In order to address this very important question, what’s needed first is a thorough investigation of a website’s business category, competition, sales funnel, current marketing tactics and more.
Here are some basics that should be included in any SEO campaign – even though some methods may not be appropriate for particular websites. Understanding what these are, and their relative importance, can help you determine a reasonable fiscal target for SEO. Setting a viable budget, balanced with realistic expectations, is the first step.
There are a number of basic aspects of optimization that are crucial elements of any SEO and digital marketing effort. Regardless of the nature of your business, these need to be integrated into your campaign:
In order to deliver your message effectively, it’s imperative to know precisely who your target audience is. Language, culture, gender, income level, age group, and interests all come into play in presenting your site to your audience in the most effective fashion. Without addressing these elements correctly, any traffic that your SEO efforts may attract is less likely to convert.
Whether you’re selling a product or service, building an email list or simply conveying information, it’s critical to clearly focus on the message you want to get across to your visitors. It’s surprising how many companies think their message is clear, when they’re really sending very mixed signals.
This is the heart of traditional SEO. A host of on-page elements should be addressed for any website. There are some technical aspects that may be extremely effective in some niches, but inappropriate for others. Knowing which to focus on can be as important as knowing how to best accomplish the task.
Planning a Campaign
Based upon your site’s current state, the competitiveness of your vertical, the nature of your market, your budget and how quickly you expect to see results, your SEO provider will need to outline a plan. None of the above elements stand alone, so each will have to support the others. In addition, it’s important to remember that SEO is simply a required part of an integrated marketing campaign. While ‘SEO’ implies a focus on search engines, it can’t be implemented in a vacuum… it has to be done in concert with all your other marketing efforts.
A good digital marketer must have some working knowledge of solid SEO practices, just as an SEO pro should understand sound marketing principles. The two work hand-in-hand.
Those are the basics, so what should it cost?
Here’s the frustrating part: it depends. This may not seem like much help, but if we break down the variables, you may be able to find more value in it. First, let’s start with a couple of assumptions.
We’ll assume that you already have a good handle on the demographic of your target and the message you want to convey. We’ve found that an alarming number of companies are working under false assumptions in both regards, but since we’re talking primarily about SEO costs, we’ll try to give you some idea of what to expect.
The first step should always be to ensure that the technical on-page aspects of your website are in order. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Clear navigation, based on a sensible site architecture;
- Internal linking structure should be carefully tailored to rank your most important pages;
- Appropriate page titles;
- User-friendly URL structure;
- Meta descriptions that will encourage click-through;
- High quality content, directed to the appropriate audience;
- Functional website development, addressing usability and accessibility issues.
Site Audit & Implementation of Changes
Obviously, the current state of your site determines how much time and effort will be needed to optimize it. If you have a webmaster or on-call developer, they may be able to implement the changes recommended by your SEO. Such recommendations are normally made after performing the site audit.
The cost for your site audit will depend in part on the size and complexity of your website. We’ve worked with budgets as small as $500 or as large as $14,000. For extremely large ecommerce sites, that figure can go even higher. For most medium-sized sites, around $3K should suffice.
If your SEO provider is going to implement the changes for you, such tasks are often billed on an hourly basis. It’s wise to nail down the hourly rate and an estimated time requirement before beginning (after the audit), and expect them not to exceed that time allocation by more than 10%. Hourly rates vary from around $100 to as high as $500, but $200 per hour is probably about average.
- Keyword research – will most often be quoted as a lump sum, rather than on an hourly basis. For 50-150 keywords (in one language, one region), you may get quotes ranging from $200 to $1,000, with the average around $500. Keep in mind that while keyword research for smaller sites may only need to be performed once a year, large ecommerce sites may need fresh research as often as monthly, depending upon your business.
- Market research – can include researching your market demographics, your competitors and developing a a marketing strategy (for large clients, keyword research may be included in this parcel). Competitive research will involve identifying your major competitors, determining how and where they’re getting links and traffic, what keywords they’re targeting and what sort of content strategy they’re utilizing.
- Content Strategy Planning – needs to determine the best channels, content type and periodicity to attract your most targeted customers.
Organic (non-paid) Search
Organic search is about the tactics that go into making your web pages more visible to search engines, making them rank highly in the search results and attracting click-through. This requires ongoing monitoring and adjustment, and is normally billed on a monthly basis. Again, depending upon the website, the competitiveness of the vertical and other factors, the cost can vary considerably.
In broad strokes, a small business can expect to spend between $500 and $1,000 per month, a medium-sized business up to about $3,000 to $4,000 and a large business/enterprise may spend anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 per month.
Commonly referred to as PPC (pay per click), the most common paid search channel is buying ads (most often from the search engines) that will target users that have shown an interest in particular keywords. These ads may appear in the search result or on the pages of websites, and you pay for each click-through on a particular ad. The manager of your PPC campaign will bid for the position of that ad, at a range that’s determined by the competitiveness of the keyword.
PPC requires constant monitoring and intimate knowledge of how the program works, as well as having a good grasp of marketing. It can be an excellent source of highly targeted traffic when properly managed, but can also attract a lot of traffic that is less likely to convert when managed poorly. PPC campaign management fees normally run between 10% and 20% of budgeted ad-spend per month.
Reporting takes time, so you can be sure that you’re being billed for that time, one way or another. The value of a report, however, is in the actionable data it provides. There are many different metrics that can be reported, but many of them offer little value, if any. Ranking reports, for instance, offer very little actionable data, but take a fair amount of time to prepare.
Why pay for a report that will simply be tossed in a drawer and forgotten? Better to establish early on what metrics will be reported and what actions have already been taken, based upon that data. (If the necessary measures to correct or exploit haven’t already been implemented by the time you receive a report, you’ve missed an important opportunity.)
Generally, for small sites, most SEO providers will offer a traffic report and a standard ranking report for your keywords, on a monthly or quarterly basis. While they’re not totally useless, they don’t normally lead to definitive actions. Conversion reports, tied to the keywords and traffic sources, on the other hand, provide immediate opportunities for improvement and exploitation.
The reporting requirements should be clearly called out in the SOW (scope of work) from the beginning. Agreed-upon adjustments can be made later, if the situation warrants it. Normally, unless you’re requesting very complex reports they should be included in the monthly cost. But if you’re asking for something extremely detailed, expect to pay more.
By the time you are signing a contract with your SEO provider, you should know exactly what your costs will be for the term of the contract, and the incremental costs for changes made along the way.
You should also know precisely what the provider’s responsibilities are, as well as any dependencies or recourse for both sides. Most business disagreements occur as a result of having failed to call out the details of the performance of both parties. Since your SEO provider will be an important member of your team, such disagreements should be derailed before they take place.
This should help you somewhat in budgeting for a campaign, once you’ve identified some of the variables. Understand though, that without knowing the extent of the on-page efforts, it’s difficult to project that cost precisely.
Following these guidelines, you should also be able to look at a bid and get a good idea if the proposed cost is within normal parameters. If something seems odd or you’d like clarification, just ask. It’s always best to ensure both parties have a clear understanding of the entire process before signing the contract.