Is Paying For SEO Worth It? (The Data Driven Answer)

Is paying for SEO worth it? 

This is a question that a lot of people ask when they are trying to grow traffic to their website.

And I am sure you will agree, the SEO industry has a very poor reputation surrounding it.

This is something I am striving to fight against through providing honest SEO training and services

So, today I am going to give you the definitive, data driven answer.

It is an article that has been created for anyone thinking of buying SEO and also anyone selling SEO as a service.

And while conducting research for this article I was shocked at what I discovered.


Yes, I knew SEO was valuable but the actual worth of high quality SEO shocked me.

And more so, how SEO actually impacts every area of online marketing

I make no apologies, this is a complicated and in-depth post but if you are considering spending significant amounts of money on SEO then you will definitely find this post useful.

By the end of this article you will know:

  • If SEO is worth paying for.
  • How much you should pay for SEO.
  • What kind of results you should expect to see from your SEO.
  • How to increase sales using The SEO Stadium Pitch
  •  Why SEO is one of the most powerful methods of marketing.
  • How SEO and PPC work together
  • And much more.

So, if you are ready to begin, let's do this:

The Old Way Of Measuring SEO Value

Before we begin we need to go over the old fashioned way of measuring SEO.

This method is still used today by a lot of SEO's and for that reason we need to eliminate this straight away.

Why?

Because SEO's were so quick to justify the use of their services they set up a way to measure their worth that was both inaccurate and actually undersold the value of SEO.

It is generally for this reason that SEO was sold as a low priced service (and generally still is).

So, what was this method you ask?

It is the Traffic And Conversion Rate Method and it worked like this:

The SEO would ask the client what their current conversion rate was and what they earned per conversion, they would then head over to a tool such as Ahrefs and type into the keyword explorer for the search terms the client wished to rank highly for.

Using this data they would take a look at the potential traffic that ranking in the top 3 results could bring to their site.

Add these up and then work out what the increase in traffic would likely to give them based on their average conversion rate.

So if the clients average conversion rate was 1% and due to the SEO efforts the site would increase in traffic by about 5000 visits per month.

This means that your efforts would give them an extra 50 sales per month or 600 sales per year.

It is for this reason that SEO service providers often tried to gain clients that were deemed as 'high ticket' services, things such as Rhinoplasty, Roofing, Dental and so on.

The idea was that if the SEO was successful the potential sales would be of such high value the SEO could charge more. So, for example if the 'roofer' charged £2000 per roof and you helped them generate an extra 15 sales per month this would bring in a whopping £30,000 in extra revenue.

With this being known, the SEO could easily charge high figures.

And for years this way if thinking worked for both clients and SEO's alike. 

That was of course until clients started to become aware of two factors.

1. The SEO took far longer to gain results as Google became more sophisticated

2. Significant traffic that SEO's gained would not provide immediate conversion if any at all.

And so, the vast majority of SEO providers did what everyone does when they struggle to justify their prices, they lowered them.

And right now you can find a swathe of SEO's that will happily work on your site for peanuts, and often the results never come for the clients.

The end result is that SEO gained a bad reputation

And this of course naturally lead the the next issue we need to tackle, the increase in the number of people who wanted to pay for Adwords to be at the top of Google.

Can You Pay To Be At The Top Of Google?

SEO costs money and takes a lot of time, so it makes natural sense for a potential SEO client to say to themselves ' why should I pay for SEO when I can pay to be at the top of Google'.

PPC V's SEO is a debate that has undergone a great deal of debate over the years.

And still today many turn to SEO to avoid paying for Google Adwords and vice versa, they look at Google Adwords due to a bad experience or lack of faith with SEO.

Yes, you can pay to be at the top of Google, this is true but what clients and SEO service providers often fail to understand is that Google Adwords and other pay per click marketing is not the same as SEO.

Search Engine Optimisation and Google Adwords are very different types of marketing and while they exist in the same eco system, they are different animals (we will identify why they are different later on)

So, what does the data actually say?

At the 2018 Brighton SEO conference SEO expert Rand Fishkin provided the audience with this data:

The data Rand provided via SparkToro and Jumpshot data was shocking.

Across all of the searches that go into Google, those ranked in the organic listings gained a huge 52.96% click through rate and the paid adverts received only 3.49% click through rate.

And a shocking 47.04% of searches are no clicks.

