It’s a tough question, especially in a bad economy.
The question really begs another question – what is your goal for your site?
If you are operating it as a real business where you hope to either supplement your current income or rely on it as your sole source of income – then you need to be prepared to invest in search (it’s often the foundation of your marketing and a consistent source of regular traffic).
You can invest time or money and in most cases, you usually need to invest both.
I think there is someone out there spreading some erroneous information about starting a business online. There is a lot of the “build it and they will come” mentality – in other words throw up a site and voila insta-business!
While in many ways, it is easier to do business online because you don’t need to set up physical stores and have a lot of the issues you have with brick and mortars, it is by no means a “sure thing” – you still have to work for your success.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you shouldn’t start an online business – I am just saying if you expect your business to grow and treat you well, then you need to treat it like a serious business.
So, yes, it will be necessary for you to invest both time and money into generating traffic.
So back to the question at hand – how much should you spend on SEO?
You need to crunch some numbers and see how many visitors it takes to get a sale and how much a sale is worth to you to really fine-tune your budget – especially if PPC is part of your plans (so many people waste money on PPC that isn’t converting – spend wisely or it can suck you dry!)
For organic SEO you will find everything from $19.99 mass submission (avoid like the plague, you may as well burn your $19.99) to tens of thousands of dollars per month.
Most small to medium sized businesses spend between $300 – $800 per month, although I’ve also heard people say numbers a little higher, like $500 – $1500 per month is the norm. So somewhere in that range is what you should expect to pay for quality SEO work.
It always amazes me that people are annoyed they have to pay for SEO. People will pay for a doctor or a mechanic, or even a web designer but they seem to resent having to pay for SEO. If you have the time and knowledge, then by all means, don’t pay anyone, do it yourself. However if you don’t have the time or knowledge, it’s a valid, and important expense and not something you should begrudge. Driving traffic to your site is the foundation and not the area you want to go cheap.
I’m jussayin…think about your goals and think about what you are prepared to do to get there.