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July 18, 2007

Search Engine Optimization: Do It Yourself or Farm It Out?

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There’s an interesting debate coming around as of late. Stoney deGeyter asked over at Search Engine Land Can Small Business Really Afford SEO?, while over at LED Digest Michael Linehan argues whether the widespread "do-everything" ethos affecting business owners is actually hurting them in the long run.

For both questions, I really think it’s about your ability to budget both your time and your money.

To hit on Stoney’s question, the great thing about search engine optimization and the bigger pie of Internet marketing is that, yes, small businesses can absolutely afford it because campaigns are scalable. It’s about doing what you can when you can.

SEOToolSet training is in session in California this week and while I’ve been banned from the room (Bruce doesn’t like it when I scare attendees), my guess is that there are more than a handful small business owners and DIYers in attendance. Actually, I know there are because this is the month our SEO Contest winners are attending. (Hi Keri; hi Cavan.)

One thing we’ll notice during training is that sometimes site owners’ eyes get really big when they start hearing about all the ways they can improve their search engine rankings. They’ll pick up something from Bruce or they’re out there reading blogs and forums and they want to do everything and incorporate all the latest optimization tricks and techniques into their campaign immediately. While we can all appreciate the enthusiasm, sometimes the way to get to the top and improve your Web site is through small, consistent changes. First worry about becoming competitive, and then try the other stuff to pick up those last remaining spots. You don’t have to be everything at all once. In fact, most times you can’t.

The advantage of being a small business owner is that there is a lot you can do yourself. You can submit your site to the local engines, you can research your competitors, there’s likely less code to worry about and optimize, and you can blog and implement new site changes without having to jump through the same hoops the bigger dogs do. I’m not saying SEO is easier for smaller sites, but it is often less complicated.

As Stoney notes, the trick to a low-cost search engine optimization campaign is in campaign efficiency. You want to get the most reward for the least amount of work. Part of doing that involves asking yourself if you’re the best person to be implementing those changes or if your time (and money) is better spent farming it out. Remember, even though you’re doing the work yourself, you’re still using your time to do it.

I agree with Michael’s sentiment below:

"Trying to do everything may be just shooting yourself in the foot. What’s the use of saving $1,000 if it took $3,000 worth of your time to do so? And what is the use of saving that $1,000 if you make only a few thousand dollars worth of profit from your work – when a specialist maybe could have made you $100,000."

At some point in the life of your site, I think it becomes more cost effective to farm out your search engine optimization campaign. Once your site grows to a certain size there are simply too many keywords, too many competitors, too much code, too many pages, and just "too much" for you to focus on without neglecting your core business. You have a job, why are you trying to take on another one? We usually find that hiring an SEO team to keep an eye on and maintain your optimization campaign can help you to take your campaign to the next level and see greater improvements to your site.

But only if you hire the right SEO company.

Bruce made a special appearance on the LED Digest thread to issue a buyer beware when hiring an optimization company.

"It is not as easy as one would think to find a qualified SEO. the cheaper you want it, the cheaper you get it. And like it or not, sometimes you simply must do it yourself to get it done. Micromanagement of SEO by an amateur is not effective, I agree, but neither is hiring the wrong SEO firm. BTW, it is far cheaper to do it right with the right SEO, than to use 2 or more stumbling SEO’s, or to do it yourself (the original premise of the post)."

For me, Bruce really nails it with that last line. (I know; Bruce is so totally excited that I have validated his opinion). Hiring an SEO is often cheaper and more effective than running a campaign yourself, but only if you hire someone who knows what they’re doing. And that’s not as easy as you think.

Site owners often get into a cycle of hiring bad SEOs who simply throw money away until the client is finally wise enough to know what’s going on. Whatever optimization company you decide to hire, you have to research them first. Stay up to date on the blogs and search news so that you can use the information you gain to question potential SEOs on their knowledge. If you know the language, it leaves you much better suited to weed out the fakes and find the gem.

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One response to “Search Engine Optimization: Do It Yourself or Farm It Out?”

  1. Dharmesh Shah writes:

    What would be an interesting for the expert SEOs already out there would be to provide some type of phone interview service.

    So, if I were looking to hire an SEO consultant or firm, it might be money well spent to have a *real* expert interview her. The interview is a one-time cost, but could likely save a ton of money and frustration in the long run.

    Perhaps we need to kick off something like SEOInterview.com. Will give this some thought.



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