Roughly this translates to 15 organic clicks for every paid click.

If this were a competition, SEO would be winning hands down, in fact it wouldn't be a fair fight at all, simply put most people click on the organic listings. 

But as Adwords made around $95 Billion from advertising in 2017 you can be certain that their product works fine and does deliver results.

So, can you simply pay to be at the top of Google and win?

The answer is yes and no.

Because Organic Search Marketing and Pay Per Click Marketing can be used in two different ways.

Pay Per Click V's SEO

The duel of the century, pay per click (Google Adwords) versus SEO (search engine optimisation).

Or at least this is generally how marketing companies and clients tend to see things.

People who don't have the budget for Adwords look to find cheap SEO providers and people who have been burned by poor quality SEO turn to PPC.

And if you have the budget then you have both.

The issue, however ,is that PPC and SEO are two very different types of marketing.

And to understand if SEO is worth paying for you need to get your head around this first:

The Two Types Of Marketing

There are two types of marketing.

Brand Marketing and Direct Advertising.

Direct advertising is any type of advertising that has a direct and specific call to action in it.

This could be Google Adwords, display advertising, magazine ads and even the Yellow Pages.

Your call to action could be a sale, filling a contact form and pressing the submit button, a sign up to a newsletter, a phone call or anything where you need a precise action from the customer.

Brand marketing is telling the story of your business to others. 

This is usually in the form of blogs, podcasts, YouTube, organic social media, PR and radio.

The difference is that while you may get sales from your brand marketing efforts, this is not what your focus is for that activity. 

The problem arises when you try and measure brand marketing as if it were direct advertising. 

They are two different approaches and can't be measured in the same way.

Ok, so let us get more specific with some online examples.

If we make a generic search for a Plumber in London as we would expect a series of Google ads pop up.

These are plumbers using Adwords to gain leads.

The intention behind this marketing is to have someone to get into contact, in fact when we click on one of the results it is simply a landing page, it has no other pages on the site:

This is a perfect example of direct advertising.

There is a clear call to action and the success of this marketing is judged quite literally on the amount of calls that come into the site.

Brand marketing however is very different, it is the cost of telling your story.

It is all about reaching potential customers when they need you, IE. when they are searching in Google.

This is a great example of brand marketing through search engines

As we can see, the search term 'best tap ideas' brings up a featured search snippet from an article with 7 tap ideas.

The company behind this article (Victorian Plumbing) are helping to inspire potential customers.

But if we were to judge this on the old way of assessing the value of SEO it wouldn't be worth doing because it us unlikely that it would convert highly.

The reason for this is that there are in fact a variety of 'search types' in Google.

The 3 Search Types In Google

There are a lot of ways to search the internet.

We now have voice search, mobile, tablet and of course desktop/ laptop. 

And more are coming with the rise in TV's that have Google assistant built in.

But despite the ever growing ways to search there are only 3 real kinds of searches:

1. Navigational Search Queries

2. Transactional Search Queries

3. Informational Search Queries


A navigational search is where you would search Google directly for something.

This is a website you know and want to go to directly.

A search that is high in transactional intent is one where a consumer is closer to looking to buy or make some kind of online transaction, they have probably made the decision to purchase or are certainly close to buying.

It doesn't necessarily mean they will purchase something online, it might be booking a table for a restaurant (and doing that via phone), filling in a form online to see if they qualify for a loan or even creating a Facebook account. 

A search that is higher in buyer intent will usually cost more to have an advert placed there using Adwords.

And lastly we have informational searches, these are searches where we are looking for more information around a subject. 

In this example we can see that a post called the Top 10 holiday destinations by a Villa Holiday sales website is the featured snippet.

Not all of these searches produce direct sales, yet as we will learn later on, they are all part of how sales come.

Why A Direct Advertising Conversion Doesn't Always = A Sale

Would you do a search and click on an advert and buy from a company you never heard of?

No, I wouldn't either and this is because a lot of the businesses in the ads are ones I have never heard of.

I don't know them and I am not in a rush to buy.

Research conducted online by Wordstream reveals that the average conversion rate for Adwords across all industries is just 3.75% for Google AdWords and 0.77% for Google display advertising.

So, let us say that you are paying around the average cost per click of about £2 per click to you website.

You would make just 75 sales after 2000 clicks and those clicks would of course cost you £4000.

