With 2015 quickly approaching, many business owners are revamping their SEO strategies to stay ahead of their competition. However, developing an effective SEO strategy isn’t the only stressful factor business owners will face as it’s difficult to find a reliable SEO company, especially for businesses who have no prior experience dealing with an SEO firm.
“Very simply, businesses are looking for a magic bullet that will put them at the top of Google’s search results. We know, of course, that magic bullets don’t exist and that everybody can’t be number one. However, that doesn’t prevent a lot of clients from having unrealistic expectations,” says Internet Marketer Tim Felmingham.
Along with unrealistic expectations and lack of SEO knowledge, many businesses are simply in over their heads when trying to find an SEO firm. Often, the easy solution is to go with a company who appears to know what they are talking about, such as those that randomly send out emails promoting their services. But, these are often the companies to avoid. Forbes.com says to automatically avoid any company that sends unsolicited emails as they are just automated spam and you’ll probably never deal with a real person.
This just further adds to the uncertainty and confusion business owners face when trying to find an SEO company. If you can’t trust the firms contacting you by email, who can you trust?
Often, businesses want to go the cheapest route possible by hiring the company with the lowest rates, but you’ll quickly find that you get what you pay for. By making the wrong choice and going with the cheapest rate, it will end up costing you big as Forbes says businesses often face $5,000-$10,000 in additional costs to fix the mistakes of a bad SEO company.
It can seem like an impossible decision to make as multiple questions are raised during the process of finding a company, such as the average cost involved, what to look for in a company, and how to avoid penalties.
To help sort through the chaos of finding a reputable SEO firm, we interviewed SEO and internet marketing experts for the insider information you need to make an informed decision.
How much are businesses spending on SEO in 2015?
Of course, the size of the business needs to be taken into consideration when estimating how much a business will spend in 2015, but as Mike Templeman, Entrepreneur Magazine writer and SEO expert states, “The quick answer is, more than they did in 2014.”
When considering how much a business will spend for SEO, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as if you’re looking for a one time fix, a contracted monthly service, long-term results, or project-based services. Generally, a monthly retainer runs in the $2000-$15,000 range, while project-based services average between $1,000- $30,000. Some choose to hire on an hourly basis, which can run up to $400 per hour. The key factors are how many websites are being worked on, how many pages and keywords are being optimized, how competitive are the keywords and how much linking or content is being created.
To some, these prices may seem a little outrageous, but business owners need to understand that SEO is an investment as the increased online exposure leads to the further success of your business. You simply can’t afford not to be found online, even if that means paying a little more out of pocket to keep up with your competition. And, as previously mentioned, you’ll get what you pay for in terms of an SEO service. Low cost SEO is rarely the better option. In addition, most good SEO companies provide reporting on an ROI basis, so you know if you are making money back from your investment.
“For some reason, businesses are willing to pay 6k for a billboard or 7k for a radio campaign, but they balk at $500 per month when it comes to SEO,” says Templeman. “I believe business owners are beginning to come around and they’re realizing they have to invest in their online image. As a set figure, I would estimate a small business will spend roughly $500 per month. Mid Sized businesses $1,500 per month.”
Matthew Reischer, owner of LegalAdvice.com admits, “We will likely be spending
over $100,000 solely on SEO as part of our marketing budget.”
Other factors that must be considered when determining the cost for SEO services is whether or not other marketing and advertising services will be included in the package. Often, SEO is rolled into a business’s typical marketing and advertising campaign, while others only add SEO to the list of services when a problem arises.
“I doubt that many companies will actually budget for SEO,” says Felmingham. “Even though they may have formal budgets for advertising and PR, many companies will treat SEO as a tactical or one-off expense, or it will be unplanned in reaction to a perceived problem.”
Evaluating your marketing campaign as a whole and determining your overall goals will help determine a budget for SEO services.
What should I look for in an SEO company?
All businesses want to find the best and most reputable SEO company that falls within their budget. They want to see results, and they want to see results fast; however, when looking for an SEO company, that should be your first red flag. No one can control the internet and rankings. You need to be suspicious of a company that guarantees a number one spot on Google or instant results.
Many business owners aren’t aware of what they exactly want out of a company other than an increase of online presence. This is the first mistake. If you aren’t able to define your goals and know what you want out of an SEO firm, and instead are waiting for a firm to tell you what you need to do without having a baseline idea, you’re putting yourself at risk at being taken advantage of by a loathsome SEO firm.
When looking for an SEO company, you need to look at the bigger picture, not just a higher ranking. Yes, you want a higher ranking, but you need to understand that along with that ranking, it should also include a better ROI, customer leads, and sales. Simply, you need a company to produce results you can actually see in all areas, not just in ranking.
