, right?
If you are an acupuncturist, think of networking NOT just about reaching out to potential patients, but how to collaborate with other professionals. NOT just MD’s.. but other acupuncturists, nutrition experts, blood testing labs.. there are SO many possibilities!
(I may make a list to share)
If you are in the tourism or hospitality industry, you probably are aware of how important it is to distinguish yourself from the sea of other vacation rentals out there. Building relationships with tour companies, restaurant owners, boat chartering, etc, is a good idea.. and part of your link-building strategy!
So instead of feeling depressed about the apparent success of your competitors, why not collaborate by guest blogging, guest podcasting, or exchanging relevant and useful links. (Caution: be mindful about the links you share. Irrelevant links are seen by Google as link-exchange schemes, and are penalized. But a useful link can be of value, and help everyone)
Guest blogging and Guest podcasting: You can either approach your colleagues or do some research online to find out who the “influencers” are. They don’t have to be in your area. This is good news because you won’t be seen as a competitor, (if that’s even an issue for you) but a partner.
Ideally you want to approach someone who is established and has a site with a higher site authority or trust flow number. You can find these statistics for free on a site called Majestic.
Another solution is HARO.. (help a reporter out) which is basically a “matchmaking” service for journalists and expert sources. This is another way to get some “link juice” to your website and build “site authority.”
As I continue to do this research, I hope to discover more people in the industries I specialize in who can also provide Follow links. This would be an organic and legal process.
I wish I could offer a magic bullet which is legal and works for everyone, but those days are long gone. It’s probably also true that just when you think you are “thinking outside the box” you find yourself in another box that isn’t working.
Part of the fun of having a business, right?
The take-away: There is hope, but: Don’t expect this process to happen overnight. It takes 6 months to a year to see results, typically.
Don’t expect that you can hire someone to do it all for you for “cheap.” As a matter of fact, doing so could be risky.
It’s better to find a strategy that is not only realistic, but effective, so your business will gain traction and grow. Investing in your healing or coaching business takes time, money, and effort, in a combination that works for you and your business in each stage.
The ratio between the 3 may change over time, but you will still need to invest if you want your business to gain traction, grow, and thrive.
You CAN do SEO on your own, and save time by leveraging your current marketing strategies: Networking, speaking, writing, blogging, podcasts, events, etc.
As your business grows, it may make sense to outsource some or even all of your SEO. When you do, make sure your money is being spent well by hiring the professionals who will be the best fit for YOUR business.