I've dedicated several posts to the changing winds of the search industry, from Panda, to Penguin to Hummingbird. Despite their cute, harmless names, these updates have changed our corner of the marketing world more than anything else in the last decade.
What’s become clear is the time and effort necessary to produce meaningful results from search engines is more significant now than ever before. Paying $300, $400, or $500 per month for SEO (search engine optimization) services may sound attractive, but it’s not nearly enough to play the game in today’s world.
To understand why a more meaningful investment is required today, we need to understand the economics.
Ever receive a random solicitation for SEO services? They usually go something like, "For only $200 a month, we guarantee first page results on Google in 30 days or your money back!”
These companies operate by employing cheap, overseas labor that use a pre-defined process of building thousands of low quality links to your website. Google sees all the links and considers your site more important than your competitors, thus increasing your rankings in the search results.
For a while, this actually worked really well. And because the process was so formulaic, it could be done at massive scale by low-trained workers. This naturally drove the price of SEO services down - thus the hundred dollar price points.
Google's updates over the last 18 months have completely nullified this approach.
Don’t believe me? Try hiring one and then tell me how wrong I am.
Today, successful SEO requires much more strategy, a deeper understanding of your business, goals and customers, the development of content that speaks to those customers and the ability to make that content visible across the internet.
This level of strategic planning and execution cannot be easily outsourced, forcing agencies to develop and utilize internal resources. This in turn, drives up the cost - in some cases by 3-5 times what it used to be. To remain profitable, the cost of services to the end customer have increased similarly.
This doesn’t stop companies from trying to offer low-cost solutions, which means one of three things:
1) They still know a Google loophole to exploit - in which case you’re at risk every time Google updates their formula
2) Your consultant is willing to work for a significantly reduced rate
3) Your consultant is not expecting to achieve strong results
So if you have someone offering to get you ranked in Google and you're not spending a lot of money to do it, you have to ask yourself how much time you expect them to work on your account. Most SEO firms charge between $100-150/hour. Do you really expect a meaningful ROI from 2-3 hours of someone's time?
It’s like driving past a gas station selling gas for $1.00/gallon. As much as you want it to be true, you have to wonder, “what’s wrong with this gas.”
What Qualities Should The Modern-Day SEO Possess?
First and foremost, they should be a marketer at heart. Someone who can understand your business, the story you have to tell, and how that story can be communicated to your customers. Technical ability is becoming second to marketing ability.
- Your SEO should be a farmer first and a hunter second. If they can effectively story-tell to your existing customers, they can effectively communicate to your prospects.
- Your SEO should obsess over your customers’ pain points, anticipate their struggles and objections, proactively identify what they want and what they fear.
- Your SEO should be consumer centric. They should want to deliver the best possible experience to that user.
- Your SEO isn’t just an SEO. He or she is someone with a deep understanding of how people behave online and how different technologies work to bring customers and businesses together.
The skills listed above don’t come cheap. So in a time where you get what you pay for, you have to ask if you’re making the necessary investment, or hoping for too much from too little.
As chief marketing officer of WebStrategies, Inc., Chris helps small businesses reach and connect with more customers online. He is the chief strategist for search engine marketing campaigns and the lead analyst for web analytics and website usability testing. Find Chris on Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.