The Hidden Cost Of Cheap SEO & Social Media Labor

Fact: All businesses, large or small, want to save money wherever they can.

I understand this. I sympathize with this. What I don’t understand, however, is why so many businesses try to take the cheap route and cut corners in their online strategy— and then are dumbfounded when they get scammed/receive terrible results/get blocked by Google.

I know how devastatingly costly it can be to launch, maintain, and grow a business. But there are certain aspects of building a business where it’s never okay to cut corners. You wouldn’t hire an inexperienced, too-cheap contractor to build the building. You wouldn’t buy discounted, bruised produce if you owned a restaurant and you wouldn’t buy day-old bread for your sandwich shop.

So why would you trust your website and your online reputation— the very first introduction your customers will have with your business — to an inexperienced amateur or a too-cheap scammer?

In life and online, you get what you pay for. 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.

Still not buying it? Here’s a look at what suffers when you try to cut corners (or hire someone that cuts them for you).

Blackhat SEO comic Image Credit: ByronShell via Flickr

What Happens When You Try to Take the Cheap Route

1.  What You Pay For: Cheap links or linkbuilding campaigns.

What You Get: Google Penguin.

Google hates link spam. Google punishes link spam. In fact, Google punishes anything that even looks like link spam. On April 24th, Google unleashed Google Penguin, an anti-spam algorithm update that affected roughly three percent of queries. All controversy about the effectiveness about the update aside, Penguin proved that Google is actively going after sites with spam, and its history of shutting down link networks and blog networks further proves the point.

Buying links is the overt way to take the cheap-and-easy route in linkbuilding (and scheming link builders abound), but it’s not the only one. As I’ve written before, linkbuilding takes time. Connections aren’t forged overnight, and anyone who promises you major results overnight is a liar.

An experienced SEO may have a well-established network of connections to start a linkbuilding campaign, but you’ll pay for those connections. A bottom-barrel hourly rate is a surefire way to indicate shortcuts (buying links) or inexperience (laughable outreach emails).

Believe it or not, inexperience can be just as dangerous as a linkbuilder who overtly cheats the search engines, since an amateur “SEO” may have no idea what he’s doing looks like link spam to the search engines.

Don’t buy your links. Don’t fall for miracle-worker pitches, and be prepared to pay a decent price for a linkbuilding campaign. It’s the only way to ensure you’ll get results—real results that won’t get your site banned.

2. What You Pay For: Cheap Content.

What You Get: Google Panda

Google Panda probably needs no introduction, but I’ll give it one anyway: Panda was the major algorithm update from February 2011 that forced content farms into near-extinction. The age of cheap, shoddily-written content was over, and Google reminded us that not just any content could be king: only usable, quality (not keyword-stuffed) content could reign in the post-Panda wake.

But let’s take this a step beyond the obvious you-won’t-rank-well-with-terrible-content factor: cheap content does nothing for your business. Effective strategists use content to move people, to communicate, to grab attention, etc. Quality content compels: compels people to share, compels people to comment, compels people to buy.

Cheap, poorly-made content does nothing. It sits on a page, waiting to attract searchers (who, 9 times out of 10, will immediately get turned off by the content and return to the SERPs in seconds), and gets websites dinged by Google.

Hire a real blogger, writer, designer, videographer, professional. Look at their portfolio and really look at what they’ve done before (and if they don’t have a portfolio, run). If you’re going to put content on your site, it should be every bit as good as the site itself.

3. What You Pay For: Cheap Web Design and Development.

What You Get: Errors. Security vulnerabilities. Poor conversion rates. And, often, a pretty terrible-looking site.

Yes, you could pay somebody $50 to make you a website. And it will suck.

There are many amateurs out there who can slap together a GoDaddy-hosted site and make it look reasonably attractive (and millions more who can make an ugly one). But aesthetics aside, you don’t just need a site that looks pretty—you need one that functions.

Ask your developer how your site will be able to grow in the future. Ask if they know SEO (they should). Ask to see what sites they’ve designed in the past, and find out what hurdles they had to overcome when developing them. Ask what steps they’re going to take to increase conversion and lead your customers down the sales funnel.

Your website is the first impression you will make on potential customers. It’s also an extension of your physical business: it can take payments, answer questions, and show off your products and services like a virtual shop window.

With all the business your website can bring you, why leave it to an amateur that can develop a site that a.) crashes constantly, hurting your reputation; b.) confuses customers; c.) has little potential for growth?

Choose a Web professional that will stick around for the long haul: when it’s time to update or increase your site, you’ll want to return to the person who did an amazing job building it in the first place.

4. What You Pay For: Cheap SEO.

What You Get: Over-optimization, black hat tactics, zero results.

