Should You Hire an SEO Firm or Do It Yourself?

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:: By Kylie Ora Lobell ::


There are two ways to get seen on Google. You can either pay for ads that will display on top of search results, or invest in search engine optimization (SEO) to appear organically below the ads.

If you choose to go the advertising route, it’ll cost you at least $1 to $2 per click, but it can be more than $50 per click, according to WordStream. In fact, the average small business that signs up for AdWords spends between about $100,000 to $120,000 per year to be seen via paid search.

SEO, on the other hand, can be much more sustainable for small businesses. If you have the means but you don’t have the time, you may want to pay for a firm to take over your SEO campaigns.

Why hire an SEO firm?

When you invest in AdWords, it’s a short-term solution. However, if you hire a good SEO firm with a portfolio of positive results, they’re going to be focused on more long-term goals and work with your business to organically build traffic.

SEO is a full-time job, which is why many small businesses choose to hire firms instead of doing it themselves. Firms dedicate all of their energy and resources to the task of improving your SEO.

A decent SEO firm will charge between $5,000 to $10,000 per month, according to Brian Honigman (also read, "The Average Costs for SEO Services"). At this price point, you’re working with a company that has a staff of experienced content managers, Web developers, copy editors and analytics experts. The average cost of paying for specific services like website and SEO audits is $1,000 to $3,000. Link building costs $250 to $2,000 per link, and copywriting is 75 cents to $1 per word.

If you do hire an SEO firm, make sure that they’re up to date with Google’s requirements. Though no one can pinpoint exactly what algorithm Google uses to rank sites, it is known that they are looking at mobile optimization and the authority and relevance of your content.

Your SEO firm should be concentrating on building up your site overtime. SEO is not a quick fix, and it can take months upon months to see results. When you add too many keywords to try and rank higher in a short amount of time, you may end up getting penalized by Google.

Your firm should also have a solid client list and a great track record, and talk about the importance of website content. If a firm is all about littering your website with relevant keywords and not even discussing content marketing, find another company.

Just because you hire an SEO firm, it doesn’t mean that you should step away from SEO efforts completely. Your whole team has to be involved in the process by thinking of content to create for your business and analyzing your analytics. You must always monitor your firm, and make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

Why do SEO on your own?

At this point in time, you may not have the available funds to invest in an SEO firm. Or, you’ve had negative experiences with SEO firms in the past and you want to try it on your own for a while.

If you dedicate time to improving your SEO, you may see better results than a firm would provide. After all, no one cares about your business more than you do.

Another option, aside from doing it on your own, is to hire an SEO team member, which is a big investment up front that can lead to a huge pay off. This person will be much more invested in your company than a firm and know your business inside and out. You can see your analytics whenever you want, and personally consult with your specialist anytime. If you’re not ready to take on a full-time team member, you can hire a consultant for $100 to $300 per hour.

There are many resources available online for improving your SEO. After all, this is the age of DIY. If you’re choosing to go on this path, here are a few pointers to give you a head start.

Quick tips for getting started with SEO

1. Create content that will attract your demographic to your website. Start a company blog that incorporates engaging images and video along with text and internal links to your website. Promote your blog and content on all your networks including your social media sites, since that’s where people are clicking through to content nowadays. Make sure content on your blog is unique and can’t be found elsewhere.

2. Incorporate keywords into your posts, but don’t go crazy. Make sure they fit in organically within your piece. To find out which keywords are best for you, use an SEO keyword research tool.

3. Utilize all the SEO tools within your website builder for your blog posts. Include tags, make sure your search engine description is filled out, come up with an enticing headline, and use a descriptive URL.

4. Focus on getting linked on high-quality websites. According to Felix Tarcomnicu, an effective method is to monitor your competitors’ backlinks and aim at getting links placed on those same sites. You don’t want links on any website, especially ones that see little traffic.

5. Make sure your page is loading fast enough with Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Otherwise, Google may penalize your ranking if your site loads too slow.

A solid SEO plan is crucial for your business to succeed. Whether you hire an SEO firm or take it on yourself, make sure that it’s a priority for your company.