If you were spending this money every month you would spend £48,000 a year on PPC and generate 900 sales (75  sales per month x 12 = 900).

And this of course could be very lucrative if of course you make the sale straight away.

Source: Wordstream

But very rarely does a business close a sale immediately. 

And this is where the problem comes in. 

Because that data is based on conversions and not sales.

If you recall earlier we talked about how direct advertising success is based on gaining conversions, and these can be anything from a sale to filling in a contact form.

That does not mean you have made a sale.

In essence it can take a lot longer to make that sale than just getting a lead!

The process of taking a lead to a sale is called 'lead nurturing' and statistics state that a shocking 79% of leads never turn into sales and it can take as long as 12 months to take that lead and turn them into a sale.

So if we took our 900 'conversions' example this would reduce our £48,000 Adwords spend into generating just 189 sales. 

And as we know, sales do not generate 100% profit, every business will have an operating cost, it is never all profit.

It is for this and many reasons that SEO starts to raise its head as not only a valid tactic but an extremely cost effective one.

Time To Unleash The Power Of SEO

If you made it this far in the article you will probably be thinking, 'OK but telling me about the failings of Adwords does not mean SEO is any good'.

It is a fair point.

But first let me be clear, direct advertising works.

It makes sense and if you are serious about marketing you should be spending on things like Adwords.

But the issue with direct advertising is that it is very difficult to get it to work successfully and at profit. 

If you think about it, if you could make money every time through spending on Adwords, you would keep spending more and more on Adwords.

That is because in theory you should be able to scale your spend and make money, in essence growing your business.

We know that doesn't happen easily because as stated '79% of leads do not turn into sales'.

So where does SEO come into this?

SEO is a brand marketing tactic.

I will repeat that again.

SEO is a brand marketing tactic.

If you recall earlier in the article I stated that things like blogging, YouTube etc were considered brand marketing tactics and you should not try and measure them based on their ROI (return on investment).

You may and probably will make sales from doing them, but it is the cost of telling the story of your business to potential consumers. Making sales directly is not the goal.

It makes sense to be seen by consumers in various parts of their search journey.

So, how do we actually use SEO to increase sales?

How To Increase Sales Using The SEO Stadium Pitch 

Sales are the lifeblood of your business, so how do you use SEO to boost your sales.

Well, almost every business at its core exists to solve a problem:

Lawyers: There to solve someones legal problems.

Dentists: There to solve someones teeth problems.

Personal trainers: Their to solve someones health and fitness problems.

And so on.

The point is when we have a problem we look for solutions.

Now some problems need to be solved immediately.

So if you are locked out of your house you will Google for Locksmiths and probably hire an emergency locksmith there and then.

But more complicated and often higher priced items usually solve bigger and more life changing problems.

And as such a consumer will research first before deciding to buy.

And this is where the power of SEO comes in.

Your aim is to be seen by the potential customer when they search for a solution to their problem.

That doesn't mean they will buy there and then, it simply means you have helped them and this is the first stage of gaining a sale. Establishing trust, knowledge and expertise in the eyes of the customer.

Because we buy from who we know like and trust.

And that is all SEO really is, a way of introducing your business to a potential customer by helping to solve their problems.

Now at first you will be helping them to solve their own problems, but very often, when people are educated about what it takes to solve their issues, they often look for a professional to solve their problem for them.

Of course, you already know this.

Because this is how you buy things.

So, can The SEO Stadium Pitch help you?

Simply put to make SEO work for you, you need to focus on educating your target audience.

The late Chet Holmes was one of the best known sales trainers in the world.

He created an approach that is known as The Stadium Pitch.

And it goes a bit like this:

Imagine a stadium full of your ideal prospects. These are your target audience, the people that you would love to have as your customers.

You have a microphone and can talk to them all.

So how many do you think are actually ready to buy?

25%? 10%? 75%?

This is the question Chet asks and based on his years of sales experience he realised the figures are not what you would think.

As we can see:

3% of your perfect audience would buy right now.

5-7% are open to the idea of it.

30% are not thinking about the issue that your product solves.

30% don't think they are interested.

30% know they are not interested.

Chet devised a solution that would start to move those who were not thinking about the product or ready to buy or even interested and he called this 'Education-Based Marketing'.

