So a good friend, Hugo Guzman, wrote a really great piece today “How to figure out how much you should pay for SEO services?” I consider Hugo to be wise, wily, and trusted in all things SEO and SEM. That is to say, you can trust his advice because it will rarely ever lead you astray.
The same is true of his last post. With a few exceptions. Per estimated possible achieved conversions is a smart, efficient, and fair model for both sides. Chances are, with this model, an agency or individual would earn more than if they simply estimated hours and deliverables.
Exception One: Client Knowledge
This exception is the client. It’s the biggest exception and wild card of all. While Hugo states in the post that a client would earn $100 profit from a single widget, we’re under the assumption the client produced that number for them. Here’s the problem with that single assumption: most clients have no idea what their profit from a web lead is. I know, it’s hard to believe. And you probably think I’m full of crap. Experience has taught me that only a small percentage know (could be bothered after nearly a decade or more of search marketing) to find out what their margins are from web leads.
What they do know is how much that widget/product costs to produce. What they do know is the margins they make selling that widget/product at retail price. Hence the term “loss leader”. This, however, is not the same as CPA (cost per acquisition). If the $100 they stated is the margin based on the cost/retail equation, then this is simply incorrect. Marketing has a cost, and all too often, clients and companies do not include this as part of the CPA equation.
Exception Two: What is a True Conversion?
For this, I have to step out of the B2C/B2B e-commerce world where conversions are tracked and measured online. If that’s all of your clients, then consider yourself fortunate to have that data at your fingertips. If you’re like most of us, you deal in conversions through contact forms, sign-ups, and requests for quote. SEOs and SEMs do and should consider this a legitimate conversion, but to your client it isn’t. Not included in the CPA equation to achieve true ROI from website “conversion”
The conversion for your client is the physical sale/contract farther down the funnel. As SEOs we get clients 80% of the way to a sale; deliver targeted, interested, and consumer-ready leads to their doorstep. All the client has to do is knock that last 20% out of the park. Nonetheless, that last 20% isn’t even revenue yet. It’s still accumulating costs until it closes the full 100%.
Exception Three: Corporate Sales Channel Organization
This is beyond your control. I understand that and deal with it daily; I feel your pain. And yet, most companies sales channels are an absolute mess. Most have no idea what’s up or down, if it’s this or that. Here’s the problem: without accurately tracking the leads life-cycle, the client honing their own sales channel into an efficient machine, there is no possibility of true ROI to ever be attained. And, if you’re honest with yourself a moment, you know that your clients aren’t the only ones that suffer from this. Your company does too.
Exception Four: Market Fickleness
Even though Hugo was taking an entire year’s worth of data, accounting for seasonality, it does not account for market fickleness. 2008 being a perfect example. Taking all of 2007’s data would have produced a number that would have been unachievable in 2008 and subsequent two years due to a complete global economic meltdown. In this case, how does the pay-per-performance model shield the client?
Why Most Still Use Hours/Deliverables Method
If nothing else, the three exceptions above should sufficiently cover why many might still want to use the “traditional” method for SEO pricing. Let’s be honest, many SEOs are either clueless about different pricing models, or simply follow steadfast tradition because “that’s the way it’s always been done”.
Hugo did bring up a very good point that by using pay-per-performance model (of sorts), you can actively price-out and have to turn away potential clients. Additionally, using the per-per-performance model, seems to be geared to fairness and reward for both participants, but one must remember the consumers and markets are volatile and never a “sure thing”.
With a hours/deliverables model, there is a very likely possibility someone (you or the client) will get the sharp end of the stick. Either it takes you more hours than estimated to deliver what was promised (LOSS | Client: Gain) or it takes you less time to accomplish the work (GAIN | Client: Loss). Nonetheless, pricing out a client still has roughly chance depending on hourly service rates. Secondly, hours/deliverables model is rarely affected by market/consumers, only in the most dire of times. And, even then, corporations believe that search marketing is a right bit cheaper than a traditional campaign.
Finally, clients are accustomed to a hours/deliverables method. New systems are puzzling and raise suspicion, even properly demonstrated and explained. You have to earn trust right from the get-go.
Googling Yourself Isn’t Just About Huge Egos
We’ve all done it. You do it in secret. In the dead of night and it’s just you and the monitor. No one can ever know you’ve got an ego to stroke. It’s a secret shame you have to carry around.
All euphemisms aside (in case you missed them), I’m here to tell you that it perfectly acceptable to Google yourself. In fact, if you’re a business with a website and you’re not googling yourself, you’d better learn how to. Fast.
Beyond keeping tabs on what the world-at-large is saying about you, a business has got to know what Google has in its index. Does Google think you’ve got more pages on your site than you really have? Does Google have less pages? Moreover, simply googling yourself might allow you to find something ominous, as was the case with me.
A Google Away From Finding You’ve Been Hacked
I’m sure I’m not the only who’s ever had their site hacked. It happens, even to the best of us. Whether through careless implementation (in my case) or because someone out there is determined to break into your site, hacking happens. For me, it started with Google Webmaster Tools and seeing five pages of my total 26 missing from the index. Curious, I wanted to find out which five, so that I could buff up the content to make it more relevant or kill them off in robots.txt.
Why kill off those pages? If you stop those pages from being spidered and indexed, the theory is that you strengthen your entire domain trust and relevance and increase the juice flowing from the more powerful pages. It’s the same principle as the “nofollow”, just using different means.
After performing a site: command (site:[your-site-here]), I saw that Google was registering over 300 pages it attributed to my site! Obviously, this must be some kind of mistake. Digging around the results, I found that there were TONS of pages created, using bogus URLs (with keywords), on the site, killing my domains trust and relevance. Which, in turn, had slaughtered my site’s placement for some terms I was doing relatively well for.
