What are the Differences in Pricing for SEO?

The decision to invest in SEO can be monumental for your company and its success. You’ve researched a variety of companies, and have finally narrowed it down to the company you think will be the best fit for your SEO campaign. In their proposal, though, there are a range of options for you to choose from. The question quickly becomes, “What is the difference between the various price points for SEO?”

At Firestarter SEO, we get this question all the time. As we educate our clients on their different options, most of the time we can confidently say that they will see quality results within a good range of pricing options, but the main factors they need to consider are: their budget, their level of patience, and how aggressive they want to be. From a more tangible and specific standpoint, though, what are the real differences in a low-cost versus higher-cost package?

Time for Success

One of the biggest differences in a low-cost option versus a higher-end package is the time it will take to get results. For example, the difference between a $1000/month option versus a $2000/month option could be between 3-6 months, depending on a number of factors. Companies that are limited in their budget generally will need to wait longer for impactful results.

Quality & Quantity of Content

A staple of an SEO campaign is content creation. This can come in a variety of forms, such as blogs, white papers, infographics, and more. High-end content production – such as a comprehensive guide – is reserved for higher-budget campaigns. These digital assets are extremely rich in content, and can be used as a sales tool, informational piece, or distributed on social media platforms for higher visibility. Low-budget campaigns focus on more simple content pieces, like basic blogs. Over time, these blogs will create a network of content designed to boost main pages up in the rankings. For Firestarter’s clients, smaller budgets will provide blogs, and as budgets continue to increase the quantity of content produced each month follows suit. For premium campaigns, we begin introducing the digital assets mentioned above.

Quality and Quantity of Links

The single most crucial difference in deliverables for different budgets comes down to link building. The lowest-cost options we provide strip away everything else and simply focus on links. There is a wide variety of link types, but these lower options focus on the most basic links: local listings, directories, and guest posts. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the budget to chase after high-end links. These are inevitably more expensive and time-consuming. Think of it this way: how much does it cost Forbes to pay their writers as compared to a small, local site? Links work the same way – premium, impactful sites simply cost more (in time and money) to acquire links from than small, local websites.

For Firestarter, higher budget campaigns afford us the flexibility of acquiring high quality links, and more of them.

Ongoing vs. 1-time Optimization

At the beginning of any campaign, a website usually requires a minor overhaul and optimization. This ranges from improving the page speed to fixing titles and even revamping content on each page. One difference in the pricing options is how often this optimization is done. Since low-cost options have limited resources, the site optimization is done once upon the start of the campaign. This is geared towards shoring up the foundation for the campaign and making sure each page on the site has a set target keyword and has been optimized for it.

For premium packages, optimization is constantly monitored and adjusted, and issues are resolved as soon as they come up. Regular site crawls keep us informed of any error that can pop up on a site, and we can immediately address them.

Development Hours

An important element to SEO is ensuring websites are large, up to date, and fast. This means that ongoing development can play a role in your campaign’s performance. Higher budget campaigns include ongoing development built into the budget. These hours can go towards building new pages on your website, improving the layout and design, and much more. In the long run, this can provide solid savings for your company. Since low-cost options strip away everything but the core services needed to succeed, development hours are usually not included.

SEO services can range from $250/month up to $5,000/month and beyond, so it’s important to understand the differences in what you receive for those prices. The core differences fall into the time it takes to see results, quantity and quality of links, and the quantity and quality of content produced. Other factors are the ongoing optimization and number of development hours. Regardless of the variations, each option is designed to maximize results for our clients.


Why Does SEO Take So Long?

SEO Takes Time

SEO can be one of the most important and impactful investments a company can make. Traditionally, it ranks among the top ROI producers across all platforms. 

There’s a reason why it continues to be an integral part of most marketing plans, but among the smorgasbord of arrows in a company’s marketing quiver, SEO can be unique in one key category: timing.

Unfortunately, most of the time SEO takes a while to produce direct and measurable results. In fact, our recent guide on how long SEO takes discusses the factors that cause the process to take at least 4-6 months, sometimes even up to 12 months, to generate results. Most other marketing efforts produce relatively quick returns. PPC, for example, can start yielding results almost instantly. Direct mailers or other forms of ads often find fast returns as well.

This begs the question: Why does SEO take so long?

Many Factors to Fix

When we educate companies on the variety of factors that go into SEO, they begin to understand why it can take so long. No matter the stage of your business or your website, there are bound to be a number of things that could use some TLC, especially in the eyes of Google. These include better keyword targeting on your titles and content, restructuring the format of your pages, and expanding your link profile, to name just a few. Another element many newer companies don’t consider is the age of their domain. If you have a brand new site, it simply takes a while for Google to start trusting you.

