My previous column asked readers for their thoughts on budgeting for small businesses. Your comments blew the sides out of my inbox!
I got tremendous response and some very interesting views from a mixture of industry veterans, one-person SEO (define) shops, and larger agencies. I don’t have room in this column (or in the next three or four, for that matter) to cover all the comments made. I’ll pick out the most salient and see if we can move on to a new topic next time.
There were a couple of outstanding issues I spotted. One is that SEO pricing still seems to be all over the map. There are one-off consultancy rates, project-based pricing, and retainer-based pricing. And very little comparison from firm to firm.
The other issue is, what exactly constitutes SEO, anyway? A lot of comments separated on-page optimization from link building. There’s one price for tweaking pages and another if you want link building, too.
Recognized SEO expert Andy Hagans, who kind of kicked off the debate, wrote:
I still think do-it-yourselfer clients can get a lot out of two hours of consulting from someone like Rand Fishkin, although it’s true that most clients aren’t do-it-yourselfers. For that matter, I also think a lot of clients can get a heck of a lot of business out of $500 spent on the yellow pages. It just all depends on the type of market they’re in and their goals.
Alan Wickstrom, CEO, BuildingOnLine Inc., said:
As the owner of a small Web design and SEO marketing firm (10 pros on staff), I feel that SEO and link building [are] a vital portion of our work. We have over 120 clients, and for $750 we’ll [optimized] a retainer client’s site for 10 words (which is only part of the total package we sell them). We also have a minimum retainer of $350 per month, but this does not affect their SEO, other than the link building we do for each client.
Leading industry pundit and long-time practitioner Andy Beal of Fortune Interactive commented, “I’ve been testing the entry point for years. Around $2,500 per month seems to be the lowest fee that still allows us to provide a service we would be willing to have our company name associated with.”
“Call me a sucker, but I often do $1,500 SEO jobs for mom and pops,” said Dianna Huff. “These are basic SEO jobs for small sites. I do the keyword research, optimize the title and meta tags, and redo the content as necessary.”
She added, “I’m in marketing communications, so I know SEO is only one small piece of the puzzle. You have to get people to your site (using online and offline tactics), then get them to take action once they get there. It’s this ‘take action’ part no one gets.”
In my column, I say, “The first part of my job is getting a tight grip on what my clients’ products or services are, their markets and their competition, what their overall marketing strategy is, and the best way to integrate and implement search.”
David Attenborough responded with: “I think you’re talking about a different market. Obviously, no one’s going to get all that for £1,000; but these small businesses are not asking for the earth. They are used to doing things themselves and ‘mucking in’.”
A friend of mine’s parents have just this kind of… small business, and I gave them a Sunday lunch’s worth of SEO, which consisted of:
- A quick technical check that there were no spidering issues (and a five-minute phone call to their Web design agency to tell them to do it properly, and I’d be checking back).
- An hour of explaining how to think about which keywords they wanted to rank for.
- An hour of explaining they needed to be relevant for these keywords (relevant copy, relevant links from relevant sites) for both users and search engines.
- An email with a couple of forum links, a link to the U.K. Overture Assistant, a couple of articles, and a big “good luck” at the end.
They now spend Sunday afternoons working on their SEO and are getting more search referred leads than they can handle!
Industry veteran Terry Plank wrote an extremely detailed response to my column that should be posted as a column in its own right somewhere. I’m sorry I don’t have the space do it justice. Here’s a sample:
I suspect there are other consultants out there like me [who] work at $100 an hour because they don’t have a large overhead that requires a higher rate.
If a mom and pop is willing to do the work themselves, which many are, $1,000 can get a complete strategy for a low to medium-sized competitive product/service site. Of course, if you have a real estate agent lead-generation site or you want to sell a competitive computer product, buying books like yours or taking a training course will be essential…. There [should be] a place for the mom and pops on the Web…. We shouldn’t oversell them on what they can do nor should we seem to tell them that it’s hopeless, that major corporations and the moneyed elite have won once again!
One overriding message that kept coming through was how difficult it is to get authority links for small businesses. Roslyn Garavaglia in Australia said, “Link building is impossible! It’s so difficult to build links for small businesses…. I wish the whole linking thing would go away!”
Rosalyn, I hear your frustration. But, along with everyone else mentioned in this column, you just received an authority link. And all you had to do was write that little email and send it.
And all too soon, I’ve run out of space. I apologize to everyone who dropped a line if I didn’t get around to yours.
Meet Mike at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 27-March 2.
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