More than a few business owners have asked me what I think about SEO consultants who charge a monthly fee with the promise of putting their websites on the first page of search engine results.

SEO illustration But first, what is SEO? Search engine optimization is the art and science of using keywords and other website variables to appear higher on search engine results with the goal of increasing web traffic.

SEO consultants’ fees can run anywhere from $500 to $5,000 a month – a significant cost for most small businesses. Many SEO salespeople also create elaborate website audits that point out the areas where they can make SEO improvements. Business owners often feel dazzled and intimidated by the graphs and jargon some SEO consultants use.

Is it worth it to pay an SEO consultant thousands a month to improve your site’s ranking on search engines?

The answer will be different for every business, but for most small businesses, probably not.

responsive screens illustration Let’s talk about Google, the world’s most popular search engine. Google adjusts its search algorithm almost daily, which explains why sites appear higher or lower in search results on any given day. In addition, mobile search results on Google are different than desktop computer search results. Naturally, Google’s mobile search results rank responsive, or mobile-friendly, websites much higher.

Also, specific industries are more affected than others by Google’s algorithm changes. Business websites, home and garden websites, and finance websites tend to move up and down in the search rankings more often than other sites. These are all factors that an SEO consultant has no control over, no matter how much you pay them.

So how does Google decide how to rank sites? From the beginning Google has emphasized its interest in quality websites that provide value to Internet users. They regularly penalize websites that use these practices:

  • Deceptive advertising – the site doesn’t offer what it says it offers
  • Obstacles, like pop-ups and other distracting elements, that make it difficult to interact with a site
  • Thin content – sites that offer little useful content and reuse the same text on multiple pages
  • Low quality content – sites that have a lot of misspellings, bad grammar, and content they’ve grabbed from other sites
  • Poor user interface – sites that are hard to navigate, slow to load, or have a high bounce rate (meaning users leave quickly after going to the site)

For more details about what Google likes and doesn’t like, check out Olga Andrienko’s report, Making Change Predictable: Tools to Track Google Volatility.

Can you boost your search engine rank without spending a lot of money? Yes!

  1. Make sure your site is responsive, or mobile-friendly.
  2. Update your site every few weeks with useful original content that contains keywords from your industry.
  3. Fix broken links, images, and other problems.
  4. Create an email mailing list of your customers and send them reminders to visit your site a couple times a month.
  5. Post useful content on your Facebook business page and direct visitors to your site.

Facebook thumbs up For a business with an online store, you can get more targeted results by purchasing specific Google Adwords, Facebook ads, and Twitter ads. Facebook in particular allows you to narrow down your audience to very specific demographics – for example, you could run an ad in certain ZIP codes aimed at reaching working women from 29 to 50. And the beauty of Internet advertising is that you can track how effective your campaigns are and adjust them on the fly.

And don’t forget Yelp! If you have a business page on Yelp, keep it updated with current photos and information and respond positively to customers’ reviews. Yelp has the magic touch for ranking highly on Google, so use their traffic to direct new customers to your business.

Need help implementing these money-saving ideas? Send me a message.

*$57,625 is the approximate cost of hiring an SEO consultant for five years. Kudos to you for paying attention to the fine details!

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