Professional SEOs are expensive. Like a lawyer or an accountant, they perform a function which most businesses need to exist but one that’s hard for most people to understand. They speak their own language, and they’ve built a reputation and results after years in the field.

If you want results, you will have to pay for them. And they will not come overnight.

When you hire an SEO (or social media marketer, linkbuilder, etc.), you are trusting them with your site and your online reputation. If you are not 100% clear on what they’re doing, you’ll have no guarantee they’re not doing something that could get your site penalized.

If they don’t stay updated on the world of SEO, they could be practicing outdated tactics that can get your site dinged for over-optimization. And if they can’t (or don’t know how) to measure their progress, you’ll have no idea if your SEO budget is actually doing anything for your site.

5. What You Pay For: Cheap Social Media Marketing and Management.

What You Get: Banned accounts and unauthentic results.

Social media may be free, but the hours spent managing your social accounts certainly come at a price. Any so-called social media guru should be advertising their people skills, marketing knowledge, and past experience running active accounts.

They should not be promising you hard-and-fast numbers of followers or fans. It’s one thing to promise to boost your numbers. It’s another thing to promise you 5,000 followers overnight.

Social media is built on relationships: showing your customers a different side of you, answering questions, getting feedback, and addressing complaints. You need someone who won’t just tweet three times a day (you could do that yourself, with considerably better results).

A talented social media manager will match your brand’s voice and build campaigns with clear goals— and that goal won’t be to simply nab you random followers or fans. It’s to build an audience based on people that will help your business grow. And they should be able to show you (in real numbers) how your social presence is helping your business.

You could hire an inexperienced college grad with 50 Twitter followers. You could hire someone who’s just going to boost your numbers with known follow-back accounts and accrue thousands of useless followers. Or you could  actually hire someone who knows what they’re doing—and actually see results.

There Are No Shortcuts. Period.

I don’t know if it’s hilarious or saddening that so many people fall for scams and get-rich-quick schemes from amateurs. I don’t know how many times I’ll have to keep exasperatedly saying, “There is no such thing as cheap SEO.” Because there isn’t.

No matter what low price you pay for Web design, SEO, or social media up front, you will wind up paying later on. Your site will get penalized. Your accounts will get blocked. And you will have to spend the time in the long run: whether it’s countless hours spent explaining things to a newbie, fixing a so-called “professional’s” mistakes, or working to recover your reputation, in the end, those pennies saved will cost you all the same.

So here’s a hint, a final plea, a last bit of advice: there are no shortcuts. Anyone who offers you one is a cheat, a liar, a scammer, or someone that has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. It’s your choice: hire someone who knows what they’re doing and will take the time to do it right, or pay for it later. Either way, you will get what you paid for. To that end, paying more money does not necessarily mean you’ll get better results either. I’ve seen many expensive agencies offer awful services for your dollar, too. The same rules apply.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social


About The Author: is the Senior SEO Manager for the agency, Red Door Interactive.

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  • Kristel Cuenta

    Good points here, Jordan! Love your takeaway! No shortcuts, period!

  • Alli Denning

    Well done, Jordan! I wrote a piece talking about the ineffectiveness of SEO shortcuts a while back. Same sentiments. Of course, SEO has changed considerably since I wrote this piece, but your piece shows that even with major shifts (Penguin, Panda, etc), the idea that taking the time to do something right is always a good idea.

  • Toby Danylchuk

    Hear, hear! Would love to forward this to all those potential clients that decided cost was the main issue driving their decision making. This issue is even more prominent in countries outside the U.S. where the decision makers are less sophisticated in online marketing.

  • Jordan Kasteler

    Do it, Toby! :)

  • Jordan Kasteler

    Good points as well in your article. Thanks!

  • Jordan Kasteler

    Thanks, Kristel!

  • John Britsios

    Jordan great post! You confim what I already announced a while ago: LOL

  • Sheldon Campbell

    Spot on, Jordan! It’s amazing how much time and money some folks are willing to waste (and the risks they’re willing to take) to find that non-existent SEO Silver Bullet.

  • Sandra Tormo Britapaja

    i love this page ¡¡¡

  • Keith

    I think I’m going to forward a few people here when they say my prices are too high :) its good to point people to a 3rd party source explaining that cheap seo is baaaaad mmmmmmmm’k

  • Nanda Linn Aung

    nicely written!

  • lead generation company

    This is a good reference for pricing SEO service.

