You may have noticed that I write quite a bit about SEO pricing and how clients can better understand the value (and expectations) of any web marketing campaign they engage in. I do this because no matter what, this issue keeps popping up with both SEOs and their clients. And as GI Joe says, “knowing is half the battle!”
In my almost 20 years of experience in the industry, I have found that client happiness often boils down to just one thing: Expectations. Too often, clients have one set of expectations, and SEOs have another. This can lead to complications down the road.
However, the question of expectations starts long before SEO or any form of digital marketing even begins. This is called the proposal process!
Cost vs. Expected Results
Aside from the actual services being performed, there are two key aspects to the proposal that are important to the client: Cost and expected results. Those weigh differently in people’s minds, but both are important considerations in choosing a web marketing partner.
For those whose focus is on the expected results, price doesn’t matter so much. Their goal is to get the results they want, and they’ll make sure the proposal provides for that. Those who are focused on price, well price is the most important consideration and for the most part, the expectations are assumed. Unfortunately, those assumptions are not necessarily correct.
When you shop for price, you only get one thing: The cheapest price. What you usually don’t get is value. Why? Because value costs more.
To keep prices low, service providers–including digital marketers–will provide the bare minimum required to sell the service, but not necessarily what’s required to get the results you expect! Those that are more interested in providing value rather than a low cost will ensure that their proposals are more inclusive to the specific needs of your site.
The Limitations of the Proposal
But here’s the rub: Web marketing proposals looking at cost versus value can look remarkably similar. In fact, they can have all the same bullet points explaining what services will be included. The primary difference between the two will be the degrees to which those same services are implemented.
I’ll go into more detail on this point later but just for a quick example, a typical service offered with digital marketing campaigns is page optimization. But how many pages? How many keywords? What keywords? These all factor into the cost and value of the proposal but may not be specifically noted. Same for links. The number is often noted, but the quality of those links is not so easy to define in a proposal other than to say “high quality,” which is subject to much interpretation.
You can see that how just noting a service being provided doesn’t necessarily tell you everything you need to know about that service.
Therefore, when analyzing proposals from digital marketing providers, you need to start with a baseline of understanding of how web marketing providers assess your site to determine cost and services. Knowing these factors will not only help you better understand the value of the package being offered, but also help you ensure the provider is more interested in showing you the best value rather than the cheapest price.
1. The Number of Pages on Your Website
When it comes to actual optimization, small sites are relatively easy. They often don’t come packed with the architectural complexities of larger sites, and fewer pages to optimize means less work overall. Of course, this assumes the site will stay small. Part of optimization is ensuring a site provides value and that you’re reaching as many searchers as possible through keyword targeting. By nature, web marketing will grow a site.
But starting with a larger site, the bigger you get, the more complex optimization becomes. Optimizing navigation can be difficult, yet critical for improving the user experience and ensuring that the site has the right landing pages built in. E-commerce poses particular challenges for optimization, depending on the content management system being used, as does the optimization of product pages for both for search and conversions.The difference between optimizing smaller and larger sites can literally be thousands of dollars per month.
2. The Condition of Your Website
I noted above that smaller websites don’t often come with a lot of complex problems that the digital marketer needs to fix. But that’s not always true. Sometimes even relatively small sites cannot be fixed without a complete re-development.
As a digital marketing provider, our agency always tries to work with the site we are given, making recommendations to re-develop only when absolutely critical for their success. But when it’s clear that a new website would be beneficial, we would be derelict in our duty not to point it out. Unfortunately for the site owner, it becomes another considerable expense just to make the site search engine-friendly and web marketing-ready.
Having a larger site doesn’t automatically mean that your site will be in a non-optimizable condition, but it does increase the odds. And the worse it is, the more work that will need to be done before you can get any traction with your marketing campaign.
That’s why we often recommend starting with a website audit. SEOs should do a baseline review of a site before generating a proposal, but it’s impossible to know the full extent of a site’s issues without a complete audit and review.
Once the extent of the damage is known, the marketer is in a better position to determine the cost to fix the issues. If these are only uncovered after a contract is signed, it will have an impact on the results and when they are expected to show.
3. Your Competition
To be able to effectively price the cost of any digital marketing campaign, SEOs can’t just look at what you need. They also have to look at what your competitors are already doing.
