The Cheapness of the SEO Industry

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 It’s about old, outdated monster movies that are done so poorly that you can see the zippers on the monster costumes.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Cheap SEOs are outdated too.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


Firefox Makes Googling (and SEO) Easier

Update (12-10-2010) – So today I’m not the Firefox fanboy I used to be.  I’ve moved into Chrome.  Check out Chrome Extensions That Make SEO Easier.

The Firefox browser is an amazing, innovative browser.  It’s fun watching IE copy its features (well, as many as its architecture can allow, which isn’t many – MS doesn’t rebuild, so Firefox should be enjoying their notoriety for a long time to come).  I was an early adopter, but it’s pretty amazing how many people use this browser now – it’s not just advanced web surfers anymore.  I was helping my 60 year old mother install a webcam and saw the Firefox browser.  Impressed, I asked her how she heard about it.  She said, “well, I don’t want Spyware.”  Wow.

For those who still don’t use Firefox, here’s some reasons you should take the plunge.  If you’re a traditional IE user, believe me, learning this browser is a piece of cake.

  1. Download Manager makes controlling and revisiting your downloads easier
  2. Faster – uses less computer resources
  3. Smart Location Bar – this makes entering URLs easier
  4. Great privacy controls
  5. Security!!!!!!!!! <- reason enough to choose Firefox over IE
  6. Better webpage rendering
  7. Zoom in on text and images (cntrl +/-)
  8. HUGELY customizable

That last one is a big one (and the reason for this post).  With hundreds of homemade Firefox extensions on the web, you can customize your browser to make your internet life easier.  If you’re a web developer, there are extensions to help you locate and analyze code, view pages in cross-browser emulation, disable style codes or JavaScript, and a lot more.  If you are a social media fanatic, there are extensions that make your browser interact with your favorite sites more naturally.  It’s pretty addictive to search for these extensions, especially if you’re a tinkerer like me.  Here’s a bunch including ad blockers, tab controllers, image viewers, and cool ways to save pages for easier use later (I haven’t used my browsers bookmark function in a while thanks to some of these plugins).

How does Firefox help Googling?

Greasemonkey is a Firefox Extension that allows for sub-extensions (called scripts, also found by Googling ‘greasemonkey scripts’ or something similiar).  Search Engine Journal just posted 14 Essential Greasemonkey Scripts for Google Searching, and had a few I didn’t know about.  Some of these scripts are useful to the average searcher.  They do a great job of summarizing each script, so take a look.

To use these scripts, you just have to install the Greasmonkey extension first, then go to the script pages and click INSTALL.  That couldn’t be easier.

How does Firefox help SEO?

There are plenty of Firefox extensions for search engine optimization, allowing for quick site audits, spider emulation, NoFollow checkers, user-agent switchers (view a site as Google), and code viewers.

Again, these sites do a great job describing and sending you to the tools.  Tackle these after lunch for an hour, and I guarantee the web will look a lot better.  Enjoy –

Surfwax – A Meta Engine You Might Like

Hey all – been taking a vacation from the blog for a while, sorting out some personal issues.  Wanted to bring up a cool meta search engine that I’ve been getting back into.  It’s not new, but it’s a cool way to search when your old standby’s aren’t doing the job.

A meta-search engine is a search engine that sends user requests to several other search engines and/or databases and aggregates the results into …

Check Out Surfwax – Meta Search Engine

SERPs Customized for Philadelphia Metro Area? Thanks, I guess.

Screenshot of Customized Google search
note: image was altered to fit the width of my blog

“Customized for the metro Philly area”, eh?  Interesting, except my actual location this time was outside of Philadelphia, in Reading, Pennsylvania – Berks County, not Philadelphia.  I’m not exactly sure how the geo-tracking works in this case (I’ll have to look into that), but when I checked my IP path, I’m not running through Philly.  Why not choose Harrisburg then?  I’m equally close.

SEO and IP aside, I just started to wonder about whether this was a good idea at all.

I wasn’t logged in.  I wasn’t asking for personalized search.  What if I didn’t want an art program in the Philadelphia area, but rather an art program like Photoshop?  Why would I want a customized “local” search?  Or, what if I was open to any location?  Granted, these results really didn’t seem that customized to Philly this time around, but how far can Google take this?

