How Unique Can an SEO Firm Really Be?

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I was talking with an SEO prospect a few weeks ago and they asked me “What differentiates your SEO firm from everyone else?”

In essence, they wanted to know what my unique selling proposition was so I gave them the usual run down I tell all my prospects; we’re a strictly white hat firm. Since we’re a smaller SEO company that means you get more personalized attention and your account manager isn’t going to change every 3 months. I also only like to take on clients that I truly believe we can help so as to not waste your money or our time.

After the call though, it hit me, how many other small, white hat SEO firms could say the exact same thing? Was my unique selling proposition really that unique in the end?

When it comes to the world of SEO, I like to think of it as an ice cream parlor.

Which of the 36 flavors do you want? There are big firms, small firms, black hat, white hat and every shade of grey hat in-between. You can work with a local firm or one two time zones away (that’s the beauty of the Internet), individual SEO consultants, SEO experts that specialize in certain industries. There are SEO people that come from a PR background, a web development background or just a regular writing background. If I looked at each of those options as my competitors there could be thousands! But even when I start to niche it down there might still be another 50 SEO firms just like mine (java mocha is the same thing as chocolate coffee swirl in the end) scattered across the country. So how different can my company really be? There are plenty of great SEO firms out there for website owners to work with, is mine really that special?

I know that some less-than-scrupulous SEO firms will claim to have a special relationship with Google, and that’s what makes them the best. I hope most site owners realize that the only one who has a special relationship with Google is Google. Other SEO companies will promise the moon in terms of results—record breaking visitor growth, top of page 1 in 2 months or less, 1,000 links every two weeks—to make themselves stand out, but no white hat SEO firm can really guarantee those things. Some SEO providers make price points their unique selling proposition and offer full service SEO for only $199 a month, but price gimmicks like that don’t actually set one company apart from another.

At the end of the day, I think it’s the relationship between an SEO provider and their clients that makes all the difference.

I don’t believe that my company is a good fit for every potential client and I’m not afraid to admit it. Some clients want an SEO provider that walks them through each step of the process, others just want a report once a month and maybe the occasional call. Some SEO providers prefer to work with startups because they like the challenges that come with new websites; others prefer to work as consultants to mid-sized brands. While the work that each SEO company/provider does for their client is relatively the same the relationship we have with our clients is what makes us unique.

I realize it’s hard to sell a “relationship” to prospective SEO clients, especially in today’s economy of that demands immediate ROI to justify any spending of any kind. But I’d be interested to hear from other SEO providers—what do you think makes you truly special? Can any one SEO company claim to be/do something that no other firm can and really mean it?


Image credit: Shutterstock / Oksa

Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis is the President of Brick Marketing, a full service Boston SEO firm. With nearly 13 years of experience in the Internet Marketing industry,... Read Full Bio
Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis

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  • I had the same question last week and came to a similar conclusion. It all comes down to the relationship with the client, and the best SEO firms are those who aren’t afraid to say no to an unbalanced relationship.

    AND I do have a special relationship with Google, they send me AdWords coupons every month! Oh…you get them too…ouch.

  • Your pitch sounds like mine, although I’m on a much smaller scale. I do think relationships with clients are one of the main keys. Their referrals and testimonials influence other prospects. And I think the white hat SEO is getting to be more and more important. I think a lot of businesses have discovered going with cheap SEO services not only didn’t save them money, it cost them potential business and worse, may have resulted in their site being penalized.

    I like your analogy of the ice cream parlor. I know that eventually I’m going to need a niche, but it seems like my services are all over the map because of the diversity of my clients and their needs. It’s one thing I like about my job, but I also realize its probably short sighted on my part. Always enjoy reading your articles Nick. Nice work.

    • Websites are being penalized for hiring cheap SEO consultants? Is that some new algo update I am not aware of yet? Seriously, “cheap” is a relative term. What you are charging for 3 service hours is an average monthly salary in my country, so I wouldn’t agree cheap = low quality service. At least not in this business. What client is paying is your time, knowledge and creativity. You wont become more creative or knowledgeable just because you decided to have higher prices.