“Transparency, honesty, and real results are what you need to look for,” says Templeman. “The days of showing a keyword ranking going up are dead and gone. Clients know that visitors turn into customers and customers turn into revenues. They want an SEO company to produce visitors and show them how they’re doing it.”
John Lincoln, President of Ignite Visibility adds, “It really all comes down to ROI. Are we making clients more money than they are spending with us. We can report on this and generally make clients a big return. So they appreciate that.”
If a company seems shady or has a history of black hat tactics, you need to turn away and look elsewhere. The same is said if a company isn’t open and honest about all aspects of the campaign and the techniques they use.
There’s also a big difference in the types of campaigns that are run, too. For example, business owners need an SEO company who creates individual campaigns and not cookie cutter campaigns. SEO is not a one size fits all category. If they are trying to generalize your campaign without adding customized solutions, they aren’t the company for your business.
“A campaign should yield a ROI at some point within a planned strategic initiative. Campaigns which merely promise an increase in SERP but are detached from longer term goals and not aligned with the sales business channel are being viewed as not worthwhile and even dubious propositions for many business owners,” says Reischer.
When deciding what you want out of an SEO company, look at the bigger picture and the long-term results you want to see. If a company is able to understand your goals and has a plan of action to implement an effective strategy to achieve those goals, you know you’re heading in the right track when choosing a company.
Should I be worried about penalties?
By choosing the wrong SEO company, chances are you may be hit with Google penalties, not to mention, the fear of penalties when Google releases an algorithm update. However, many business owners aren’t as concerned about penalties as they should be as even Google has been penalized by itself multiple times, as well as BMW, JC Penny, Overstock, WordPress, Mozilla, and many other top companies. Penalties can hit anyone at anytime– both large and small.
“Google penalties hit everyone and anyone. Name brands like, JCPenny, Overstock, Priceline, and others have been severely penalized. And, small and medium sized businesses are penalized by the thousands on a daily basis,” says Templeman. “Who you choose as an SEO company can have a huge impact on your likelihood of being penalized. Take time to vet the right firm.”
Not utilizing the right firm, especially using those with black hat tactics, is the leading cause of penalties, which will cost big in the long run as you’ll have to hire another company to fix these penalties and mistakes. This is often the result of business owners not having the correct knowledge of SEO to recognize when an SEO agency is using black hat tactics.
“Most non-SEO-savvy businesses are not worried about penalties, or are even aware of them,” says Felmingham.
Furthermore, Reischer responds to the possibility of business owners choosing the wrong SEO company, stating, “The idea of paying someone to harm your business is a very real concern. SEO which is done improperly, will often require ameliorative efforts to fix and, therefore, can be a very costly mistake. In addition to the cost of repair, there is also all the lost business traffic that results from improper SEO.”
To reduce the risk of any future penalties, it is absolutely essential to take the time to choose a company that fully understands Google algorithms and only uses white hat tactics. Penalties are a very real concern and by taking the time to prepare for one before you’re penalized, you’ll save a lot of headache and hassle down the road, not to mention the money you will save by not having to hire someone for penalty recovery.
How do you know if an SEO company is good?
For the inexperienced business owner, it can be very difficult to figure out which SEO company is worth hiring. It’s a risky endeavor, but if you take the time to do a little bit of research prior to hiring a company, you’ll lessen the chance you end up paying for a costly mistake. Plus, you can always trust your gut.
When considering an SEO company, the first thing you should do is Google the company and check out reviews. Make sure you look beyond the first page of results because shady SEO firms know how to manipulate results to land on the first page. Just because they are listed #1 on Google doesn’t make them a good company. You want to find out as much as possible about a company before even considering to hire them.
“See where they’ve been mentioned, what the internet is saying about them, and really listen to what they say to you,” says Templeman. “If a company has the credibility of being featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, CNN, and other such places as experts, you can put some trust into that.”
There are also some red flags you should look for, such as guaranteeing results, promising instant results and a high ranking, cheap rates, and shady link building services.
The firm should maintain a realistic attitude about the results they believe they can produce for you. Also, they need to have a good understanding of your business and your goals to develop a personalized strategy– not a cookie cutter campaign.
Communication is also important. If a company isn’t communicating with you fully and explaining in detail how they will help your company, you need to take your business elsewhere. Transparency is key when working with an SEO firm. Finally, the proof is in the pudding. Check out their past work and ask for referrals to see their track record of success.
“Always seek out references for any SEO company you seek to employ. Only consider companies with a strong and established track record,” says Reischer. “Ultimately, however, trust is earned and one can never have complete confidence in an SEO team until the relationship develops and there is an opportunity for first hand verification.”
As with any SEO firm, it will take time to begin seeing results. However, during that time, your SEO firm should always keep you in the loop on what’s happening. Your concerns, questions, and ideas should all be acknowledged and addressed. If you feel as though they aren’t working with you and only want your money, you need to consider other options.
