The phrase “you get what you pay for” is extremely relevant to the digital marketing sphere, and nowhere more so than with SEO services. While every business is looking to get bang for their buck, it doesn’t mean that cheap services will offer the same solution as more expensive, but more thorough, SEO packages.
Unfortunately, for many business owners, SEO is a mysterious process. Not only do they have to contend with Google’s relentless search updates, but 90% of how Google ranks websites isn’t publicly known. That leaves SEO as a process of trial and error, and even the most experienced SEO experts know that there’s no cookie-cutter method of getting to the coveted first page.
That, of course, means that business owners have the option of either learning SEO themselves or paying for SEO packages so they can focus on their business. While massive organizations can afford to have in-house SEO teams, small businesses and SMEs often end up procuring the help of SEO agencies and/or freelancers to take care of their search engine rankings.
But, with little money in their digital marketing budget, business owners frequently turn to cheap SEO packages to get the job done. However, what they don’t know is that cheap SEO can often cost them more in the long run – and not just in terms of money. Here’s what business owners need to know about cheap SEO packages.
What Exactly Makes SEO Cheap?
The first thing that’s worth discussing is the difference between a low-cost SEO service and a cheap one.
When working with SEO agencies and freelancers, they will often have lower-cost SEO packages available for business owners who want some support with their rankings but their budget doesn’t extend to a fully-managed service. These lower-cost SEO packages will typically only contain a fraction of the services an SEO expert might normally provide in a fully-managed service. However, the key difference between low-cost and cheap SEO services is that with a low-cost option, SEO agencies and/or freelancers will be upfront about its limitations.
In comparison, cheap SEO services will lure clients in by promising them fully-managed services for the fraction of the price of what other agencies or freelancers charge. These service providers often use spammy or dishonest practices not only to draw clients in but to improve a business’s SEO too. So, while legitimate SEO professionals use what’s known as “white hat” or “grey hat” SEO – in other words, legitimate practices that are supported by search engine algorithms – cheap SEO services will primarily use “black hat” tactics that are quick, easy, but put websites at risk of penalization.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to the question of what cheap SEO costs. After all, a mom-and-pop store might balk at the idea of paying $500/month for SEO, but an SME might simply have to rearrange their existing budget to accommodate it.
With that being said, let’s take a look at a simple calculation that shows why cheap SEO services just don’t add up.
Cheap SEO Just Doesn’t Add Up
According to Payscale, the median salary for an SEO specialist is $46,000/year. On the lowest end, an SEO expert can expect to make around $35,000/year. So, let’s assume that cheap SEO services are employing the cheapest SEO experts they can find, and they’re only paying $35,000/year.
In a Moz poll, it was found that the average monthly retainer for an SEO expert costs between $750-$1,500 per month. So, in this example, let’s assume that a basic, cheap SEO service costs around half of this average at $400/month.
Studies have also found that workers are only productive for an average of three hours in each eight-hour workday. So, in a typical 40-hour workweek, that means SEO experts are perhaps only working on billable hours for 60 hours.
Assuming that the SEO professional is only working on basic SEO packages, they’d need to have 8 billable clients each month to meet their pre-tax salary of $35,000/year.
According to Search Engine Journal, a basic SEO package tends to comprise 10 billable hours each month. Assuming that the above statistics regarding productivity apply to this SEO expert, that means that they’d need to find an additional 20 productive hours to cover the 80 hours/month needed for their clients. And that’s only to cover a single SEO agent’s salary, so it’s reasonable to expect that each employee of these cheap agencies has perhaps double that amount of clients to generate profit.
There are two ways this can happen:
- The SEO expert works longer hours,
- The SEO expert takes shortcuts.
Unfortunately for smaller businesses that can’t afford the support of high-quality SEO agencies or freelancers, it’s usually the latter that applies.
How Cheap SEO Services Create Shortcuts
This article will go into more detail about how cheap SEO services save time using unethical shortcuts later on, but for now, here’s a quick rundown of how SEO shortcuts work and why they’re bad news.
In short, there are legitimate and illegitimate ways to improve search engine rankings. Reputable SEO agencies and freelancers will only use these legitimate tactics, known as “white hat” processes, to generate traffic and improve a webpage’s performance on search engines. However, these techniques take longer to produce any meaningful results, and there’s a great degree of trial and error involved.
Instead, cheap SEO services employ “black hat” techniques. While white hat SEO works with a search engine algorithm’s requirements in mind to create meaningful content and drive valuable traffic, black hat SEO is the opposite. To reduce the amount of time they need to get results, black hat SEO tactics game the system.
While these black hat techniques are still pervasive because they work, they also come with far more risk. Google’s algorithm, in particular, is extremely strict about the methods websites use to gain traffic and will downrank websites it finds using black hat techniques. When this happens, a business ends up with a website in a worse position than it was before they hired cheap SEO services, and it can cost far more to get it back on track.
5 Reasons To Avoid Cheap SEO Packages
With all of that in mind, here are the key reasons why business owners need to be wary of cheap SEO services.
1: Cheap SEO Shortcuts The Basics
The two core factors of SEO are high-quality content and backlinks.
However, both of these take a lot of time to do correctly. Not only do they require meaningful research into users, what they’re searching for, and what their needs are, it also means that someone needs to be paid to write content or generate backlinks from meaningful sources.
Cheap SEO services skip this part by using tactics known as keyword stuffing, content scraping, and link schemes.
Content scraping is exactly what it sounds like. An SEO agency or freelancer uses software to pull content from other sources, changes aspects of that content and republishes it, often not taking the time to edit for grammar or spelling. This content can also use keyword stuffing, which is where the keyword a business wants to rank for is effectively spammed throughout the content. Because customers often use a business’ content to evaluate how trustworthy they are, this spammy content can end up costing businesses customers without them realizing it.
