SEO is more important in today’s online marketing world than it ever has been. In fact, SEO is the number one lead-generating source reported by inbound marketing professionals.
The catch is that creating and maintaining fantastic SEO results is a constant and ongoing process. It also requires a more substantial, up-front investment than some marketers want to pay. The initial cost of SEO can strain marketing teams that already have tight budgets and limited resources.
In-house marketing teams often don’t have the the time to learn modern SEO, and then build and maintain a strategy. The last solution, then, is to hire an agency or contractor, but those can be pricey. Unsurprisingly, many marketing teams turn to low-cost SEO services.
The difference between good SEO and cheap SEO, however, is vast.
And the choice may boil down to investing in growth versus investing in unforeseen repairs.
The definition of “cheap SEO services” varies from company to company. Small businesses may struggle to buy services that seem inexpensive to larger companies. In general, cheap SEO services range from as low as $50 to several hundred dollars per month.
These options may be tempting for companies trying to limit expenses, since these low-cost SEO services promise work for prices far below industry standard.
The reason these companies can afford to conduct their services at such a discounted rate is a mixture of questionable factors.
Cheap SEO services often use templated strategies, generic SEO tools, and focus their time on low-value tasks
These types of tasks can be accomplished by anyone, SEO agency or otherwise.
More often than not, these more affordable companies are not interested in providing value and retaining their customer base. Instead, they are looking to make quick money. As soon as a contract is signed, these SEO services generally start looking for new business rather than developing their existing customers. As a result, many of their customers see little value for the budget that they do spend.
Good SEO drives qualified organic traffic and establishes brands as authorities in their industries. This is because landing at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) puts the brand in front of the buyer at every stage of the purchasing cycle—reinforcing the name and offering branded solutions available when the buyer needs them.
Good SEO will also pay for itself. On average, SEO aligned content, for example, drives 54% more revenue year-over-year.
The question then becomes: Do low-cost SEO options focus on the solutions that drive these kinds of results? Usually not. Cheap SEO services are focused on checklists and quickly completed tasks.
If you’re considering a low-cost SEO solution, keep an eye out for a few key red flag. These are common risks associated with cheap SEO.
Cheap SEO companies frequently charge for busywork that appears to be productive. These services use checklists to find “errors” in a company’s current SEO strategy, but these issues are not typically crucial for modern SEO growth. Organic rankings and site traffic don’t budge, even after these “errors” are fixed.
This type of busywork gives the appearance that a thorough investigation has been made into a company’s analytics. In reality, most of the work being done is based on outdated processes and metrics.
Anyone with the right tool can do this type of busywork, such as quickly pulling a list of all the 404 errors or URLs that are missing meta descriptions on a site. These tasks are fairly simple to do a cheap job to fix, which is why these services will do it for a small fee. Doing a poor job though, such as replacing the 404 errors with irrelevant URLs, will cause a site to lose authority with Google and actually harm a brand.
The most essential factor of any SEO strategy is delivering high-quality content that meets a user need. Informative, well-structured content encourages engagement from users, gains the attention of search engines, and earns natural backlinks from authoritative sites.
But creating the kind of SEO content that ranks well and drives qualified organic traffic is a labor-intensive process. A good SEO content creator will need to:
Low-cost SEO services lack the ability and resources to create content up to these standards.
Cheap SEO services often retool existing content in a way that makes it appear new. These pieces lack quality, tone, and evidence. Often, these articles are also at risk of plagiarizing existing content.
Poorly written, unstrategic content might look good on the page, but it doesn’t perform in organic search.
Worse, cheaply written content can hurt a brand’s online reputation and cause the site to lose authority with search engines—damaging SEO for the entire domain.
Another way low-cost SEO services deceive marketing teams is by insisting that all businesses adhere to the same prices and services. These companies sell the same package to any client, no matter their line of business. But this thinking is flawed.
Every business is unique, and there are many variables that affect a brand’s SEO strategy.
For example, cheap SEO services tend not to plan for:
Whether businesses operate locally or nationally.
