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A Grand Plan for SEO (Searcn Engine Optimization)

BY Mike Grehan | January 23, 2006

Mike Grehan is founder and CEO of Smart Interactive Ltd., a wholly-owned European division of MarketSmart Interactive Inc., the world's largest search engine marketing company

I wasn't sure whether to title this column "SEO Firestorm 2," as it continues my previous column, which enjoyed a bit of an incendiary reaction in certain quarters.

One vociferous commentator led the charge against me for having no empathy with mom-and-pop outfits. This isn't the case at all. However, it did spark something with me when he posed the situation of small companies with small SEO budgets, say $1,000. Out of curiosity, I asked the commentator what a client could get for $1,000.

He responded, "1K would get you a couple hours (give or take) of phone consulting from a leading SEO firm.... Will their site rock the SERPs [search engine results pages] for competitive keywords? Of course not. But it might give them a foothold." I find this a rather unsatisfactory marketing spend for a mom-and-pop outfit.

I have experience as a consultant with two of the leading companies in the industry. The first part of my job is getting a tight grip on what my clients' products or services are, their markets and their competition, what their overall marketing strategy is, and the best way to integrate and implement search.

Following this discovery period, I can then usually go back to a client with, literally, the bare bones of a plan for us to work on as a team. All this takes considerably more than a couple of hours.

I flew to London last week, in part for a Search Marketing Association UK (SMA-UK) meeting. I took the opportunity of having a crowd of SEM (search engine marketing) firm owners around one table to air their thoughts. I asked, "If a potential client came to you with only a grand, what would you say to him?" With such industry veterans as Barry Lloyd and Ammon Johns present, the answers varied from "I'd say let's go to the pub" to "Buy a couple of good books, such as Aaron Wall's and Andrew Goodman's, then take your wife out for a nice dinner."

Needless to say, some answers were facetious. They were, however, grounded in years of SEO experience.

Leading industry pundit and long-time practitioner Andy Beal of Fortune Interactive commented, "I've been testing the entry point for years. Around $2,500 per month seems to be the lowest fee that still allows us to provide a service we would be willing to have our company name associated with. That's for 1 site, most of our customers have more than one."

Industry veteran Terry Plank says: I suspect there are other consultants out there like me [who] work at $100 an hour because they don't have a large overhead that requires a higher rate. I'm sure that you've heard of firms billing at $500 an hour. Look around, you can get the same service for under $200 an hour.

In a quest for a balanced view, I contacted my friend and long-time champion of online small businesses, Dr. Ralph Wilson. Like me, Wilson's been online since the Internet ran on steam. His popular newsletter, "Web Marketing Today," celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.

"Paying another firm to do some SEO seems to start at the $1,500 to $2,500 range but probably doesn't include much link-building, which is critical," he told me. "Moreover, very few small business people I know would even think of paying $500 to $1,000 per hour for advice, especially if they aren't really confident that they know enough to follow the steps necessary to implement the advice. So, I don't believe small mom-and-pops can really get much SEO for $1,000."

Wilson's answer to my question prompts another question: What do you think a reasonable entry-level SEO budget is for a smaller firm? Yes, there's a whole lot of "how long is a piece of string?" in there. But generally speaking, I'm talking about copywriting, site optimization, link building, tactical promotions, and everything else it takes to really get a foothold and compete.

As for smaller companies getting a "foothold" with their newfound, scant knowledge? Are they able to use it themselves? In a volatile, highly competitive SEO climate, it's rather like giving an inexperienced climber a foothold at the bottom of Everest and telling him to make his own way from there.

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