In the first six parts of this series we asked questions related to in-sourcing your search marketing efforts. Specific areas addressed were for those considering doing SEO themselves, subbing out SEO to another person, and hiring an in-house SEO with and without SEO experience. In Part V we addressed issues of outsourcing your SEO campaign completely, asking questions regarding related to hiring an SEO consultant vs. hiring an full-fledged SEO firm.
In this installment we move into the realm of pricing and asking questions related to costs versus return on investment. When outsourcing your SEO to a firm or consultant it becomes a bit more difficult to control costs than it does when you hire-in house. But that's not to suggest that cost cannot be controlled and you cannot get a return on investment. It's all a matter of knowing how to manage the campaign, expectations and the budget that goes along with it.
Question 48: How much should search marketing cost? While this is every bit a legitimate question, it is also like asking "How much should a car cost?" The answer varies a great deal and there are many factors involved in coming to any conclusions. A few things that will be a factor in pricing is the quality of the firm or contractor you're hiring, their years of (combined) experience, difficulty in the project, expected results, and of course the actual services that will be performed.
Question 49: What should be included in my campaign? Ultimately it comes down to whatever you agree to. Any firm analyzing your account should have a general idea of what will be needed over the course of the next several months. However in many cases the initial assessment will only represent a piece of the overall campaign needs. While a good site audit can pinpoint the most obvious needs, many won't be able to be uncovered until the SEO is actually in the site and working through problems. New issues present themselves as other issues are fixed, new determinations are made based on site performance, and there is generally an ongoing analysis to help uncover other areas of weakness that can be patched. Often times these "unexpected" issues are considered the norm and for the most part will be covered by the optimization contract. There are instances, however, when issues arise that go above and beyond the scope of the contract.
Question 50: What should not be included in my campaign? SEO campaigns are not all created equal. What works (or is necessary) for on site won't always work (or be necessary) for another. While there are some universals that must be included in most SEO campaigns, there are many elements that will need to be determined based on the type of site, its history, and particular areas of need. When assessing a contract for services feel free to ask questions about the intended strategy as well as necessity of any given area of focus.
Question 51: What will my payment plan? There are a lot of different payment plan options and you'll simply have to find the firm that provides what you want with the payment plan you are happy with. Some variations are to pay based on performance, pay based on actual hours invested, or to pay based on a flat monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual fee. Any of these payment structures may or may not include an up-front set-up fee with a commitment period of a certain length of time.
Question 52: Will I get the return on my investment? This is the ultimate goal of every marketing campaign, whether it be online or off-line. The sad truth is, not every marketing campaign is successful every time. With SEO the return on investment often doesn't come for several months, and sometimes as long as a year or more. Competition largely plays a role in this as the more competitive the industry the more SEOs tend to charge. And with greater competition the time frame to "success" is often much longer as well. You should never enter into an SEO agreement without an expectation of success in terms of getting your return on investment, but neither should you have unreasonable expectations in how soon that return will be realized.
Question 53: How soon should I expect to see results? Quickness of results varies by site, industry and investment. If the SEO is working with a brand new site then results will often take longer than an established site that can benefit greatly from just a few tweaks. The amount of your investment can also play a big role in how quickly you can see results. If you're investment is minimal and you're up against sites investing five to ten times as much as you in their online marketing campaigns, then you've got a long (if not impossible) road ahead of you. Even if you match your competitor's investment coming from behind is very difficult. Knowing the competitive landscape around you, the work being done both for you and your competitors, and how much investment is being made can help provide you with a decent predictor of how much time it will be until your SEO campaign becomes a success.
Question 54: What kind of results should I expect? This is somethign that should be discussed with your SEO before signing your contract. While its near impossible to make predictions on what will happen, you can get an overall sense of what you can expect and when. Most importantly, however, is knowing what kind of results you should look for. Are you looking at rankings, traffic, sales or ROI? If you expect "success" in rankings then you may tend to ignore the increase in sales because rankings are not where you think they should be. The area of expected results should be discussed ahead of time so the SEO knows exactly what you're looking for.
Costs and return on investment are two of the most critical aspects before engaging in any SEO campaign. But when it comes down to it, cost should not really be a factor. If the SEO campaign proves to be successful in giving you your return on initial investment and a healthy profit beyond that, cost becomes irrelevant. If you knew every dollar you spent would reap $2 in profit, then your profit would be limited to how much you were willing to invest. Unfortunately, the math never breaks down that easy and we often don't have the initial $1 to spend indefinitely until we can start getting our $2 in returns. Discussing the costs and expectations with your SEO firm will help you plan for the future both financially and in terms of how to handle the business that will be coming your way.
In the next installment in this series we'll talk about how much control you'll have to give up over your site and how much involvement you'll have throughout the process.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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