In essence if you educate your audience as to why this product or service is superb and why they should buy, you can move them up the pyramid and turn them into buyers.

Great, but how do you actually achieve this with SEO?

The answer is to create educational 'Power Page' style content that will educate the people in your target audience.

A power page is a strategically created piece of content design to rank on the first page of Google.

This content is going to be high quality and designed to rank for key phrases that you audience is searching for during the various touch points in their consumer journey.

And if you are curious, yes, this article is a power page.

And power pages are the core of the SEO Stadium Pitch and by using this approach you should see your sales grow over time. 

But is there any data to support the SEO Stadium Pitch as a valid tactic to grow sales?

How Google Backs Up The Use Of The SEO Stadium Pitch

I promised data to support the points that I made in this article and there really is no greater source than Google itself.

In December 2017 Think With Google released some exciting data relating to search behaviour. 

It turns out that there had been an increase in consumers  looking for 'Ideas' and inspiration as search strings.

For example:

"Bathroom Ideas"

"Baby name ideas"

"Valentines day present ideas"

This sharp increase in searches shows that the consumer is actively looking for ideas and inspiration and it is in these moments that the company that focuses on organic content wins through SEO and Power Pages.

Google refers to these as 'Micro Moments'.

Micro Moments are as defined by Google:

"Micro-moments occur when people reflexively turn to a device—increasingly a smartphone—to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something, or buy something.

They are intent-rich moments when decisions are made and preferences shaped. "

This means that businesses need to show up in the search engine results (the organic ones) as early as possible in the searchers journey.

Why?

Well Google have discovered that 1 in 3 smartphone users have purchased from a company or brand other than the one they intended to because of information provided in the moment they needed it.

Just think about this, a third of smart phone users change their purchase decision based on information provided to them online.

So, you can be certain that content created for SEO purposes has the power to attract to attract buyers and also help you to defeat the competition. 

How Many Touch Points Does A Consumer Need Before They Buy?

A touch point is any contact a consumer has with a business and there is an exchange of information, a contact or even a transaction. 

And this is especially important to understand when you come to look at the value that SEO has for your business.

So, just how many 'touch points' does there need to be before a sale is made?

The answer is....it could be over 1000!

Google conducted research of thousands of search experiences and discovered that no two buyer journeys are the same.

Google looked  into search journey examples and discovered:

A search for make up resulted in 5 searches and 125 touch points prior to sale.

A buyer looking for headphones made 3 searches yet had over 375 total touch points before they purchased any.

A consumer looking for a flight made 4 key searches and had over 500 touch points

A searcher looking for a gaming console had an 89 day search journey with over 1,100 total touch points and 10 searches prior to purchase.

And a searcher for candy made only 1 search and had just 20 touch points before they bought.

The advice from Google was clear:

"Look past impressions, clicks, and online conversions and connect your media to revenue, gross margin, and profits." - Google

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This is data driven marketing.

Understanding that buyer journey's are not as simple as 'search and click on an advert'. 

So, how can we use SEO to create business growth?

How To Use SEO To Fuel Your Business Growth

By now you will have read a lot of data so let's do a refresh on the key points:

  • Organic search results have a click through rate of 52.96% compared to just 3.49% for PPC
  • The average conversion rate for an Adwords listing is just 3.75% and 0.77% for Google display advertising
  • 79% of leads do not convert to paying customers
  • The number of touch points a customer will have could be over as 1000, each product and niche differs.

So, the question is, with so many searches going on, how can a business succeed online?

The answer lies in search ascension.

As we saw in the SEO stadium pitch, the core objective of your SEO efforts will be to educate your customer so that they understand why they need your product or service.

But how exactly does this translate into making them a buyer?

Search ascension is the natural process of a person going through the buyer journey.

There are 3 stages:

1. Be Found by future customers when they look for information.
2. Be found when customers are looking to buy.
3. Customers search for you first.
We will examine each of these stages in detail:


How To Be Found by Future Customers When They Look For Information.

We know from Google that it all starts with a search.

This makes sense, but when you consider that there are 40,000 searches made on Google every second it shows just how big search marketing really is.

But how do consumers use search?

They use search to research.

A study by Google themselves found that a huge 63% of online deal shoppers research before making any purchase decision.

As we have seen by our research, a consumer might have an incredibly long journey prior to purchase and make many searches and touch points, why? Because they are looking for information.