Kylie Ora Lobell is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and has been published on NewsCred, Convince and Convert, Social Media Examiner and CMO.com. She's passionate about writing on everything marketing!

Website: KylieOraLobell.com

Twitter: @KylieOraLobell

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24 comments

8th Sphere 01-31-2016 9:27 AM

Thank you for a nice review!

The SEO budget should depend on your goals and competition. Just because someone charges you less than $5000 per month doesn't automatically mean that they are bad at SEO...

AsherA 01-31-2016 11:04 AM

Great post! Extremely informative for a small business into the world of SEO. Thank you

GetReady Web Marketing 01-31-2016 11:56 AM

Awesome article! Great job summarizing the options for small businesses.  So many companies are spending thousands on Adwords, but don't realize that besides costing more, organic SEO usually generates 10x the amount of traffic.  It seems that many people prefer to click on the organic results instead of the ads!

MaryM 01-31-2016 12:16 PM

Fantastic article. Thanks for addressing all budgets and for sharing great tips.

MikeH 01-31-2016 1:10 PM

One point that could have been made in this article is that most SEO firms don't actually implement the SEO work. Instead, many of the top SEO firms provide tips and strategies to business owners that the owner needs to implement. I'm not saying that the SEO companies aren't earning their fees.  The specific analysis the SEO companies do for your industry and website does take time and skill. I just think it is important that business owners realize that they must budget to actually implement the recommendations they receive from their SEO firm.  There are some SEO companies that actually implement the strategies too; however, you will need to shop around to find them.

SilviaB 01-31-2016 1:21 PM

Fantastic article, thanks for the budget information - that's very hard to find. However, the author has a strange definition of a small business...

*None* of the small businesses I've known or worked with in the "real" world over the past 15 years would have a $100,000/year marketing budget for search engine promotion alone... most of them made $150,000 - $400,000 gross per year. Even with the 15+ years of SEO experience and consistent results, I don't expect to get up to $300/hr from a small business (and would, in fact, be embarrassed to ask for it - these people work hard for little money).

10642387 01-31-2016 7:28 PM

What's your definition of a "small" business?    I have a 1-man business and no way can afford $100k/yr for either adwords or SEO.

MitchR 01-31-2016 8:56 PM

to talk only about google is naive - has anyone been watching Microsoft stock? if you disregard bing/yahoo/yandex (short list) - you're daft -  also a discussion about SEO with out discussing UX CRO SEM, site architecture social media........... ie looking at a website holistically while not talking about ANY digital marketing investment ROI

(like dude "what do get for $100,000" investment other than watching my SEO buy a new Porshe?)

is a waste of time and is of no help to an SMB

which why we're forming the most awesome digital marketing agency for SMB's operating  eCommerce sites - ever

with me - the Mephistopheles of social media marketing - doing all the social media consulting

it'll be fun

hey Mr/Mrs SEO - do you even know what i do? Do you know what I sell? -

tales from the digital trenches

The COO of my (tens of thousands of merchants main stream) web host (of 6 years)  just offered me an $800/mo plan - guaranteed to optimize 15 pages a month

I pointed out to him that meant it would take 1200 months (100 years) at a cost of $960,000 to fully optimize my 18,000 page 6 language site and maybe he should consider offering more of a "fast tract seen in my grandchildren's life time kinda plan".

one more real life illustration of the disconnect between the site operator and the SEO

BrianH 01-31-2016 10:43 PM

The reason why some of these numbers seem confusing to some of us is because corporate America and the business establishment define small business differently than the ordinary individual does. For example, the Chamber of Commerce defines small business as any business with under 500 employees and annual revenue under $25 million. Most of us think of our local plumber as a small business, but not a company with 400 employees.

SmA 01-31-2016 11:57 PM

i had bad  experience about seo firms and freelancer expand huge money in this purpose but result is =o,at the first time when ur site is ready for seo works ,,these seo firms and freelancer talk every thing positive about ur site and contents,for taking work when u paid them after that no response from them after lot of request u will get reply that they are doing to much work for ur site and more your site is not seo friendly lot of codes they have to change so pay more other wise its not possible for them to get success and this is the way seo firms and freelancers doing. not all but maximum are doing these practices............................its happen with me and i am share it here,.

web rational 02-01-2016 2:35 AM

If deciding whether or not to outsource your company’s SEO could be expressed as a math problem, the variables would include time, money, and capabilities.

