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The Business of SEO



8:14 am on Oct 28, 2000 (gmt 0)


I'm interested in how SEO consultants run their businesses and price out their services. Are there any good articles or resource sites available discussing this? I saw one thread here discussing SEOs as FTEs but haven't found any discussion of consulting work yet. I've been doing development work on a consulting basis for years and of course have been promoting my own sites during this time, but I'm getting asked about client work in this area and am curious about general pricing issues, how services are packaged, etc. [I know, it varies. Just looking for examples. ;)]



6:09 am on Oct 29, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Hello mrsubmit! Welcome to WmW! Like you, I'm just starting into SEO consulting. I'm building a site to market my services and planned to hit the SEs and visit other consultants sites for ideas as my site progresses. The type of resources and discussion you're looking for would be invaluable to me too.

Let's hope someone that knows the biz jumps in!


6:36 am on Oct 29, 2000 (gmt 0)

Hi Dave!

Thanks for chiming in. Maybe we can throw some ideas around and the pros can tell us how naive we are. ;)

I've thought a bit about how to approach this from a pricing and positioning perspective.

I've considered delivering custom bids on a case-by-case basis versus a tiered pricing structure based on various "packaged" offerings. That seems clean but I also want to stay away from the "we'll submit your site to over 2,000 search engines for only $99" approach.

I see that as relating to positioning and I've thought about how important it is to manage client expectations in the face of all the hype out there from scammers and spammers. I want to ensure that clients are realistic about SEO and understand that it's a long-term process involving coordination of site design, content, and marketing.

Maybe it's too difficult to devise a pricing scheme to fit every site and situation. Client A may have an existing site and be very open to modifications, Client B may be very attached to an existing site structure and wants you to do your work outside the current site, while Client C may be starting from scratch. I dunno, I'm just thinking aloud here and hope that others with more experience will jump in. :)


7:45 am on Oct 29, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This is a super question. SEO is a very dynamic business.

Let me get it out in the clear that I currently offer a guarantee for placements of specific phrases and the client pays for the positions they achieve on the engines.

But, there are so many valid types of payment options and services offered...
Guarantee for positions achieved
Cloaking (using all of the above strategies)
...to name a few.
Then the kind of phrases companies go after is an issue too. Are the SEO's going after really appropriate and competitive words?

Are the Pay-per-click's going after phrases that bring in hits but aren't qualified?

Are you really getting your money's worth with a Setup/Maintenance type of package? There's no guarantee.

Do the Guarantee for positions achieved companies really getting competitive positions?

It seems to me that none of them are ideal.

The goal always needs to be to give the client positions that put them high on the engines and brings them hits.
But that can be easier said than done.

I am guilty of ranking a client high in positions that 'should' have done them well and yet have brought them little traffic. It was simply an error in judgment.

And judgment is a lot of what this industry is about.

Another fact of the matter is people want to know that they are going to get something for their money. If they haven't heard of your company before, they want to make sure they aren't going to just be donating their money to an experiment in SEO. Granted, if you are Brett T. or Danny S. you probably can go to a client and say, "Trust me. I know what I'm doing." But for the rest of us, we need to give our clients something they can hang their hats on.

I tried an experiment in pricing for a while that simply offered a setup and maintenance approach.

I got no sales.

I put out a lot of quotes but no one wanted to risk it.

And honestly, the reason I did it was because I felt like I could offer a higher level of service. I could do more in-depth keyword research. I could test the validity of phrases in greater detail. I could make a much more solid link popularity plan. But it looked much more like a gamble for the people I offered it to.

So I went back to the Guarantee for positions achieved. But now my approach is to keep that package a low amount. My goal is to under promise and over achieve. Then I can offer them a much more detailed maintenance package on the back end after I have established a strong trust.

If I can establish a plan up front that the client likes and then I fulfill what I said I would, then I have established a trust. Then we can go in and develop a more long term approach that is going to give their site a wide exposure that is highly valuable to their business.

I have begun a competitive market analysis of SEO companies. But it's complicated without really knowing how they go about their business: What pages they optimize, what phrase they choose, why they chose them and on and on.

Unfortunately, this is not a black and white business as far as approach is concerned.

