Every once in a while, and probably more often than we should, we find ourselves reviewing our SEO pricing models. Pricing SEO has always been a real sticking point for me because there is no one-size-fits-all pricing metric. In the past few days a couple of articles have popped up discussing this very thing. Jill Whalen outlines three SEO pricing models that work best for her, and Jim Hedger talks about how SEO firms are moving toward consulting BEFORE SEO.
Lately, We’ve been re-analyzing our pricing model and it was the second article above that reinforced something that was really starting to become quite obvious to us; search engine optimization is requiring more and more research and analysis than it ever did before. After doing SEO for several years (since 1998) I recently put all of our regular SEO duties into a spreadsheet and noting the amount of time spent on each activity on a one-time basis, monthly basis, and a per-page basis (both one-time and monthly). This format allows me to quite easily see the man-hours and costs involved in each distinct duty that we perform over the course of an SEO campaign. It also allows me to see the changes that occur in our SEO processes.
A year ago, the bulk of our optimization occurred in the set-up phase, with the monthly optimization consisting of a few hours of link building, rankings monitoring and on-page tweaking. Now, the set-up is just a mere fraction of the hours that go into each optimization campaign. The continual analysis performed on each account every month does not exceed that of the set-up, but add a couple months worth of optimization together and it does. Expand that to a six or twelve month campaign and the man hours of research and analysis performed far exceeds the initial set-up process. And believe me, we do a considerable amount of research up front!
Differing Pricing Models Between SEO Companies
SEO providers come in all shapes and sizes. We often have potential clients come to me price shopping. They are not comparing our services with our competitors, but they are comparing our pricing with our competitors. In that battle we lose almost every time, and the reason for that is because there is always an “SEO” company that will work for less. With SEO, however, you usually get what you pay for. If you want a cheap service, you’ll get cheap results.
“But isn’t SEO all about top rankings? If firm X can provide top rankings for less, shouldn’t I go with them?” This is standard fare from bargain shoppers, but the basic questions to ask yourself is this: do you want top rankings or do you want more business? Most SEO companies are in the business of achieving top rankings and everything else is not their problem. Even still, it is rare to find inexpensive SEOs that can achieve top rankings for competitive, high ROI terms, maintain those top rankings through constant algorithm changes, and continue to beat out your competition which are optimizing for the same keyword phrases.
If you’re paying someone only a few hundred or even just a few thousand dollars each year to work on your site, how many man-hours do you really think they are giving you each month? When your site gets dropped or rankings mysteriously crash, how much time do they spend trying to find potential issues and problems? Even the best sites—and those optimized by the best SEOs in the world—can suddenly disappear from the search engines. Sometimes it’s a temporary issue, sometimes it’s because of something the client did, and sometimes it’s due to other external factors. Whatever the reason, the SEO needs to thoroughly investigate so the issue can be corrected.
Continuous Optimization Services
Recently we’ve changed our overall outlook on the month-to-month SEO services we provide. This is largely due to the number of clients that come to us each month after having been penalized by one or more engines because of previous SEO work performed which ran afoul of the search engines. Rarely do these cases allow for a quick fix which puts them back into the top positions overnight. With the suspected Google sandbox, over-optimization penalties and aging delays, many of these sites must go through a rather lengthy period before they are placed back in the index and allowed to perform well in the search results, long after penalization issues have been resolved.
We look at what we provide similar to having an investigator on retainer. Our job, each month, is to continue to seek out potential problems that may now, or in the future, be keeping our client’s sites from performing as best as they can possibly be. If our clients are not in the first page for all their targeted ROI phrases, then our job is to find out why. And then if they are not in the top 5, our job is to analyze what it takes to get them there. And if they are not in the top 3 then we need to see what the competition has going for them that our client doesn’t. And if they are not in the Pole Position, our job is to find and eliminate all potential external barriers, no matter how small. And all of this must be done while maintaining the integrity, usability, and performance of the client’s site.
Sometimes all this is as simple as finding a duplicate URL somewhere that we didn’t know about and other times after months of research we find that a client links out to sites that link out to other sites using spammy techniques. These types of things have to be under constant analysis, even if a site performs well. Heading off problems before they occur is a big part of the SEO game, and plays heavily into pricing.
Pricing is a big deal for the average business owner and it should be. However, pricing alone should not be the deciding factor in which SEO provider you choose. Find out what services you’ll be getting. If you get the impression that the SEO is done after a few hours of up front work, you may not be getting enough investigation for potential or existent, yet unknown, problems. This can cost you later on.
On the other hand, just because someone charges huge fees does not mean they’ll do you well either. This is a symptom of many very large SEO companies. Do your homework and find the company that will treat you as their only client. If you get that kind of service, you will undoubtedly reap a very significant return on your investment.