On Selling SEO Consulting

A lot of SEO companies seem to have a very clearly defined, five step marketing strategy.

1. Sign the client, even if it means over-promising
2. Get the client to sign a non-disclosure agreement
3. Keep the client in the dark
4. Show the client all his #1 rankings for non-competitive search terms
5. Call it a day

Not that this is bad, but I have a few suggestions nonetheles. They are fivefold.

1. Guarantee Something

Today my staff and I talked about SEO companies. One of our Ivy Leagers (we have two, and I’m very proud of the fact), Geoff, asked how SEO companies determine pricing and what they sell. I responded that they usually do not sell anything other than SEO consulting. They make some changes to the pages, they perhaps make some URL’s friendlier, and perhaps add some content. Geoff was shocked by the non-quantitative and intangibility of this business model. When he asked about guarantees, I had to inform him that most SEO’s do not guarantee anything, and they are proud of it.

Well, I don’t like to ruffle anybody’s feathers. After all these years in the field, I have never once offended an SEO and I wouldn’t want to start now. But I have to say, non-guarantee is crap. I recently read one so-called SEO’s site.

In our experience, it is simply not possible to guarantee results.

Huh? What the huh?

People, it is easy to guarantee results. You simply guarantee them. If you don’t deliver, you refund the client’s money. When a so-called SEO says “it is simply not possible to guarantee results“, what they really mean is “it is simply not possible for us to deliver results“. In which case you shouldn’t be doing SEO.

2. Be Honest

I’m not saying you should tell your wife that she needs to lose weight. I’m suggesting that SEO companies should be honest with their clients from the beginning. Anybody who has done SEO at all knows the dirty little secret of the SEO industry, that SEO companies are over-promising and under-delivering. Those big well known SEO companies have ex-clients, and those ex-clients, when shopping for a new SEO, tell their stories. They were promised, but not guaranteed, rankings. They paid $30,000 for SEO, and they got squat.

The SEO company should have been honest from the beginning and told the client, We cannot get you a top five position on Google for web hosting, for $30,000.

Of course that would mean that you don’t get the contract, but hey that’s life. You are better off focusing your resources on contracts that you can honor, and making happy clients. Just because you had your client sign a non-disclosure agreement doesn’t mean that your client isn’t telling his sob story to every other SEO on the Internet.

Under-promise and over-deliver. It’s just good business.


3. Get a large Retainer

Somewhat repeating what I just said, but I’ll say it anyway. Honesty requires that your client is honest with you and you are honest with your client. Some clients cannot afford $20,000 ~ $50,000 in SEO, but they will pretend that they can just to get the work done. Here’s where you should think like an attorney. Attorneys are smart, they get large retainers up front. So should SEO’s.

4. Explain the Timeframe

Most often when I hear complaints about SEO companies, the problem is not ineffective SEO, but the fact that the SEO did not explain the timeframe. I guess SEO’s aren’t explaining the timeframe because they don’t want to scare off customers. They would be wise to put it in H1 tags on every page of their sites: YOU WILL NOT SEE RESULTS IN UNDER A MONTH.

5. Maintain Resources

People seem to think that SEO is best done by one-man shops. I don’t know what possible benefit there could be, but the big SEO companies often get maligned.

I know small SEO companies and I know big ones. I know of no small SEO companies that own hundreds of established high traffic web sites. I do know of a few large SEO companies that own hundreds of established web sites. I know of one that has several thousand sites. Having hundreds of web sites at your disposal comes in handy when it’s time to build links.

A large staff also comes in handy. Think about it. My staff of 14 is small compared to some of the larger SEO firms, but even I can do the math and see the huge savings I’m realizing by having low cost staff – $10 per hour – doing simple tasks that were previously done by staff who earn $20 per hour. Simply stated, I get twice as many links for my money.

Moving Forward

The SEO industry is regarded by many with suspicion. As it should be. The Internet as a whole is full of liars entirely un-credible businesses.

