A few days ago I stumbled upon this well-intentioned infographic put together by our friends at SEOBook, that attempts to answer a fair question posed to us by many of those we speak to about working together. The majority of the individuals we talk to represent the decision-makers behind marketing budgets, and nearly all are looking for tangible ROI indicators as they relate to SEO investment. And while SEOBook’s rationale makes sense in some ways, I think it misses the mark in several important areas (while also leaving me with the strange urge to play Pac-Man).
But as long as we’re on the topic…Why is SEO so “expensive?”
I should preface my response by reminding everyone that, at Terakeet, our version of the craft is somewhat different than that of our predecessors and peers in the industry. So rather than speak for the industry as a whole, I’d like to discuss what I believe are the four best arguments for our own cost model.
1.) SEO is Never “Done”
Many in the industry claim to sell “sustainable” SEO. The idea of optimization itself, as it relates to search, is inherently unsustainable, because the definition of optimal website performance changes as frequently as the evolution of the search algorithm. Search engine rankings, strategies, and tactics may indeed be unwavering, but the only sustainable expectation between them and how they influence each other is change itself. And so, rather than a means to an end, an investment in SEO represents an investment in strategy, adaptation, and agility beyond that of your competitors.
2.) Effective SEO isn’t Magic Beans, It’s Hard Work
Understanding SEO today is as much about overcoming stigma as it is knowing the practice itself. One of the more common conversations we have with prospective customers is one about the previous SEO consultants they’ve worked with, and the bad taste those vendor’s tactics left with them. Among those stigmas is the idea of the “quick-fix” or automation. Sustainable (here’s that word, again!) search engine optimization strategies are carried out by real people, not computers.
Providing SEO isn’t unlocking software or secrets, it’s providing human value as search engine algorithms require. Connecting with user intentions, reinforcing brand value, and providing great content is a war that requires soldiers, not drones.
3.) Opportunity Cost
The cost of not investing in SEO has never been higher. The organic search results represent among the last vestiges of objective consumer influence available to brands. Just as Angela was wise to bring to our attention, consumers have never relied more heavily on word-of-mouth than they do right now. With the way social media has been folded into organic search, the value of a seat at the table where decisions are made is only growing by the day. While people continue to pull down the blinds on traditional points of influence, organic search continues to represent a way for brands to reach people in their living rooms, in their cars, and on a park bench.
4.) Competition is a Relative Concept
SEO specialists speak a lot about competitors and how you can one-up them in strategies and tactics. It would be nice if evaluating the effectiveness of methods was that easy, but most of the time we’re left to make educated inferences as to why one site outranks another. There are too many factors at work at one time to assign causation between search engine ranking changes and SEO tactics at play. Understanding wins, losses, and draws as they relate to you and your competitors is not an exact science, because you’re often competing against non-actors. You may never be able to outrank a .gov or .edu site for your keyword through link curation alone (or any tactic for that matter), but you can reinforce the strength of your site’s content and user experience in such a way that you may be able to loosen that site’s stranglehold on traffic. Investment in SEO requires a cross-deployment of resources and human capital across different strategies and opportunities, rather than putting all of one’s eggs in one basket.
As seems to be the case with many things these days, you can seemingly pay as much or as little as you want for SEO services. So while we claim competition to be relative concept, perhaps what we perceive to be expensive is also relative- particularly when you take into account the demands of effective SEO consultants as we outlined above.