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Darren Chow is a full time writer, web developer, and Internet marketer. He graduated from the National University of Singapore and started dabbling in web design while still studying. Today, he spends his time writing for established websites and promoting websites for clients.
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SEO, when done correctly, can lead to higher organic search rankings. And since we do not need to pay for organic rankings, does that mean that the traffic is completely free? Often, SEO has been touted as a form of free traffic. That’s because there are many website owners who think that they didn’t do much, and then find their sites ranking well in the search engines. It’s like stumbling into a gold mine. But if we are to look closer at the activities involved in ranking well, we come to the understanding that organic traffic is not free. What then is the true cost of SEO?

True Cost of SEO

True Cost of SEO

Let’s take a look at what needs to be done in order to rank well in the search engines.

1) On-site SEO.

This alone can cost a business thousands of dollars annually. If you have a smallish website, you can optimize everything on your own if you have the technical know-how. However, most business owners would rather hire someone who understands SEO to do the job. Title tags, Meta tags, keyword density, site structure and so on and so forth. Whoever is managing the site needs to be tech savvy and is often required to work with technologies such as Javascript, CSS, HTML, 301 redirects, nofollow links, etc. That means it’s an advantage to have someone with the right technical skills to handle on-site SEO. But this is just one aspect of the job. Websites rarely stays stagnant. In order for organic traffic to grow, content must grow. So someone must be responsible for managing and generating content for the site.

How much does it cost to hire someone with the necessary skills to manage on-site SEO?

If you hire a freelancer, that may cost you between $500 to $1000. If you have a full time staff doing this, the cost will certainly be much higher – perhaps $500 per month to monitor and tweak the site’s on-site SEO.

2) Regular content generation.

Typically, for a website to stay fresh, it needs to be updated at least 2 to 3 times a week. That translates to an average of 3 posts every single week. Content doesn’t have to be in text. Modern content can take the form of videos, inforgraphics, and podcasts. Obviously, it’s cheaper to create content that’s in text. But if you want to engage your readers a little bit more, you may wish to break up the rhythm a bit and publish a video every now and then. These days, quality videos can be cheaply produced with high definition camcorders or smart phones. Still, someone has to take charge of publishing and make sure that fresh content is published on a regular basis.

For the sake of computation, let’s just assume that we publish 3 articles per week. A quality article typically costs about $20 per article. So 3 articles work out to $60 per week, or $240 per month.

3) Outreach to relevant partners.

You have your on-site SEO done properly, and you have good content. Now you need to reach out to your target audience. New business owners may find it a little more challenging to identify and find the right partners. Fortunately, things move fast on the Internet. Utilizing tools like emails and platforms like social media, one can build up a network pretty quickly.

What does partners have to do with SEO?

Well, as you network with other partners such as influential bloggers, there is a good chance that over time, you build up a relationship with people with similar interests. This creates opportunities to share content and ideas. It is also not uncommon for associates to come together to work as a team on special projects.

As these activities take place, the search engines will pick up these signals (comments, links, etc) and start to crawl your sites more often. As you are working within the community, this helps the search engines to determine content relevancy, which is key to achieving search engine optimization success.

This is an on-going process. So let’s just estimate the cost at $500 per month, to have someone working on this on a monthly basis.

4) Social media management.

SEO managers don’t just pay attention to organic search rankings these days. Websites doesn’t just exist as standalone content publishing platforms anymore. They have become more interactive and social. Visitors can contribute content, post their opinions and share the content freely with their friends using various plugins or tools. When a blog post is published, it’s rarely just published on the site. It gets shared across various channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, StumbleUpon and other social networks.

The sharing part is the easy part. But it does take a bit of time if you are manage social accounts properly. For instance, when you share content on Twitter and Facebook, some of your followers may comment on the content. Do you then, allow the comment to be ignored? Or do you try to engage the readers as much as possible? Surely, it’s better to respond to comments quickly to engage the readers in fruitful discussions. In other words, someone has to be ready to respond to your readers.

Again, social media management is an on-going activity – the conversation with your readers doesn’t stop. We’ll put a price tag of $500 to have a staff managing social media channels.

True Cost of SEO

What’s the cost of the 4 elements mentioned above? If we add up the cost of all the elements, we arrive at the true cost of SEO – over $1,500 per month easy.

Bear in mind that I’m assuming you engage specialists on a freelance basis, and that the cost estimate is mostly at the lower end of the price spectrum. If you hire a full-time skilled SEO manager, salaries can cost a lot more than $1,500 depending on your location.

Measuring ROI

So if you are looking at SEO as a steady stream of traffic source, are you prepared to invest this amount of money on your website (business)?

For huge enterprises, the answer is straight forward – they should invest in SEO to increase their market share. In fact, many of the bigger companies cannot afford not to invest in SEO. They invest to stay competitive.

But for small businesses, the answer does not come easily. SEO is not a guaranteed traffic source. Big companies with deep pockets can easily afford to take the risk. But what about the smaller companies?

I recommend that small business owners weigh their traffic options carefully before pouring huge amounts of money into SEO (e.g. social media ads, PPC ads, video marketing, etc).

The mark of a skilled SEO manager.

On a final note, if you are looking to hire an SEO manager, here is what you need to look out for.

1) SEO managers should be adaptive and flexible – SEO rules are ever-changing. What works yesterday does not mean it’ll work tomorrow. So managers must be prepared to adapt to the changes. That means keeping abreast of the latest changes in search engine updates and then act accordingly.

2) Comfortable with code – Good managers should be comfortable working with code (e.g. CSS, html, Javascript, Flash, etc). Sometimes, tweaks may be required, mostly for on-site SEO purposes. A manager would be handicapped if he or she has to depend on someone else to perform these tweaks all the time.

3) Understand business goals – Traffic alone is meaningless if it cannot be converted into revenues. So good SEO managers should understand how campaigns can help a Company achieve its business objectives.

As you can imagine, it may not be easy to identify an individual with the combination of skills and qualities as stated above. Therefore, be prepared to spend a little bit more if you are hiring someone with the right skills and experience.

Are you hiring or performing SEO on your own? Let me know by leaving a comment below!