The best use of SEO, is of course, to be the provider of this information and to be found in the search results for the questions the consumer needs answering.

But how do you know what these questions are?

Fortunately modern tools such as Ahrefs make this task a lot easier.

As we can see, if we use the Ahrefs keyword explorer and type in a broad industry term such as 'web design' we can see a tab that says 'questions'.

As we can see you gain a wide range of questions that consumers ask/ search for.

'But these are low search volumes'

Yes, they are, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't answer them on your website or even try and rank online for them. 

These are what Google refers to as 'Micro moments', and by showing up when the consumer has a question you are more likely to shape their purchase decisions.

This matters with local search too.

If you are a local business you might only show up for a focused search such as 'hairdressers near me' but by investing in your on page SEO (ie. the copy on your website) and answering these 'micro questions' you are more likely to influence a purchase decision. 

The key is to be found when your consumer starts to conduct research and give them the information that educates them.

How To Be Found When Customers Are Looking To Buy.

The next stage of positive SEO is to be found when the customers are looking to buy.

This is where the world of PPC and SEO come together.

We know that Google Adwords conversion rates are on average 3.75% but what about the organic traffic conversion rate?

A survey conducted by Marketing Sherpa placed the organic conversion rate across all industries at 16%.

However as previously discussed as SEO is a brand marketing tactic, working out 'which page' you are converting customers on is actually largely a futile experience.

While conversion optimisation is a great idea and can add huge amounts of revenue to any business, we also know that with consumers making as many as 1000 touch points prior to purchase, a business cannot ignore the importance of the SEO and micro moments that come before a customer converts.

And figuring out when the customer had their 'aha' moment and decided to buy from you is almost an impossible task.

It is again for this reason that good SEO can have a massive impact on your overall conversion rate and it could be argued that great SEO is the most powerful tool for conversion optimisation.

But does that mean that you shouldn't spend on Google Adwords?

The answer is a resounding no.

If you recall we have 2 types of marketing, direct advertising and brand marketing.

Direct advertising is anything with a call to action and brand marketing is the telling of your business story.

Google Adwords can be used for both direct advertising and brand marketing purposes.

An example of this is the landing page software Instapage:

As we can see for their brand search term they are both using Ads and also rank organically.

Why use Ads for their brand terms?

Easy, it stops others from stealing potential customers which is what Lead Pages is trying to achieve with their advert:

This is a classic example of two companies using Google Adwords with different marketing intent.

The Insta Page software (what the customer is actually searching for) is conducting brand marketing with their Google Ad. 

Lead pages on the other hand is conducting direct advertising.

They use the phrase 'Try Lead Pages Instead' and ''Free 14 Day Trial''.

This is a clear call to action and can be tracked to check it's performance.

Had the Leadpages advert read 'Landing page creator, learn more about our amazing software', the intent would have clearly been towards brand marketing.

Yes, that page might have converted, but that is not the main goal.

However as we know that conversion rates vary greatly from the organic listings and Google Adwords it makes perfect sense for a business to show up in BOTH LISTINGS.

When the customer is willing to buy, they are going to either click on the ad or the organic listing but at that point you win, you make the conversion. 

Which listing the consumer clicks is up to them, the point is that you are there in both the organic listings and the paid ads when the consumer is ready to purchase.

Why You Win When The Customers Search For You First

The final stage of our search ascension ladder is being found directly by the customer.

This is where a business wins big because you are the go to choice for the consumer.

In 2011 Google undertook a large amount of research around 'moments of truth marketing' and discovered how search had changed the way we buy goods.

Moment of truth marketing is a concept that has been around for a number of years. 

In essence after the stimulus to purchase something there were traditionally 3 moments of truth that lead to business growth.

1. The point of purchase: was purchasing the item a simple and positive experience?

2. Did the product deliver the promised results, did it live up to expectations?

3. Did the consumer buy the product again?

What Google discovered was that prior to purchase there was a research phase (what we have talked about throughout this article) and they named this phase ZMOT or Zero Moment of Truth. 

In reality they discovered that consumers went online and researched prior to purchase, sometimes extensively. 

For a business this is where your SEO comes into power, it revolves around helping the customer to make their decision, the decision that your product or service is best for them.

But if your business has successfully moved through the moments of truth, the key to continued growth is when they search for you directly.

If you recall this is what we call a Navigational search query.

