Most businesses understand the long-term power of SEO; engage in content marketing and search optimization long enough, and you'll see disproportionate growth in your returns. However, the early stages of an SEO campaign can leave you vulnerable to negative ROI, and if you're a small business or a startup with limited resources, that can put a serious strain on your marketing budget.

Thus arises a dilemma. SEO is a strategy dependent on your investment--investing too little might get you stuck with inexperienced or low-quality service providers, or it might earn you too little in the way of digital assets to create any meaningful momentum.

So how can you cut costs in an SEO campaign without completing ruining the strategy you're attempting to pursue?

Shop around.

The bottom line here is that each agency has a unique cost and a unique range of services. If you spend enough time researching, you'll be able to find an agency that fits your budget but still offers the quality of service you need. If you can't, you'll at least find an agency flexible enough to work with you on a custom plan.

Consider independent contractors and freelancers.

There are a few drawbacks to hiring freelancers, the most notable being little obligation for follow-through. But most of these can be compensated for simply by doing your research ahead of time and seeking a candidate (or candidates) you can trust with your campaign.

Supplement DIY SEO.

Chances are, you'll still need help from the outside authority of an agency or an independent contractor, but remember, your goal here isn't to do everything yourself--it's to supplement your range of strategies to reduce your overall costs. Of course, you'll also have to find a service provider willing to let you pick and choose which services you receive.

Let your customers do some work for you.
Get social.

But don't forget, there's an in-person element to "getting social" as well. Attend professional networking events, meet the major players of your industry in person, and build a rapport with them. Chances are, at that point, they'll be happy to share your content, mention your brand, and win you the extra visibility you need to earn more links and build a better online reputation.

The key to creating a more effective SEO budget isn't taking things away or reducing your costs to a minimum--it's about making the most of what you have. Remember, quality is a central element to SEO success--one bad link or bad piece of content won't just stall your progress, it will actually set you back--so never make a budgetary cut that ends up shorting you on quality. Instead, use the above strategies to find a healthier, more conservative balance of services that can support your campaign moving forward without exhausting your budget.

Published on: Mar 30, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.