Perhaps someday in the near future we can stop bickering amongst ourselves long enough to establish a Better Business Bureau for SEO firms.


  1. FUBAR-SEOFUBAR-SEO05-07-2007

    Traffic Power as most of us know about…

    KeywordRanking.com…..Ripped me off for $6000.00 and even guaranteed results. In the contract it states that we have to take them to court in North Carolina. Hmmm…Not worth my time… Stay clear of the hosers! They are now known as Market Smart Interactive, I dunno if they are better now but I would stay clear of them! http://www.marketsmartinteractive.com/ Interestingly has no services to mention now. Interesting!

  2. Natural ElementsNatural Elements05-07-2007

    When we started Natural Elements we spend a lot of money to buy our products from our vendors, design, etc…

    We decided to hire a SEO with a low budget $1200/year with a twelve months contract, As a novice I did not know their techniques. They just created a domain with natural-elements-online- si . com to build mirror pages, hidden links, stealing our contents without asking us the autorisation (copyrights violation)and it was not a fair use, and to finish the mess they linked us to their web rings . They asked us to wait six months and the result was very poor (of course, because the top 10 was on their own domain not on mine. The 8th month I asked them to stop any work, and to remove all their linkage. They removed all the links pointed to us, except a few I am checking often. They never wanted to reimburse, or to break the contract so we paid 12 months full for this crap. Now they still using their domain si and put adsenses all over their stupid pages 3-4K. They keep going to use some of our paragraphs in their pages. I reported this to Google but they really don’t care.
    The company I am talking about with the scam artists team is http://www.top10orfree.com How many honest webmasters will fall in this trap? many because the price is attractive and I will rememeber always this expression: “you get what you pay for” I can tell you after this story I followed all the John’s tips and get better results then this guys who they call themself “SEO”

    I will never give again my money to a SEO company.

  3. dburdondburdon05-08-2007

    John,

    nice post. There are many ways of doing SEO and many ways of charging for it. The guarantee route is one of them. Many of the companies with overt guarantees simply did as you say – they got high rankings for irrelevant terms.

    Funnily enough I’m seeing a prospective client tomorrow who is delighted with that approach. He can show his boss the no.1 ranking on Google for a five word search term that has zero traffic. The boss doesn’t know enough to know that the ranking is worthless.

    The only guarantee worth anything is results – i.e. traffic from prospective customers. I’m happy to guarantee that but its a more complicated sell.

  4. bshearingbshearing05-10-2007

    Interesting Article.

    There are quite few different factors you should consider when choosing your SEO Vendor.

    I would not make a decision without researching the following;

    1) Results achieved. Any reputable search firm should be able to show you a list of current clients, keywords targeted and results achieved. In addition they should be more then willing to discuss the timeframe of the length of the relationship with the client and how long it took to achieve the results.
    2) Understanding of the industry. Question the SEO agency on their understanding of your industry. Have they reviewed any of the sites within the top 5 within Google and Yahoo and understand what variables are driving the success of the SEO program.
    3) Data. Will the Search firm benchmark your program, can they track natural conversions and the ROI that is being driven for your program.
    4) Understand the background of the proposed SEO Team. What is their experience level? How long have they been with the company? What are their core beliefs for SEO verse the sales spin?
    5) Question client to SEO team ratios.
    6) Can the SEO firm demonstrate a defined methodology approach to SEO?
    7) Can the SEO firm provide references?
    8) Understand the task at hand. Self education is key, and will help your SEO program succeed. Understand what keywords will drive conversions, what keywords will give your the volume you need to make the program profitable and what resources you have if needed to make site changes.

    I believe no reputable will firm will provide a guarantee as there are too many factors to control in natural search outside of the agency control. But the agency should posses the ability to educate the client effectively of the risks associated, the potential gains and what the relationship will entail. Great client education leads to great results.

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