When a company comes on board with us, we develop a game plan. After auditing the site, we get a much clearer picture of how long it will take to fix the errors, and move on to the optimization of the individual pages themselves. The scope of this effort varies from website to website.

Competition

A major factor in why SEO can take so long revolves around what your competition is doing. In most cases, your company’s competitors are actively working on SEO as well. While the extent of their efforts will differ for each company, this means that achieving first page rankings is going to be a moving target. Think back to those classic high school math problems: A blue car is 5 miles ahead of your car and is traveling at a rate of 60 MPH. How far down the road will you catch the blue car if you are traveling 70 MPH?

We need to determine two things: First, how fast is your competition “driving?” Second, how long will it take us to catch up based on the budget you’re allocating to SEO? Unfortunately for us, SEO isn’t as “straight-lined” as this math problem. Algorithm changes could take place, your competitors may “accelerate” their SEO efforts, or maybe you produce a tremendous piece of content that helps you accelerate yours. The point is, no matter which way you look at it, the fact that your competitors are likely doing SEO means it will take some time to catch up.

Process of Accumulation

One of the classic analogies explaining how SEO works is that of getting in shape. If I’m 50 lbs overweight and need to make some changes, how much of an impact will going to the gym for one incredibly challenging workout have? Little to none. On the other hand, if I can set a goal to go to the gym 4-5 times per week, make some simple diet changes, and take it one step at a time, we’ll start seeing results. I won’t lose 50 pounds in 1, 2, or even 10 weeks. However, over the course of a few months, a complete transformation will take place, and it has nothing to do with 1 or 2 huge workouts. It has everything to do with regular, sustainable efforts over the course of a long period of time.

We are often asked by companies across the nation to do a one-time optimization project for them. While we are happy to do so, our conversations always come with educating and advising the client that a one-time optimization will give them a nice little boost, but it usually isn’t enough to get them to where they want to be.

The reason is exactly what we stated above. SEO is truly a process of accumulation. Search engines want to see regular content updates, link acquisition, and on-site optimization. That is how you build their trust and get rewarded with better visibility. This is why monthly SEO services are so crucial to your success.  Having an intentional and targeted approach to ensure you are not only doing these things but doing them well will put your company in good faith with Google.  Once you have a good foundation built up, it is far easier to see results from a new page addition than it would be in the infancy of a website.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

At the end of the day, success in SEO is a slow climb. It takes consistent effort, gradually building up and accumulating momentum over a series of months.  However, when you’ve finally built it up and made it to the top the results are more than worthwhile. Your online visibility will have a lasting impact on your business, generating quality leads and growth for months and possibly years to come.


How Long Does SEO Take to Work

One of the most common questions we receive as we interact with prospects and clients is simply this: How long will it take for SEO to work?

Most people we speak with believe SEO can work, but they have an understandable skepticism of whether it actually will. We’ve spoken with many people who have been burned by other SEO companies. They walk away after a year not knowing what was actually done for them and feeling like it was all a scam. If this describes you, we certainly understand your skepticism when yet another SEO company tells you that SEO is a long-term play and you’ll have to be patient before you see results.

However, a little education goes a long way, and once we create a clear strategy and explain the factors that determine how long it will take to get results, we find that business owners get on board. There are many factors to consider before giving someone an estimate on how long it will take for the campaign to get traction. While there is no specific number that applies to all companies, Google themselves say to give an SEO company 4-12 months to produce results.  At Firestarter SEO, we usually see campaigns get their first real success between 4-6 months.

Most clients’ data closely follow what you see in this graph. Movement is usually fairly slow for the first 3 months or so. Inevitably there are small wins here and there, but things don’t really start happening until between months 4-6. Once the momentum starts building, it continues to accelerate each month after. This absolutely varies based on a number of factors, which we’ll dive into now.

Keyword Strategy

One of the biggest factors in any SEO campaign is the keyword strategy implemented. Many companies have unrealistic ranking expectations due to a lack of experience with keyword targeting. For example, a small landscaping company may think they want to target and rank for “Landscaping.” Once we explain that the competition on such a broad keyword is enormous and that a better, more targeted keyword may be “Landscaping Company in Denver” they reset their expectations. There are a few key things that go into choosing target keywords, so check out our guide here. What we want is to choose keywords that will increase our clients’ bottom lines and do so in a reasonable time period.

Starting Rankings

Once the keywords have been identified, a major factor that helps us understand how long a campaign will take to start getting results is where the client’s starting point is. If our client is sitting on the second page for a variety of our target keywords, the timeline is bumped up. Conversely, if they have zero rankings at all, it’s going to be a longer push. It is significantly easier to move someone from the second page to the first than if we’re starting from scratch.

