How Much Should Your SEO Cost?

Cash In On Your Organic Search With Google

What if I told you there is an easier way to reach the top of the search bar on Google? And, better yet, what if I told you that this would bring visitors to your website who are actively looking for your product or services?

Now I know what you’re thinking, it’s just too good to be true. But it’s not when we’re talking about SEO and Google. Let me explain this process to you and, if I’ve convinced you by the end, I can make it work for you, too.

The SEO Process:

Between my role at Centrus Digital and volunteering as a SCORE mentor, I’m constantly asked: “how can we be more visible in Google?”. I typically reply with two things: either look into SEO opportunities or pay more to leverage ads and place yourself instantly at the top. Both search marketing techniques come with their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Many companies, as I imagine a great majority of us would as well, lean towards the free aspect of SEO. However, even with this widespread acceptance, there’s quite a controversy over how much this service should cost.

It’s not hard to be “self-taught” in SEO. There are many great website sources, from Google’s own outlines to YouTube “how-to” videos, that provide a solid foundation for simple websites of 50 pages or less. But if you aren’t an expert in keeping up with the ins and outs of search marketing (an ever-evolving system) or your competitors have outstanding websites, you might have to look somewhere for guidance.

When ask about the cost of SEO services, the answers will drastically range from a small monthly to a medium one-time fee to a $3,000 or above charge every month. Does the range seem absurd? Yes, but let’s also consider why agencies are doing this.

Here are a few key reasons why this pricing model varies so much:

  • You’re paying for experience and expertise. A qualified agency is justified in charging you more if they have the proof to back it up. Look for case studies that span years and have not just been drastically affected by Google’s algorithm changes.
  • Here’s a smart shopper tip when you’ve been quoted a high monthly fee: ask for references of a similar level of difficulty as yours and how they’re maintaining SEO. If they can demonstrate repeatability in their methods, they are most likely using the best practices.
  • Sometimes, there are simple technical roadblocks to SEO success and any honest agency would point them out to you.
  • When competing against websites that have invested heavily in SEO, or are well established, it will cost more to become as successful.

Determining Your Google Ranking

Before you hope to cash in on any free organic traffic from Google’s search engine, here are three steps on how Google determines your ranking. These are summaries because the process is very complex, but they do provide a general understanding.

1.) What Reach Potential Makes Sense?

First, let’s pretend you’re Google for a moment. You’re trying to decide if a business should be ranked at the top. You can perform this simple test on yourself! Open an incognito window and search your business category. If you aren’t sure of yours, look under your Google Business Listing near your reviews: for example, we are listed as a Marketing Agency so we would search “marketing agency near me”.

In the milliseconds between clicking search and your results popping up, a very specific and complex algorithm is being run. Google is evaluating the reason behind your search, even using old search behavior or location, to match you to relevant websites. If your search brings up relevant business listings but your website is not on the first page, then yes, you may need help.

The business listing is available for small to large organizations and benefits everyone in the SEO process. If you are a brand new business or have paid little attention to your listing, it will take time to improve your ranking. Google takes this business listing very seriously. It could potentially be a year or two before any progress is made. However, once you have a good ranking with Google—and it was done through the best practices—it’s hard to fall out of their favor.

2.) Is the Focus Keyword Relevant to Intent?

Selecting what is the most profitable search term can be challenging. It’s hard to determine one phrase that encompasses all of the content you want for a page. And if you do, it may not be the term that is going to benefit you the most. So how do you even start this process?

Well, our keyword research is based on our experience from assessing thousands of websites and is heavily influenced by hundreds of paid search projects we have done. The logic behind this approach is quite simple: if other companies are willing to pay $5 or more for a single visit when using paid search, then these will represent a profitable target. And since Google is protecting privacy in organic searches, only by investing in paid search will you be able to identify the actual search term that converts for your business.

Discovering what terms to target requires doing comprehensive search term research. Our method highlights the many ways people search for your services or products and identifies the journey in choosing the right solution. For many of our clients, during a review of the research, it can be a bit overwhelming but remember for the smaller websites under 20 pages, Google will select only a handful of top terms.

But here is one very critical factor about SEO, it is NOT all about finding the right keyword. Google has done many developments over the years in analyzing signals for ranking websites. This has evolved from meta keywords, then to page ranking, and now to engaged visitors. For many years, they were using human evaluators behind the scenes to perform an EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) test on websites. I was one of those people over a decade ago until they had an algorithm designed. Now, Google only provides the highest level of access to search ranking when a website’s relevancy—based on user location and/or intent—is matched to a business with the best EAT score.

3.) Learn How Analytics Will Help You See What Google Sees.

Google provides a range of free and important tools that will help you see what’s going on in your website. They perform a very unique balancing act of trying to respect user privacy while also using very advanced learning to find the searcher’s intent. A good SEO agency should have expertise in using these tools and, ideally, a strong working knowledge of conversion techniques and developing engaging content. Without these tools, it’s very difficult to find insights on opportunities and report success. Website analytics and ranking tools provide important benchmarking in measuring progress in your SEO efforts.

Key Take-Away:

Reliance on the website analytics data is critical in establishing a common language in defining success. It’s important to verify both the accuracy in reporting and actual conversion numbers. It may be a year before you can report success, so any changes in the analytics setup can be disruptive. Regular check-ins and open communication are great ways to ensure that you get the most you can from an SEO partnership.