Long-time readers will know my view on this. Great search engine optimisation should easily be worth the time, effort and expense. In technical business to business markets, generating a website visit from a prospect can easily cost £5 or more. For a small company, even if Google or Bing natural search sends you just 100 interesting people a week, increasing this by 20% will be worth £5,000 a year straight off.
And yet… great search engine optimisation is unlikely to be available for £5,000 a year, not if you want your involvement to be limited to signing a purchase order. Many companies are spending this sort of money, just passing £500 a month or something like that to a web design agency, but I doubt that many are getting results from it; the exercise is more like an act of faith, and being seen to be doing something.
If your budget is this small, I believe you’d be better off managing things yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to be an expert. You can research or buy in advice on what needs doing (we give this to our clients for free), and you can get many of the resulting tasks done quite cheaply (or in-house for nothing). Don’t be bamboozled by anyone claiming it’s some sort of magic which can’t be explained to the likes of you.
For those whose budget for SEO is decent (and I can’t believe how few large companies in technical B2B markets push for an appropriate budget), then you can talk to a proper SEO specialist agency. But expect to pay well into five figures a year for this sort of thing. To prepare for this, have a read of 34 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring an SEO Agency on Moz.com.