For quite some time now I have been fiddling with my value proposition as it relates to providing SEO services to companies. The cold, hard truth is that whenever I speak to other SEOers about what I offer, they laugh at me because I am “too cheap”. I know that but have had some trouble accepting it for unknown mental reasons. The irony is that I am pretty good at SEO, so there is no reason why I should under price my services.
If I were to rate myself, I’d go with A- to B+. (I am thinking of Rand Fishkin as being A++). I’m not the best, but pretty good and a very long way from being the worst. So why so cheap?
I think that one issue is that many businesses do not really understand why SEO should be expensive. There seem to be so many dodgy firms spamming business owners (mainly from India it seems) that it probably feels quite reasonable that SEO should only cost $199 one time. And then it is done, forever…
This, of course, is in contrast to the good SEO providers who typically are not spamming the world. Why not? Because if you get even reasonably good at SEO, you just don’t need to advertise. If used well, SEO skill is like opening a passive ATM machine.
There are a number of reasons why SEO should be an expensive service:
1. Skill base. If you are good at SEO you are probably either a decent quality marketer and can write sales copy and put together campaigns, or a coder. Neither is a skill that should be lowly paid. Some folks can do both (I can’t, I’m a marketer) and they are worth their weight in gold.
2. Business benefit. If a website ranks at number one for the main few keywords that are appropriate, that can be – and often is – a huge business advantage. Typically, between 35% and 50% of all searchers click on the number one positioned listing. Number ten gets about 1%. If your keyword happens to be a big money payer – and you are very good at this – like an insurance or gambling phrase, then that number one slot can be worth hundreds of thousands per month. Perhaps even millions. You don’t ever hear of the top poker sites bragging about how much they earn do you? They don’t want the attention or extra competition.
For a little perspective, I worked with a real estate firm based locally to me for 11 months ending last summer. When we first met (and at almost every subsequent meeting) I told them that their content was not good enough, but they had no desire to alter it. I did what I do and made their site rank top 3 (up from pages 7/8) for the 3rd, 4th and 5th best phrases in their market.
Then they were hit by both Panda and Penguin. They had to be (their content was crap, mostly under 100 words per page) and so I was making up for it with linking (not ideal, but what are you gonna do?). They begged and pleaded for “quick fixes” but refused to work on their content (even though I had volunteered to rewrite much of it for them). 8 months later and they still have not touched those 87 word pages, but they have made 3 people redundant because they were no longer getting the sales leads they needed. Very sad. Thus it seems that while my advice was not worth following, the work I did was helping pay for 3 or more members of staff!
3. Alternative options. Any SEOer worth his (or her) weight, will know that they can earn a pretty decent sum on their own projects without needing an employer or contract. In the last eight months or so, my own online efforts have had a stunning running of misfortune (Panda anyone?), but still my sites bring in more than my monthly rent, even after the problems I have had. And I am turning those problems around day by day. Therefore, working on your site has to be worth more to me than working on my sites or other people’s sites.
Yes. You have to COMPETE to win the time of an SEOer. There are already too few hours in the week.
It is with this in mind that I describe a couple of recent situations I have encountered. In one, I was asked to meet the owner of a design/marketing/branding agency. It turned out that they wanted me to write SEO articles for them (if you aren’t aware, this is one of the least skilled areas of SEO). We didn’t discuss price, but I’d guess they were hoping for 5-7 euros per hour. It was a little ironic for me because the meeting also contained their “Head of SEO” and he didn’t strike me as very knowledgeable – but in 15 minutes who can really say? Despite this, there was a very good chance that I am better at SEO than he is. Why? Because I wasn’t looking for work and had been invited in, while he has a J-O-B.
The second was with a company that I also did not end up working with. They asked me to quote, I did (and as usual was too cheap!) and made the best no risk, results only offer that I could so that it would be a no-brainer to say yes to. They then tried very hard to negotiate me down in price! I declined.
It was the mindset that intrigued me. If you hope that someone will be able to dramatically improve the flow of leads into your business, why would you want them to work for cheap? Don’t sales people receive incentives for making more sales? How do you incentivise performance by paying as little as possible? Do these people not know how the world really works these days??? (If you are unsure of the answer to that question, it works online and people that make the online world work for you are kinda important).
While thinking about this I have found two very interesting links. This article from January 2012 by SEOMoz suggested that over 50% of the SEO providers they surveyed charged between US$76 and $200 per hour.
This survey from the UK details wages earned by SEO folks in different types of roles (note that is salaries earned and not the amounts charged to clients). In the middle of their range is “Manager” and that is likely to be the person doing some or all of the actual work. They weighed in at between GBP32,500 and 35,000 – not a fortune, but not nothing either.
Ultimately, I think that the value of SEO services should differ from business to business. For the real estate firm I mentioned above, I was charging well under 1,000 euros per month, but they were clearly making multiple sales per month from leads generated online. At several thousand euros per sale, they were getting good value for money. This means that as SEOers we need to be careful in selecting clients and sectors to work with.
But what if you were in a big industry with lots of international traffic? What if your main keyword was “diet pills” and ranking at number 1 was worth US$1 million per month in sales. How much would it seem reasonable to pay your SEO providers then? $25k, $40k, $50k per month?
This is leading me to think a slightly odd thought about SEO. The person you need to crack the number 1 spot for the keywords you are interested in is probably already good enough that you cannot afford to pay him or her. In other words, the SEO you need is probably out of your league.
I hope that offers some perspective on how much your business ought to spend on search engine optimization.