Frank Zappa wrote a song called “Cheepness” (released in 1974 on Roxy & Elsewhere… so good! Great songs, great guitar effects, humor, but I digress). It’s about old, outdated monster movies that are done so poorly that you can see the zippers on the monster costumes. Once upon a time these monster movies scared people. Now in 2009 audiences are mature, and it usually takes CGI to be effectively scary today (visually speaking).
I’m going to make a stretch comparison here…
Cheap SEOs are outdated too. What’s a cheap SEO? Well, they charge very little and, well, offer very little. They’re tactic of choice is often SPAM. Sometimes the cheap SEOs are those who are new to the industry (maybe they just haven’t matured yet), or know a little about SEO but are convinced they can consult on it. Typically cheap SEOs use old tactics on shoestring budgets. They haven’t grasped the concept of actionable reporting, analytics, or had enough experience yet to understand what strategies are feasible in the modern day. The truth is their zippers aren’t hard to find if you’re looking in the right places. The problem lies when potential clients don’t have enough insight to look for the zipper.
Valid SEOs compete against cheap SEOs, either with ego and attitude, or concern (personally I’m in the concern camp). The SEO space is ever-changing, but there still seems to be this monster lurking in our space. This cheap-suited, space helmet wearing, fur ridden creature from beyond, eager to devour our world.
It’s fine that SEOs charge a wide range of prices for their services. The more established, experienced, or ‘rock star’ the SEO, the more they charge an hour. I’ve seen rates of $200 to $300/hr. A wide gamut is normal in any service. In my case, I typically work with big brand clients. But there’s a part of me that really enjoys focusing on the smaller companies who need to compete with the big dogs. That’s a great challenge! That’s also where I started my SEO career, and I’ve always have a soft spot for the little guy. When potentially pitching a small client I might charge 80-90% less. Not quite to the aforementioned “cheepness” line, but balancing integrity, value and money on that line. My own war against cheapness maybe? In part.
This post was inspired by a company I was speaking with recently. They were looking for SEO on a dynamically driven site targeting domestic regions. The site was pretty thin and though it did rank for some good head terms, really could use some SEO for the long-tail. In most cases that’s where the magic happens. There was a long road ahead of this site.
The proposal I sent was the same I’d send a large client, but at a tenth of my usual price. Like any proposal, it’s a starting point, and I offered flexibility. The final response to the proposal was ‘not interested’. No problem – as a consultant you factor in more declines than acceptances. However, the reply went on to say “unless (I) could offer something substantial at a reasonable price” he wasn’t interested. In reading that line, I quickly decided this would not work for me, and was thankful it didn’t get any further. A consultant/client relationship really needs to be tight and focused on the same goals with the same belief in the SEO strategies and tactics. If there’s already a disconnect on the value of the offering (both monetarily and in terms of effectiveness), it really isn’t worth pursuing when it’s already at a blowout price. In sales you balance trust and desire, but pushing for the wrong accounts has burned me before. Eventually a consultant grows a sixth sense about such things. You really need to weigh the value of educating the potential client vs. the amount of work involved vs. the portfolio you already have vs. the net income.
Though any reputable agency wouldn’t touch this small fish, there are plenty of independent SEOs out there that will take this work. Unfortunately, it seems that many SEOs on this level have mastered the sales and not the skills (my opinion). Clearly there are SEO services that hit and run, and have really ruined the landscape not just for the SEOs, but more so for the clients. I feel bad for any client that is going to leave a noble, valiant offering for a cheap trap. But where is that line? How much time does a real SEO spend defending this space against the imperfects? Is it really an SEOs battle to defend marketing – let alone SEO marketing – to a business’ “bottom line”? If you’re ethical, how much of your world is fixing the zippers showing in the monster suits, exposing those zippers, or promoting over them? It’s a tough call, but it is the SEO landscape today.
When it comes to SERPs, and what users choose from the array of results, Google says, “Our User Experience Research team has found that people evaluate the search results page so quickly that they make most of their decisions unconsciously.” I could have told them that for a free Google mug. And maybe a Google Frisbee.
Search engines, like any object you use on a routine basis, becomes an extension of your senses. Are we really surprised that a thumbnail in universal search draws attention? No. It’s the contrast to a plain. It’s a key component to effective design, photography, and even magic tricks. But what Google determines from this study is that the thumbnails in the SERPs are also not a distraction if they don’t fit the kind of information a specific user seeking.
When auditing a site, one of the first things I check is the use of images in place of actual text. Why? Well, because when I was a website designer/developer, I was very picky about the simplest aesthetics. It drove me crazy how ugly arial and verdana could look sometimes. Blocky, jagged, and “blech”. I started life as a graphic designer, and just always paid attention to typography. So, if the text I wanted to style wasn’t imperative to users and search engines (which it usually was), I would just Photoshop an image together with the words in the .gif, .png, or .jpg. Otherwise, I would sacrifice typography aesthetics for SEO 99% of the time.
So how does it look? Pretty good (once I determine exactly what font I love). Take a look at the title of this post. You can’t highlight it because it’s a .png file (ie, a graphic). If you search my source code for the title, you’ll still find it in all its glory. Although the header tags are not being used in my particular implementation, I do have this set up to repeat the same text in the alt attributes (I might augment this overlay on the header tags in the future, but I wanted to experiment with the alts for the time being.)