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E-Marketing Performance Blog

Investing in SEO: The SEO's Blood, Sweat and Tears

Being in the business of search engine marketing I sometimes get overwhelmed with the sheer number of hours necessary to fully market a site online. Actually, I can’t even say there is such a thing as “fully” marketing a site as there are truly an endless number of marketing options. There are so many things that can be done while also maintaining a budget both for the client and for the time involved.

Ninety percent of the online marketing services we provide are based on time. There are a few expenditures (directory submissions, etc) but most of the cost associated with our SEO services is hourly time going into each project: writing, analyzing, tweaking, optimizing, communicating, reporting, etc. Largely, I think it’s hard for any client to fully understand all of this, especially those looking for something “less expensive.”

When it comes to purchasing an SEO package, it all comes down to how much are you willing to pay per hour, and how many hours do you want to invest in your website’s promotion efforts? While many SEOs charge a package price, how much goes into that package is determined by how many hours of their time the SEO is willing to invest, and for how much. When you consider the SEO package as a matter of hours, $1000/month will buy you anywhere from 5-30 hours of work each month. Those willing to put in 30 hours for $1000 either have very low overhead or are not skilled enough to charge more per hour. Those putting in 5 hours per $1000 either have high overhead or are exceptionally skilled, or both.

But still, 5 hours, or even 10 hours per month spent on an optimization campaign isn’t a whole lot once you break down everything that goes into it. Here is a simple breakdown of what I would consider the average high-quality SEO campaign:

Keyword Research: Can take up to 10 hours initially, or more for extensive research, and perhaps another 30 minutes each month for additional research
Page Optimization: 3-6 hours (per page) for text and code development/optimization
Usability/Conversion Analysis & Reporting: 2-12 hours/month depending on depth of testing and reporting analysis
Link Building/Research: 10-40 hours per month depending on the size of the site
Miscellaneous Campaign Management: 2-10 hours per month depending on size of site

Depending on how the SEO charges, the bulk of this can be an upfront payment for a predetermined number of pages with little ongoing maintenance, or it can be spread out into monthly payments and include ongoing research, optimization and link development. I grouped a lot of little things together above for brevity, but spending 20 hours a month (averaged over 12-months) isn’t all that hard to achieve.

Assuming the average (quality) SEO firm charges $150/hour, you’re looking at $3000/month or $36,000 for a year. That’s no small chunk of change for the average small business. Not every SEO firm (including us) charges fees that high, but rarely is one person able to perform every aspect of an SEO campaign without hiring staff or sub-contracting out, and good specialized sub-contractors will charge anywhere from $35-$65 or more per hour. For the SEO to make any money they have to charge at least that much, if not more.

Undoubtedly, not every SEO will agree with all of my numbers above, but even looking at it conservatively, $10,000/year doesn’t garner the client a lot of time put into their SEO campaign. As I said before, it all comes down to time. Every SEO must figure out how best to invest their allotted hours. Will more be spent on text development than link building? Does usability/conversion analysis take a higher priority over anything else?

For us SEOs, sometimes the hard part is convincing clients to invest in our time (package costs), but in reality we should be convincing them to invest in their website. It’s not how much money the client is paying for SEO, it’s how much time their money will allow the SEO to invest in their website.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

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