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Why Low Budget SEO Campaigns Fail

July 01, 2015

When companies do SEO on a shoestring budget, they can wind up hanging themselves. Spending $300 to $500 a month on SEO may seem like a great deal, but it isn't. Here's why.

1. Not Enough Stuff

SEO involves a wide scope of activities: strategy development and review, onsite setup and maintenance, keyword research, copywriting, outreach, tracking and more. With a bargain basement budget, you can't do enough stuff to move the dial, even if there's a good strategy in place. (Often, there isn't.)

2. Impact Decreases over Time

After a low budget campaign fixes the blatant and obvious deficiencies (e.g., adding unique title tags to each page of the website), additional fixes come slowly because they are harder and more expensive. A proper SEO campaign should gain momentum over time; with underfunding, the opposite occurs.

3. Weak or Nonexistent Keyword Research

It takes a great deal of time and skillful analysis to select high impact keywords. Using the wrong keywords depreciates the value of a campaign right out the gate. In some cases, low budget agencies optimize for low- or zero-volume keywords just to show the client they rank near the top!

4. No Money for Content

Today, most high quality links come from producing high quality, relevant content on the client's site and on a variety of other, related sites. This work requires content strategy, skilled copywriters and editors and publisher outreach. At $300/month, there isn't enough funding to write even a handful of sentences.

5. Bad Links

Because low budget campaigns can't afford to do proper link building, they often resort to dubious or clearly improper techniques. Piling up bad links hurts rather than helps SEO, and leaves the client with a major (and costly) cleanup project once they move on to another agency.

6. Exposure to Black Hat SEO

In business, underfunding creates the temptation to cut corners and operate for short term results. We often talk to firms that did SEO on the cheap and discover they have been penalized by Google or are in danger of being penalized. To be fair, Black Hat SEO can occur in large, well funded campaigns as well, but we believe the odds go up as the budgets go down.

7. No Funds for SEO Basics

During the course of an SEO campaign, certain expenses are inevitable -- major directory annual renewal costs, PR distribution fees, technical copywriting, etc. For low budget campaigns, money that should be spent on these things is instead just kept by the agency. Thus, the provider gets income but the client does not get directory listings, press releases and high quality content.

8. No Consulting

One of the biggest values a low budget SEO provider can deliver is ongoing consulting, which helps the client with their internal efforts to devise strategies, produce and distribute content, and evaluate results. But this is exactly the type of service that most low budget SEO companies don't provide.

9. No Depth

Clients naturally assume that smaller SEO budgets equate to less risk. In fact, the opposite is more likely. A small SEO agency operating on the cheap doesn't have much if any bench strength; if one or two people leave, the quality of the work may suffer or the provider might disappear entirely.

How much is enough?

At this point, the natural question is, if $300 a month isn't enough, what is? The answer depends on many factors, including --

  • How competitive your niche is
  • How many keywords should be targeted
  • The SEO-readiness of your website
  • The quality of your existing link profile
  • The aggressiveness of your campaign goals

To be conservative, assume that you'll need a budget of a few thousand dollars or more per month to achieve meaningful results in a reasonable amount of time. A reputable SEO agency can help you sort through the variables and scope out a campaign that meets your business and budgetary needs.

Why Do Companies Fall for the $300 SEO Pitch?

  1. Unrealistic expectations. Do you really expect thousands of new visitors to your site and tons of leads for $300/month? There's no free lunch: the Internet is fiercely competitive, and to get #1 or even first page ranking can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month.
  2. Confusing activity for useful activity. Many providers selling discount SEO packages do things -- but not the essential things. For instance, link acquisition and content marketing are key SEO components, but due to their high cost no agency can execute them on a low budget campaign.
  3. Being misled by flawed case studies. Discount SEO providers may tout a solopreneur client's site that experienced a 4000 percent increase in traffic. If your eyes pop out, they shouldn't. A 4000 percent increase from a base of zero isn't particularly remarkable. To convey the value of a campaign, the case study must focus on leads and revenue generation rather than big numbers with no context.
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