Meg Thornley
Social Media and Project Manager

Why Is SEO So Expensive?

SEO is an extremely expensive venture; you often find yourself paying for an ongoing service that doesn’t appear to bring many rewards.

Why is this?

The TL;DR version is that search engines constantly change, and there is competition that is also constantly changing, alongside that, so is your site. All of this means that it takes a constant effort to keep your site at the top of the listings.


What is a search engine?

A search engine is a website which finds pages on other websites and stores information about them. It then allows its users to search through that information to find other websites. A few of the most popular search engines are Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and AskJeaves – though there are many more.

Of course they have to decide which results to show and when, which makes them far more complicated.


How do search engines know about my site?

A search engine will find your website if they find a link to it in another website that they know about, or when you submit your website to that search engine. For example, Google and Bing both have forms you can use to submit your website to. But if someone else were to link to your website, and they were on these search engines already, your website would be known about.

Search engines will periodically ‘crawl’ your website to find new information and changes. A ‘crawl’ is a term compared to how a spider crawls a web. You go down many different paths until you have found all paths. In this case, they will search every single link on every single page. This is sped up with the inclusion of sitemaps (files which list every page on your website).


How does Google get its results?

Once a search engine like Google has all of your information, it still has to decide which results to show at the top, the bottom, and every single one in between for every search you perform. Nobody outside of Google know the exact method; that’s a trade secret. However, Google give advice on how to get the best rank, and experience in the industry also gives you a good idea of what they do not tell you.


Originally Google would rank sites based on how many other sites linked to them. They would keep a record and use this to get an idea of ‘popular’ sites and to display them. However, these days they also perform several checks to make sure that those sites are not just popular, but of high quality. They do this by checking the speed to load the site, how ‘mobile friendly’ the site is among other checks. In addition, Google will also check for duplicate pages to remove the potential for spam pages. In recent years, Google has also resorted to change the default results from being the most recent to being simply the closest match.


So, why is it so costly?

So if we know on a basic level how things work, and the better trained know quite well how they work, why is SEO so expensive?


Different search engine rules

There are more search engines than just Google. For example, almost every iPhone uses Bing as it’s default search, as do Windows 10 PC’s and phones. There’s also Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, AskJeaves, and many more. The rules to be top on one, might conflict with another. Depending on your target audience, this could be very important. If your target audience shifts, or the rules change for one of these engines, so does the design of your site.


Constantly changing rules

The rules for search engines constantly change. For example, Google recently announced that it would be marking websites down for not being ‘mobile friendly’. What did they mean by this? They wanted sites to load in a certain amount of time, have buttons that were a certain size, text is a certain size and a download size that was relatively small. For some websites, this is quite the shift, and a very costly change in terms of development.


Constantly changing competition

When fighting to get your website to the top of search results, you are competing with other companies also trying to do the same. For example, if you sell solicitor and lawyer services, you may have competitors that do the same. You may want the search term ‘legal jobs Manchester’ to find your company. For a while you may achieve this, however a competing company that spends more on SEO could beat you to the top of the list. The only way to resolve this would be to improve your own ranking with the current rules in hopes of beating them.


Lack of Specialisation from Developers

Picture this; you have your SEO team, and your development team. You go to your developers and ask them for changes, which of course they oblige to. Unfortunately, developers specialise in programming languages, design principles and making sure your website is functionally sound. This however might not be very good for SEO. After work has been done on your site, you may find yourself with a lower ranking in the search results. This would mean more work to bring it back up to the level it previously was.

You can reduce the impact of this by having SEO and development teams working together, however this usually just brings the cost into the initial project, instead of spreading it out.