When you do this, your customer comes to you directly and you have won the search engine game.

You are the customers 'go to' solution every time they have a problem that your business solves. 

OK, this is all great, but as a client you might be wondering, 'how do you judge your success of your SEO?'

This is what we will look at now:

How To Judge The Success Of Your SEO

Throughout this post I have tried to give you a clear indication of why SEO is so important for your marketing.

It underpins everything from brand discovery to eventual  sales conversion rates.

SEO is not about being ranked higher in Google for a single certain phrase, it is about helping you to increase your overall sales and Google has made it clear, 'stop focusing on impressions, clicks and online conversion rates'.

But as a customer you need to know how to judge the success of your SEO and marketing.

Fortunately there is a way to do this.

The single factor you should be judging your SEO on is:

Search rankings for pre-determined queries:

The SEO and customer should have agreed keywords to target and therefore the increase in rankings can be used as a judgement on performance.

They should not be judged on traffic increases, navigational search increase, click through increases or sales increases.

The single metric to judge the SEO on is rankings for the right keywords.

Of course, the skill of the SEO is in conducting keyword research that will impact the business. 

As a business owner you need to know 'why the keywords they have chosen are important'. 

You need to be found by the customer for the 3 types of searches and you need to show up when they need you.

As we have seen and is documented by Google, how a customer chooses who to buy from is a complex process and so by tracking the ranking of those keywords you will have a far better way of knowing if your SEO is working well for your business.

Secondary Benefits of High Performing SEO

While the data suggests that judging an SEO on how high they have ranked your website for the keywords that matter to your audience is the best way of judging your SEO performance, there are a wide range of secondary benefits that will happen.

Organic Traffic Increase:

If you are ranking for more keywords you should increase your websites organic traffic.

This can easily be checked by looking at your Google Analytics, but remember this is not necessarily the way to judge your SEO well.

If an SEO gains you an extra 15,000 monthly visits for traffic that does not help the consumer, then that would largely be a waste.

A great example of high traffic industries that serve no use to the growth of the business is the PR industry.

A look at the website PR Newswire reveals incredible SEO stats:

As we can see this site gains 2.9 Million monthly visits but when we check their keywords we can see that these are keywords that  are not likely to help them as a business:

For this reason organic traffic increases are only a secondary benefit because it is quality and not quantity of traffic that matters.

An Increase In Brand Navigational Queries

If your SEO is performing well, a by product of the SEO could be an increase of brand navigational queries (visitors who have searched directly for your brand name).

You can discover this in your Google Analytics data.

Of course the issue with this is that the SEO could be taking credit for other marketing efforts.

For example, let us say you have just finished a campaign where your product was promoted by an Instagram influencer and your brand has been seen by millions, well if the SEO is judged on navigational search traffic they might be gaining credit where it is not due.

And to be fair other marketing efforts such as social media could boost brand queries, so consider brand organic traffic a secondary bonus.

An Increase In Leads And Sales

Every business owner wants to judge and SEO on their increase in leads and sales.

The issue is, the data suggest that this is not what you should be judging your SEO results on.

However it is natural that leads and sales will likely to increase via SEO.

As we saw earlier, lead nurture is a process and could involve re targeting with ads, email marketing and other variations.

And as we saw it can take as long as 12 months to convert a lead. 

So, the secondary sales and lead results of SEO might take at least 12 months to 2 years before you start to see them truly take affect.

It is for this reason that judging the SEO performance on leads and sales is a terrible idea.

So, that SEO that you sacked a few years ago, they might have actually been fuelling your business growth over the last 2 years without you knowing!

"That SEO you sacked a few years ago, they might have fuelled your business growth over the last 2 years without you knowing!"- Andrew Holland

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What SEO's Should Be Doing For Your Business

By now you should be on the path to realising that SEO is not what you thought it was as a business owner and maybe even an SEO provider.

So what should you be doing/ expecting from SEO work.

Right now, one of the biggest 'scams' in SEO is to provide 'link packages'.

This is when a customer orders SEO work and the service provider gives them a certain number of backlinks and maybe even some added blog content'.

These are the deliverable's that the SEO company bases its service levels on.

Not surprisingly we now have a wide range of SEO white label service providers who will happily give SEO agencies the links and content that they want.

In these situations the SEO service provider hooks up with the white label service, orders the work and then charges the client so they make a profit.