  • Rajesh Kumar

    You are 100% right… Internet Marketing needs time… company is willing to invest on Interiors, Tablet PC, Smart Phone… they will hire MBA professional theoretical knowledge but with ZERO practical experience… They just see your certificates they don’t see your experience…

  • nishant rajora

    yes this is an extreme post which leads to be mind shaping of the seo agencies and clients who expect the impossible results in a short period of time and that all is not in our hand because we all know this is not like magic stick game

  • Christopher Skyi

    Could not agree more. Effective SEO, i.e., content, REAL links (not spam), and Google Analytics (to maximize site performance AFTER SEO has gotten traffic to the site) was never cheap. It’s just that up until 2011 & 2012 Google couldn’t quite filter out the spam from their ranking algorithm, but those days are over now. Effective SEO is now a fairly expensive investment. Organic traffic almost always brings in more qualified leads and sales then PPC. Nevertheless, if a company can only afford a few hundred dollars per month, & if they don’t feel like creating content that communicates with their potential customers, they’re far better off just putting that $$ into Adwords and paying for the traffic (and hopefully the sales/conversions) they need.

  • Sanket Patel


  • Zdeněk Hejl

    Absolutely agree with this article.

    You should also create some simple infographics from this article which will be easily downloadable and shareable.

  • Peter Kern

    Sorry but the results in Google are full of spam so you don’t really know what you are talking about. Good SEO can still be much more cheaper than wasting money on adwords.

  • Rob

    You hit the nail right on the head. We have found that business owners who go cheap for their online marketing generally have other flaws. This probably means that even if they read this post it would not change their mind.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    “If you are
    not 100% clear on what they’re doing, you’ll have no guarantee they’re
    not doing something that could get your site penalized.”

    That’s why I aim to be as transparent as possible with my SEO clients. At the end of the day, no matter who built the links, if it’s your site it’s your problem. I know it’s tempting to hand your SEO off and wash your hands of it but you need to be involved, learn and ask questions!

  • Natalie Matthews

    Great article! My sentiments exactly, I am so sick and tired of seeing so-called experts jabber on using all of the fancy techno speak jargon and in reality they have no idea about the fundamental rules of SEO.

  • Tyson Stevens

    I love this post. But the wrong people are reading it. This is a post for clients and bosses. We SEOs already know these issues. We warn our clientele of the outcomes, but they tend to not heed the warnings.
    What’s the real issue then, lack of knowledge or lack of trust?

  • Mandy McEwen

    Great article and so true. I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for” and the online marketing world is no exception. Even when you try explaining this to small business owners on a budget, they still think they can get the same results from the other guy who promises the moon for $2. It’s sad because most of the time they are doing more harm than good. I’m beyond the point of explaining why our services are better and why they are more expensive… I’m hoping my new website gets that point across. Do you want quality services from a reliable company who is 100% results driven or do you want to take a shot with the sleaze-ball company who promises you 10k Facebook fans by next week?

    Companies who are serious about investing their marketing budget wisely will see the difference between legitimate companies and companies just trying to make a buck. If they don’t – well, that’s their loss, not ours!

  • Ragil Pembayun

    Lack of trust derives from fear, and fear originates from the unknown which leads to the vital point of your statement – lack of knowledge. Educating the key decision makers should be part of the SEOs’ tasks nowadays. It’s not an obligation anymore, it has become an urgent need. Ignore educating your clients watch your business sinks.

    @jordankasteler:disqus Hit.the.nail.on.the.head! :)

  • Jeff Kean

    Disagree on adwords being a waste, Good SEO can be cheap yes, however you CANNOT show that “SEO” to someone in LA at 3pm on a Tuesday in 50 mile radius of xxxxx postal code, ad words wins. The fact that you say “cheaper than wasting money on adwords.” shows what you know about adwords. Just my .02 cents

  • Morgan Enroughty

    When potential clients start asking for pricing, these topics are great answers for them. It’s always a mindblow that my rates are relatively the same as the lawyer they currently have on retainer.

  • Michelle StinsonRoss

    Right on Jordan! Small and medium size businesses are suffering from not understanding the value of what they are paying for. Just talked to a potential client that wants the phones to start ringing, but his first question was “how much will it cost?” Never mind that I was GIVING him a valuable education by talking to him.

  • Tyson Stevens

    I agree. A company I used to work for did a great job educating their clients and the outcome was long-term business, much less customer dissatisfaction and less frustrated phone calls.
    The hard part is trying to re-educate clients, especially the ones who think they know SEO: “I dabbled in SEO about 2-3 years ago”<—oh no.

  • Ali Husayni

    Good article.

  • Sean Switzer

    Great article. I agree wholeheartedly with every point. I always say, “Take a step back and look at it from Google’s perspective. Their goal is to present the most relevant, original content to the Internet-viewing public. That provides value to its users, which allows Google to charge for advertising. Without the relevant, original content, Google would be providing little to no value and would thus be unable to sell advertising. Give Google what it wants, with zero shortcuts, and your site will do much better in the long run.”

  • Goran Candrlic

    and so I saved the client from both Panda & Penguin, his organic is growing some 125% and he asks: “it costs THAT much? and guys from India were sending me weekly reports of the links”. some clients are better left to their doom. explaining, education, showing results doesn’t work for them. it’s how much they pay. so if they are cheap (or were in the past), don’t work with them. let their websites sink.

