1. SEJ
  2.  ⋅ 
  3. SEO

Why Cheap SEO Costs Too Much

Don't let cheap SEO get your website in trouble. Learn why a low-cost SEO program isn't the way to go even during a recession.

Cheap SEO Costs Too Much

We are in a recession.

During a recession, companies rethink their budgets.

Every organization is looking for ways to spend less money, and to spend the money they have more efficiently.

History is repeating itself for many in the search engine marketing industry.

As the economy worsens, companies look to search engine marketing as a trackable, efficient, and relatively reliable way to generate revenue.

But there is a dark side to the search engine marketing world.

Unscrupulous and incompetent practitioners are peddling so-called solutions that can actually do more harm than good.

The lure of quick and easy money from unsuspecting business owners who are desperate for leads and sales is too much to resist for many would-be SEO practitioners.

And the way to a struggling business owner’s heart is the promise of great results for little money.

Some would-be SEO practitioners offer packages for a few hundred dollars.

You that you would be better off spending that money on a nice steak dinner – a nice steak dinner will at least get you something, and it doesn’t have the ability to actually destroy your business.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

There are different types of SEO.

It takes both competence and experience to be successful.

Lots of SEO agencies are great at what they do.

In many cases, it’s more about finding the right fit than finding an agency that can competently do the work.

Many times, when a company comes to me saying they were “burned” by a reputable agency, I find that the problem was more about the fit than the actual work.

For example, my agency is more aggressive than many others when it comes to getting things done.

We tend to ask for forgiveness instead of permission

This works well for many clients.

That’s why clients who want to micro-manage every aspect of their campaign typically aren’t a good fit for us.

That doesn’t mean companies that want to manage their agencies closely are bad clients.

In fact, we have been successful with them once we understand each other.

But clients that want to know everything we are doing all the time typically don’t last long with our agency.

It’s all about fit.

Regardless of fit, when a company goes cheap, they can run into trouble.

Do the Math

I’m going to ask you to do some math.

I promise, it will be relatively painless.

Here are some SEO salary statistics from Glassdoor.

The numbers have been rounded to keep it simple.

Average SEO Salary

(1-3 years experience)

Average SEO Salary

(4-6 years experience)

Average SEO Salary

(7-9 years experience)

Average SEO Salary

(10-15 years experience)

$55,000 $64,000 $76,000 $85,000

After 21 years in the SEO game, I have a pretty good idea of the minimum amount of effort it takes to show success.

I assume a basic SEO effort for a simple site will require about 10 hours of work per month, in most cases.

The 10 hours only apply after one month.

The first month typically requires more than 10 hours as everything – audits, strategy, communication, etc. – is being set up.

Honestly, unless you are just way more efficient than anyone I’ve worked with, you’re going to find that even the most basic site requires 10 hours of work each month unless you are just going to sit on it and not worry about improving the return.

Are there exceptions?


Sites that compete in low competition niches can get away with less than 10 hours of work per month.

But if you want to continue to receive an ROI of 3 times what you are putting into the site, you are going to need to spend 10 hours per month on it.

You might get away with those results without doing the required 10 hours for a couple of months, but eventually, your results will degrade and you’ll end up spending a lot more than 10 hours to get the results back to where they need to be.

In my opinion, advertising should provide a three times return the effort and money put into it or there is no reason to do it all.

That advertising includes SEO.

Cheap SEO Does Not Compute

I’ve shown you the salaries and talked about the time it takes to put together a quality program.

If a person is going to work a standard 40-hour a week schedule, I posture that only about 25 of those weekly hours are billable.

People need time to do administrative tasks, take breaks, research trends – the list goes on and on.

So the majority of those who aren’t willing to work until their fingers bleed (which should be most of us) have around 100 hours per month of actual work available to do SEO on clients.

When you pay someone $500/month to work on your SEO, you are paying for their time, no matter if it’s presented in a list of tasks or a bulk of hours.

Let’s assume a minimum livable wage is around $30,000/year.

In order to make that much, after taxes, an individual would need to have 10 projects at $500 a month to get to that $30,000 annual salary.

With 10 projects and an average of 100 hours per month to work, you are paying your SEO an average of $15/hour to SEO your site.

That doesn’t include tool subscription costs (at least $200-$300 a month if we are honest), overhead like computers, or anyone else to check their work.

The hourly rate starts to drop precipitously once we add in the normal expenses of doing business.

This wage level might work for an intern, or someone outside of the United States, but take a look again at the salaries above for a minute.

If you want someone with experience, you won’t get them for $14 an hour.

At least not in the U.S.

Sure, there are some people who can work faster than others – but they’re definitely making more than $14 an hour if they are good.

Even if they cut the deliverables time in half, they aren’t making what they are worth at $500 per month per client.

Even at $1,000 per month, in most cases, you aren’t getting to the salaries in the tables above with $500/month clients.

Frankly, if someone is good at SEO, someone is going to pay them more than $15 an hour.

Do you want the person who isn’t any good working on one of the most important promotional channels you have?

The Bottom Line

If you are shopping SEO costs, you’re costing yourself money.

Cheap SEO is probably not being completed by someone with a lot of experience.

If corners are being cut, you can actually get yourself in trouble.

Bad SEO, or SEO that doesn’t follow the guidelines set forth by the search engines, is usually worse than no SEO at all.

Clearly, a lower-cost program either doesn’t provide adequate results to show an effective return, or someone is working for an incredibly low wage.

More Resources:

Image Credits

Featured Image: Modified by author, August 2020

Category Careers SEO

I am a 19-year veteran of the digital marketing world with previous experience in journalism, public relations and advertising. I’ve ...

Why Cheap SEO Costs Too Much

Subscribe To Our Newsletter.

Conquer your day with daily search marketing news.