It is the ultimate model of business, making money from zero work.

However, quality of backlinks and content are huge SEO ranking factors, so after the client has signed up for a lengthy contract with the SEO provider, the vast majority of clients see no improvements in keyword rankings or any of the secondary benefits of SEO.

But they have still done their job, they have given them what they said was SEO, backlinks and content.

Yes, backlinks are important in SEO but as previously stated that is not what an SEO should be judged on, the amount of links they can gain.

So, what should SEO's be doing for you?

Well as I said, you should judge an SEO on the rankings they improve of the targeted keywords and how they improve these keyword rankings is up to their level of SEO skill.

But in reality you can and should expect an SEO to be completing on page technical SEO improvements that support this goal, they should be creating content for your site and also making efforts to build quality backlinks. 

And that is about all you should be expecting them to actually do.

The number of backlinks they build is not important if the rankings start to increase, so if they don't manage to build any, yet through on-page SEO improvements the rankings come, then great.

Of course you should expect an SEO to show you the results of his efforts each month in a ranking report and also tell you what kind of work they are doing.

But SEO is more like search engine surgery, than constant graft.

A single change on your site that took 10 minutes could have massive results, yet it probably took the SEO 10 years to learn how to do this!

The SEO provides the outcome you want, not an hourly time sheet.

But what should you pay for SEO? What should it cost?

What Should SEO Cost?

If you have made it this far, well done.

But by now you are possibly thinking, 'what should I be paying for SEO?' and if you are an SEO, perhaps you will be wondering 'what should I charge for SEO?'

Fortunately Ahrefs conducted a study in 2018 into the pricing of SEO.

Based on that study we know that some SEO's charge an hourly rate of up to $150 an hour.

Some SEO providers charge a fixed fee of between $501 to $1000.

And some SEO service providers charge a monthly retainer of between $501 and $1000 per month.

Of course there were some wide variations in the Ahrefs survey with prices sky high and dirt cheap.

But if we are going to focus on what SEO should cost let me explain what way you should never pay for SEO and certainly never charge by.

And that no-no is charging or paying by the hour.

Why You Should Never Pay or Charge By The Hour For SEO

It sounds fair doesn't it?

An hours work for an hours pay.

And many great SEO providers charge this way.

However, when you break it down it is not fair for both the client or the SEO, and If you charge by the hour you are actually penalising yourself.

Let us take the story of 2 different SEO providers:

SEO provider 1 is a 19 year old in house SEO at a web design agency.

They have learned how to do SEO from reading a few blogs and have never ranked a site of their own on Google. 

They currently do a day a week at college learning marketing and the agency he works at charge SEO at £50 an hour.

They sell this in 10 hour packages starting at a minimum of 1 block per month for £500.

They anticipate it will take at least 12 months to see results, so at least a £6000 cost.

SEO provider 2 is a 32 year old SEO specialist, they work as a freelancer and have a long history of ranking websites and a range of case studies.

They don't charge by the hour and offer a fixed price retainer of £2000 a month. They don't know when the results will come for you but they promise to track progress and use the best techniques possible for you.

Which would you choose?

With budget allowing most people would choose provider 2. 

Can I ask you, at any stage did the hourly work come into your mind or was it the possibility that SEO provider 1 would not get you results?

And for that reason, you should not pay or charge for SEO by the hour.

If you are efficient at SEO you will be penalising yourself for being quicker than a poor quality SEO.

If you have a slow worker you will be paying for their lack of speed.

So, the question to you as a customer or provider is simple, which matters most? The results or the amount of hours it took to get them?

But we still haven't answered what you should pay for SEO.

The answer to this is....it depends.

Value Based SEO Pricing

Would a multi million pound company pay £500 for their business logo?

In is highly unlikely.

Their logo will represent their company on websites, adverts, letter heads, clothing, signage and so many more customer touch points.

But would a 3 employee, small hardware store in Preston, England pay £10,000 for a logo?

No, it is highly unlikely.

Why?

It is because they simply wouldn't get the same level of value from it.

And so, SEO is exactly the same.

A business with a small turnover, wouldn't get the same level of value from SEO as a small, medium or large business with a large turnover.

Why you might ask?

Because companies with larger turnovers tend to either have a product or service that is in high demand or solves an important or complex issue for the consumer.

