Don't be an SEO – Be a teacher

mad teacher

I hate being in this situation in a new client meeting:

“Well we just need a little bit of SEO on our page, pretty easy stuff. we can pay about $250, we used to have a guy who did it for that much”

My next question is “$250 per hour?” (which typically blows their mind)
As we all know, they mean per month.
Joel K really caught my attention when I saw him tweet this:

cheap beer budget tweet

So, why do businesses have this expectation?

  1. Because we are not doing a good enough job of educating people as to what it truly takes to do “SEO”
  2. Because there’s a large enough population of people who are looking for “offline gold” (AKA robbing small business owners) and will do “SEO” (read: buy Fivrr link spam packages for $25) a make a hundred bucks or so per month

The way number 2 usually works is: the business owner never sees results, the scammer sticks around for a few months saying “it will start working soon”, and eventually gets fired.
The business owner cuts him loose and cuts his losses. He’s only out a few hundred dollars right?
Now he no longer has faith in SEO or the SEO community, and neither will his circle of influence (ie. other business owners, friends, family and whomever else follows/listens to him).
SEO is a tactic, not a strategy. We need to be educators to partner with businesses to drive more revenue for them at a lower customer acquisition cost than they are currently paying.
If we aren’t doing that, what does “SEO” matter?
Snake oil salesmen don’t know strategy, they know push buttons -> make cash -> burn customer -> repeat.
Now go, young grasshoppers, and be the teacher.
Question: How often do you encounter new clients with jaded experiences from bad SEOs? How do you reset expectations?

Photo source

12 Replies to “Don't be an SEO – Be a teacher”

  1. Man, I can’t tell you how important this simple post is. As SEO’s we’ve got so many factors stacked against us with clients, namely:
    1. They think SEO is simple and limited to on page (ie: Meta-keywords.. lol!)
    2. Hack firms are offering “SEO” at unnaturally low prices for extremely low quality results
    3. SEO is changing constantly (which actually lends us an opportunity to show we’re smarter than the average bear if we’re current)
    As an SEO, part of my job is making sure clients know the WHY and not just the WHAT.
    And I can tell you first hand, educated clients pay more, whine less and support your efforts exponentially more.
    So yes, teach and teach well. There’s no better way I know of winning a pitch or stealing a client from a competitor than educating that client on SEO, what you want to do, what your competition isn’t doing, and why you’re different/better.

    1. I definitely agree. There is another camp that says “hey they don’t want to learn this stuff, that’s what you are there for. Just get them results and skip the details”. I do not believe that leads to an overall productive and trust-centered relationship when you are covering things up instead of working with transparency.
      The on-page stuff kills me…
      My general rule I tell clients is: if you think there is something I can manually do, on (or off) your page right now to get you rankings, it doesn’t work.

  2. I die a little inside every time I see someone offer SEO for ridiculously low prices. There are some UK firms offering “SEO” (search engine submissions & mass directory links) for as little as £49 every quarter. I spend more than that every week on SEOmoz pro and host of other SEO tools.
    I often go about resetting my clients expectations by explaining what I do and what the snake oil salesman didn’t. Education is definitely key to this – I’m not adverse to sharing quality blog posts and case studies with my clients.
    In the early days (especially with clients who have been burned) I try to keep in touch regularly whether by phone or email this is two one it allows them to know I’m actually doing something with all the money they are paying me and secondly gets them in to the habit of sharing insights e.g. new products, seasonal trends, website developments (all that stuff they never tell us). I know it sounds like a lot of work especially in the early days but converting a client who has had a bad experience in the past into a fan means they stay with you longer and refer you more business than others.

    1. I love the “we submit to 100 search engines for $29.99”. REALLY? I can just picture Willy Wonka saying, “SEO for $29.99? Tell me about all those hundred search engines you use everyday….”
      I think a lot of people are focused on selling the product (SEO), because businesses hear that they need it.
      But when you have an educated consultant that says, “you don’t need SEO, you need to find and sell to your target market at a lower customer acquisition cost than you’re currently paying, and we’re going to do that through SEO (content marketing)”… how can the Scam-EO even stand a chance??
      A wise man told me: “In the absence of value, price becomes the deciding factor” so make it painfully obvious that your overall value and goal is to make them money, not submit to 100 directories (cuz anyone can do that)!

  3. Great post Jordan. I feel like a proud papa.
    The race to the bottom on price competition isn’t based on value. It’s based on undercutting the genuine value proposition that was designed around the ROI model.
    It’s not necessarily all the fault of the bargain basement schmucks. Particularly in technology markets, the initial value/price ratio isn’t based on ROI either. If you study guys like Geoffrey Moore, you understand how the marketing bell curve in technology is based on early adopters, Main Street, etc… In many instances, the early price basis is solely a function of the true law of supply and demand… there’s more demand for the service than there are providers of that service. As the market fills in capacity to meet the demand, the price elasticity takes over, leaving the true value proposition players in the market to redefine their own strategy based on other factors.
    This is why I preach the 3M’s. MARGIN MARGIN MARGIN
    First margin is to make a profit from whatever it is that you’re selling.
    Second margin is to make a profit, plus an additional profit amount to cushion for the inevitable unforseen circumstances that will arise in the business.
    Third margin is to make a profit, plus have that additional cushion profit for unforseen circumstances – WHILE ALSO COMBATTING AGAINST PRICE CUTTING COMPETITORS.
    You simply can’t do this if you start out in the basement with no genuine value model. You should just go get a job, at least that has a real value proposition attached to it, and you won’t necessarily be out of business in a few months like most basement players end up.
    Bargain pricing works for giant companies with lots of diversified income streams. Not so much for small guys trying to play Wal-Mart with no real assets or business behind them.

  4. Extremely well said! The other thing that I have found through the years is there is perceived expertise when I charge what Im worth. When I charge less I dont just hurt my pocketbook, I place myself in an inferior position.

  5. With so many black hat SEO companies, it is difficult but important to make clients aware of the differences between quality SEO and spamming. In an ideal world, they understand that quality is worth the cost.

  6. Actually, I’ve encountered so many clients who have a cheap budget for an SEO job because in their minds that SEO is just an easy job and they don’t really know about it that it is not an easy job. It’s just like your web designing or writing articles..

  7. Wow way to hit the nail on the head. We certainly hear this a lot from our leads! We tend to say ‘alright, lets go with the $250 for the offsite SEO, and only put in a few hours. Once they see what the $250 gave them they certainly are more open to dropping more into an ongoing campaign. Sometimes bending over backwards to score a long term client is worth the loss in the first month! It’s just sad sometimes it has to be this way.
    Show your leads you are worth it!

    1. That’s a great point Justin — *sometimes* it is worth taking the hit to establish a long term relationship. It’s risky because you don’t know if they are truly understanding and valuing SEO since they are expecting such a low price, but if you think you can get them over that hurdle with results + education, go for it! There are certain indicators (like price) that help give some idea up front of what a long term relationship with a client might look like. It’s funny because generally people paying the least expect the most and it makes it puts everyone in a bad situation.

  8. Jordon, I have just been reading this page and I know I’m a bit late but as far as I ( a small startup) am concerned you have hit the nail on the head in your last comment. If so called SEO experts can offer a business a return on their investment,be it traffic /leads/ turnover then I think a lot of business would jump at the chance to do work them. It really goes back to the age old business saying ” I really dont give a s_ _ t how expensive the rent is once my turnover is more or less guaranteed”. It all goes back to ROI and always will. So come on all you SEO experts now is your chance to improve your MARGIN and get the trust of businesses. Its simple really ( if you can prove yourself).

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