Cheap SEO: What Are You Really Paying For?

Posted by Macrae , MaIT

If you have a website, then you’ve probably heard of Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short. The whole idea behind SEO is to “get your website on the first page of Google.” Sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want that?

But, what does that actually mean—”first page”? What even is SEO, really?

What Is SEO?

The concept of Search Engine Optimization is simple. When a user types a keyword or phrase into a search engine, the search engine will provide a list of web pages that best match their search query, according to the search engine’s search algorithm. What SEO tries to do is get your web pages to rank at the first position on the first page so that it has the highest chance of being clicked on.

It seems simple in theory, but every year it becomes harder and harder to execute. This is because Google and other search engines don’t like revealing how their search algorithm works, so it kind of becomes a guessing game at a certain point. However, there are a few techniques that are widely believed to work.

First Page of Google!

The name of the SEO game is to get your website on the first page of Google! Reason being, only 33% of users go to the second page of the search results, and even fewer go further. Having your website on the first page of Google means you have a higher chance of searchers clicking on the link to your website, which will help increase your number of conversions as well as your business’s revenue. Suddenly, your business is thriving! If only it were that simple.

Let’s address that “first page” claim we previously mentioned.

There is an unlimited amount of “first page results” that exist on Google. The results you see all depend on what you type into the search box, and being on “the first page of Google” only makes sense for the keywords and phrases that relate to your website. If you are a local plumber, for instance, you want to show up on the first page for keywords that relate to plumbing services such as “plumbing company.” It won’t do you much good to rank for “Mexican restaurant.”

So when an SEO company claims that it can get your website to “rank on the first page of Google,” you’d better make sure it’s for the right keywords.

Let’s take this a few steps further.

Why Google?

First, let’s answer the question of why you hear so much about Google when talking about SEO and not Bing, Yahoo, or AOL.

Google is the most used search engine in the United States. It held a staggering 67.6% of the market share in April 2014 according to comScore. The second most used search engine is Bing with only 18.7%. With that in mind, it would make sense why most SEO companies primarily target Google users. However, factors such as user demographics and site traffic may show your efforts to be more beneficial to optimize for one search engine over another.

Keyword Targeting

Let’s go back to the plumber example. Since this plumber is a one-man operation and is local to the city of Atlanta, he wouldn’t be able to service someone in California. For this reason, we only want to rank in Atlanta. Ranking for a broad keyword such as “plumbing company” will yield results across the entire United States, and possibly the world. A better key phrase for our plumber to go after would be “atlanta plumbing company.”

Keyword Volume

Not all keywords are created equal. Ranking on the first page for 100 keywords sounds great, but how many people are actually searching for those keywords? This is a huge question that many SEO companies don’t bother answering. Generally speaking, broader keywords will have a higher search volume, which usually means greater competition.

Let’s revisit the plumber example.

Below is the search volume and some other information that Google provides based on keywords.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 7.18.50 AM

“Plumbing company” has the highest volume at 1,300 searches a month, which may lead you to believe that that’s the one you want to rank for. In this example, however, it would not be a good idea.

Not only is the competition higher for “plumbing company,” but the leads generated may not be serviceable by your company. Trying to rank for a lower volume with a more targeted key phrase, such as “atlanta plumbing company,” will generate higher quality leads.

SEO Research and Planning

Here’s the tough part. To create a useful SEO plan, market research must be done to gain a full understanding of your business, who your current and ideal customers are, what your competitors are doing or not doing, and your current web presence. The plan also needs to include a full picture of what your online users are searching for, how they are searching for it, and what keywords or phrases they may be searching with. If done right, this takes a lot of time.

Based on the data collected, a marketing plan is created and put into action. Work is done on a monthly basis to increase the rankings for targeted keywords and phrases. This work includes content creation and distribution, back link building, inner site linking, and much more. During this process, Google will evaluate your rankings for the key terms you are targeting.

SEO marketing plans should be dynamic. Keeping a routine eye on how the keywords are performing, any changes or trends in your industry, and tracking the successes and failures of each SEO method is crucial as it will tell you want’s working and what isn’t.

What Does Good SEO Cost?

The cost for SEO services varies based on industry, the goals of the website, and the time needed to accomplish the goals. The price for research and planning varies based on a number of factors and really can only be answered after consultation. It could be anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000+. The monthly cost for executing and monitoring an SEO campaign typically ranges from $2,500 to $5,000 with a good marketing agency. Again, depending on the industry, it could be significantly less or even more.

Cheap SEO

One of the greatest challenges in the internet marketing industry is cheap companies. The reality is you can’t do good work for a few hundred dollars a month.

Let’s consider the amount of time that goes into monitoring a small campaign.

A good 20 hours a month, which is less that 1 day a week, should be a minimum. If your SEO company is only charging $200 a month, then the person doing the work is getting, at best, $10.00 an hour without any company overhead. When the average annual salary for an SEO Specialist according to is $41,000, which really costs closer to $50,000 after employee taxes and benefits, plus company overhead and profits.

After taking all of this into consideration, how much time do you think is really being dedicated to your account per month? Can you really say you’re getting a deal?

Many cheap SEO companies tend to be 1 or 2 man shops who simply outsource to Indian or Russian based companies that plug your website into “SEO Automated Systems,” which are basically robots and software that generate backlinks, content, and distributes your website to various online channels based on generic best guesses.

This is bad.

It generates poor quality results and will eventually get you blacklisted from Google. There are tens of thousands of companies that offer this level of service. Below is one example of dozens of SPAM emails we receive from outsourced companies each month.

HI Sir/Ma’am

Can you outsource some SEO business to us? We will work according to you and your clients and for a long term relationship we can start our SEO services in only $99 per website.

Looking forward for your positive reply

Shariq Patel


SEO is an important aspect for building a successful online presence. When considering an SEO company, ask how much time is being spent on your account. Although each industry varies, and there are some industries that can be slowly marketed successfully for as low as $500 a month, most competitive industries require a lot of work.

You also have to keep in mind that SEO is a long-term investment. It may be four to six months before any significant rankings take place. If you’re not ready for that type of commitment, then wait. It is better to do no SEO work than bad SEO work, as it could result in your domain being flagged by Google or even blacklisted.

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