Search-engine optimization (SEO) isn’t always as well understood as some other forms of marketing. That’s not a problem for businesses that hire reputable SEO consultants who’ve put in the hard work to become experts, however—those companies don’t have to be skilled at SEO to realize seriously impressive gains. That lack of understanding is a big minus, though, for companies that choose an SEO provider solely on price. In many cases, cheap SEO is even a big danger.
Not only will you get what you pay for with the lowest-priced SEO; you may also get trouble you didn’t bargain for and a hit to your bottom line.
Short-term gains can cause long-term losses
I’m a business owner. I know what it’s like to stay on the lookout for ways to trim costs and how tough it can be to decide what has to go. There are some things, though, that are never on the cost-cutting table because they have the most long-term value to our success. Cutting corners on the people, tools or partnerships that help us increase our clients’ profits (and that we build our own reputation on) might offer a short-term lift in our bank balance, but it would kill us in the long run.
If you had a car repair business, how successful would you be using inferior parts or hiring unqualified mechanics simply because they kept your costs at rock bottom? The same holds true no matter what business you’re in: An investment in long-term quality pays off in terms of longevity, reputation, repeat business, and profit.
So what might you really get when you choose cheap SEO or the lowest-priced online marketing service? Let’s look at a few examples.
|SEO||Easy tricks such as keyword spam and redirects yield high rankings. Then Google catches up, penalizes you and rankings drop off quickly.||Competitive keywords, original content, your site’s structure — all are improved to ensure higher rankings with staying power.|
|Link-building||Cheap links lead to spam. Google’s new Penguin algorithm aggressively punishes sites with spam. Enough said.||Networks and relationships are carefully built over time to gain high-value links to relevant sources.|
|Content||Keyword-stuffed content is outdated. Google’s Panda algorithm ended the era of poorly written content, which doesn’t earn you customers anyway.||Great content created by professionals attracts attention, inspires action and builds your brand and your business.|
|Web design & development||Security issues, low conversion rates and no way to continuously improve SEO are some of the “features” of a $500 site.||Your site is the hub of your online marketing success. It’s the first impression of your business and every single aspect of it matters.|
In a perfect world, a license would be required to sell SEO and online marketing services. There would be a law against the unconditional guarantee of first-place rankings. (Google itself says it best in its own guidelines: “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.”) There would be fines for the damage that fly-by-night SEO “experts” do to companies’ websites as they leave them in much worse shape than they found them.
We’ve often come in to clean up such damage at DAGMAR. Some of our clients have had to devote their initial budgets to starting all over from scratch in order to get away from the penalties that cheap SEO brought down on their domains. In truth, you’d be better off devoting time to learning the basics of SEO yourself than hiring a cheap SEO provider that you’ll likely never meet face-to-face. You’d probably do much less harm.
A few words about black hat vs. white hat SEO
Hat color is a topic of some debate in the SEO world, but the generally accepted takes are that black hat SEO is bad and white hat is good. Here’s what it means for you as you’re looking for an SEO company:
- Black hat tactics include using keyword stuffing or using irrelevant keywords; and buying backlinks instead of earning them. Companies that fall into this category are likely to use these tactics to quickly gain traffic for your site, but they’re not sustainable since the search engines are adept at identifying these problems and ranking you accordingly.
- White hat tactics basically play by the rules. Reputable SEO companies will tell you right up front that it takes time to get results and that SEO is a long-term investment. The SEO marathon includes hours of work to get high-value, authoritative links, make improvements to your website, and manage a wide range of off-site SEO tasks.
The last word on black/white hat SEO: A good SEO provider also invests time in keeping up with industry standards to make sure its clients can continue to reap the benefits of new digital marketing opportunities. If a cheap SEO company isn’t doing the same, you’re not getting its best work.
No miracles, no magic. Just hard work.
We’re not the lowest-priced SEO by any means, and many are priced much higher. If prospective clients want keyword-loaded writing, a few low-quality links and a quick rise in the rankings for $500 a month, we’re not their shop. If they want a partnership and a plan with true relevance to their business goals, however, we’ll be here for them for the long haul.
Could we promise you better rankings overnight? Absolutely. But will that quick hit have any power to turn leads into customers? Not a chance.
As with any other form of professional marketing or advertising, it takes time, testing, experience and creativity to see incremental improvements. The return on investment may seem gradual at first, but the value of those returns will build on itself over time and be there working hard for you tomorrow.
How to sort out the good from the bad
Some brief advice if you’re looking for SEO help:
- Get and check references. It’s also good to look for reviews, but keep in mind that an unscrupulous SEO company may have manipulated its online reviews. Take review sources into consideration.
- Check out their own rankings as a company — most SEO shops don’t rank locally or rank for only one keyword phrase. Cheap SEO companies that can’t rank themselves for more than one search phrase probably can’t get multiple rankings for you.
- If they tell you that their work will be quick and easy and that nothing much needs to change on your site, be wary. (SEO is only as good as the website it’s built on and nearly every site has room for improvement. This is key to understanding what SEO can and cannot do.)
- If all they have to offer is a one-size-fits-all package, walk away.
- If they tell you that they’ve helped thousands of businesses maintain high rankings for less than you spend on lunch each month, run away.
Content is key
SEO strategies evolve along with and in response to changes in how search engines determine rankings. As time has gone on, content has risen to the top of the must-have list and stayed there because it’s the key to building long-term, sustainable SEO performance.
Content can be one of the main differentiators between cheap SEO and SEO providers that are worth the investment. Here’s why: Not just any content will do—it must be high-quality, relevant to both your company and your desired audience, and written in clear language. Your content must also be kept fresh, whether that means publishing a new blog post or adding updated information to your web pages.
When choosing an SEO company, look for a digital marketing strategy that includes a content strategy. A prospective SEO provider should be able to tell you its plan for how it will use content and why.
Again, as with the overall cost of SEO services, quality content doesn’t come cheap. If an SEO company says that content development is part of its bargain-basement price, it’s almost certain it’s paying very little for what content it does provide, and that content probably won’t do much for you. In fact, it can even do some damage if it’s crammed with spammy keywords or other black-hat SEO tactics, causing Google to send you to the back of the line.
You don’t have to have the highest-paid writers working on your content, especially if you’re not in a highly technical field. Good, solid writing is available at prices that should be considered reasonable, when you take into account what kind of returns it can bring you for your marketing budget. Just beware of writing prices that are too good to be true, because they almost always are.
Invest in a custom SEO plan
Even if you don’t have a large budget, a good SEO agency will know how to put the money you do have to its best use with a plan that’s tailored to your needs.
Your company’s reputation and the face it presents to the world online is beyond price. Trust it to professionals who are willing to stake their own reputations right alongside yours.
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