What’s the Value in SEO?

I recently read a comment from another columnist from a different publication that said something to the affect of “there are some SEOs out there who are charging $500 U.S. per hour…that’s crazy!”

Is it really?

The true value of anything is what you get out of it, right? To me, $500 for one hour of solid consulting could be the best money that you have ever spent. But, like most things in life, it’s not what you spend, but rather what you get out of the investment.

Case Study

So, true story…

Some time ago, a large brand came to me and asked me to assist with search engine optimization. It was undergoing a redesign, and wanted me to consult on everything from the new information architecture, design, development, content management system selection, content, usability, hosting, and of course titling of pages, link building, press release optimization, etc.

Since I knew that the redesign process would take months, I made some quick modifications to the existing website, so that the brand could begin to recognize some benefits of hiring a search engine optimization company, before its new website launched. Those quick modifications simply included changing the title tags on five pages of the website (current pages had the generic “Company Name – Page” title tags), and getting a meta description in place, that hadn’t existed before, sitewide. Again, this was something done quickly. Within weeks, site traffic increased by over 25 percent. For this large brand, this represented an enormous amount of traffic. The kind of traffic it had been paying for on a cost-per-click basis. The value of this traffic was probably in the neighborhood of $50,000 per month, if the brand did, in fact, have to pay for this on a cost-per-click basis.

The time it took me to put together this recommendation? Maybe an hour.

So, if my hourly rate is $500 per hour, and the recommendation took me an hour to put together, and the client recognized $50,000 per month of additional organic traffic…is that $500 looking pretty good right about now? I’d say, “hell yeah!”

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an everyday occurrence. But, there are surprisingly a large number of websites that could see similar results. Too often, the large brand websites just can’t seem to get out of their own way, and let the search engines rank them.

Here are a few examples:

Website: http://www.brooksbrothers.com/

Current home page title tag: “Brooks Brothers.” OK, it’s a pretty safe bet that anyone searching for “brooks brothers” will get www.brooksbrothers.com as their first result. Not only is the domain/URL an exact match, but I’m going to guess that links pointing to this website contain the words “brooks brothers” in the anchor text. So, why not target some other keywords in the title tag which would be relevant to the website – perhaps “Men’s Clothes/Women’s Clothing/Dress Clothes.” Then, perhaps consider actually having some textual content on the home page.

Brooks Brothers actually has a page that “ranks” (for “how to tie a tie”): http://www.brooksbrothers.com/tieknots/tieknots.tem.

It managed to get those keywords into the title tag (too bad that the website page has no textual content; everything is wrapped up in an image). The only text here is navigational. Seems to be a common theme here.

Without a doubt, if the folks at Brooks Brothers could manage to take the content out of images (perhaps use a little CSS here?) and make the title tags relevant to the copy on the website’s pages, there would be huge gains in organic traffic.

Time it took me to come up with this? Maybe 10 minutes.

Website: http://www.barneys.com/

Ugh. Here we go again.

Current home page title tag: “Barneys New York.” Take what I said above, and apply here (whew…that was quick).

Want proof that Google wants to rank you, folks at Barneys?

You have a ranking for “warehouse sale.”

click to enlarge

Check out this URL: http://www.barneys.com/Barneys New York Warehouse Sale/WAREHOUSE_SALE,default,pg.html

So, while the URL isn’t the prettiest thing I’ve seen, it contains the words “warehouse_sale” within the URL string. Barney’s also managed to have the words “warehouse sale” in the title tag (“Barneys New York Warehouse Sale”). The words appear in the link to its YouTube video (the rest of the page is, guess what…a giant graphic).

Website: http://www.coach.com

Wait a minute…this is being 301 redirected to http://www.coach.com/online/handbags/Home-10551-10051. OK, so without knowing the limitations of your back-end systems here, I recommend the home page reside at www.coach.com. Cool?

I think it’s safe to say that when women think “handbags,” they will – at least to a degree – think “Coach.” Google must already know this, because it is trying to rank Coach (I’m seeing them at number five for my “hand bags” search). The folks ranking number one…http://www.baghaus.com/. Not a bad result, but they’re certainly no “Coach.”

Baghaus.com’s title tag for the home page? “Trendy handbags, Popular Purses, Celebrity Styles & Wholesale Handbags at Baghaus.com.”

Coach.com’s title tag for the home page? Coach: Home Page. Wow. That’s helpful. See recommendations for Barneys and Brooks Brothers, above.

Content on Baghaus.com? Not a lot, actually (aside from navigational stuff and footer links). But, there is some:

ABOUT: Baghaus (pronounced Bag-House) is your one-stop shopping destination for premium quality purses and handbags. It is our passion and purpose to supply fashion-savvy women everywhere with hip & chic handbags at a great value. Whether you’re a designer handbag girl who wants to test out a trend before deciding on a big splurge, or you’re a fashionista who prefers to shop for fabulous steals – our endless selection has something for everyone.

Content on Coach.com? See above. Giant graphic (Flash).

Want to know how much non-branded traffic baghaus.com is getting? According to SEMRush.com, its organic traffic is estimated to be worth $1.4 million (you’ll find this shown in the left column on the SEMRush page), each month. Again, non-branded traffic.


So that you know, I actually came across the websites that I selected here by opening my Internet Retailer magazine, from December 2009, and looking at “The Hot 100 Retail Web Sites.” You’ll notice they’re in alphabetical order. I simply chose a few at random.

In total, I may have spent about 50 minutes on writing this review. For good measure, let’s round it off to one hour, or $500 worth of my time. I guarantee you that there’s a very strong return on investment here, so long as someone at one of these aforementioned websites actually changes some stuff.

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