Competition

The hard reality is that in most cases, your competition is also doing SEO. Depending on the industry, though, we find that only a select few companies are putting enough focus on their SEO strategy to make it truly effective.  These instances produce an opportunity to leapfrog competitors who aren’t doing anything for their online visibility. On the other hand, some spaces are full of companies actively working on SEO. In these cases, it’s crucial to have a clear strategy and work smarter than your competitors and their SEO firms. Ultimately, a good SEO company should be able to quickly identify what the competition looks like and how active they are with their own SEO.

Link Profile

Part of assessing the timeline for SEO is looking at your link profile, along with your competition’s. A quick scan of your links allows us to see exactly how established you are and what you’re up against.. Here’s an example of what we run:

 

Metric CLIENT COMP 1 COMP 2 COMP 3
Domain Authority 25 35 34 27
Total External Links 1.3k 6.8k 7.8k 4.1k
Total Links 13.5k 161k 219k 3.9k
Total Linking Root Domains 221 681 554 158

 

Let’s break it down into more understandable terms. The first thing we look at is the Domain Authority. DA is a Moz-specific metric and not an exact reflection of Google’s algorithm. However, it gives us a general idea of how authoritative your site is on a scale of 1-100, and where you are compared to the competition. In the case above, our client is established (Domain Authority of 25), but we can see that they are behind the curve compared to their top three opponents, who all post higher DA scores.

Next, we look at the link breakdown. While Total Links and Total External Links are important, we often pay more attention to the Total Linking Root Domains—in other words, how many unique websites are pointing to your site. This metric gives us a much better gauge of how difficult it would be to overtake your competitors. With the numbers above, it’s clear that link acquisition will play a major role in this client’s SEO strategy since they are well behind their top two competitors. It will probably take a longer, consistent effort to catch up since we likely won’t be able to acquire 400 links in just a couple of months.

Content

The next area we want to consider in a timeframe estimation is the content on the site. We often inherit content that is extremely basic and thin. Our job when a client comes on board is to optimize this content. This means adding relevant, valuable content for your customers. In the process of enriching the site content, we also have opportunities to optimize it for that page’s target keyword. Contrary to what many people believe, this does not mean keyword stuffing at every opportunity we get. Usually, the keyword or a variation of it is only used 2-3 times in the text of any given page. Most importantly, we want the structure optimized with proper titles, headings, bullet points, pictures, etc.

Crawl Errors 

A very influential component of how fast SEO can work falls down to the crawl errors we find. Using tools like Moz or Agency Analytics, we are able to identify items on a client’s website that could cause search engines to diminish their trust in the site. These span a very wide range, from 404 errors all the way to missing alt text on images. When auditing a site, we want to know how many errors are found, and what type. There are critical errors (like 404’s), and some that have minimal impact (like a missing meta description). The answers from that audit will give us a good idea of what the scope of the project looks like.

Site Speed

Website speed has grown more and more important over time. With Google’s emphasis on mobile-first search, its importance has increased even more. We need to ensure that your site is mobile friendly and fast on a mobile device. Using tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights, we can quickly see a site’s performance and what needs to be done. Page speed can be tricky to fix, though. Sometimes it can be a simple plugin, and other times it may require much more extensive work like re-coding areas of the site, upgrading hosting, etc.

Site Size

At Firestarter SEO, we often have companies primed and ready to roll, but in our initial audit we find a glaring problem – their site is extremely small. What we mean by this is that they have a home page, a services page, maybe an “About Us” page, and a contact page. The issue arises when we learn they have 20 key offerings for their business, and all of them are found on the services page. Ideally, each page should have its own target keyword. At most, you should target 2 keywords per page. This means if the site size were to stay the same (4 pages), you’d be limited to targeting 4-8 keywords, and the rest of your services would be underserved. To combat this, we often need to build out the website. By creating unique service pages for each core service, we bolster our ability to target the right keywords on a given page and to target many more words overall.

Site Age

One last factor we take into consideration in determining how long SEO takes to work is the age or longevity of the site. Google likes established sites who have survived the test of time. Think of it this way – let’s say you were looking to build your dream home. This is what you’ve worked towards your whole life. If all things were equal, and you had to choose between a custom home builder who has been around for 30 years, versus a custom home builder who just started a couple of months ago, who would you trust to build your dream home? Chances are you’ll go with the company who has been established. Google treats your site the same way. Most brand new sites take a while to establish trust with the search engines.

Putting it All Together

While there are certainly other factors at play in projecting the length of an SEO campaign’s success, at the end of the day there is no exact science. Google could release a major algorithm change a few months in, which would push back the entire project. The key to success is consistency and fine-tuning all of the elements we mentioned above.

SEO is truly a process of accumulation that relies on consistent effort. It requires patience and the ability to put in the work, and if you give up after a month or two, you’ll never see results. We always position SEO as a long-term play. When done right, it can produce truly remarkable results and a phenomenal ROI for nearly any business or industry.