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This interview with Dr. Stephie Althouse, Ph.D. was done to answer a question:  What should SEO cost?  It is our premise at P5 Marketing that because SEO is hard to value as it is intangible, people are tempted to spend very little. With the rapid pace of change in how search engines, especially Google, rank websites, and pages, this question is important to answer on several levels.

It is a not good practice to approach SEO from the mindset "How little can I spend?".  That will cost you more in the long run. A more appropriate question might be "What should I spend to get the business growth I need?".

Most people know that SEO is about building organic traffic to their websites over time by a combination of technical factors. What most people don't know, is that SEO Marketing is the other, critical factor is driving traffic consistently and strategically to gain a competitive edge in the digital marketplace. This is what we do for our clients and it's why their business ROI grows online.

SEO done well has at least ten components. It takes planning, a depth of knowledge and staying current, business and marketing skills, language proficiency, good data gathering tools and should be integrated into every business overall marketing plan.

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Dr. Stephie: Hi, everyone. This is Dr. Stephie Althouse, CEO of Top-Notch CEO. Welcome back to our interview series of top experts called “Top-Notch CEO Geek Radio.” As you may know, by “geek,” we mean top experts who are both very passionate and extremely knowledgeable in their craft.

It is my extreme pleasure to bring back to you Robert Donnell from P5 Marketing. As you might have known from our first interview, he’s an SEO wizard. Meaning, Search Engine Optimization wizard, and he’s extraordinary in supporting top-notch businesses like yours to be successful online. Welcome back, Robert.

Robert: Thanks for having me, Dr. Stephie.

Dr. Stephie: Thank you for making the time to be here. Last time, we talked a little bit about SEO, Search Engine Optimization, for whom it is important, and for whom it is not so important. We talked about SEO being basically important and essential for all businesses that want to create revenue and profits from online marketing.

Then, at the end of our interview, we talked a little bit about the return on investment. There were lots of people asking more questions about this, and so we had planned to talk a little bit more about what does the audit look like and the strategy session, so forth. Yet, the questions about the return on investment seemed to be so prevalent that I would like to talk to you about this first our second interview. Robert, what should SEO, Search Engine Optimization cost?

Robert: It’s a good question. Some people might think it’s unfair, but I think it’s actually critical to answer it head on and clearly. Obviously, the amount would have a range depending upon the size of the business, and the amount of content, and the quality of content that we already have, but I’m here to tell you. If you look at … It’s going to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $2,000 a month. Somewhere in there, and what I’d like to do is to tell you what happens when you do less, right? There are only a couple of different ways to do it for less. One is to use an offshore provider of services, and the second is you’re going to get less than you need to be successful.

Dr. Stephie: Does that basically means you’re burning your money, whatever money it is that is less than $1,000 or $2,000 a month? Effectively, you’re wasting that money. Is that right?

Robert: You’re wasting a portion of it, and I hate to see it, and that often fits in the class of providers who take your money and don’t deliver results. One of my always-there concerns is that I’m not getting enough resources to properly serve the client.

Dr. Stephie: You’ve actually turned down clients who didn’t want to go far enough with it, and you knew that, and you turned them down. You didn’t even work with them then, which I have to say, I hugely respect that.

Robert: Right.

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Dr. Stephie: You’re here to actually deliver results instead of taking someone’s money and say, “Oh, yeah, yeah. I can do it for $500 a month,” and then not deliver, and then just take the money and run like certain colleagues in your field do.

Robert: Right, and what’s typically … Listen. When it comes to offshore providers, I think there are certainly a lot of very talented folks out there that are not living in the United States. My problem with this is that SEO, A, require a fair amount of marketing skill if you’re going to do it right in my humble opinion, but second, it requires English as a first language kind of a skill. I don’t think I would take on an SEO assignment in the UK. While we speak the same language, there are enough subtleties and differences that I don’t think I would take on a client in London or even Australia.

Dr. Stephie: Wow.

Robert: Yeah. It’s just not going to sound like they wrote it if I’m writing it in the United States for another country.

Dr. Stephie: It’s more than the language. It’s actually cultural is what I hear you say.

Robert: Right. Thank you.

Dr. Stephie: Okay.

Robert: You’re right. There’s too many culture differences.

Dr. Stephie: I’m going to put my top-notch CEO hat on now. Be wary. Ha-ha.

Robert: I’m ready.

Dr. Stephie: Let’s just say … Let’s do a little math. Since we’re talking about the return on investment, we can use some hard numbers and see where we go with it because I think and talked with you before, I realized that we can actually do this, and I think we need to. Let’s say they spend somewhere in the neighborhood of … Again, it depends on the circumstances, and the number of pages, and the number of niches that you have, but let’s say in a simpler case.