The SEO either gets more business for their client or they don't. But how they go about it is a whole other can of worms.

I'm not sure exactly how to go about determining what the most ideal approach is. I guess we all could just infiltrate iprospect.com and figure out exactly what they do. Their model apparently has seemed to work. But even that is a subjective experiment.

As far as what to charge, I've run into many companies that are shocked at what I'm charging. That usually has to do with probably marketing to the wrong niche.
I have also run into companies that I can tell would feel a bit better if a charged more.

I have begun to separate my 3 market segments: Small, medium and large companies. They all have different needs and expectations. They are all important to establishing a strong company.

I've been in this particular part of the web business for about a year. I've still got a lot to learn. But I think the only really clear way of learning is through trial. I'll still collect information of other SEO's because it keeps me aware of my surroundings.

What I've learned so far is people want to know they are going to get something for their money.

They want someone that can explain to them what is going on. They have come to our company because they don't know how to make the engines work for them.

They simply want some sort of island in this crazy ocean of the internet.

If I can give them a foundation they can trust then I'm on the right track.


7:57 am on Oct 29, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member marcia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Hi mrsubmit. I doubt if you'll get any one-size-fits-all answer, because every site and every person/company is different. You can look around at structures of services and pricing at various sites you can find, bookmark them, and then go over them to compare and see where you fit in relation to what they're offering.

There are certain issues, though, that come up some time or other in everyone's experience, and when you find bits of information that relate to those issues, they're well worth tucking away for when the time comes.

You'll find more information here about "the business of doing business" than anyplace I can think of. Check these out for some of the best insights you'll ever find:



Want to know what's different here? Check this out:




3:22 am on Oct 30, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

mrsubmit - Custom bids and the Setup/Maintenance model is where I'm gonna start. I'm in the enviable postion of being able to select/reject work and not starve, so I'll take the jobs where I can comfortably work with the client, and where I'm confident I can provide good results. I'm not looking for high volume or big bucks, just a modest steady income. I'm a one man band working from home and want to keep the pace comfortable.

As to guarantees, I plan to simply guarantee a percentage traffic increase within a certain timeframe, typically, "double your traffic in six months", obviously dependent on an existing sites current status, custom bid again. If I don't meet the traffic goal I committed to, I continue my "most diligent efforts" to do so at my expense, until I do.

In response to your comment:
>to manage client expectations in the face of all the hype out there from scammers and spammers.

I plan to target webmasters like myself, entrepenuers, and I'm not much interested in beginners or big dollar web sites. I guess I'm targeting people that have been around long enough to know the "$29 submit" doesn't work, but haven't learned to do SEO themselves. A well crafted web page and doing good followup on inquirys is all you can do here, I think. I believe most people recognize the truth when they see it.

sagerock makes a good point:
>Another fact of the matter is people want to know that they are going to get something for their money.

I think this can be addressed with a portfolio and offering references although building this is a "chicken and egg" situation. And I'll need to accept the fact that only a small percentage of inquirys will result in work. Also, one of the terms of my agreements with clients is that they agree to provide an honest reference upon requests from potential clients, which may help sales.

That's about all I have so far...

sagerock - You obviously spent some time on your post. Thanks for your input!


2:36 am on Nov 3, 2000 (gmt 0)

Thanks Dave, sagerock, and Marcia for the responses. :)

BTW it would be great to see ongoing discussion in this area (hint, hint).



1:18 pm on Nov 3, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Mr submit, how so? Another forum? Or do you think the Commercial postings forum could cover this?

(don't be surprised if I break this off into another thread for us)


8:51 pm on Nov 3, 2000 (gmt 0)

Hi Brett -- thanks for asking!

I think it would be great to see ongoing discussion but I guess it's ultimately up to the community. If others reading this think it would be helpful to have an area to discuss "the business" of the business (!) please say so! :)

As a developer/contractor I know boards where I can commiserate with fellow contractors (e.g. "How 'bout dem crazy clients?", etc.) and discuss legal, accounting, pricing and other nuts-and-bolts issues pertaining _directly_ to my field (in lieu of general small business-type boards).

Maybe SEOs would like something similar?


