When shopping for SEO consulting, you want to know the cost. When search marketing firms sell SEO, they don’t want to spend too much time writing proposals. These two marketplace motivations make set-priced SEO packages convenient and attractive.
But do such packages mislead both buyers and sellers?
Some of the four main parts of SEO are more predictable than others, but none are as predictable as packages would lead one to believe.
(1) SEO technical audits have about 15 tests that take about the same amount of time regardless of the website. Yet exceptions are all too common. Here are just a few examples of contingencies that add labor time. Often the Google Webmaster Tools panel is not set-up and verified, and Bing Webmaster Tools rarely is. Websites may have a few or many alternate domain names pointing to the main domain, and some methods of pointing have more risk of duplicate indexing than others do. In general, discoveries often warrant deeper sleuthing of causes and conditions. Search marketing agencies can average the contingencies in the predicted labor cost, or posit a price range. (DISC does a little of both.)
(2) CMS-SEO (content management system SEO) is much less predictable than SEO technical auditing, especially if the package includes implementing enhancements. Automatic or semi-automatic keywording of HTML titles, descriptive tags, header and sub-header text, URLs, folders, image names, alt tags, title tags, anchor text, search and sorting systems, and much more, are so varied among websites, and their solutions so different depending on the CMS, that predicting the optimum amount of time before doing the work is impossible. When the client’s team implements the CMS-SEO recommendations, the webmaster’s competence can mean two hours of guidance and quality control by the search marketing firm, or 20 hours.
(3) The process of keyword research and SEO writing is the most predictable of the four parts of SEO. The main unknown here is the amount of revision by the client, but the search marketing firm can stipulate, for example, one round of revision, and build that into the package.
(4) Most businesses will benefit greatly from several skilled hours tuning ROI reports. Upgrading to Google’s Universal Analytics, tuning goal and ecommerce reports, applying advanced segments, creating a single neat dashboard of salient reports, connecting Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools for better keyword impression and click-through reports, are among the common needs of all businesses. Two or three hours of initial consulting is usually enough to predict the optimum investment in ROI reporting.
So in SEO there’s an inevitable but manageable disconnect between, on the one hand, ease of quoting and buying, and on the other hand optimum allocation of time. The way to manage this disconnect is to provide packages at set prices or a reasonably tight range of prices, and make clear in the proposal that additional work may be needed. At DISC we give weekly progress reports which summarize work and hours done and remaining, and which apprise clients of additional work needed, so that nobody is surprised and disappointed. Sometimes we are head-down in the work before we can come up for air to tally hours, but we strive for the ideal of advanced notice, and so too should all search marketing firms.