Does the company need to be local?
A search company doesn’t necessarily have to be local. Honestly, it’s a personal choice, yet many businesses, especially small businesses, prefer to conduct their business locally. However, depending on your location, it may be better to seek a firm that isn’t local due to their capabilities. Small town SEO firms aren’t always able to product the same results as more credible firms. Location shouldn’t be the main issue of your focus, but instead the results the company is able to produce no matter their location.
“Depending on the size of the engagement, a company may ask for a local account team, however, the beauty of the internet is that most of the work can be done from anywhere,” says Internet Marketer Jon Clark.
David Landis, owner of Rocker Rags, tends to agree, saying, “Locality isn’t as essential as their ability to successfully improve Rocker Rags’ SEO and follow Google’s rules for white hate SEO.”
Nowadays, the internet opens a lot of doors and possibilities, connecting people around the world with products and services. If you don’t want to stay with a local company, the possibilities are virtually endless. However, if you plan to expand your search beyond the Unites States, Templeman offers a few words of caution, “I would caution against going with firms out of the country if you’re unable to find information on them. Many Asian and Eastern European firms have been known to use shady practices and aren’t always up to speed on the best practices. Yet, even in those areas you can find good SEO companies. They’re just harder to find.”
If an SEO firm isn’t in your ideal location, but everything else about the company checks out, don’t let the location hold you back from going with a reputable company for your SEO needs.
Which is better– a big, medium, or small company?
The size of the SEO firms also comes into play during the search. Smaller businesses tend to want to use a smaller SEO firm because they are often more cost effective, while larger businesses tend to hire larger SEO firms because they have the financial means to do so and feel a larger company is able to produce better results.
“Big companies feel more comfortable dealing with big companies and the reverse holds true for small companies. Large SEO companies will often have a flashy pitch team, who are very impressive, but then the actual work is done by junior staff, rather than the people who impressed you in the first place,” explains Flemingham. “A lot of the best SEOs are individuals, rather than companies, and they will often be people that you have to persuade to work with you, rather than the other way around!”
Again, it all boils down to personal preference. “I prefer small companies as the attention is more personal,” admits Landis.
Templeman agrees with Landis, stating, “Larger companies SEO companies usually have a hard time providing high quality service to smaller businesses. They have so much overhead that they need to worry about their margins more than their product” Templeman goes on to say, “Small and medium sized firms usually are able to give the individual attention to an SEO campaign that a business owner would desire.”
The preference over a large or small company is really up to you and the resources you have locally. Generally, a small SEO company is considered 5 to 25 people. Most people do not choose the company based on the size, but based on the fit they offer to their particular business.
What’s the bottom line?
You need a versatile company that’s able to offer a full range of services, not just one or two. The world of SEO has evolved to include more than just keywords. There are a number of factors involved and the company you choose needs to be able to handle them all.
“The requirements of an SEO agency are quickly expanding to include content strategy, PR and even social in some cases. Companies today are looking for SEO agencies to not only complete the common SEO tasks of finding keywords to target and improving the technical architecture of a website, but also more common “marketing” activities that evolve around building a brand and driving qualified users to complete an action – purchase of a product, lead submission, phone call, etc.,” says Clark. “SEO agencies are uniquely positioned to really capitalize on this idea of “integrated marketing” because we sit at the intersections of many disciplines – content, development, strategy, creative, pay per click marketing, etc. Being able to speak eloquently about the opportunities that present themselves at each crossroad is vital in today’s world of SEO.”
You need a firm that’s able to utilize all current resources and trends, while meeting the algorithm requirements to increase your ranking and traffic. This further emphasizes the need to find a company that personalizes an SEO campaign for each business’s needs.
Take your time and do your research. Don’t make the choice in haste or because a company has low rates and guarantees results. You want to make a wise choice so you don’t end up having to pay more in the long run to fix the mistakes created by a shady SEO firm. At the end of the day, here are some of the most important things to focus on.
- Short-term contract.
- Employee to client ratio.
- Resume of Project Manager that will be working directly on the account.
- Traffic & Revenue goals.
The Business Guide to Choosing a SEO Company in 2015 was created by a third party writer. All interviews and insight in the guide were added without the influence of Ignite Visibility. While this is true, Ignite Visibility agrees with the principals in the 2015 SEO guide.
- “Choosing an SEO Company in 2013” SearchEngineJournal.com
- “How Much Should You Be Spening on SEO?” SmallBizClub.com
- “How Much Should You Spend on SEO?” WebProNews.com
- “How Much Should You Spend on SEO Services?” SearchEngineWatch.com
- “SEO: How to Avoid the Big Rip Off” Forbes.com
- “10 Big Brands the were Penalized by Google.” MarketingLand.com