Link schemes used to be a common SEO tactic before Google’s algorithm began actively penalizing websites for using them. Instead of getting backlinks from other relevant and reputable websites, the SEO agent will pay for links to be placed on websites that exist solely to host backlinks. Now that Google actively scans for these mass poor-quality links, a website that’s found to partake in these schemes is at risk of being severely downranked.
2: One Size Does Not Fit All
One of the reasons why reputable SEO professionals charge a premium is because they take the time to get to know a business before they start implementing their SEO plan. They know that each business needs a unique approach because it has a unique combination of customers, products, services, competitors, and other USPs. This is a big reason why the best SEO agencies and freelancers will charge a one-off onboarding fee, which will cover this initial documentation building and research.
In comparison, cheap SEO services treat every client they have the same as the next one. Using cookie-cutter techniques and a stripped-down methodological approach helps them save time because by charging so little for their services, the only way these agencies can profit is by stuffing their schedules to the brim with clients.
However, these one-size-fits-all methodologies don’t work. Anyone familiar with SEO knows that, more often than not, it’s a system of trial and error and it’s rare to find two businesses that can use the same SEO strategies. In essence, this leaves businesses paying for SEO services that at best don’t gain any results, and at worse leave their website downranked and penalized by Google.
3: Bad Account Management
The example from earlier talked about how SEO experts tend to earn an average of $35,000/year on the low end, and that it’s not likely that cheap SEO services will be looking to hire professionals who can command higher salaries than that.
However, there are a large number of cheap SEO agencies that don’t even hire people who have experience with SEO, as this helps them save even more money. While the people at the top of the business may be experienced with SEO, or at least have enough so they can develop the cookie-cutter scripts that their employees use, there’s little need for the people at the bottom of the chain to understand the finer details.
This means that businesses paying for their cheap SEO services often struggle to get answers from their account managers about why their website isn’t performing as well as was initially promised. Without these answers, business owners are left feeling frustrated and even like they’ve been scammed.
4: No SEO Assets
The term “SEO assets” simply refers to the content of a website and any other features that have been built to improve the website’s search engine rankings.
Reputable SEO professionals will work with a business to create these assets, which will take time, but the result is high-quality content that the business can continue to use even if they part ways with the agency. Not only that, but high-quality content tends to generate backlinks simply because it’s a useful resource, so websites develop a high search engine ranking that lasts for the long term.
In comparison, cheap SEO services often use black hat SEO techniques and a copy-and-paste checklist to generate short-term results that barely scratch the surface of what legitimate SEO professionals can achieve. So, when a business decides they don’t want to pay for these services anymore, they’re left with nothing to show for the money they’ve invested. In the worst-case scenario, they may even be left with a website that ranks far worse than it did before the cheap SEO services were employed.
5: Holding Cheap SEO Services Accountable
When business owners work with an SEO professional, whether that’s through an agency or with a freelancer, then they want to build a relationship with that person. This makes conducting business easier for both parties, as they each have a line of contact when things go wrong. Not only that but if the SEO professional isn’t delivering what they promised, then the threat of losing business is often far more costly to them than fixing what went wrong.
However, there’s no such connection with cheap SEO services. To those companies, a business owner is simply another number on a spreadsheet instead of a valued client. While they might try to tempt clients to stay with refunds or discounts, it’s more likely that if a business owner isn’t satisfied with these cheap SEO services, the agency will do very little to make sure they stay. After all, they probably already have more customers lined up, so their profitability isn’t threatened by their mediocre service.
What Business Owners Can Do Instead
Invest In SEO Training
Whether it’s for themselves or another employee, spending the same money on reputable SEO courses as they would have done on cheap SEO services is the best use of their money. Instead of spending a monthly fee with SEO scam artists, businesses can instead invest in in-house SEO skills and training, which will deliver stellar results in the long run.
Saying that, there’s also a lot of information available for free online through some of the world’s leading SEO service providers like Moz and Search Engine Journal. So, business owners don’t need to spend a single cent if they can’t afford it.
By training these skills in-house, business owners can develop their own SEO strategies and processes, giving them greater control over their digital marketing efforts.
However, learning SEO takes time, patience, and a lot of adaptability, particularly because Google’s algorithm is always changing to new search trends and other technologies. That means that training these skills in-house isn’t always possible, particularly if business owners are already stretched for time or don’t have enough employees to give another the time to spend training and working on SEO.
Hire a Reputable SEO Agency
As talked about earlier, cheap SEO agencies never offer the same level of service as a reputable one. Business owners may have the preconceived notion that they can never afford to pay for an SEO retainer, particularly if they’ve been burned before by a cheaper agency that didn’t deliver on what they promised. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While reputable SEO packages are more expensive, there’s also a wider scope for customizing those packages to make them fit a business’ budget. Business owners usually find that a good SEO agency is willing to work with their budget and make SEO more affordable for them, with the understanding that a lower-cost service may not deliver the same results. As mentioned before, this honesty sets reputable agencies apart from the scammers and cheap SEO “experts”.
Not only will these agencies take the time to get to know your business, but they’ll also get businesses started with comprehensive site audits to understand what work needs to be done, as well as formulate an individualized strategy for the future. With additional services like keyword research, content creation, backend SEO optimization, and much more, the best SEO agencies will help a business improve its website’s rankings, gain new customers, and even increase their profits organically.
If you’re a business owner looking to improve your website’s ranking on Google, then our agency can help. With a range of SEO packages to suit your business, we’re able to work with any budget. To request a quote or get in touch with our friendly team, drop us a line – we’d love to chat with you!
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