There is much debate in the general public and in the search engine optimization community as to what amount companies should pay for search engine optimization expertise.
Prices are all over the board and can be influenced by an SEO firm's size, reputation (or lack thereof), resources invested in customer service and many other factors. Moreover, there are a variety of pricing models from which to choose.
Rather than hire a firm, some companies instead opt to attempt this specialized discipline in-house, in order to "save" money. Of course, there is a cost associated with this option as well—labor. The cost of effectively performing SEO in-house, when fully calculated, will often be equal to or greater than the costs of outsourcing (due to the sizable learning curve and the necessary testing and experimentation required).
In any case, companies often make decisions on whether to outsource (and, if so, which provider to choose) based solely on price. However, one thing that is rarely factored into the decision making process is the potential cost of doing SEO wrong.
The Price Tag
The most obvious cost of doing SEO wrong is the price that was paid for the actual work, whether paid to a firm or for the salaries of internal resources. While this is the most quantifiable cost and the easiest to recognize, it is generally the least expensive consideration.
This concept is sometimes difficult to understand, since there is typically a finite sum the company considers "at risk" when they sign a contract with an SEO firm or commit internal resources to the task.