  • Kelsey Nupnau

    Jordan – you did a great job with this – well done. I also agree that you can’t pay for “cheap” SEO and social media tactics. Unfortunately we see that it has been the price that has scared away clients in the past – primarily because they are afraid to try social media and they are impatient. If you want SEO and social media to work well, patience is absolutely necessary.

  • Art Science Web

    Awesome, awesome. Awesome. Answers all the questions I get on a regular basis. Now explaining it to clients without having them “find out” for themselves is another thing.

  • Peter Kern

    Adwords can be good if you have huge budget and you don’t care that 40% of clicks will come from competitors

  • Robert Koenig

    This comment hits some hard points business owners, like myself, sometimes need to face. Understanding all of the intricacies of social media can be difficult, hence why investing the money and giving the time are vital aspects to have effective social media. This post has some important lessons to learn- don’t skimp on social media, it’s not worth it!

  • Andrew Boyd

    This article is 100% full of truth and win. Great content here Jordan!

  • ksaflh

    الحياة الزوجية – الحياة الزوجية والجنس – الحياة الزوجية بالصور شات منتدى مركز تحميل صور خلفيات بلاك بيري

  • YamalDodgyData

    Gareth wait till you get the Indian outsourcing companies in on this.

    Wipro or Infosys can provide 500 astro-turfing spammers easily for $65k per year

  • Winson Yeung

    Very true. There’s no shortcut in SEO especially with the cheap content = Panda. I tend to get 1000 words for my main post and non of my post are less than 500 words. Each of them should contain images to improve the quality of the blog post as well.

  • LearnComputer

    I think part of it is that the majority of the business owners are in the business other than “internet/online” and know precious little when it comes to web sites, let alone SEO. For these folks, the difference between an SEO who knows what he’s doing and one that doesn’t is a fine one. If everyone was as informed as you are, the “cheap SEO services” would not be as sought out a keyword as it is today.

  • Olaf Pijl

    I agree! Communication is a must, as business owners often have no idea about SEO. Make sure that they know what you’re doing and communicate results. This will leads to a better client-agency relationship, more and better SEO opportunities, and more work for your agency.

  • Jeff Kean

    yeah cause you cant just filter them out by IP addys *rolls eyes* :)

  • Reg Charie

    You say:
    “Don’t buy your links. Don’t fall for miracle-worker pitches, and be prepared to pay a decent price for a linkbuilding campaign.”

    What is the difference between buying links and paying to have links placed?

    Both are against Google’s TOS and the primary reasons for both Panda and Penguin.

    The SEO pros that pushed building links are the reason Google is out to kill SEO.
    At the start of the link purge we have Panda and Penguin. The sites that were found to build links just to influence search results may never recover.

    Then we find out that Google has a randomizing filter patent to intentionally mess with a newly submitted change by varying it’s results before the page attains it’s proper level.

    Make a change to improve the SEO on a page and the filter places the page far below what you would have expected it’s results to be.
    You make another change to ‘fix’ the problem and Google has you spotted as doing SEO and penalizes the whole site.
    Matt Cutts was not kidding when he said that the SEO pros are not going to like Google’s actions.

    Without link building and constant tweaking the SEO fees should come out of the stratosphere and back to earth where they belong.

    Just how much can you charge for doing on-page SEO, the only thing that really counts?

  • Richard Brashear

    In the SEO Biz and you are spot on with your assessments here. Really enjoyed the article!

  • Jennifer Torres

    I love it! What a great article! Many people still don’t know the difference between SEO and SEO and they choose cheap providers. Then they come to me later, burned, that they the money they paid didn’t do anything. Didn’t work and it is so hard to explain to them that what I do is much better and they will see results! All they see is that I am charging way more when they don’t believe in SEO anymore.

  • Jennifer Torres

    Length is not quality. People I know (including me) if the article is too long, we are not reading it, just scanning it through. I won’t be spending longer time on a page with 1000 words than on a page with 300. So I think paying for another 600-700 more words to a writer is not going to bring more value back. This is what I noticed.

  • Jennifer Torres

    exactly my experience.

  • Fionn Downhill

    Yep same here. An the the links reports is what killed them but they still think the grass is greener. If I could pay what some clients pay for SEO and get the return they get I would do it all day long.

  • Fionn Downhill

    Tyson lack of knowledge. As an industry we have done a rotten job of educating consumers on what real SEO is. At this stage 14 years later the snake oil SEO’s should be history but there are still prominent enough to create confusion for consumers of search services.

  • jimmyn

    But at the same time, expensive doesn’t automatically mean good. If some chancer on a forum puts his SEO “service” up by $500 it doesn’t automatically mean it’s quality work!


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