I just think what might have happened if I’d never googled the site. Who knows how many garbage pages would have been created, who knows what kind of damage might have been done? It could have gone on for months more if I hadn’t taken the two minutes to google myself and investigate it. And the damage might have been irreparable by the time I found it (i.e. a sandboxed site for all of eternity).
A Blessing in Disguise
Of course I was pissed. Of course you want to hunt down the slug that hacked you and serve a little revenge. But after all the hemming and hawing, you’re still left with a site that’s trashed. And, for me, it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me the opportunity to revamp the whole thing. New look, new feel, and, most importantly, a new site architecture. It allowed me the chance to put the site on new platform, eliminate the fluff content that wasn’t getting indexed, and beef-up the content that needed a polishing. And in the end, I think I have a stronger site because of the hacker. A blessing in disguise.
The Mores of the Story
What to take away from this? Google yourself. Sure, it might be egotistical, but it’s helpful and essential too. If you google yourself and help build a stronger search marketing effort and website, why wouldn’t you? Secondly, disaster always strikes. You won’t fully be able to stop yourself thinking negatively about it (to be honest, I’d question someone’s humanness if they could), but what kind of intestinal fortitude you have to kick that disastrous event in the mouth and triumph over it.
And a special thanks to Matt Siltala for encouraging me to get this one out there. :-)
Or: How I Got on the Road to Entrepreneurship
This is a bit of departure from the normal SEO/SEM talk I usually have here. But a topic that’s equally important, perhaps even more so, when you’ve mastered your craft and have to decide which way to turn.
Search engine marketing didn’t start in an agency setting. It wasn’t created in a board room of an agency/firm; it just got incorporated that way when people started needing the service. That’s how a lot careers start; the marketing department of an agency that focused on websites.
If you’re lucky, you always love the shop life. And the shop life will always love you too. Or, you can be like a few SEOs/SEMs I know, wake up one morning, find yourself in a place, and not be entirely sure how or why you got there. Take a few minutes and see if this mission statement scene from Jerry Maguire rings true to you.
Everyone Goes Through Tough Times in Shop-Life
Maybe you’ve never reached that point. Maybe you have. Maybe you’re even there right now. The fact is, everyone goes through something in agency/shop/firm life. It’s just a part of the game; people leave, new people arrive: dynamics change. The question is do you work through it and try to implement changes, put your head down and barrel onward, or do you find the nearest exit and bolt? Every situation is going to be different. Different variables and factors.
Let’s be clear for a moment. Putting your head down and barreling through a rough time does not make a person of gelatinous nature. I’d argue that it takes a hell of a lot more spine to stay in an untenable situation and work toward making changes that make your job easier. And, yet even as I say that, there’s a point where spine turns to stupid and thick-headed. So how do you know if you’re there?
This is a collection from my own personal experience over the years, and I’m sure there are some that I’m missing so feel to let me know.
Working on Changing the System
The Breakthrough Change
You’ve been pissed for a weeks. For no reason at all: on weekdays you wake up depressed and angry. You drive/bike/commute to work and you’re pissed. Your day is a swirl of annoyance. You get home and it melts away until you go to bed.
After a certain amount of time, a month or two, you realize being angry just sucks. People think you’re an asshole and it’s not making you situation any better. So you decide if you want change, you have to change yourself and the system. You bend the ears of co-workers, you bend the ears of management. They love your ideas, they want to implement them. You make your list of things to improve and how to achieve it.
Months later you’re still getting the run-around. Phrases like: “It takes time”, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and “We’re working on it” seem to be all you hear. Meanwhile, the anger backfills. You’re getting the picture: this place is the Hindenburg and we’re all going down in flames.
Fuck it. Why care about it? No one else does. Everyone is perfectly happy to sit and wallow in the doom they’ve created. They’re screwing themselves and their clients. You just want to be left alone, collect paychecks, and stay off the radar. No hassles, no problems.
One day you wake up, and it hits you; I’m going out on my own. Your skill set is in high-demand, you are damn good at what you do, and you know for certain there are a lot of people who need (really need) what you do.
Your Personal Manifesto
This is that Jerry Maguire moment. Standing on your ethical and moral high-ground you march out into the forest. You know how you want to conduct business, you know the clients you want to work with, you know how to charge and how to produce meaningful results. And, as Dicky Fox said, “It’s all about personal relationships.”
For me, that is my manifesto. I want partnerships. I want clients that are serious about marketing themselves online and believe and trust I have the toolbox to make it happen. It’s why I created my company. It’s why I have the utmost respect for the Danny Sullivan’s, Rae Hoffman’s, Aaron Wall’s, Andy Beal’s, Janet Driscoll-Miller’s, and David Harry’s of the SEM world.
What’s your manifesto?
It’s Scary Out There. It’s Exciting Out There Too.
I’ll be the first to tell anyone that going out on your own isn’t easy. It’s downright scary. There’s no safety net. You walk the tightrope or you fall. You’ve got to bring your game-face out every day. The struggle is real. Especially with the veritable flood of SEM agencies, traditional agencies going “digital”, and hack-freelancers crowding the market. You’ll fight for every inch you get.
But, it’s exciting too. You call the shots. You make the rules. You get to name success. There’s a real satisfaction from helping a small business or the person going at it alone, and making their business grow. It’s a great reward.
Or maybe you’re taking small steps; keeping your full-time gig and working projects on the side. It’s a great way to build your reputation and keep security. But you’ll be burning the candle at both ends and soon you’ll have to make a choice. Hopefully this post gets you pointed in the right direction and helps you make the right choice.