I’d prefer some parametric buttons that would let me choose customized results to my location, instead of just having it be “on”.

Video Tour Of Google’s Social Search Interface


This is now in full release on Google.  You need to be logged into Google to see it.  It’s called SearchWiki.  Google reps have said that your personal reordering of listings doesn’t affect the natural search at this time.  This is valuable user data though, so I would expect Google to start considering this.  Google doesn’t work as hard as they do to collect user data, only to not eventually use it in their products!  What better product than Google search?  They just need to figure out how to keep it from being artificially manipulated by black-hats and spammers.


A few posts ago I talked about the lucky coworker who got the Google social search beta.  Well, today the Google fairies smiled upon me.  I created a new Google account for a project I was working on, and a webmaster central account, and BOOM… there it was in all its glory.

I quickly downloaded some screen capture software and put together this video.  Sorry, no sound, but I don’t think you’ll really need it to see what this cool Google interface is all about.


Search Engines You Never Knew Existed

As a search engine junkie, I’m always pulling for the little guy with a good idea. I love competition in the marketplace, especially when they introduce some new ideas.

Yahoo and MSN are very concerned about the future of their properties, despite aggressive roadmap announcements. They’re prime targets for a Cuil-type overtaking.  Google may rule, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I break their mindshare (or mind control? Hmm…) more often in the future.  I’ll happily switch to non-traditional search engines or platform engines – that is, if I find them effective. Unique results speak for themselves.

Here’s a few engines I found – few of which I use (I admit).  But maybe the next winner comes from this list.  What do you think? Shopping, meta, social, and vertical engines abound…


Google, Yahoo now read Flash – so is Progressive Enhancement obsolete?

With the surprise news that Adobe hooked Google and Yahoo up with a special reader for the spiders (which allows the engines to parse the .swf files and index/follow deeper content), does that mean the SEO’s PE special weapon can be abandoned?

I’m still going to stick with it for a while for my SEO blog and my clients’ sites. Google is adopting the reader first, and has technically been lightly reading some flash files already, but anyone who’s been in the game long enough knows that a lot of these properties launch with half-powered products all the time. Their track record isn’t stellar, so why not a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach?   I don’t think I would consider dropping PE until at least a few more months after MSN jumps aboard.  I’m not sure I would cease building products for the PE method (depending on the cost vs. value), and simple on-page coding is so easy – it seems like a no-brainer.

What about the other engines that will never be this advanced?  Do you care about them?  In preperation for vertical and social searching, I think it’s wise to consider what they could become.   I think this news is going to spark a huge influx of flash sites, but I’m thinking this still seems like a bad idea.

Stop, thief… that’s MY nickname!

301’d to homepage

I don’t contribute to the SEO forums like I should. I’m obsessed with the posts, but I don’t tend to comment because of time restraints. When I do post, my nickname is “billse”. I used to go by “billthemountain”, a play on my favorite Frank Zappa song.

Like any super-nerd, I Google myself. I even Google my nick names. To my utter shock (well, not really ‘shock’), I discovered another “billthemountain” posting around. To make the story more funky, he’s was active in the SEO forums I would frequent. From the posts it sounds like he’s more of a web designer looking for some optimization tips, a little bit of a beginner, and more polite than me!

Now, I don’t think he’s an impostor. This isn’t identity theft. I think it’s all fun, playful innocence. I’ve always known I wasn’t the only one using the nick – I tried to sign up for several things with it, only to be told ‘sorry – this account name is taken’. That’s part of the reason I quickly bailed on it.

But in all candor, it does make me wonder about the signal of ‘reputation’. I don’t mean reputation management per se, but the emerging idea that a person’s reputation or a site’s reputation might heavily affect link equity. I think this makes sense – we know social computing is going to grow to skyscraper levels, and we know that engines are engaged in leveraging the new ‘personality’ these platforms provide. I think this is an arena ripe for improving universal search if algorithms could eventually reign it in.

Could SEO’s be tasked with reputation management for high-profile Facebook users in the future? It would be weird, but I wouldn’t discount it as a future tactic.