Ah, monthly SEO services. The magical solution to all of your business growth problems, or just another overpriced subscription model burning a hole in your bank account? No, really. Monthly SEO may be right for you, but it also may not be right for you.*
*unless you’re paying for one of those £29.99 a month “guaranteed rankings” SEO packages. That is definitely not right for you. That isn’t right for anyone.
Understanding monthly SEO services
Before we get any more cheeky, let’s make sure we all know what we’re talking about. Monthly SEO services are ongoing subscriptions to have an expert or team of experts (well, in theory) work on optimizing your website for search engines on a regular basis. This can include anything from keyword research to content creation to backlink building. The idea behind it is to improve your website’s rankings in search engine results over time, growing your traffic, and growing your customer base. Seems simple, at least in principle, right?
What are monthly SEO services?
I literally just told you that. Keep up and read properly, would you? This took me whole minutes to write, you know. No, I refuse to tell you the same thing under a new subheading. What is this, Spam 101?
How do monthly SEO services work?
Ahem. So most monthly SEO services, or retainers (because you “retain” the services of people over a prolonged period, typically months to years), work by you paying a monthly fee to a provider who either is an expert or employs a team of experts to work on your website on a regular basis. They’ll usually start with an audit of your website and come up with a customized plan to improve your rankings. Then, they’ll execute on that plan each month and send you progress reports along the way. Again, in theory, simple enough.
You might pay for a certain block of hours, or number of days, or (rarely) on a by task basis. You can get some “pay on performance” SEO contracts but they’re genuinely pretty darn dodgy because SEO, like most (good) marketing work, isn’t something that can be guaranteed, so anyone claiming to pay their rent on spec like that is almost certainly up to something shady. But more money paid means more work done, meaning more/faster ranking improvements, more traffic growth sooner, etc.
How long do monthly SEO services take to work?
Remember SEO isn’t like PPC where you can turn it on and off like a traffic faucet though; it will take time (anywhere from 3-6 months of solid investment and good work) to start seeing worthwhile results. The benefit is that (unlike PPC, where the cost keeps ramping up over time), SEO benefits often compound upon themselves so even a small but sensible strategy can pay off over many months or years. Think of it like the difference between renting and buying a house; rent may be costly but it’ll put a roof over your head pretty quickly, even if you end up having to pay more each month as the landlord (aka Google) keeps ramping up the costs. Conversely, buying a house may take longer and seem more expensive initially with deposits and whatnot, but you own the damn thing and in general a sensible equity gain makes a house something that gains value even as the mortgage you’re paying goes down.
Or long term savings vs using a credit card. Whatever. There’s plenty of analogies. The point is that SEO is a long term technique, not something that’ll turn your business around inside of six weeks. Plan your budgets (and manage your expectations) accordingly.
What tasks are involved in monthly SEO services?
One important task is keyword research. This involves identifying the search terms that people are using to find businesses like yours, and then optimizing your website’s content to include those keywords in the right place (and the Goldilocks zone of not too little, not too much). It’s also invaluable to make sure that the terms you’re using for your products and services match up to what people look for; there’s no point in excitedly extolling the virtues of your brand new Hand Held Horizontal Earth Moving Equipment ™ when everyone in the world is looking for a bloody shovel. You’d be amazed how often this sort of thing happens with businesses that get a little too fancy with their branded terms, and sometimes leave common sense out of the equation entirely.
Another important task is content creation, which can involve anything from writing blog posts, putting together white papers or ebooks, to creating videos, or designing infographics. By creating high-quality, audience-focused content on a regular basis, you can help improve your website’s rankings and attract more visitors and leads or purchases. Some monthly SEO services include content creation, although it isn’t uncommon for people to use separate copywriters, designers or one-stop “content agencies” and then pass their output via the SEO team to make sure it is in the right form and format to work when it goes online.