Home remedies 02-01-2016 2:54 AM

Thanks for the SEO tips Kylie. I'm gonna put it up on my site to see how it goes

Reduce Big Boobs 02-01-2016 3:25 AM

Some SEO firms cannot be trusted, Then end up causing your site to be slammed by google update

Subbareddy 02-01-2016 4:06 AM

individual SEO consultants - these are freelancers who offer their SEO services.

SEO companies/agencies - these companies have teams of SEOs and standardized SEO processes for the most part. They typically work with businesses of a decent size (with budgets of at least a few thousand dollars per month for SEO).

in-house SEOs - if your business is very large or is growing rapidly, it often makes sense to hire an in-house SEO team. You can set it up yourself or hire an SEO consultant to help put things into place and come up with an initial strategy.

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MounikaD 02-01-2016 6:09 AM

SEO is an acronym for "search engine optimization" or "search engine optimizer." Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site. Many SEOs and other agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners, including:

Review of your site content or structure

Technical advice on website development: for example, hosting, redirects, error pages, use of JavaScript

Content development

Management of online business development campaigns

Keyword research

SEO training

Expertise in specific markets and geographies.

Sean B 02-01-2016 8:44 AM

Lot of snake oil SEO companies.

WalterS 02-01-2016 7:00 PM

How to find experienced, honest SEO consultant, who can take care of your small business?

Manchun Pandit 02-02-2016 4:53 AM

nice SEO package, i would like to say that there are no any client which is pay like that amount. number of clients are paying one $200 to $300 per month. this is regular cost of SEO project.

Jasa SEO 02-02-2016 7:20 AM

I just think it is important that business owners realize that they must budget to actually implement the recommendations they receive from their SEO firm - See more at:

Austin Soutas 02-02-2016 11:06 AM

Great article on brining into perspective the costs of organic seo against ppc advertising. If do right organic seo can get you the results you need long term.

Ramesh@web 02-03-2016 3:41 AM

If you’ve just recently discovered SEO, you may be feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to learn. It’s a little like college. You know you can master the material, but it’s going to take time – and if you’re also trying to run a business and maintain some kind of personal life, where will you get the time? Perhaps it’s time to consider an alternative to doing it all yourself.

If you’re an SEO yourself, of course, you’ll want to do your own SEO for your business. My father was a CPA, and he always did his own taxes (though he had my mom do the bookkeeping for the business). But the small business owners who used his services often handed that aspect of their workload over to him with a sigh of relief. It let them concentrate on providing their own, very different services to THEIR customers. After all, what does filling out a tax form and dry cleaning a formal gown have in common?

And what does your day-to-day work have in common with SEO? This isn’t a moot question; in fact, it’s very relevant to whether it makes more sense to do your website’s SEO yourself or hire a pro. By the way, the kinds of questions I’m going to bring up should sound very familiar to you if you’ve ever had to decide between doing something in-house or hiring someone outside your company to do it.

If deciding whether or not to outsource your company’s SEO could be expressed as a math problem, the variables would include time, money, and capabilities. You can’t get around the fact that SEO done right takes up a considerable amount of time. Learning the skill set takes time, as does keeping abreast of new developments. You might be better off spending this time elsewhere. But hiring someone to do it takes money – and hiring someone to do it right can take a lot of money. How do you decide?

You might start by actually approaching it as a math problem. Since we’re looking at an investment of time, you need to find out what your time is worth. Yes, I know, if you’ve run the numbers, you’re probably making minimum wage; that’s true for all business owners. Instead, look at what you charge for your products or services. “If you can put a dollar amount for what your time is worth,” notes Stoney deGeyter, “that can help you determine if you can make time for SEO.”