This often attracts a higher price tag for the product or service.

So, what you will pay will often depend on the size of  business that you are and the product/ service you sell.

Simply put, the bigger you are, the larger effect the benefits of SEO should have on your business.

Now, that doesn't mean that small turnover business owners shouldn't pay a good sum of money for SEO.

Search Engine Optimisation is a very specific and specialised task, but of course there is going to be a ceiling price.

It is unlikely that a small turnover business can afford to shell out £12,000 for a years worth of SEO services.

And that is where a good SEO will create a package that works with the client size in mind.

In addition, that equally doesn't mean that a business with a high turnover should be charged £100,000 for SEO. 

They too will have a ceiling price in relation to the benefits they gain.

But in my experience a good SEO service for a small turnover business could start at around £500 per month on retainer and for a large turnover business up to £20,000 per month.

It all depends on the amount of work that they need to do and the value from SEO they will gain.

OK, so now you have decided SEO is what you need, how exactly are you going to find the money from your ever shrinking marketing budget?

Where To Place SEO Amongst Your Marketing Budget Priorities 

From social media to PR, it seems that marketing budgets find themselves under more and more pressure these days and now you have decided that SEO is worth paying for.

So how are you going to do this?

It all comes down to the brand marketing versus direct advertising again.

With direct advertising, everything that you are asking for a call to action from the respondent, you need to test.

You start small and only increase your budget when you have data that shows the advert is converting well against industry norms.

Direct advertising should pay for itself and make you profit.

With brand marketing you set a budget and spend it all.

Now, as stated there is a lot that could come out of your brand marketing budget:

PR, Radio, podcasting, email marketing, newsletters, magazine coverage, video marketing, social media, SEO and a few I have probably missed.

In my experience the vast majority of marketing budgets tend to be spent on traditional PR agencies.

These agencies that have in the past been reliant on traditional media such as newspapers and magazines have now started to evolve and become 'web agencies', offering services such as web design, social media marketing and even SEO alongside their traditional offerings.

My view has been and always is, hire specialists in every field rather than a 'does it all' agency, regardless of if they call themselves a PR agency or digital marketing agency.

That being said, you still need to find this money.

Once you have separated your budget into brand and direct you then need to go through both sides to eliminate waste.

This means stopping adverts that are poor performing and also stopping any PR that you cannot track as having a positive and tangible benefit to your business.

Having your business featured in a magazine is great, except it will be thrown in the recycling the next week and how do you even know if anyone read it?

As stated throughout this post, SEO has proven benefits across all your marketing campaigns.

It is, and should be, the backbone of your brand marketing efforts.

So the vast majority of your budget needs to be shifted towards SEO.

Then having allocated enough money and securing a high quality SEO service provider you should seek to use what is left on social media marketing and other forms of brand marketing.

How much money is left, will of course depend on your business and its business model, but we need to make this clear, without the ability to be found in search engines, to answer the important questions your consumer has and to be there at the various stages of the buyer journey (potentially 1000 touch points) your other marketing efforts will be considerably less effective.

SEO must be a marketing priority for businesses moving forward.

"SEO must be a marketing priority for businesses moving forward": Andrew Holland

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Conclusion

The aim of this article was to explain with supportive data as to why SEO was worth paying for .

If we look over this huge article and go over what we have learned.

We know that a conversion online does not automatically mean a sale, and that up to 79% of leads do not convert into sales.

And to convert a lead into a sale may require lead nurturing which again comes at a further cost.

Combine this with the low conversion rate of adwords (under 4%) and the average price we pay for Adword placements we can see that the traditional view of PPC marketing being a replacement for SEO is a actually a seriously flawed view point.

In truth, when we examine how people interact with the web, how they search online, the amount of research and touch points that the consumer goes through before purchase, we see that SEO is not only a must but it should be a priority.

Being discovered by a consumer during their research phase and also at the time they actually decide to purchase can have significant affect on your business.

Therefore it is essential to use both PPC and SEO for the two core types of marketing, brand and direct.

However make no mistake, it is SEO that will be doing the heavy lifting for your business.

So, what are your thoughts on this subject?

Do you agree that the power of SEO is largely under utilised or perhaps SEO is being used wrongly, or do you still think things such as PR and PPC should be the dominant choices for a business owner looking to grow their business?

Comment below to let me know.

Thanks for reading.

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