Backlink building is another key component of monthly SEO services. This involves getting other websites to link back to your website, which helps improve your website’s authority and credibility in the eyes of search engines. Yes, this is still a “thing” in 2023, don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t, but do be careful about the methodologies here; mass guest posting, for example, isn’t advisable, and any SEO service that obfuscates or mumbles or dodges questions about its backlink work is not one I’d trust to pet my pug, let alone do any of my marketing.
The advantages of monthly SEO services
If you don’t have an in-house team or just want to focus your internal resource on other areas, there are plenty of good reasons why monthly SEO services might be the right call for your business.
The number one benefit of monthly SEO services is the consistency of effort. Proper SEO is not a one-and-done type of thing; some of the tasks may be, to some extent, but on the whole your site will require some kind of ongoing work and strategy in order to stay in search engine rankings. By signing up for monthly services, you’re ensuring that your website is getting the attention it needs to stay competitive, whether that’s a full-on end to end turnkey type solution or just having a pet SEO nerd on hand to check in with and provide appropriate input on wider strategy.
Expertise and experience
Unless you’re an SEO expert yourself, you’re probably not going to be able to work on your website as well as someone who does it for a living. Monthly SEO services in theory give you access to channel specific experts who are up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices. Search engine developments, algorithms and features move at a mile a minute these days, and even if you have a passing understanding of the main principles of SEO (which is more than a lot of people have, in fairness) you may struggle to keep up without that dedicated expertise on hand. Again, it might be a full service do-it-all-for-me or just an advisor on standby, but better safe than sorry.
Regular performance monitoring and reporting
Most monthly SEO services will offer some form of monitoring and reporting, whether that’s just a specific dashboard hooked into analytics and some other platforms, or comprehensive written report decks with all the bells and whistles delivered to you each month. Not only does this get you a lot of pretty graphs to look at (and who doesn’t love pretty graphs), but it helps you to understand how your website’s organic channels are behaving, what’s growing (or not), and how to integrate this knowledge into your wider business and marketing strategy. If your SEO provider is not giving you any kind of reporting visibility (or just a curated list of keyword rankings, god forbid), then pro tip: you need a new SEO provider.
Strategic and tactical adaptation
Search engine algorithms are constantly changing. I’ve said that already. It’s hard to keep up with them as an individual, but SEO professionals make it their business to stay on top of these changes, often giving them immense familiarity with various ranking signals and the ability to make informed judgement calls about likely changes that are coming up, to ensure you can steer into things rather than being taken by surprise. Nobody likes being blindsided, especially when it comes to their website traffic, so again even if it’s just someone on the end of the phone you can have a quick chat with once a month, an SEO is a worthwhile person to have on speed dial.
We’ve covered the idea of needing to invest long term, not expecting big movements in the first couple of months, but SEO services really can be a hugely cost-effective marketing solution in the long run. While there is an ongoing fee, keeping up with algorithmic changes and making sure your site is always set up to best practice standards will lead to higher search engine rankings, giving you more traffic and, ultimately, more revenue for your business. Doing this piecemeal can be a pain in the ass (it’s always harder to rebuild something to make it SEO friendly than to just build it that way in the first place), which is another reason why having an SEO on hand to advise and support is generally a good move.
The disadvantages of monthly SEO services
Yes, there are in fact some. Aside from the whole other discussion of if SEO is even the right channel for your business to invest in regularly in the first place, consider some of these fellas…
Potential for over-optimisation
This is less a risk of monthly services and more a risk of hiring the wrong person for your monthly work, in fairness, but buyer beware… there are an alarming number of unscrupulous SEOs out there who will take your money and go all-out for short term traffic gains on your website (often using what in the industry is known as “black hat” tactics which are against Google’s guidelines) so they can upcharge you, without considering the wider strategic and business picture. This kind of “over optimisation” can lead to penalties which damage or even completely wipe out your rankings. If you aren’t sure what your SEO is doing, or why, ask them, and if they can’t explain it sufficiently then it’s time to call a halt and put on the ol’ Sceptic Hat.
