No one who’s watching wants to see it. No one who’s listening wants to hear it. Anyone who’s just starting out in SEO or anyone who’s been in SEO for years isn’t going to want to hear it or even agree. SEO is a commodity. It’s been commoditized.
Deep down, it’s something I’ve known for a year or so now, but two recent posts have solidified this viewpoint for me: Rand Fishkin’s The Responsibilities of SEO Have Been Upgraded and Alan Blieweiss’ Why I Joined Click2Rank. Each has a unique subject, each has unique vantage point, but the end result of both articles brought me to “commodity”. Neither are prerequisite reading, but I would recommend them both.
Here’s the definition of commoditization from InvestoPedia:
1) While many consider this sort of adjustment worthwhile, some view commoditization as a cause of price fluctuations. 2) When a product becomes indistinguishable from others like it and consumers buy on price alone, it becomes a commodity.[emphasis mine]
The New Used Car Dealerships of the Web
Between the rapid globalization (read outsource) and higher levels of saturation in the market place today, SEO services are the newest used car dealerships on the web. The same knowledge resource [the product] possessed by many in a space dominated by price [consumers looking for the service]. The industry is about cheap quality. If the consumer doesn’t find SEO Company X’s price palatable, he/she can walk down the street and haggle with SEO Company Y’s people. Because in the end, all a client/consumer wants is a vehicle that gets done what it has to at the least expense to them.
Some will argue that this simply isn’t the case. And, I’ll listen to those arguments because I still want to believe it isn’t the case either. But let’s take this metaphor a bit further.
Ferrari’s and Yugo’s and Everything in Between
Like automobiles, SEO and SEM skill sets come in varying degrees. Some of us are highly-tuned, highly-functional Ferrari’s: clients know it’s expensive (and have a hard time justifying the cost), but also know (we hope they do) they’ll be getting precision, speed, luxury, and an unparalleled level of craftsmanship. Some of us out there are Yugo’s: clients know (again, we hope they do) all they’re getting is four tires and an engine. It gets you mobile, it’s A to B, it’s not the safest or the best, but it’s cheap training wheels. And then there is everyone in between these two poles; it’s a grab-bag of skill sets and you [the client] never know what you’re going to get.
A Second Depression
This is where it gets a bit political, so if you’d rather not, no hard feelings. We’ll catch up on the net another time.
It’s no big secret, the global economy is in trouble. From dollar-deflation issues and Euro troubles, to crashing double-dip housing market complete with derivatives [read a crippled banking and finance industry], crushed consumer spending, every company is watching their marketing budget with an extra layer of scrutiny. It was lean before, it’s lean now, and it’ll be leaner into the distant future. The Second Depression isn’t letting them off the hook, and in turn, they won’t be letting us off the hook.
SEO is less about experience, knowledge, and proven ability these days, even taking into account Rand’s accurate depiction of what SEO is today. It’s a numbers game for companies. They recognize the need for SEO and SEM services in order to be competitive, in order to still have footholds in the market place. However, since SEO services have been commoditized, it’s no longer advantage SEO.
The Game is Not Yours to Dictate Anymore
Companies know the score now. They no longer feel compelled to be held over the fire singularly based on an SEO’s knowledge, experience, and skill set. Thus, leading to higher costs. Prospective clients can send you packing and opt for cheaper(est) services thanks to a saturated marketplace, thanks to globalization. Current clients can spend half what they do now by pulling resources in-house. Couple that with ultra-frugal mindsets and heavily slashed budgets. Hopefully you can see where this is heading.
This doesn’t mean that Ferrari-esque SEOs are destined to find agency/in-house gigs (but that is one possible outcome). It doesn’t mean that Yugo SEOs and Middle SEOs will rule the market. It simply means that the game is no longer yours to dictate. And, as such, expect less. Even in destroyed economies, performance has a place. You can still keep the same prices, but expect that even less people will seek you out for that rate.
You can tell me that “quality” still means something to some. You can tell me that “results and proven track records” still hold water. I won’t disagree with that. But what I will tell you is that those things are “nice to haves” in a world where the guy next door does the same thing for half the price, even though he/she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Because it’s about dollar-dollar bills y’all.
ABC (Always Be Closing) Your SEM
The past couple weeks I’ve been thinking about how most groups, firms, and independents sell their SEM services. They are always talking about RESULTS. You see it in slides. You hear it as you walk past conference rooms:
“I’ve helped so-and-so double their website traffic in the last 6 months“, or “We’ve moved Client X to the first page of results for Keyword A and Keyword B“, and, finally, “We’ve increased lead generation and conversions 200% in the last year“.
The problem is simple. It’s something we’ve all known since high school physics: Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (i.e. the ripple). The way you’ve been selling your SEM is backwards; you’re expecting a reverse ripple of action.
The Traditional SEM Sell
Here’s how the majority have been selling search engine marketing services:
No, I’m not implying there is an issue with results-based selling. The issue arises when that’s all you’re selling. Phantom numbers. Mysterious statistics of success.
There’s no doubt that your prospective is more than likely impressed with the numbers. Probably even made a face at you too that went something like this: *Raises eyebrow* and *Eyes-Get-A-Bit-Wider* –> *Pensive Facial Grab* and *Leaning Forward*
Right. It’s that last part that should worry you. That last part is what you don’t want to see: THIS PERSON THINKS YOU’VE JUST BULLSHIT THEM.
They don’t really believe you made those results happen and/or you did it once, with one client, and probably haven’t repeated it since. That’s how far results-based selling will get you: just far enough to get a “thanks for your time” and “we’ll talk this over and get back to you”.
It’s a weak footprint to leave behind. Every other agency/firm/group is doing the exact same thing: blowing hot-air results. And, what that leaves the decision-maker with is a battle over price, personality, and brand-fashionista-ism.
Company X charges $$$, promised incredible results, very nice guys and seemed knowledgeable, but haven’t heard of them around town. Company Y charges $$, also promised great results, nice too, and I’ve heard the name before. Budgets are tight: Company Y it is.
This method expects RESULTS to produce ACTION. And, in some cases, this method can be to your advantage, but we know from living our lives that ACTION produces RESULTS. So, why would the opposite be true when your pitching SEM?
How You Actually Should Be Selling SEM
Here’s how you should be selling search engine marketing services:
Telling the prospective client what it is you do to produce results, is what sells your SEM services. Results, in any fashion, are always an aftershock, a ripple or after-effect, of any action. For better or worse.
Using this, in combination with a result, makes the logic simple to follow and the results tangible. You can imply the results are attainable and not just phantom numbers on a slide.
You make think this method leads to giving away the “secret sauce” and “demystifying” the SEM process, but it doesn’t. You don’t have to give intimate details away at the pitch, you present a 30,000 ft. view of the process, stratifying larger tasks. In a marketplace that most people already think is related to the “dark arts” or “snake oil salesman”, this is an instant route to earning trust with the prospect, and retaining leverage as the authority.
The only pitfall here is the tendency to overwhelm with process. And, while on occasion this can work to your advantage, especially with prospects that are familiar with search engine marketing, in the end it may dizzy them up and leave them action-less.
The next time you walk into a pitch sell using ACTIONS, what you WILL DO to improve their online efforts. Then tell them the results. ABC, people. Always Be Closing.