May 12, 2008

Cheap SEO: it’s about quality, not price

by Brian Turner

The big problem with SEO as a service is that there is no standard like with PPC.

It’s not at all a case of different companies offering the same service simply at different prices – SEO is a service covering many specialities.

This means that SEO cannot be bought and sold on price points alone – and why it is essential that companies looking for SEO services determine what they are actually looking for.

A brief set of pointers may include any of the following:

- Basic on-page SEO
- SEO copyriting
- Site architecture
- Link development
- Keyword research
- URL rewriting/dynamic solutions

Once such a list is determined, it’s important to then seek not a “SEO company” but a company that provides specific SEO services that you actually need – and is proven to be competent at delivering such services.

Price points a no-no

The big danger next is that the prospective client will shop around on price – and in B2B services if you buy on price, you’re in real danger of living out the mantra of “pay peanuts, get monkeys”.

Buying SEO services by price point alone is definitely in invitation for poor quality services, and even worse, can invite a penalty in Google.

India has probably done more than any other country to position itself as the “SEO spam” capital, with a huge number of companies fighting to offer the cheapest service that delivers the smallest results.

Clients end up paying for something that looks cheap, but it’s just dung.

And what can seem like a bargain deal doesn’t simply waste money – it wastes time enough to allow your competitors to gain an increasingly lead on you.

It’s one thing for a SEO company to deliver poor results, but there is always the danger that incompetent SEO companies can get a business website banned from Google.

It is unfortuntely common, and a small business with a banned website will struggle to get back into Google’s index, even once they clean up.

SEO sales – all promise, no substance

Like most internet services, SEO services has become a band wagon for quick cash-in cowboys.

There are a large number of companies claiming to offer “SEO services”, but only a minority with any real competence.

And competent SEO companies usually do not engage in aggressive sales practices such as email spam campaigns or telesales cold-calling.

Such tactics are an indicator of a sales-focused company, and says nothing of their ability to deliver on sales promises.

In a sales environment, those promises are likely exaggerated beyond the ability of the technical teams to deliver.

Typical promises include “guaranteed rankings” or “money-back guarantee” – but it’s all sales gimmick, with no substance.

Sales people offer these slogans just to get at your cash, regardless of consequential failure.

No one guarantees Google’s search results excepting for Google. And good luck trying to get your money back when it doesn’t work.

Competent SEO’s guarantee the dedication of years of knowledge and experience in working positively with Google results. It’s an expert position that is so sought after that the job market in experienced SEO’s is totally dry.

Not every SEO company can cover all specialities

Most SEO companies will cover a range of SEO specialities, but only specialise in one or two of these at best.

One area of failing common to SEO companies is trying to offer specialist services they do not have a real competence in.

A common experience with this is link development work.

I can state categorically and without fear of contradiction that there are a lot of branded SEO companies who are selling link development as part of their SEO package to corporate clients – and then engage in link development work that is sloppy, clumsy, inadequate – or outright dangerous.

Engaging the social web via is another speciality where there are those who specialise and those who don’t. Having a Digg account and submitting something once to Digg does not a social media marketer make you, or your company.

Finding reputable SEO’s

There are a lot of good SEO’s out there who are little known, not least because they are more interested in work than public recognition.

While they may not appear readily in blog posts, a simple way to look for them is to ask for recommendations from other companies.

That way you can get a clear idea of what exact service was performed, what the fruits of the service were, and what sort of return on investment was gained.

Of course, there are a number of SEO figures in the public eye, but be careful to look in the right public places.

SEO’s who have a speaking record at industry events such as Search Engine Strategies, WebMasterWorld, and SMX usually carry the respect of the SEO industry itself, and generally regarded as experts, if not, leading figures.

Such methods are a good way to find quality through third-party validation.

Social media – not the place to find services

Social media sites, blogs, and forums, can see a lot of active chatter on SEO topics, but the warning is that some of the people leading these discussions only have limited SEO experience in working on their own website(s), and have never worked in the commercial deep end.

Accomplished SEO’s rarely have time to blog or post in communities – they are usually too busy and there are better things to do with their time.

However, some do make a point of keeping a public presence, not least because their business model demands attention on their position within the industry.

The warning is, accomplished SEO’s don’t necessarily carry the respect of any online community, but do carry the respect of their clients, and sometimes even have industry recognition as well.

The threat of losing clients to SEO vultures

SEO as an industry already suffers an image problem – to many, at best SEO is about “spamming”, and at worse, outright fraud.

However, while competent SEO’s continue to deliver expert services, they remain under threat from client demands for bigger, better – and cheaper.

This is even more the case where clients have engaged in successful SEO services – and are lulled into a false sense of security that they can then either get the same SEO services cheaper elsewhere, or else even do it themselves.

