Cheap SEO is simply throwing away money

A client recently mentioned to me that their company was paying £1500 a month to an agency for search engine optimisation (SEO) services, and I suspect half-expected me to wince at the expense. Far from it. But I’d have been horrified if they were only spending £200, and here’s why.

Anyone who’s any good at a consultancy job is going to want a minimum of £50 an hour*; better people a lot more (and it’s amazing how many people ask me if I know who’s the best at such-and-such, because they want no-one less). So if you’re paying a consultant £200 a month, you’re getting 1 hour a week of their time at most. Ask for a report, and you’ve blown much of that time. Ask for a face-to-face meeting, and you’ve blown the whole lot.

To be fair, I don’t know of many people who are contracting someone independent to do a job like that for £200 a month. But I have seen many who are paying that as an ‘add-on’ to a web design company or an advertising agency for ‘SEO services’. I’d suggest that’s simply throwing away money. An SEO project which is going to make a difference is going to require several days a month of hard work from someone who knows what they’re doing, and that will come with a serious invoice.

The main drivers of search engine rankings are great content and great links to your site. There’s no real way of doing either of those cheaply. You need to be able to identify what needs writing, get the articles written and – hardest of all – get them placed somewhere, or get links to them. This is of course the skill set of a good technical PR company.

Just tidying up your existing site needs a combination of keyword research, skilful rewriting of headlines, titles, tags and content, and even site structural management. I wouldn’t hand that over to someone who reckons they’re only worth £200 a month.

So is it worth paying for SEO services? If you’re running a PPC advertising campaign and you’re happy to pay £5 to get a good visitor, spending £1000 a month on SEO is an alternative if it can add on 50 extra visitors a month (SEO efforts should be cumulative, and will continue after you’ve stopped your investment). For someone who’s good, that should be possible, so is worth considering. But if that’s beyond your budget, you’d be better off finding the time to do it yourself.

*Lawyers are probably wondering if I’ve missed off a zero, but let’s be realistic.