Are your competitors active in social media? If so, how extensively? Are they publishing content on a regular basis? If so, how often? Are they out there doing engagement link building? If so, to what degree?
You also want to look at the user experience angle. How easy is their site to use? Is it better or worse than your own site? Are there things you can learn from them to improve to give your visitors a better on-site experience?
4. Your Aggressiveness Level
As I mentioned in the introduction, SEO at every level will typically cover the same set of services, just at different levels. In fact, this is one of the questions we ask prospective clients:
How aggressive would you like to be with your web marketing strategy and budget?
- I know web marketing is important, but we haven’t prioritized it until now. Let’s start slow.
- We are losing sales to our competition and need to kick it up a notch.
- We are being crushed by the competition and must make significant changes now.
- Web marketing is my top priority and this campaign needs to be as robust as possible.
- Killer mode—no mission is impossible with the kind of web marketing campaign we’re after.
Depending on their answer, we have a good idea of what their expectations might be. If they answer with “start slow,” we will likely produce a different set of options than if they want killer mode. The goal isn’t to spend whatever money they are willing to invest, but rather to set the appropriate expectations based on the aggressiveness level they are ready for.
What you never want to do is to cut costs by cutting or reducing essential services. It’s far better to restructure the marketing campaign to go more toward the advise-and-consult route than to expect a campaign to produce a level of results it isn’t aggressive enough to achieve.
5. Ongoing Services
There are two types of web marketing services: Those that can be completed and those that go on indefinitely. Many aspects of fixing website architecture fall under the first category. First, you identified the problem; then you fix it.
Once fixed, it’s typically a non-issue going forward. However, it’s important to always be on the lookout for potential problems, many of which won’t reveal themselves until later in the campaign when you have more data or can fix other problems first.
But a great deal of SEO is ongoing. There are always more keywords to optimize, more content to publish, more socializing to do, more links to get, and more data to analyze. The extent that you are doing any of these will impact the cost significantly.
For any large or e-commerce site, both social media and ongoing page optimization can often be fighting for more time within the budget. You can always lower costs by reducing the amount of time spent on one or the other (or both), but this puts us squarely back into the territory of putting cost over value.
Editor note: To learn more about SEO in e-commerce, listen to this podcast with expert Joe Hall:
6. Experience/Skill of SEO
Every digital marketer places a value on their work. And even if you don’t see that translated into a dollar amount per hour, the reality is, every price you see is built upon that model. Web marketing proposals are built around an expectation of how much time will be invested. Based on that expectation and the dollar figure the SEO believes they are worth per hour, a price for the service is created.
A lot of people don’t want to see a cost per hour pricing structure because they feel like they are being nickeled and dimed for every little thing the digital marketer does. Just bear in mind that the absence of that figure doesn’t mean that time isn’t being recorded. If the marketers find they are routinely blasting through the time expectations they set in place; you can be sure they’ll come back to you with a new price (or change in services) based on the amount of profit they are making.
But what is important here is not the cost per hour you’re paying, but the value you’re receiving for the cost. As with most industries, those with more experience will charge more for the same services. Does that mean you’re getting a better result? Usually, yes, but not always.
This is where you have to do some legwork to research the marketing company or consultant you are considering. Ultimately, you want to choose the marketer that will give you the best value for the cost. That may mean paying a higher cost, but with that, you’re getting more value. Paying less often means you get less, which in the long run ends up costing a lot more and causing a loss of valuable time.
Ignorance is NOT Bliss
It is important to understand how all six of these factors impact the pricing of any web marketing contract. Without this understanding, you’ll have no way of truly knowing which proposal for services that you have in front of you will be more valuable than the next.
And don’t be afraid to seek clarification about any of these things. Ask each provider how aggressive the campaigns you are choosing from really are, and then ask what it would mean to be more (or less) aggressive. Also, make sure you get specifics on how invested the firm will be in some of the ongoing services such as links, social media, hours, etc.
Maintaining ignorance of these points will ultimately lead to a failure of campaign results, expectations, or both. If these are considered, however, you have a far better chance of avoiding web marketing disaster and choosing a web marketing provider and campaign that is designed around the results you want rather than the price you wish it would be.
What factors do you think are most important when looking at digital marketing proposals?