Say you're a small business that sells hand-crafted sock monkeys. You set up an online shopfront to sell your sock monkeys. Some PA from Martha Stewart's show sees your sock monkeys and hooks you up with your 15-seconds of fame on the show. Soon your adorable monkeys are in everyone's TV screens. More likely than not, a viewer will want to know where to purchase your creations. A quick Google search should ideally yield your website. But what if your site is buried underneath tens, nay, hundreds of links? Search engine optimization is essential for businesses who rely on their online presence to generate buzz. Said businesses rely on people hearing about them, whether it be through social media or the errant radio ad, searching them up on Google and hopefully be pointed to the company's website.
Now back to the story: your sock monkey business grows beyond your wildest dreams, enough for you to hire a marketing intern. Do you leave all the hard SEO work to your intern or bite the bullet and actually hire an external SEO "Consultant"?
The answer to this question will depend on your priorities. But you'll be sorely disappointed to hear that the cheap labour you just hired may/may not deliver the results you want. In life, and everything else, you get what you pay for. In this case there are hidden costs associated with cheap SEO labour.
One thing to understand about SEO is that it takes time. For starters, researching the right keywords is not just having your brain play the word association game. Getting your site indexed by search engines doesn't happen at the snap of a finger. Crafting quality content that will help your site rise up the rankings is always a work in progress. Sometimes it takes weeks, even months before you see the fruits of your labour, especially when your website has never been touched by the SEO fairy.
Another thing to remember is that with SEO, inexperience can hurt you more than you think. Google has made changes over the years to its famed search algorithm, honing and constantly improving the search experience for you and me. One of Google's more recent updates to this algorithm (dubbed Panda) was designed to "penalize (or adjust) pages that had poor quality content." That means no bombarding a blog post with keywords like so:
Vancouver sock monkey company X Co. creates sock monkeys that will surely have a place in your heart. Each sock monkey is handmade in Vancouver. We're confident that your Vancouver sock monkey will provide you and your children hours of enjoyment...
Aside from offending your readers (and the grammar police), said blog post will give Google's search algorithm a red flag that your blog post is not "substantial" enough as it's filled with fluff. Now, in a site with existing content your intern may just be adding keywords as they see fit, hoping that this increased concentration in keywords will help your site rank higher on Google.
A Search Engine Land article puts the entire money v. experience issue into perspective:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: solid, successful SEO and social strategies take time. Time is money. Try to save a few dollars now by hiring a cheap, inexperienced, or shoddy “professional” and you’ll guaranteedly pay for it later.
The fact of the matter is, it pays to invest in SEO upfront – even if it's just educating yourself about it. Search marketing is one area wherein it pays to know what you're doing. Having someone with experience certainly doesn't hurt, but having someone who's willing to learn how to do things the right way is even more valuable.