  • When it comes to the techniques used there is a difference. With the top tier seo firms though you are right that it’s hard to be unique.

  • I agree with you about it being difficult for a firm to differentiate itself on a strategic front. But how about compensation-wise? There are so many different ways to bill/pay for SEO services. Even small to medium-sized companies can work with variable monthly retainers, per project billing, flat maintenance fees, transparent hourly rates or even results-based compensation.

    From my experience, small business owners have a preference when it comes to how they handle their expenses. If you’re not able or willing to accommodate that preference, they may choose another agency. Nice article, btw.

  • Thanks eveyone for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

    Hi Aaron,
    Oh boy…I did not even think about Adwords coupons for our SEO clients! LOL 🙂

  • I write about SEO but and certainly understand it, having done it myself for my own websites and a corporation where I worked. As an owner of 6 e commerce websites that earn me a full time living, I simply prefer not to waste my time on it anymore, though. I’d rather write about what I like to write about, whatever that may be.

    So, I might have a slightly different perspective than many people SEO’s deal with. I don’t want to hear “We are a totally white hat company” (I have yet to hear of one that said anything different) and I also don’t care if I never hear from you. What I want is to know exactly what you will be doing before hiring you and I want to see specific examples of what you have done in the past – even if it is for a dummy site. I want a report every month with every link that has been created and if you are doing social networking, I want to know what the persona name is that you are using so that I can check in on various social networks and see what is going on. If you never hear from me, you are doing a good job!

    • I absolutely agree with you. It’s what exactly any SEO company has to show. The past experience, results and current approaches. Btw, I think your relationship with client and positive references are the main keys.

  • It’s funny you write this article now. I’ve been questioning my unique selling proposition lately too. I run a small web design and SEO company, and I really want to be able to describe our USP in a brief paragraph or elevator pitch. We are not the cheapest, and cannot claim to be the best designers, or best SEOs. (Though we are very good 🙂 ) But I run the company in a way where I form a strong relationship with our clients. And that’s what our clients like, and that’s why they refer people to us.

    But like you say. How do you explain the importance to prospective clients who are only focused on price and ROI. Do I stray away from these people and just focus on the business owners who realise the importance of a strong relationship?

  • Agreed with Scott McKirahan points, if some one has worked in past and got some desired results… he would definitely provide you monthly reports

  • Great…at times it becomes hard to differentiate and figure out the USP…i think the only guts about saying no to the outrageous expectations and showing the right direction sets the USP or we can say character of good seo individual or company…

  • Hi Karl,

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing your situation.

    I agree with you, the importance of a great long term relationship and building a great ROI are 2 of the most important factors when a person looks to hire an SEO firm.

    Take Care,

  • I like to think of myself as being able to help my clients because I can integrate various disciplines that I’ve learned over the course of my career — marketing research, media planning & research, copywriting, SEO, etc. I’m not a “one trick pony”, in other words.

  • As others have mentioned the white hat vs. black hat doesn’t mean anything because almost no one (I actually have seen a couple) markets themselves under the USP of “we’re black hat but we’re cheap”. We have seen the same problem in other areas, take contractors for example if you find a contractor that offers good quality at a fair price you have really found someone unique but the only way to make that a USP is if the other guys say they do terrible work and overcharge.

    Our company has found a USP in aligning our goals and strategies with those of our clients. While most SEO companies focus on keywords and rankings if I’m a smart business person I don’t care at all about these things all I care about is leads, sales and ROI. What does this look like in practice? One example is the current topic of discussion. Help your client create a marketable USP, because if they can’t differentiate from their competitors being on the front page isn’t going to result in much business.

  • I couldn’t agree more that relationships are what really makes a company different. Every client is going to have different needs and some SEO companies are better suited to meet certain needs versus others. Our company always explains what our strategy would be and why. Sometimes that doesn’t work for a potential client. They might have some aggressive goals that they want to achieve in a short period of time and it just isn’t possible. (Possible in the sense of using white hat methods) Sometimes the prospective client will then seek out another company but more often then not they appreciate our honesty and understand our reasoning.