How To Plan And Budget For SEO

There are two traps I have seen clients fall into when it comes to plans and budgets for SEO; 1) they don’t have a plan, 2) they don’t have a budget. As my father is fond of saying, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. When it comes to SEO, failure means lost time, money, and opportunity. Below, I share five steps to create a simple plan and budget to make sure this doesn’t happen to you. But before any planning begins, there are two important facts to understand about SEO.

  1. SEO is a long term strategy. How long does it take for SEO to work? While circumstances differ, a good rule of thumb is 4 to 6 months for minimal results, and 6 to 12 months for more complete results. Rarely do you see results within the first month or two. This is because the first month there is generally a lot of discovery, auditing, and planning taking place, and not much implementation. The second month implementation begins, but it takes time for search engines to recognize the changes, so virtually nothing happens to results until the tail end of the second month. When results start appearing in the third and fourth months, they’re going to be minimal. By the sixth month things should be starting to move along nicely, but it will likely be closer to 12 months before the real payoff starts. It’s in the second year that you will harvest your investment.
  2. Real SEO isn’t cheap. How much does SEO cost? If you’re hiring a high quality SEO firm to provide comprehensive SEO services, be prepared to pay $3,000 to $5,000 per month, at a minimum. Many companies are spending tens of thousands of dollars per month on SEO. I wouldn’t hire a company offering SEO services for less than $1,000 per month, unless it’s a specialized sub-section of SEO, like local citation management.

If you’re serious about SEO, you should be committed to spending 12 months and $36,000 to $60,000 to start your SEO campaign. You’ll be able to find plenty of SEO professionals and agencies willing to tell you they can get you big results faster, but that’s because they’re scared that if they tell you anything different you’ll take your business somewhere else.

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Once you understand these factors and are prepared to start working with an SEO firm, you can start working on the five planning and budgeting steps below:

  1. Choose a metric. What are you going to measure and why? If you say “rankings” you better have a good reason, because rankings are a generally a bad metric to focus on, so much so that my firm recently stopped providing ranking reports to clients except in rare cases. Far better to focus on traffic, and best to focus on leads, sales, or another type of conversion.
  2. Make a goal. What kind of increase do you want to see as a result of your SEO campaign? A 10% month on month increase in sales over the next 12 months? A 20% increase in newsletter subscriptions within the next 6 months? Figure out what success looks like.
  3. Put a value on achieving that goal. How much would hitting your goal be worth to you? What would you be willing to pay if someone walked in and offered you a 50% increase in sales over the next year?
  4. Create a budget. Now that you know what hitting the goal is worth to you, you have an idea of what your budget should be. It can’t be more than the value of achieving your goal, and ideally will be quite a bit less than that.
  5. Present #1 and #2 to firms to bid on. Keep #3 and #4 private, for now. Or share it all, if you are already working with a firm you know and trust.

You hire an SEO firm the same way you hire a new member of your team–you find the one that presents the most convincing case for delivering the results your business needs. Once you’ve hired that firm, here are a few quick tips on how to work well with that firm so you can develop a long-term, successful relationship.

  1. Make sure your SEO firm will have what it needs. Are you ready to grant full access to your website to your SEO firm? If not, is your IT team prepared to implement changes your SEO firm recommends quickly? If not, you’ll end up getting slower results, and there won’t be anything your SEO firm can do about it.
  2. Let your firm do their work. Yes, your SEO firm needs your input. You have valuable insights they can’t possibly know. But resist the temptation to micromanage your SEO firm. The more time you spend communicating with your firm, the less time they have to get SEO work done.
  3. Read the reports. The vast majority of SEO clients don’t read the reports their SEO firm send them. Sometimes it’s because the client is busy. Sometimes it’s because the reports is confusing and could be more straightforward. If it’s the former, make sure someone is reading the report thoroughly, even if it’s not you. If it’s the latter, ask your firm for a better report that gives you the information you need.

SEO is a cost effective strategy for long term success when companies enter into a campaign with the right foundation of understanding in place, and then take the time to plan and budget. Your competitors may all be doing SEO, but they’re probably doing it the wrong way. Follow the steps above, and you’ll be able to gain an advantage.

Joshua Steimle is the CEO of MWI, a digital marketing agency with offices in the U.S. and Hong Kong.

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