10:26 pm on Nov 3, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I am amenable to the idea and we do have 10-15 threads running around that could be shagged into a new forum already. It is always a question of sustainability and presentation.


4:29 am on Nov 4, 2000 (gmt 0)


Well you've got my vote!

I wonder if any of the board's power-users would be interested in discussing this stuff?

[I guess they probably already do, just not publicly!]


6:28 am on Nov 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Our company does not specifically call itself an SEO company. What we offer is design with an embedded marketing plan, and that plan is a required part of any work we take on. We won't do design work in a vacuum.

Sometimes, a site does need predominantly SEO. But sometimes it's banner ads or direct mail driving traffic. Sometimes a website is created to offer convenience to an established brick-and-mortar client base -- and that conveniece can be enough to really boom the frequency of sales. That kind of marketing is more about customer retention than prospecting. And the resulting websites can be very different creatures.

Our key is really partnering with the client, and making it clear up front how this approach will give better results for their site, even though things may seem a bit slow going in the beginning. The clearer the picture of the client's business we get, the better our work can be.

I can think of 2 clients right off the bat that re-targeted all their off-line marketing after getting into an intense keyword consideration. So we have a staff that includes a few knowledgable PR folks and some direct marketers, in addition to a few loonies who are deep into search engines.

And, like DaveAtIFG, we have no designs on mega-success. Just a good livelihood for the principals. It's a decent way to go, without the worries of trying to grow huge.


10:18 am on Nov 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

< So we have a staff that includes a few knowledgable PR folks and some direct marketers, in addition to a few loonies who are deep into search engines.>

Ted, where do youfall into this mix :)?


1:56 pm on Nov 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

<--PR guy, direct marketing, communications, AND SEO loonie.
We just switched from a "project" based one time shot <ineffective> to a setup and maintenence. We need to be VERY careful about pricing. A simple 100 page site does not compare to the giant corporates that we are now handling - who need humungous traffic in several phrases.

We ballpark a bid and an hourly rate for additional hours worked. We tell them right up front that we cannot possibly know all that needs to be done at "first blush". We also set a monthly fee for a set number of hours tracking, adjusting, etc.

We gain respect when we explain the value of keyword marketing research beyond PPC buys and optimization. Many are floored...
When it turns to a hard sell,<seldom> we explain how positioning, and the necessary research is an asset that frequently appreciates.

IMHO the toughest part is keeping the client going forward with the things we need them to do - content, approvals, CHECKS - as they say out of sight out of mind. Nearly ALL of what we do is invisible. Got to figure the hand holding/phone calling/emailing/pestering/begging/pleading into the project fees.


2:19 pm on Nov 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

We bill for "pestering/begging/pleading"
It can amount to half the bill.


2:53 pm on Nov 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Mike, does pestering/begging/pleading have an official invoice title :)? I'd prefer to call it petestering/begging/pleading on the invoice, but I don think it would fly with the customers that deserve it.

I actually invoiced a client a "PITA charge". The owner (a very close friend) called and ask (fortunately) what a PITA charge was for. When I told him, he paid it and has been a great QUIET and nonPITA customer since.

han solo

7:21 pm on Nov 24, 2000 (gmt 0)

I figure maybe I should post here as well, instead of just always starting my own conversations where I deem appropriate.

The pricing models that I know and admire are the pay per click and setup models, where people pay to setup the service, and then pay by the click. This can involve:

keyword bids,
strategic link placement,
directory work,

What I feel could do a better job for the client involves both off site promotion and on site, and I, in the thread I just started here:


sort of rambled about my thoughts on shifting to this model to utilize a lot more of the tools that can help out a site. I work invisibly, and separate from the client's efforts, so this off site work I say is generally a supplement to their efforts.

What I am thinking about doing is a similar model, with a larger setup fee, and then following that with a monthly maintanence package. My thought is that this would enable me to weed out clients who aren't interested in what I believe the 'best case scenario' for promotion, and also give me the ability to do whatever was necessary to build the online presence.

And, due to the research I've done, my new pricing scheme would involve a revenue model far beyond 99% of the other web marketing out there. If anyone is interested, I can post the results here in a few months, to report how the transition worked, or if I go crawling back to my old pricing structure.



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