Say $1,000 on a search engine optimization audit, use someone’s website, a few pages, and you analyze this, and let’s say they spent … they invest about $1,000 with you, and then they get initial strategy session, and then let’s say they spend around … they invest around $1,500 with you per month for 11 months, so we’re going to figure this as a one-year process.

Let’s say they also spent in months 2 through 12. That’s 11 months. They spend around $500 for promoting their content on LinkedIn, on Facebook, or wherever it is. First of all, are these reasonable assumptions just as a baseline? Not to say that that’s the price for everybody because it’s all different depending on the size of the business, and the number of niches, and the complexity of their online marketing, et cetera, but as a good solid minimum perhaps?

Robert: Yeah, some people lose. Right. That’s just about right.

Dr. Stephie: Okay.

Robert: You could spend $1,000 instead of $1,500, but somewhere in that neighborhood.

Dr. Stephie: Yeah, or you could spend twice that too depending on what …

Robert: Yeah.

Dr. Stephie: Let’s say as a start, so we’re looking at $1,000 in the beginning another $22,000 after that, so that’s $23,000 for working with you and promoting the content online to really get online marketing to work based on search engine optimization driven.

Robert: Right.

Dr. Stephie: Okay. Now that we know the size of the investment or at least have an example for a number and how we came up with it, how can we think now about the return on that investment? What has to happen? How do we go about this? We think about what sort of things we sell, and how much we charge for that, and what our profit is on that, and how many of what we have to sell to at least make back our $23,000. Is that a reasonable way to go about it?

Probably the only way.

Dr. Stephie: Exactly.

Robert: Now, look. You got to look hard at some numbers and make sure you’re taking the proper measurements.

Dr. Stephie: Which includes the money that you spend on promoting the content online, Facebook, LinkedIn, et cetera? What sort of client would actually get a good return of investment in terms of transaction value, volume, et cetera? How do we think about that?

Robert: Obviously, the higher the transaction value, the easier it is to get a return on investment for your SEO. If your average client has worth $10,000 a year, you don’t need as many leads to convert as you would if your average transaction was $5. We do like to look at high transaction value as being an indicator, but I think one of the things that makes this makes easier to ROI is that you can set up a fair number of measurements. I can tell you or I tell my clients how many visitors came to their website. We can say how many visitors came to their website for a particular keyword. We can tell you what that keyword costs to buy if you had to go buy it, which is one measure, right?

Dr. Stephie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert: Buying a traffic versus getting it for “free” from SEO is one particular measure, but we also have the ability to determine the number of conversions that happen. Using Google Analytics such as a third-party tool, you can actually say that I had a hundred visitors for the keyword … I’ll go back to my chocolate, right, handmade chocolates, and that we sell those chocolates online or we could set up another measure, but if you saw those chocolates online, you can tell how many of those people that came in with that keyword actually checked out and bought a box of chocolates.

If it’s $20 a box, we can say that the conversion value is $20, so we’re actually able to measure it down to that level and even a little bit further. This whole concept of capturing leads, knowing who we’re dealing with is all part of establishing the value of your ROI. Now, that’s a direct measure in terms of sales, but there are some softer evaluations that are important, right, because you have the reputation management.

Dr. Stephie: Okay.

Robert: You have all of the other values. There’s a PR benefit associated with good internet marketing, so there are a lot of other measures, but you can get hardcore and go, “We had this many visits. We had this many sales. The value of our sale is this, and therefore, our ROI or revenue generated from this particular activity was X, and it cost us Y to produce it, and the difference is profit or loss.”

Dr. Stephie: Excellent, so this is very simple CEO math or business owner math?

Robert: Right.

Dr. Stephie: It’s actually very easy to envision how you could say, “Okay. I can see that if I had X many extra clients selling this or that service or product that I would break even, and then once I go past that, then I have made extra profit.”

Robert: Right.

Dr. Stephie: Extra revenue and profit actually, and so it is pretty easy for someone who is listening to this and contemplating to do this to figure out how easy it would be for them to come up with those $23,000 and feel like they’re getting … They’ll likely to get a good return on investment, and then furthermore, what I would think the only thing they’re risking in the beginning is, let’s say, that initial thousand dollars to get a side audit and having that strategic conversation with you that will tell them very clearly as to whether they have a good opportunity to get that ROI or not because you’re going to tell them, right?

Robert: Right. We would not take a client that we didn’t think we could deliver results for. By the way, no matter what SEO you might work with, I challenge you to have that very straight conversation with these people upfront so that everybody knows what you’re measuring against so that everybody knows what the rules for success or failure are.

