At Infront, we preach that the "findability" of a website is one of the three critical elements of a successful website - you MUST factor in effort and budget to make your website "findable". For many websites, Search Engine Optimization is one of the most effective strategies for getting visitors to a website. But people keep asking me why it's so expensive. Here's why.
Here at Infront a basic SEO campaign starts at $750 per month with a 6 month minimum, so our small business clients need to budget at least $4,500 for basic SEO. Some clients are shocked when they hear this (even though they are paying $1500 a month for a yellow pages ad, hmmmm.....), but most times when I explain why, they get it. Consider these points:
1) SEO Takes Expertise. Did you know that so far in 2012, Google has changed it's website ranking algorithms 34 times? And as of this writing, we still have over a month left in 2012. Don't believe me? Check out this website: http://www.seomoz.org/google-algorithm-change It truly is a full time job to stay on top of these changes, to determine what, if any impact they have on the websites we build, then to make the changes to the website if needed. The tools needed to monitor a website's ranking and how well it's performing for various keyword and key phrase combinations are sophisticated and also change based on the dymanics of search engine systems. Our search engine optimization team spends many hours a month just learning about changes in the search engine optimization world. In addition, they have to understand the technicalities and structure of how a website is built so that can make changes to that website to enhance its "onsite factors".
2) SEO Takes Time. Because of the sheer number of websites that yours is competing against on the search engines, it can take months to see results. This is especially true for a brand new website that has no search engine "equity" at all - you're competing against websites that have longevity and traffic, both significant factors in determining a website's ranking. With a new website, it can easily take 6 to 12 months to see results as your website claws and climbs above others above it in the rankings. During this 6 to 12 months, you have to be actively promoting your website to the search engines and making changes based on #1 above.
3) SEO Is Competitive. Try a Google search for "colorado springs website design". I just did and Google told me that there are 3,210,000 pages in its index for that phrase. I want to be on page one for that search term, and there are only 10 search results per page with Google, so you can see that there is a LOT of websites competing against me to get onto page one (Infront is #1 on page 1 of Google for that phrase by the way ;-). Keep in mind, too, that the other businesses competing for a particular search word or phrase are not sitting still with their SEO efforts either. The really good websites are trying hard to climb above you, so you can't just "set it and forget it" when it comes to making your site rank higher. You have to constantly monitor and respond with changes to keep your website ranked above your competitors. We "eat our own dogfood" in this regard - that is, we follow our own advice for marketing our own website through the search engines. We have top rankings for virtually all the keywords that people use to find a website design company through the search engines.
4) SEO Is Geographically Oriented. Your target geography is a significant factor in how much effort it takes for a high ranking for a particular search term. For example, in #3 above I did a search for "colorado springs website design" that found 3,210,000 pages. A search for "website design" (without the geographical modifier) yielded 1,100,000,000 pages (yes - that's over one BILLION results). The point is that if you're trying to target a larger geography through search engines, the amount of work will be significantly greater.
As you can surmise, all of these factors combine to make SEO very time consuming and potentially very costly. But, it can yield a significant Return On Investment - something we watch carefully for our clients. With SEO we can track the results and determine whether or not it's creating a positive ROI. Can you do that with your yellow pages advertising? Your radio or TV advertising? Probably not every accurately. I used to lease space from an ad agency, and I overheard one of the ad execs say once, "half of our advertising is very effective, problem is, we're not sure which half". We don't have this problem with Search Engine Marketing - we track it all and can determine, very accurately, what's working and what's not. But it takes expertise and time to see results.