What Kind of Payment Plans are Available in the SEO Industry?

SEO payment plans and contracts

You’ve climbed a mountain of information by which to decide how much to invest in SEO. Now you’ve got to pay for it. What are typical payment plans? When is it worth hiring in-house, and what are the pros and cons of doing so?

One SEO payment plan that I’ve covered elsewhere in depth is pay-for-performance (PFP): see http://www.2disc.com/about-us/press-and-media/visibility-magazine/pros-and-cons-of-pay-for-performance-in-search-marketing/ and www.2disc.com/blog/the-social-pay-off-in-profit-sharing-deals. PFP deals are complex and span at least a year. One type of pay-for-performance plan I don’t discuss in those articles is pay-per-position because that model has been broken by the large and constantly changing range of search engine positions based on such variables as personalization, geography, time, previous searches, continual experiments by search engines, and other factors that render proof of position, and calculation of payments, impossible. If you encounter such payment plans, either the firm offering them is way behind the curve, or their fine print accounts for variations in position in ways that could make future payments a point of ongoing contention. Here I focus on typical pay for services contracts.

At DISC, our proposals offer three options that cover the range you’ll find on the market:

  1. Businesses with sufficient budget prefer to get the benefit of all the work as quickly as possible, and have DISC do all the high priority services within a few weeks. (This cost a minimum of $5000, averages about $12,000, and can go upwards of $100,000 in the first year).
  2. To spread out costs over time, some business opt for an initial payment to cover the first round of highest priority work, and then pay monthly for 5 or 11 more months to cover the next most cost-effective tasks.
  3. A third alternative is simply to pay for one of the services, and contract for other services later. However, the more services you do together, the more synergies happen.

Most SEO work is done one-time and endures for years. Monthly retainers should be use for SEO work on additional pages or for other SEO or web marketing, not for tweaking recently completed SEO. The reasons for this are difficult to summarize, but in short, the search engines don’t change their on-page algorithms nearly as often as off-page algorithms, and even when on-page algorithms do change, the rules of good SEO keyword research and SEO copywriting rarely change in synch. So unless the language of your industry changes rapidly, don’t sign on for SEO plans that nebulously tweak SEO that should have been done right – with diversification to deal with minor algorithm changes – in the first place.

Of course you could also hire an SEO employee. In theory, if any one facet of search marketing will cost more than, say, $80,000 in labor per year, you are better off hiring in-house. However, the various parts of search marketing these days work best when synced together, which means that an SEO firm with several synchronized people each commanding distinct disciplines within search marketing can deliver far more synergies than can a single employee. SEO technical, CMS & Database SEO, SEO keyword research and copywriting, and SEO ROI reporting each demand expertise rarely possessed by a single person. Also, some search marketing tasks require a majority of the labor in the first year, at least on a single web site that doesn’t undergo major yearly changes, and most SEO is one-time and endures for years, which means that an in-house expert would eventually run out of cost-effective jobs. (Link marketing and SEO’d social media are ongoing tasks, but I don’t categorize that work as strictly SEO, and even in link marketing, there are diminishing marginal returns on each new inbound link added).

If you do decide to hire in-house, my 2003, SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization) article on the topic remains well worth reading: www.sempo.org/?page=article_20030702&hh.

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