Some monthly SEO services can be somewhat rigid in terms of the services you receive, with many agencies liking to sign you up for a set package of services each month, which may not be exactly what your website (or business) needs. Don’t be led into standardised packages and be aware that you may need to front a little investment up front to get a proper strategic analysis for an approach that’s properly tailored for you; while SEO is absolutely a long game (i.e. don’t expect everything to skyrocket in the first month, or for that matter the third or fourth month) it should also flex around business priorities and not just trot out the same scheme of work month after month.
Be particularly wary of SEOs who like to run big technical audits every month. Unless your site developer is highly caffeinated, that sort of thing is very unlikely to make much useful difference to your business!
Monthly SEO services do require a long-term commitment. Most agencies will ask for 6 to 12 month contracts (the decent ones will include a break clause in case there’s not a good fit for some reason) which is actually quite normal. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint, and the kind of channel that can take many months (or sometimes even years, in extremely competitive verticals) to see meaningful and significant results from. If that’s not an investment and timeline you’re comfortable with, SEO may not be the right growth channel for you (yet) – and that’s okay!
Dependence on the provider and their technology
Again this is more a “don’t pick a shit provider” than a general drawback to every monthly SEO service on the planet, but some SEOs will use certain custom built tech platforms to “work around” developer restrictions by allowing them to conduct optimisation of your site without needing dev input. Which is all well and good, and some of those platforms can work wonders if you do have genuine tech debt problems, but the problem is that the second you turn off the service (or switch agencies, say if you have a falling out or just want a fresh pair of eyes) all the SEO work essentially “turns off” which means you lose all the benefits of it literally overnight. Eek.
Considerations when choosing a monthly SEO service
Or, indeed, any kind of SEO / marketing service, for that matter…
Your business goals and objectives
Make sure you understand your own business goals and objectives before you go signing up for any monthly SEO services. What role will SEO play in your bigger picture? Does the provider understand that role (or can they help you understand it better) and how does their approach integrate with what you want to achieve? Just saying “let’s get more traffic” doesn’t cut it these days – you’ve got to think about the why of the exercise.
Provider reputation and track record
Research your potential providers thoroughly before you commit to anything. Other than the obvious element of understanding what they’re good at, how they operate, and how well their thinking meshes with yours, see if you can speak to any of their existing or past clients. Personal referrals are worth their weight in gold, and a lot more valuable than just the curated reviews/testimonials/case studies the provider may give you (although it’s certainly worth having a look at those too)!
Pricing and contract terms
Make sure you fully understand the pricing structure and terms of the contract before you sign up for any kind of monthly SEO services. Are refunds or guarantees on the table (rare for SEO, but you do see it occasionally)? Are there any hidden fees or penalties for exiting the contract before it expires? What exactly are you paying for, and who will be delivering the work? Some agencies, for example, have a nasty habit of trotting out their heavy-hitter SEO experts for pitches (and charge you day rates as if said expert was delivering the work) and then dumping clients with a newbie exec team with little supervision, so the service you’re pitched isn’t the one you receive – all things to check out, ask about, and put the brakes on if you’re unsure about the answers.
Communication and support
Similar to the “check who’s doing what” angle above, it’s good to understand the communication channels and ways of working with any monthly SEO provider. Will you receive calls, emails, formal progress reports? How often, from whom, in what formats, and when? What times and days are the team delivering the work available? Are meetings, virtual or otherwise, included? Quarterly reviews? Can you speak directly to the SEO people working on your business, or is there an “account manager wall” in between you and them?
Phew, that’s a lot of stuff to consider. Pros, cons, considerations, and the (unfortunate) need to be wary of bad actors in the space, of which SEO sadly has more than its fair share. If you’re considering monthly SEO services (or indeed any kind of SEO work, full stop) for your business, this can seem like an absolute minefield to navigate, but I’m always game for a quick chat (and a free one, at that) to help you understand your options, if SEO is even right for your business at its current stage of development, and what other strategic marketing levers you might want to pull before you go signing up for that monthly SEO service retainer with BestSEOCompany.com or god knows what. 😉