There are many considerations one must take in account when deciding to hire an SEO marketing firm and start an SEO campaign. But foremost among those considerations are two very important points.

First, have a plan. And second, have a budget!

Without those two foundations in place, you are more likely to waste time and money than you are to reap the benefits of a top-notch SEO campaign.

Good SEO takes time

Start with understanding that SEO is a long-term strategy. A good rule of thumb is that it will take four to six months to start seeing results, and six month to a year for those results to become substantial. The reason is, the first month there is generally a lot of discovery, auditing, and planning taking place, and not much implementation. The second month implementation begins, but it takes time for search engines to recognize the changes, so virtually nothing happens to results until the tail end of the second month.

When results start appearing in the third and fourth months, they’re going to be minimal. By the sixth month things should be starting to move along nicely, but it will likely be closer to 12 months before the real payoff starts. It’s in the second year that you will harvest your investment.

The other truth you need to understand is that good SEO is not cheap. The old saw, “You get what you pay for” is never truer than when applied to your SEO budget. Depending on how much you want your SEO firm to do, you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $5000 a month, or more. Some companies have budgets in the tens of thousands of dollars for SEO, but if you are serious, you should be prepared for a minimum of a 12-month startup with a cost ranging from a low of $6,000 to as much as $60,000. And beware of those who will tell you they can produce results quicker and for less money. The truth is, good SEO takes time, and a mindset that is looking for instant results will not serve you well.

Given those basic truths and with an understanding of them, you can start to prepare your budget. First thing you need to do is decide on which metric you will pursue. What are you going to measure and why? One of the best places to focus is on your traffic – how many unique visitors make their way to your website. This metric generally converts to leads, new and increased sales, and several other types of asset conversion.

Set your goals

Next, set a goal for your SEO campaign. What kind of increase do you want to see? Are you looking for increased sales? If so, how much of an increase are you looking to make over the next 12 months? It is up to you to determine what success looks like to you! And once you have that goal, decide just how much hitting your goal would be worth to you? Then, go one better and decide how much a larger increase, say as much as 50 percent growth, would be worth. Given those two perspectives, you are then ready to start working out a specific budget. Knowing what hitting your goal is worth to you and your company helps put your SEO budget into fine perspective, and allows you to see beyond that initial investment to the bigger picture.

Remember, SEO is a highly cost-effective strategy for long term success, but only when you enter into it with eyes wide open and the right foundation in place. If you take the time to make a comprehensive SEO plan, what your competition is doing, SEO-wise, won’t matter nearly as much from your position as the leader in your field.