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The Cheapness of the SEO Industry

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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 It’s about old, outdated monster movies that are done so poorly that you can see the zippers on the monster costumes.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Cheap SEOs are outdated too.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.

The Cheapness of the SEO Industry

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    Comments

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    1. Suzanne Foley
      February 23, 2009

      Very well said, Bill. The SEO industry is so fractured. Right now, most people in the ‘general public’ don’t know much (if anything) about what SEO actually IS, much less how much it is worth. It certainly doesn’t help that SEO services are priced all over the place, setting unrealistic expectations, and then not delivering much, if anything. As SEO customers become more educated (at their expense in many cases) the best SEO service providers will grow and become stronger as their value becomes more evident.

      Reply


    2. Suzanne Foley
      February 23, 2009

      Very well said, Bill. The SEO industry is so fractured. Right now, most people in the ‘general public’ don’t know much (if anything) about what SEO actually IS, much less how much it is worth. It certainly doesn’t help that SEO services are priced all over the place, setting unrealistic expectations, and then not delivering much, if anything. As SEO customers become more educated (at their expense in many cases) the best SEO service providers will grow and become stronger as their value becomes more evident.

      Reply


    3. Peter Braswell
      February 24, 2009

      This is a great article and really speaks to industries where people scramble to differentiate on price as opposed to customer service and value added delivery. I believe deeply that you should search out and find an SEO vendor that understands not only the technical aspects of SEO and SEM, but also the more salient points of good old fashioned MARKETING!!! Copy writing, conversions, a value added experience should all be considered when you choose an SEO vendor! You should be asking yourself, how willing are they to understand YOUR busines??

      Reply


    4. Peter Braswell
      February 24, 2009

      This is a great article and really speaks to industries where people scramble to differentiate on price as opposed to customer service and value added delivery. I believe deeply that you should search out and find an SEO vendor that understands not only the technical aspects of SEO and SEM, but also the more salient points of good old fashioned MARKETING!!! Copy writing, conversions, a value added experience should all be considered when you choose an SEO vendor! You should be asking yourself, how willing are they to understand YOUR busines??

      Reply


    5. Rick Simmons
      February 27, 2009

      I have been talking about this for some time – we need to do a better job of informing companies why they should not hire these charlatans. Been fixing up their mess for some time now. Keep on doing things right.

      Reply


    6. Rick Simmons
      February 27, 2009

      I have been talking about this for some time – we need to do a better job of informing companies why they should not hire these charlatans. Been fixing up their mess for some time now. Keep on doing things right.

      Reply


    7. William Osbourne
      June 10, 2009

      Cheap SEOs are usually synonomous with “BlackHat”, lazy SEOs. Excellent advice in the middle of your post about the client/consultant relationship. To address one of your last points: SEO Consulting is still like any other business (unfortunately)…you have to have sales WITH the skills. I do know what you are talking about though…have “missed out” on some clients that I was very glad to have “lost” in the end.

      Reply


    8. William Osbourne
      June 10, 2009

      Cheap SEOs are usually synonomous with “BlackHat”, lazy SEOs. Excellent advice in the middle of your post about the client/consultant relationship. To address one of your last points: SEO Consulting is still like any other business (unfortunately)…you have to have sales WITH the skills. I do know what you are talking about though…have “missed out” on some clients that I was very glad to have “lost” in the end.

      Reply


    9. Jane@freereminder
      July 5, 2009

      The best way to find a goood SEO offer is to pay careful attention to their processes and their dealings with you. If they are just trying to sell you a commodity just like any other customer, then you might want to think twice. If they truly pay attention to your needs and get to understand the best way to help you achieve your goals, and you have a good feeling about them, then you are likely dealing with a good SEO services provider. If you have any suspicions at all, you should continue to ask questions until you feel comfortable, or come to the point where you realize it’s not worth your risk.

      Reply


    10. Jane@freereminder
      July 5, 2009

      The best way to find a goood SEO offer is to pay careful attention to their processes and their dealings with you. If they are just trying to sell you a commodity just like any other customer, then you might want to think twice. If they truly pay attention to your needs and get to understand the best way to help you achieve your goals, and you have a good feeling about them, then you are likely dealing with a good SEO services provider. If you have any suspicions at all, you should continue to ask questions until you feel comfortable, or come to the point where you realize it’s not worth your risk.

      Reply


    11. Pitambharadharaya
      August 31, 2009

      I wish I had been armed with some of this knowledge earlier!

      Reply


    12. Pitambharadharaya
      August 31, 2009

      I wish I had been armed with some of this knowledge earlier!

      Reply


    13. Christian
      December 2, 2010

      Good points here Bill. In SEO, as in many other industries–although many of the smaller service providers can offer their services at a lower price vis-a-vis the larger companies–you don’t really get what you don’t pay for.

      Reply


    14. Christian
      December 2, 2010

      Good points here Bill. In SEO, as in many other industries–although many of the smaller service providers can offer their services at a lower price vis-a-vis the larger companies–you don’t really get what you don’t pay for.

      Reply