Outsourcing SEO in Singapore can be likened to finding renovation contractors for a new home. There is no lack of people who have been “burnt” by negative experiences. Mismanaged expectations and indigestible SEO proposals have resulted in huge skepticism around SEO. Taking the time to educate yourself about bits and pieces of SEO becomes really important.
SEO monthly packages
Nowadays, the most common type of pricing model is the monthly retainer package which charges by number of target keywords. To cater to businesses of various budgets , companies have come out with 5 , 10 , 20-keywords packages or the like.
There is still no standard price but typically it is in the hundred to thousand range. It can go anywhere from $200/month to $3000 a month, with most ranging from $500 to $1000/month. Why such disparity ? You may ask. Think of it as buying a Gucci wallet; price can range from several thousand for an authentic piece to just a few dollars for a counterfeit. In SEO’s terminology, it is known as white hat and black hat respectively, with the latter having the potential to completely wipe out your website from the face of Google.
That said, being expensive doesn’t always mean its good. Check out our other post for a deeper discussion on how to choose a SEO company.
Cost-benefit analysis : The 2nd factor in the equation
No conversation about the costs is complete without talking about the benefits. SEO can be a powerful weapon in a company’s marketing arsenal. 59% of marketers in Asia rank SEO as the top inbound marketing priority according to a Hubspot survey.
So what exactly does SEO provide? Yes, it will include on-page optimization, off page linkbuilding and other techie stuff, but lets move quickly to the results which you are probably more concerned about: rankings.
All (proper)SEO proposals will also come with the following disclaimer: It takes 3 to 6 months for SEO to produce results. Rankings are not guaranteed.
Wait a minute? If you don’t produce rankings, then what am I paying for ??
Take note that offering a guarantee and guaranteeing rankings are different. Some agencies that are confident of ranking your website will offer a guarantee. That said, rankings are still non-guaranteed. Look at Google’s statement on non-guaranteed rankings. It’s like saying it will rain tomorrow. There’s no 100% certainty.
The KPI of an SEO agency in Singapore would typically be getting 20-30% of your keywords in 1st page of Google search results page in 3-6months. If KPI is not met, the agency may continue to do SEO for you for free thereafter.
You can only tell if the SEO service doesn’t work for your business after 6months, which means that you still risk losing 6months worth of time and monetary investment if the promised rankings don’t manifest. Right?
Well, not exactly.
When hitting SEO KPIs doesn’t mean anything
Herein lies the complexity of measuring SEO work. If an SEO agency helps you to rank for your desired keywords in record time, say 1 month, does it mean that they have done a good job?
It depends. If their modus operandi is black hat SEO, they are doing you a big disservice. It is like taking slimming pills to achieve a quick reduction in weight while damaging your liver/kidney over the long term. Black hat techniques involve linking to your website from a ton of other dubious websites to obtain quick rankings. Google regards it as manipulation of search engine results and may blacklist your website upon manual review.
Trust me, you don’t want to get to that situation. SEO website recovery requires disavowing those dubious backlinks with no guarantee that Google will reinstate your website. Even if they do, you have no idea how long it takes. Google algorithm is a giant black box.
In a similar vein, if the expected rankings don’t materialize after 6 months, it does not automatically suggest that the SEO Company you engaged is a fraud. As mentioned, one can never be 100% certain of the rankings even if reasonable efforts have been made. If the work is legitimate, it would have put your website in a better SEO position than before.
Everyone says that they are doing white hat SEO. Who is the real deal?
Therefore, the way to go about evaluating SEO work is by looking at the work itself. SEO can be broken down into 3 parts. You can gauge the quality of each component of SEO work without being a computer scientist yourself. Here’s how to do that using some tools:
Technical SEO: If you have an existing website, your SEO consultant would need to work with your web developer to implement this. Some of the factors you can test out with a tool: site speed , mobile-friendliness. Check out our infographic for more details.
On-page SEO: This is about doing sufficient keywords research and having a good site architecture. You can check out how well your website is doing with a SEO analyser. For each of your main keyword, you should have 1 exclusive page optimized for it.
Off-page SEO(ongoing): The above 2 factors are foundational work but this one is the differentiator. You can assess it quantitatively by checking the domain authority of your website using this free tool, Moz link explorer. It gives a score but nothing beats manually checking the backlinks of your website generated by your SEO company.
For more elaboration on each component of SEO, scroll all the way down to the Appendix section below.
White hat vs black hat
The color of the hat is determined by the type of off-page SEO activities. You can find it out by checking what kind of backlinks are being generated for your website.
In general, black hat SEO involves low-quality links from forums, Fiverr sellers, spammy directories, article directories, and low-quality private blogs.
White hat to grey hat SEO involves PR mentions, editorial backlinks, guestposting(depending on the blog), infographic guestposting, resource page links.
The other factors include relevancy of the linking website to your niche, anchor text, links per domain etc.
SEO in Singapore
All SEO practices(heck, even Google itself) originate in the USA and propagate to Singapore- both white hat and black hat methods. However, due to nuances in Singapore, the line is blurred between white and greyhat techniques over here. In Singapore, there aren’t that many niche-specific authoritative content websites for you to build backlinks from. On top of that, sharing content from competitors isn’t really the norm.
Suffice to say, real whitehat methods are rarely provided by SEO vendors in Singapore. In the USA, SEO companies such as Siege Media and Singlegrain‘s brand of SEO involves creating high-quality well-researched content that attracts backlinks organically. This method withstands the test of time. If you are to outsource SEO here, understand that it involves risks. An update in algorithm could bring your website down. Check out this article I wrote in TechinAsia on the fragility of SEO.