I’ve been pretty shocked to receive a couple of communications from clients this year raising these very issues, so I’ve had to spend valuable time in communications re-assuring them of the quality of work, pointing to indicators we use to measure success – and pointing out the difference between “competent SEO” and “cheap SEO”.

While I can only advise people outside of the SEO industry to shop on quality, rather than price, my own experience suggests that within the SEO industry itself, client communications and reinforcement of relationships is becoming an increasingly accentuated part of the job.

I already thought I was good at that – now I need to become better.

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9 Responses to “Cheap SEO: it’s about quality, not price”

  1. Daryl on May 12th, 2008 11:24 pm

    I totally agree with most of your article. Except no one can guarantee results, as the company I work for (Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning) does, and I have seen us pay back a few clients. But we do pad our contracts because of this, so once again we are back to the price point issue.

    Quite often we do Google guarantees however as an SEO and a sales person I would never guarantee someone that I don’t feel reasonable confident that we can’t deliver on (paying clients back doesn’t make for a good business model, but repeat happy clients does). Its when your dealing with a small company, or over seas company that guarantees and contracts aren’t worth the paper their written on. Cheers.

  2. George Morris on May 13th, 2008 6:52 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with the posting. Part of the problem is that clients still need to be educated about the amount of work involved in true SEO. Many prospects I’ve spoken to want guaranteed results, cheap prices and quick fixes… well.. given those requirements they will ALWAYS run into a problem, despite the industry.

    We rarely get SEO clients which are good matches. I consider a good match by meeting the following criteria.
    1. Price isn’t the number 1 criteria
    2. They understand the need for good copy and continuous content development
    3. They know the difference between a paid ad and natural results (so many just don’t get that)
    4. They’ve worked with an interactive agency in the past and are familiar with the Web.
    5. The understand that guarantees are impossible and that success needs to be measured against the goals / objectives of their business model.

    That’s my 2 cents.

  3. Dave Robinson on May 14th, 2008 8:16 am

    I don’t agree with this statement:

    “Accomplished SEO’s rarely have time to blog or post in communities”

    I believe participating in forums and social media, especially with non SEO’s looking for help, keeps me in touch with the real world hopes and fears of company owners.

    Also, I found this page because it was eh……….on a social media site.


  4. jame on May 14th, 2008 9:44 am

    Great article – really resonates with me. I have been consulting for many years, and I am in the practice of having the up front conversations with customers and prospective clients about price vs. quality ;

    While I dont think they are inversely proportional in all cases – there is often an inverse relationship. I have found that by having this conversation up front, many customers who start off focussed on price – realise that they actually want and will pay for quality. Which is good for both the customer and my business.

    This conversation then leads to the the pay-for-results conversation. I find this really interesting. i.e. I get paid little or nothing, but receive a good payment if certain result-benchmarks are met. turning this to SEO specifically – I am using tools like to benchmark rankings – graphically – and then track improvements (or otherwise) over time. I then use this with clients to demonstrate results ( and of course – get paid ) ;

    Again, good article – thanks.

  5. Mike Johnston on July 2nd, 2008 3:11 pm

    What is a good SEO company for a new person like me that is looking to gain page rank on my site?

  6. Mitch Argon on July 3rd, 2008 4:21 am

    Good article but I think you may want to give some credit to those firms that are reputable, do the right thing, and don’t overpromise who are not part of the “seo elite”.

    I’m sure there are many of them.

    On the flip side, there are a lot of hollow promises out there too… Buyer Beware!

  7. Old Welsh Guy on August 3rd, 2008 10:54 pm

    Great Post Brian.

    I remember when I first started work. One of the fitters (I worked in civil engineering) said to me.

    ” It is a fact of life, that the better you get at something, the easier you make it look, and the easier you make it look, the less you are appreciated”

    I have found that so true in web markting. Some people have seen so much and been through so much with google updates, technical issues etc, that they pretty much have a mental FAQ a hundred times the size of many so called ‘Expert SEO’s’ entire knowledge base.

  8. Brian Turner on August 6th, 2008 3:09 pm

    Heh, that’s a very good quote, OWG. :)

    Another problem is that when a client only expects you to do great, and you do brilliant – if something then slides from brilliant to great, you look incompetent!!

    Had a client who was nowhere before approaching me – within a few months, I delivered Top 5 positions for 80% of his targeted keywords. Now they’ve slipped so that he has 80% of his targeted keywords in the Top 10, and he considered cancelling!!

    I may not control Google – merely help shape information for search – but I figure there still remains a big difference between being nowhere, and having Top 10 positions on Google.

    2c and nice to see you around. :)

  9. Mike on February 9th, 2009 8:16 am

    I think the main problem is clients don’t know much about SEO and its fair tactics. They just want to pay and want results in particular time frame. Some of the clients who have good listings in google, don’t know how and why they are in top 10 SERPs. Some of the companies ready to spend more money, but they want quick results. And that traps them in the hand of Black hat SEOs or spammers.

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