Why is SEO Expensive in 2023?

May 22nd 2023 by Alex Stage

If your business is online in 2023 - and let's face it, of course it is - you've probably heard the term SEO, or search engine optimization. You might've even done some research on SEO and been surprised at the cost of this seemingly simple service. What's more, the range in prices from different agencies can make it hard to judge what a fair price is: while some SEO agencies charge a few hundred dollars a month, others can have a $5,000 minimum.

Why does SEO cost so much, and how expensive is good SEO? Is SEO even worth it? In this article, we'll explain the discrepancies in pricing and show you how SEO can improve your website's traffic and your bottom line.

There are SEO Agencies, and There are "SEO Agencies"

Not every agency claiming to provide SEO is built the same. While some agencies claim they can rocket you to the top of Google's search engine results, the fact of the matter is that SEO is much more complex than twisting a few knobs.

In general, there are three types of SEO agencies:

  • The experienced agency has a genuine interest in their clients' businesses, and looks to build a long-term business relationship while delivering a return on investment. These agencies take the time to examine a site's analytics and implement long-term strategies to get your site to the top and keep it there.
  • The unskilled agency outsources many of its SEO-related functions to third-party companies in an effort to save time and money. Unfortunately, this plan often backfires because they have poor control over their campaigns. In addition, because third-party providers often fail to provide high-quality work, the agency as a whole feels amateurish.
  • The scam agency makes extravagant promises, claiming anything is possible with the right amount of money. They may claim to catapult you to the top result on Google in 72 hours, and at a bargain. However, these results - if they occur at all - are transitory, and you'll be left in the same position as you were before in a short time. Depending on how the scammers implement the changes, you could even be banned from search results altogether!
If you're unfamiliar with the current SEO landscape, you may be tempted to contract the cheapest agency for your site. However, if you skimp on SEO, you can get burnt by inexperienced or downright dishonest agencies, which will cost you much more in the long run than an experienced SEO agency.

Link Audits and Site Cleanups: Necessary but Expensive

The fact of the matter is, properly optimizing a website for search engines is time- and labor-intensive. An experienced firm will spend your budget wisely, investing it in proven practices that will yield continuous long-term results.

The good news: many of the following practices are expensive initially, but are much cheaper to maintain - providing you better return on investment in the medium to long-term.

Link Audits

While your mechanic would start fixing your car by looking under its hood, an SEO analyst will begin servicing your website by performing a link audit.

During a link audit, an SEO analyst will examine every link on your site to ensure that it's linking to the correct page and that it properly describes its destination. A link audit also includes checking all inbound links to a site, and dealing with the toxic ones.

Inbound links are links to your site, which are usually good for SEO. Google and other search engines rank web pages based on the number and quality of inbound links, since people tend to link to pages they find useful - and the more people that find a page useful, the more useful the page probably is.

However, if an inbound link comes from a spam site or other disreputable source, it's toxic and can down-rank your page in search engines. These links can be hard to get rid of, since you don't have control over the other party's site - your SEO agency will need to ask them to take down the link or use Google's Disavow tool to clean them up.

Site Cleanups

If a link audit turns up a lot of toxic links, they must be removed. While Google allows webmasters to disavow backlinks that are harmful and out of their control, it's actually more complicated than just pushing a button in a form somewhere.

Before Google will allow a link disavowal, webmasters must first make a good-faith effort to reach out to the offending site owners to request they remove the links themselves. This process can be extremely time-consuming and involves a lot of back-and-forth communication between multiple entities, which is why a total site clean-up can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000.

Search Engine Penalties Hit You Where it Hurts

Google and other search engines also penalize websites that they don't consider as playing fair in the SEO game. If your SEO provider tries to cut corners to bring your site to the front page, your traffic could take a significant hit.

For example, in 2011 Google penalized Overstock.com for offering discounts to schools linking back to them. For two months, Overstock was removed from Google's first page of search results, impacting its revenue by an estimated 5% caused by the instant drop in traffic.

Website Traffic Can Disappear Overnight

Even worse, if your site is spammy enough by Google's standards they might de-list it from their site entirely. Organic search accounts for about 53% of all website traffic for your business, so you could lose half of your traffic overnight.

Of course, Google's rules change all the time, just like their ranking algorithm. It's vital to hire an SEO agency that stays abreast of the latest changes in best practice, ethics, and rules in order to ensure the return on your SEO investment is maximized.

Website Traffic Can Disappear Overnight

Of course, there are many more factors to Google's ranking of on-page experience, and their algorithms change all the time. That's why it's vital to either keep up with the latest in SEO trends yourself, or hire a firm with the experience and know-how to keep up with it for you.

De-indexation Can Tank Your Brand

If your SEO is in the hands of a company that's using low-quality techniques - whether they know it or not - you're risking your brand disappearing from Google and other search engines entirely. Don't expose your company to that kind of risk. Hire a competent, experienced SEO firm.

Why Does SEO Cost So Much?

SEO is an investment.

Good SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Where paid search or social media ads are bought and measured week-by-week, SEO campaigns can easily take an entire quarter or longer. It takes time to audit a page for weaknesses, to develop a plan to improve, to implement that plan, and for the results to be picked up by search engines.

In short, SEO is a long-term strategy that requires a lot of work and long-term maintenance to stay at the top of search engine rankings. You're paying your SEO agency for their experience, skill, and talent at managing your website's content and presentation, which is a specialized service requiring research and adaptation to the market.

SEO Return on Investment

When considered in terms of ROI, search engine optimization is one of the best services you can buy for your website. When you work with a reputable SEO expert, you'll enjoy increased organic traffic, leading to better-quality leads, and finally higher revenues.

SEO is a fundamental part of having a website in 2023. While you shouldn't trust claims of fast or cheap results, the truth is that investing in SEO for your business can greatly increase your bottom line in the long run.

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