Different types of companies offering SEO in Singapore
They provide standard SEO packages, listing the activities to be carried out under each package, such as social bookmarking, directories submission, blog commenting etc. As a business, they have become highly efficient at doing standard work, hence the price ranges from $500 to $3000 per month.
Individual consultants provide customized service that can be especially helpful in certain scenarios. For example, if you are going to do a site migration or a revamp and you don’t want to lose your rankings, you can consult these SEO specialists. If your website is being penalized, they can also be helpful. Likewise, their quote is customized based on the type of service. You can expect anywhere between $1000 to $5000 per month and above.
Companies that bundle everything
Due to the popularity of SEO, it is common for companies to offer it as an add-on to their core services. Web design, IT and advertising companies tend to do that. Their SEO prices are typically cheaper than that of others. That’s because they usually only help with on-page SEO (check the list of SEO activities below for explanation) since it also involves amending your website. However, on-page SEO provides very little boost to your website in more competitive spaces. Prices range from $500 to $5000 one time charge.
The real cost of SEO
The real costs of SEO really varies because all keywords & websites are not created equal. Some websites are weaker than others. Some keywords are more competitive than others. The amount of SEO work required depends on the strength of your website relative to the competiveness of the keyword you are targeting. If you have a new website wanting to rank in a highly competitive industry, well, you may need a lot of patience, and a lot of money; or you can forget the idea.
Forget the idea?
I don’t want to burst your bubble but there are many situations whereby it is simply unrealistic (or unwise) for you to do SEO. I discussed them over in this article, but the idea is that if your website is weak compared to that of your competitors, it is going to take a lot of link-building work and PR activities to build up your website’s authority.
For most SMEs, this move is not recommended. It defeats the purpose of doing SEO in the first place: generating ROI. It is like digging a well to obtain drinking water, when you can just buy a purifying water bottle.
In this case, the purifying water bottle is doing PPC or lead generation.
Make your move carefully
I hope this gives you a good overview. Anyway, a seo company worth its salt will not and should not take up your project if your sole aim is to generate ROI. They will recommend you to do SEM or lead generation instead.
Therefore, the best SEO advice I can give is to consider why you are doing SEO and whether it is the right move.
Appendix: The nitty gritty
If you are thinking about whether it is worthwhile paying or partnering your SEO provider, here’s the composition of SEO (hint: its not push-button magic) :
Content writing – Google bot crawls text instead of pictures/graphics. To allow Google to make sense of your website and to rank it in search results, content has to be written. Referring to the graph below, web pages in higher search results positions generally consists of longer content. Note that you don’t have to write 2000 words as the requirements vary based on industry.
Not any type of content will do the job. The content has to meet user intent based on the keywords people search for and allows Google to understand it. Significant thought and research goes into this process. For this reason; over the past few years, content marketing and SEO have really become inseparable.
Keywords research – If this brings to your mind the picture of a geek sitting infront of a computer clicking mouse, it cant be further from reality. It involves sitting down with You, the business owner on an interview to understand your business and uncovering keywords that your competitors have missed out and never thought of. Keywords research is where business and IT come together to achieve a beautiful synergy. In many cases, businesses embark on Pay per click on Google first to determine the right set of keywords to target for their SEO strategy. This allows them to identify a list of profitable keywords before putting in the next 3 to 6 months effort on SEO.
Onpage/offpage SEO– Now, this is the boring part(for you). On page SEO is where the technician log into your website to make certain changes to increase its relevancy based on chosen keywords. Alternatively, they will work with your web designer to implement those insertions. Off-page SEO involves initiatives beyond your website, by getting external web entities to provide mentions of your website, somewhat like endorsements. There are companies that do only off-page SEO or both.
Website revamp/redesign – If your website has been built from several years ago, the site architecture and URL structure are likely not so conducive from SEO perspective. Also, with the mobile update by Google, your website stands a lower chance of ranking if it is not mobile-optimized. Starting from April 21 2015, it is a ranking signal. Not to mention design of the website.
If the design makes your web user feel like they are in a maze, even if you aced all other factors, your website will still be ignored by Google. User experience is an important yardstick of Google in ranking your website. Have you ever wondered why Google’s homepage only has a bar ?? This is the pinnacle of optimal user experience. A web design company with an eye for UX/UI can perform the job. It is usually upwards of 2.5k. Alternatively, you can get a SEO company to work with your web designer on that, provided the SEO company is aware of that.
SEO training – Even if you do not have plans to start a marketing agency, getting your team or yourself educated in basic SEO still makes sense. Perhaps you want to save some money over the long run. Perhaps you are not comfortable in providing certain access to your SEO consultant, such as to your website or confidential information. You can make simple tweaks in-house.
This is especially so if your website requires constant modification, i.e. in the case of an e-commerce store or a news website. Most training providers do it at 1000 -2000 per participant providing a broad overview by covering the standard topics of keywords research and on-page SEO. SEO companies can factor it into an entire package along with services and train you on only what you need.
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Ted is the director of Ice Cube Marketing. His insights on marketing has been featured in AsiaOne Business, Singapore Business Review , e27 and TechinAsia. He graduated with a 1st class honors degree in Business IT from NTU. While not planning campaigns for clients, he enjoys a good read on books related to psychology.