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Advice on White-Labeling SEO Services?

4:30 pm on Sep 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I'm about to partner up with a web design firm that wants to offer their clients SEO services in addition to their web design services.

It'll be a pseudo white-labeling partnership where they resell my services as part of the whole web design package. After a website launches, any additional SEM services will be handed off to me afterwards.

Any advice for those that have done something similarly? The challenging point is trying to figure out a pricing structure that'll make it easy for them to quote their potential clients without having to continually check back with me on each individual deal.



6:04 pm on Sept 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Some time ago we had an identical set-up, as we thought that it was an obvious match.

We had many 'challenges' with this approach though:

The bigger agencies that had clients that were able to spend significant sums were set up to make money through print/web design services and branding stuff - they were full of creatives but technical skills were limited to the design packages and their choice of (often expensive and SEO unfriendly) CMS system.

Any additional services such as SEO were not well understood by them (otherwise they would not need us) so there was an issue of who would 'sell' the SEO part (and why - because any money spent on SEO was often seen as money that was not being spent on design services that they got 100% of - SEO also meant more time dealing with another contractor).

These issues often led to time being spent on mini proposals or in meetings with clients - only to find the project did not proceed as planned/at all. The bigger tenders we were involved in often had several companies tendering for the design work, so you knew - on average - you were not going to get more than half of them. At that time there was also the problem that many companies did not have a clue about SEO (or anything to do with running a successful site) so you ended up being an online marketing / business process / tecnical consultant.

The fact remains that SEO should be integral to the planning of a site, so you need to be in on the ground floor - but this causes a huge problem for design led companies as it means another person in meetings that they need to liaise with and 'get on the same page as'. In reality you'll sit in meetings once contracts are won and, even if the design team are well briefed, be biting your tongue and thinking of ways to introduce your 'alternative' suggestion without directly contradicting the employee of your partner company. If these 'alternative suggestions' crop up in ameeting before the deal is done it can kill the deal as the client may feel uneasy and even opt for a design team that are not advocating any form of SEO (because that design team 'all knew what they were talking about').

Sometimes you are lucky and find a partner agency that 'gets it', as was the case with one of the comapnies we worked with - but the frustrations can be huge.

As for pricing, I would suggest that you research how often projects change. You will see that the scope of projects can change dramatically, and if your services are contained as part of the overall pricing then you will find that the agency will, again, have bias towards covering their own back first when it comes to price increases.

Because of all of this I would suggest the following:

Price a minimal amount of SEO work in the design quote (say a couple of days to a week of work depending on the project size - and mark this as compulsary, part of the groundwork required for the site), then separate out the bulk of the work as 'Highly Recommended'. Contactually separate out this 'optional' part so that changes to this can be more easily negotiated - this also means you, as their SEO guy, can take charge of those parts of any SEO re-negotiation.

As for how much you should charge them, a daily rate is simple, say you set this at $400 - they can choose to charge people $400, $600, $800... you should not be effected by their pricing structure (as sometimes they will want to strategically price given parts of a contract). It's quite likely that they will want a fairly big markup though, as they will see the client as 'theirs' and will think that they are doing all of the marketing work for them.

You also need to consider the implications if you mess something up, have contracts that limit liabilities with them in regards to brand damage etc. Although we never caused any such reputational damage I hate to think how much someone could be sued for if they were negligent and put a hole in the reputation of an agency that turns over $10 Million plus.