Dr. Stephie: Excellent. I wanted to point out that there’s also the long-term value of the client, so you can do the math for what this client will bring in in that year that you’re investing in SEO, but you can also see what is the long-term value, the lifetime value of that client. A lot of clients, at least in my business, they work with us for quite some time. They may go through different services that we offer. They may go into the Top-Notch Launch Program, CEO Launch Program first. Then, they may go into the Top-Notch CEO Coaching Circle.

From there, they may go into the Accelerator Circle. From there, they may find value to go into the Master Innovators Program and so forth, or they may become a one-on-one coaching client, or they may say, “Hey, we actually need you to come into my company, and work with my team, and give us some extra assistance on the executive level, and so forth.”

The more clear you are on what a client is actually worth to you and in terms of a lifetime value, the easier it is to do a decent and actually accurate return on investment calculation. It would seem to be that based on that, even if you don’t have the $23,000 laying around right now or you wouldn’t be paying it all at once, but you could even think about financing it if you had a pretty clear understanding of your ROI. What do you think about that?

Robert: When you consider it, this becomes a big portion of your marketing budget because that number that we’re quoting isn’t all coming to us. A lot of that is for promotion, and content development, and things like that, but when you consider that, it’s a big piece of your marketing effort then. I don’t think that that’s a very large number. Going back to the old days, you couldn’t get a billboard for that, right? I think that’s a very fair assessment.

The other thing I just wanted to point out was that when you are doing, for example, pay-per-click ads and Google, the minute you stop paying, those ads no longer appear, but money invested in good quality SEO, if we were to terminate our agreement after a year let’s say, that keyword is going to continue producing results for a long time even though you’re not paying to have it done. While we use pay-per-click as a method of evaluation, the payoff is a lot longer for SEO than it is for any pay-per-click campaign.

Dr. Stephie: Right. Just to make sure that people really heard this. As soon as your pay-per-click ad goes away, the traffic to your site stops. Unlike what Robert is doing, which is an organic SEO approach, which keeps on giving long after you may not be working with them anymore. Although, it makes sense to maintain this, does it not?

Robert: It does because what you find is there are lots of other opportunities that begin to present themselves once you start focusing deeply. I’ve done analysis here a particular website didn’t really bang a job of developing a particular piece of content, and I found over a hundred keywords that actually ranked for that one single article, so that was a long-term effort over a number of years. They kept building up that content and building up that content to the point where they’re almost a nationally-recognized resource for that content area, and that’s paying off huge for them. They couldn’t have done it in a year.

Dr. Stephie: That is awesome. One thing that, enclosing, I want to say is … Oh, wait. Before we close, I'd like to talk to you a little bit about the PR and reputation management aspect. There’s clear ROI. We talked about it. If you can see how your business would pay you back $23,000 worth of extra profit, then you’re good and golden, and it’s an easy-to-decide-upon investment. What about the PR and reputation management? Which comes as a freebie along with it?

Robert: The PR aspect is available to us because one of the things that the internet has done is to flatten the availability of information. 20 years ago, you needed to know an editor who knew somebody who might write an article, and the information flow is restricted back and forth. Today, every editor, every writer, every author has instantaneous access to the same information, so that flattening effect has allowed all of us to become master of our own public relations, and so part of what we do is encourage people to become visible and become authors. We help them. Not everybody loves to write, but what happens over time is that you begin to establish your reputation and your public relations programs right around yourself and your own brand, and you’re certainly the master of it.

In today’s world of reviews and managing all of that input, we have a program that we’re actually monitoring your reviews for you, and we have additional programs so we can actually encourage people to review based on how you’re doing with them as a client. That whole concept of reputation management, reviews, public relations is … and almost free both on effect of SEO marketing.

Dr. Stephie: This is so phenomenal, and I have to say, Robert. Every time I talk with you, I learn something new. This is just phenomenal. I could talk with you endlessly, but however, we are running out of time here.

Robert: Yup.

Dr. Stephie: I want to thank you again and say me as a geek, I have to say I find it just so awesome to talk with you because no matter what one throws at you, you geek right back, and that’s why you’re on Geek Radio.

Robert: Does that make me an honorary geek?

Dr. Stephie: Absolutely.

Robert: All right.

Dr. Stephie: Yeah, yeah. No need to be humble because you really know your stuff and I thank you very much for educating our audience. Thank you and have a top-notch day.

Robert: My pleasure. Thanks, Dr. Stephie.

If you are a small business owner, you might enjoy our recent blog Small Business SEO - An Introduction.

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Posted in: cost of SEO, SEO for Small Business

Robert Donnell

Robert Donnell