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Understand SEO pricing and get a good SEO company

On the Web, technology is developing so fast that even the majority of the self-proclaimed specialists know less than 70% of the stuff (how's that for just coined statistics) and have little practice and confidence with the latest developments of the industry.

Given that potential search marketing clients know even less, than the professionals (or just enough to be dangerous), it is pretty hard not only to find a good SEO, but also to get one for a good price.

Rand Fishkin Speaks Out

Rand recently posted about why it is hard to pin a price on search marketing services.

In the post, he says:

  • It's nearly impossible to compare vendors side by side
  • Sourcing multiple vendors is incredibly challenging
  • Press mentions and fame don't neccessarily equate to quality
  • Knowledge of how the industry operates and how to judge vendors is knowledge that's nearly as hard to come by as the search marketing techniques themselves
  • Incorrect assumptions about the practice abound
  • The engines themselves provide little to no guidance on the issue
  • A neophyte has almost no chance of separating fact from fiction in claims of services, value, ROI, effectiveness, etc.
  • Information about effective techniques (and even techniques that are accepted vs. frowned upon) take months or years to permeate through the consulting industry
  • Reliance on references often leads to overpricing

But Rand,

  • it is possible to compare the experts side by side, if you are an expert (or get a good consultant)
  • having multiple SEO vendors at the same time is a problem, but you can either have them do different things and measure them or hire them one after another
  • though press mentions isn't equal to quality (but why were you featured in Newsweek, Rand?), good references from other experts in blog posts should be good enough
  • it is not the references that drive prices, but availability and practice through work, which is sometimes determined by references

I'd also add:

  • each SEO has different background/experience and is different from the others
  • price often depends on many factors (experience, availability, project likability, site competitiveness, etc)
  • there's very little information to compare the experts' results, unless you are way deep in the industry (your own, SEO or both)

What can I say. The above is true for a SEO client, but it doesn't mean that it can't be done. Obviously, by partnering with a knowledgeable SEO professional, you can not only find a good SEO expert/agency, but also get the price right.

Hire a consultant to learn more about SEO

And that's the first thing to do before hiring a SEO agency/company: hire a SEO consultant. Not a SEO firm, but a consultant.

The consultant would:

  • find the most suitable SEO company for the client (depending on what needs to be done, the budget, the industry, etc)
  • oversee the work, if there's doubt
  • help the company with more ideas (when it comes to link bait, nothing beats good brainstorming)

Most importantly, the consultant would save plenty of time, hassle, worries and increase chances to get substantial results.

Of course, the client could do some training/advising himself, but that's left entirely to the potential SEO client.

What can SEOs do to make the industry more transparent?

As Rand says, the core of the problem is lack of transparency. We, as SEOs, could provide the following information:

  • more case studies of our projects (if clients don't want to be named, without names, just tactics/results, site type, etc)
  • detailed outlines how projects are priced and confirmed by other parties
  • a clear list of services included in the package that the SEO company/expert does, not what he thinks can do
  • provide lists for clients to approach SEOs better
  • be generous on mentioning good experts
  • don't mention or recommend experts we are not sure in
  • be conscious about the overall image of the SEO industry and try to improve it

Technically, just spreading the word how efficient SEO is will not only make it easy to choose the right expert, but will also improve the image of the search industry, because it'll make it more evident that SEOs are reliable and result in more profit.

Also, I have previously written about when and how to find a good SEO. In short, it goes around:

  • doing everything to get a referral
  • looking for reviews, opinions and such about the expert/company
  • reading the company's blog and feeling if you can trust the company

Of course, it takes time to learn about a company, but it is worth it. You'd rather spend a couple of hours reading SEO companies' blogs, than wasting money and time on one that doesn't have one or because you wanted to act now


Though it may be very hard to distinguish a good SEO company from a so so company that gets you to pay through the nose yourself, you can simply hire a consultant or contact a SEO blogger to help you find the company/expert just for your site/budget.

As an alternative, you can learn SEO yourself, but it'll take months at least.