The unique challenges of B2B vs B2C sales cycles.
A company’s individual goals and KPIs.
Every company does business in a fairly unique market segment, and has its own target audience, budget, and goals.
Effective SEO agencies will take the time to customize a strategy that addresses these specific needs, and ask detailed questions about a company’s industry, its buyers, and the audience’s demand for products or services. Since low-cost SEO services focus on securing more contracts, they rarely focus on these details and seldom produce results.
Cheap SEO services aren’t fully invested in SEO growth and consider their job done once they cross everything off their lists. After this, they can claim that they have fulfilled their obligations despite creating no actual improvements in organic traffic.
If something does need attention, contacting cheap SEO agencies’ customer service is frustrating, since they generally do not include meetings or consultations in their packages. This makes it far more difficult to get feedback or answers to questions.
If a company asks to be released from their contract, cheap SEO companies tend to not provide any type of resolution to prevent this from happening. Rather than working to regain trust, these SEO services will cancel the contract and move on to other customers who will make the one-off payments they need to stay afloat.
Meanwhile, their former clients are left to swallow the time and resources lost on this venture. On top of that, companies must repair the damage that’s been done to their SEO.
Unlike cheap SEO services, reputable SEO analysts aim to cultivate long-term relationships. They are willing to repair any issues that come between both parties, and work together to achieve SEO goals.
Low-cost SEO agencies tend to use outdated and spammy methods to try to make a site rank quickly. These deceptive practices have been coined “black-hat” SEO.
Black-hat SEO utilizes shortcuts to increase a site’s organic rank in SERPs, but these shortcuts often lead to penalties from Google.
One of the most common black-hat techniques that cheap SEO services employ is creating low-quality backlinks—links on other domains that direct back to the page being optimized. These links often come from automated software attached to substandard sites.
In the past, Google’s algorithms simply counted backlinks to a site, and assumed more = better. So buying hundreds of low-quality, spammy backlinks did actually work to improve organic rankings.
However, this is no longer the case. Over the last decade or more, modern search engines have updated their algorithms to discern the quality of a backlink and to prioritize content that is of actual value to the user. Google now penalizes websites that abuse backlinks and engage in other black-hat practices by removing them from search results completely.
Using a low-cost SEO service risks eventually having to abandon a site entirely and start afresh if penalties become too severe.
Top-notch SEO services never resort to black-hat SEO tactics. Instead, they take pride in utilizing natural techniques that inform and benefit potential customers.
Just because low-cost SEO services should be avoided doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t search for something affordable. If the budget is tight, the best opportunity is to find an SEO services company that is still up-and-coming. These agencies will be eager to show real results at reasonable prices.
That said, experts cost money. The amount spent almost always correlates to the SEO results seen, but remember: the benefits of great SEO are long-lasting. More expensive SEO agencies know precisely what work is worth the time and effort and have quality, experienced SEO content creators. SEO companies are usually fairly flexible in terms of investment and involvement.
The bottom line is that established companies should expect to spend several thousand dollars a month on basic SEO.
If you’re spending less than $5,000/month, you’ll struggle to see exciting levels of growth in a reasonable timeframe.
It is a bigger investment up-front, but the best digital marketing ROI comes from the best SEO strategy. The revenue impact of good SEO will justify the cost within nine to 12 months.
Cheap SEO services may seem like a good investment at first, but there is huge risk associated with the fallout from using these services. In fact, projects led by shoddy SEO agencies are more expensive in the long run and can cause massive and lasting damage to a brand’s online presence.
Profound Strategy is an experienced and growing SEO service provider. We offer credible, affordable technical SEO services and provide high-quality content services, as well as support for in-house content marketing teams.
We prioritize foundational SEO that doesn’t waste resources on busywork and consistently create outstanding content that engages audiences and search engines alike with an impact on revenue. Perhaps most importantly, Profound Strategy’s certified content fuels reliable, predictable SEO growth.
Let us know if you’re curious about why 9/10 of Profound Strategy’s clients renew their first engagement with us (and why most work with us for more than two years).