Now that you’ve figured out what your time is worth monetarily, you need to look at your skill set. What do you do better than anyone else? That’s what you should be spending your time doing. If customer relations is your true forte, that’s where you should invest your energy. If you’re best at coming up with new products and services, that’s what you should do. Let go of the idea that you need to do everything; nobody can do everything equally well. Stoney deGeyter suggests that you should “Think about what you can do that provides the greatest benefit for the company before you decide that you should allocate your valuable time to the SEO.”

{mospagebreak title=Is SEO Worth YOUR Time?}

Look at your current skill set and consider how much of it overlaps what you need to know to do SEO correctly for your website. It’s a pretty diverse skill set. You need to be able to read and understand Google Analytics data, write copy well, understand HTML and CSS…and that’s just the beginning. If you already have some of these skills – for example, if you’re a professional writer – you may already have a head start to learning SEO. Likewise, if you’re a professional website designer or a programmer, you have an “in.” Professional marketers also get a leg up, if they can wrap their minds around the ways that marketing on the Internet is different from marketing in more traditional media. If you don’t already have some of these skills, it will take more time to acquire them. Do you really have that time?

Another point to consider is that doing your own company’s SEO calls for an ongoing time investment. You need to keep abreast of new developments in the field, test out new ideas and marketing campaigns, consider new keywords to target, analyze analytics reports, create new content, and so forth. When will you find the time to do all of this?

Now that we’ve taken a look at the time aspect of the equation, let’s consider the money end. Since most of us associate risks with money, this is where we’ll consider the risks. What happens if you mess up your site’s SEO? Sometimes a simple error can make or break your site…like putting the wrong character in a robots.txt file. You can accidentally prevent Google from indexing your website, so it doesn’t appear on the search engine results pages at all. Or you could follow bad advice that you’ve received online, and face a penalty that will take a lot of time and effort to fix. Are you up to spotting and preventing these issues? As deGeyter notes, “Sometimes the risk simply isn’t worth it.”

If you’re weighing the cost in monetary terms of hiring an SEO, you also need to consider the cost of NOT hiring one. Again, to quote deGeyter, “If you outsource, it’s just money. If you in-source, it’s your time, your skills, your knowledge and even your sanity at stake.”

Weigh the money you’d spend to hire an SEO against the time and sacrifices you’d have to make if you do it yourself. Think of all the things you could be doing for your business that you won’t be able to do because you’ll be spending that time doing SEO. But also consider the returns on investment. If you translate your time into money, do you get more money back from doing the SEO yourself, or from hiring someone else to do it? Where do the scales balance?

Admittedly, for some businesses, it makes perfect sense to do their SEO in-house. If your business model is based on publishing content online, you should probably consider doing your own SEO. Likewise, if you’re promoting yourself as an expert in your field, and you have a lot of knowledge that you want to share, you may want to build your online presence personally. But by all means, think about what you’re getting into first.

SEO is a crazy, teeming business in its own right that can eat up vast amounts of time, energy, and brain power (to say nothing of aggravation!). You should not neglect your actual business just so you can devote yourself to doing your website’s SEO – unless you’re considering a change in occupation. At the end of the day, SEO is a way to promote your business, and you have to consider where it fits with the rest of your priorities. If you decide that doing your own SEO is too complicated and time-consuming to do yourself, there’s no shame in it – any more than there is any shame in deciding that your taxes are so complicated and time-consuming that you should hire an accountant to do them.

Showbox 02-14-2016 2:12 AM

SEO is an integral part of presence of business online. It is necessary to take into account the fact that some studies show that more than 90% of Internet users doesn't go beyond third page in search queries. Compare for yourself how often you go over the last 3 pages?

Every day, more and more users turn to the Internet for business information, or purchases of any goods and services. And already there is no difference, is information about your offer on 4 or 1000000 page; the chances are even that you will not see. Thus, it is vital to have some form of SEO optimization that will work for you on your website so people can find you.

Game pc 03-28-2016 11:01 PM

I think SEO is important, because customers who are looking for products they need only seek to page 3. If webisite our business there at page 5 or more, then we will lose money from consumers

BrisH 03-30-2016 11:16 AM

Very important to hire SEO firm, SEO so vital in today business

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