Thanks for posting the thoughtful response to Rand's article. I wonder, though, how many qualified SEO consultants are really out there -- and if they know so much about SEO, why aren't they doing it themselves?

It does certainly seem smart, however, to have an intermediary with enough industry-savvy to help the buyer, with little knowledge, pick out the best seller, who *should* have expert knowledge. And agreed, it is very hard to gauge quality based on standard metrics with SEO, especially since the rules change so much.

While it may be hard to compare agencies side-by-side, I think SEO buyers can also determine a lot from a vendors approach -- i.e., does the service consist of bold claims and irrelevant numbers (how many "submit you to 300 search engines and get rankings for 50 keywords!" people are still out there?) or really try to figure out how your business operates, and how an internet marketing campaign would fit into your long-term strategy? Backed up with industry and customer referrals, and some solid case studies, I think the latter is a good indicator of quality service.

nice post, i like the idea of hiring a consultant to help a company with its SEO firm, it could be useful for most of companies!

Fred, first of all, there are SEOs, consultants and SEOs that can also either find or refer you to a good SEO they know in your price range (or maybe offer their services).

It all comes down to a referral, really.

As I already said, SEOs need to improve the industry. I understand that the newcomers have other things to do, but established ones could spare 1-3% of their time to basically write a post or two about their processes, how their job helps clients (with as much detailed examples as possible) and so on. We, as SEOs, should take the responsibility on how other people view us.

Apparently, there are thousands of pages about "SEO services" "submit to * search engines". Frankly, I am horrified at the statistics and hope it'll get washed out by better SEO services providers.

I also like your approach of analyzing the SEO services description. It is pretty solid and error-proof (mostly). However, not many people can be that smart or have enough time to analyze every SEO offer they get. Some execs often act on emotions or hire their friends' nephews and such.

Also, for example, there can be examples of lame SEO services offers that were crafted by marketers, but which don't do much. Or that are offered by (in)famous companies or domain registrars. Even looking at some of the offers, unless you know SEO, won't help.

It really seems that the best way is to use someone's expert knowledge of the SEO industry to find the right services, really. Otherwise, seek for signs of transparency, fair pricing and case studies.

Thanks for coming around, Fred and Alex.

Interesting considerations on just how important and complex it is to find the right person to do a good job within the budget. In fact I am picking up Clients in need of an outsider to give them indications on what their needs are and translate them into a technical document that can be used to generate requests for Proposals (RFPs).

I don't hear much talk on this subject, yet it should be an important aspect of SEM.

Not only should a Consultant provide the setup services, but also fallow the company throughout the entire process to guarantee that things are being done properly and that there will be no surprises at the end of the day.

It's working really well for those who have decided to invest in this activity, I am making sure agencies are delivering what they promised, and by doing so drastically reducing time to market (= visibility on search engines).

Sante, I believe you are just the type of a consultant I was describing in the post. Good to meet you. Truth be told, I could consult the dazed clients too ;)

Bill, SEO is a very specific industry. Without being a SEO or knowing enough to be an expert, consulting will be much more dangerous, than otherwise. Not to mention that even if you are not a professional, but know SEO, - and there are multiple examples of business owners, who have learned SEO, - they will still know good SEOs from the bad and the inquiring minds will always try to imagine commissions going round.

What if we make the SEO consultant financially responsible for the work the SEO company, he referred the client to, does. If the company succeeds, the consultant gets a boost of reputation. If not, he either has to pay the services cost along with the damages, or consult the client to gain reasonable rankings for free.

Did you notice the above is lopsided? If all works well, the consultant gets almost nothing. If not, he loses lots of money and time. There needs to be an incentive to refer clients to good SEO companies and commissions - or even part of the income - is a good thing to balance the equation.

But still, I don't think being paid on results is the best method. There are many ways things can go wrong, including the client, and the SEO company/expert will lose. Not to mention a case of building a new website, which will get results in months. That's why there are many other SEO payment models.

Btw, Bill, you can use the a tags to insert links.

Thanks for stopping by, Sante and Bill.

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