Almost every conversation that we have with prospective clients eventually comes around to cost, followed by a pregnant pause and then the question–why does it cost so much? This is an entirely reasonable question. Online reputation management work is expensive. Contracting for services with any reputation management firm is not an impulse decision. Our clients are intentional and view our work on their behalf as an investment in their business and/or career.

I can try and give you a simple answer and just say it is hard work and costs a lot. That is taking the easy way out, so I want to try and offer a more complete answer. Here are some of the variables:

Smart people are expensive. Assuming you have the work done in the U.S., employees cost a lot. While work can be shipped offshore, many people report disappointment in the quality of that work. Add to that the need for a reputation management team with exceptional communication skills and an aptitude for technology and you have created a reason “why.”

Smart algorithms create challenges. Back in 1999, published reports speculated that Google had “dozens” of variables contributing to the delivery of search results. Fast forward to 2013 and “experts” now suggest that Google has 200+ key variables contributing to how the search engine positions a page of content (page rank) plus thousands of variables running behind the scenes of algorithms. Ongoing complexity offers another reason “why.”

The Internet is expanding. I know, everyone says that. Let me explain it this way; the Internet is like an enormous library of a trillion or so books, documents, images, and videos–and there is no librarian. Search engines provide organization, direction, and support as we seek answers to queries that range from the most basic to the exceedingly complex. As this library expands, it becomes harder to deliver the specific “books” when a query is submitted.

How much has the Internet grown? In 1999 when Google began, documented statistics suggest there were 800 million pages on the worldwide web. As we begin 2013, there are now 13.61 billion pages of content online–13 billion “books” and growing every hour. Online reputation management delivers specific books for specific queries while displacing books that may have been there a long time and might even be “heavier” than the new books.

This is but a simple illustration, however perhaps it points to the increased complexity of the tasks required in order to influence client search results. In fact, in less than two years Google has made 24 major changes (the Panda updates) to its algorithms! With each change, a correlating adjustment must be made in order to continue to deliver success for our clients. Think of it as a chess match. I hope this validates what we believe to be another very direct reason “why.”

It’s the economy, stupid. In 1992, Bill Clinton marshaled a successful bid to unseat George H.W. Bush. For many the rallying cry for his campaign was the line that James Carville originally crafted, “It’s the economy stupid.”

Sometimes the answers are right in front of us. Can we agree that the price of gas has gone up, taxes have gone up, health insurance premiums have gone up? Plainly put, the cost of providing online reputation management services has gone up as well. Easy and inexpensive processes no longer work. Automated link farms and phony content created by oversees link farms have been heavily devalued by Google and removed from the web. As search engines become more sophisticated, the content, website and backlink evaluation processes ratchet up what is required in order for a website to be valued highly in search results.

I could continue, but I think these clearly point to why this type of work is expensive.

While we might offer an explanation like this when taking a call from a prospective client, normally we just ask a simple question–what are the current negative search results costing you? For most business owners, this is the pragmatic conversation needed. As I said in the beginning, seldom is the decision to move forward with suppression efforts taken on without considerable evaluation. By the time we speak to most people they have already concluded that the content being delivered for their search results is extracting hard profit from their business, or at the very least, costing them lost opportunities.

The complexities of online reputation defense, management and monitoring will only become more challenging. For those who have not yet experienced the embarrassment of being attacked online we offer simple advice. Take control of your search results, get involved and be intentional about defining whom you are–and who you are not. And if you find yourself already in the troughs of anger and confusion because of what can be found online, our advice is also straightforward. Address the issues now. Do not wait, because just as the cost of our groceries continues to go up, so will the cost of search engine online reputation management.