Where is the Value in Selling SEO Services?

A prospective client with a brand new high end LARGE website wanted me to provide a comprehensive actionable SEO and internet marketing plan for a couple grand, noting that at near $100,000 for a single page ad in a print magazine that the print magazines were out of the question. When I told him a price point of what he was asking for he balked, stating "Excuse me? You'd charge me up to $__k for a plan? You've got to be kidding!"

I don't hard sell services because I have been building way too many of my own sites, and they are typically far more profitable than most client work. Call me a sucker, but I am a big fan of passive income sites that pay far more than most clients are willing to pay. Especially since they have no deadlines, offer passive income, give me a bigger cut, can be focused on whatever I am interested in, and allow me to shift from topic to topic as my interests change.

It is kinda perplexing to have spent a bunch of time building up a strong brand only to have claimed marketing experts contact you and low ball you so much. It makes you wonder why SEO is such a saturated field, and why so many people sell services so hard when there is so much more money to be made selling products, building affiliate sites, or selling contextual ads.

Imagine that you can build 2 legitimate 12 page sites a week, with each of them bringing in $200 a month (and virtually 100% margin passive income after 2 months). If your income increased by at least $400 every week how long would you need to build sites to dump low end client work? And what if it grew quicker because you tracked market feedback?

If you think a single page glossy page ad is worth more than what I could do in a month of time you are probably mistaken. If you think it is worth 50X what I could do then "You've got to be kidding".

Published: September 6, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


September 6, 2006 - 1:22pm

If your client could obtain ROI from your services (and we have to assume that he would) then there is no reason for him to expect it to be any lower.

September 6, 2006 - 1:33pm

Good Point Mad4. The sad part is that with some large companies, they have a department for everything and some departments do not understand what they do not know. I would think that large companies overall stay in the comfort zone they have become accutomed to. With that being said, it could really take a lot of convincing when someone has that old school marketing thought process. What is even sadder is that the old school marketer would actually be hurting the companies overall growth because they can not get out of that comfort zone. Of course all of what i just said means nothing if the marketer does not fit that description and is just trying to get a cheap fix...

September 6, 2006 - 2:19pm

Well, its nice to have the occasional outside client - it helps to give perspective and usually gives rise to a dozen completely unrelated ideas :)

September 6, 2006 - 2:26pm

Wow! Once again you are right on point. Residual income is really what matters if you ever plan on retiring or want real peace of mind.

I spoke to a mortgage broker a few years ago who tried to explain to me that 100k/year in passive income was better than having 1 million dollars in the bank. The rationale was that the person with the million bucks could lose it all in one game of pitch and toss, while the person with residual income could do nothing and still have the money to live and pay off debts.

With the state of the economy and doubts about the future, i think it would serve us all well to follow Aaron's lead.

Just my 2¢.

September 6, 2006 - 2:56pm

My post was about a brand new website, so the issue of a plateau of traffic and needing additional branding via traditional media was a second fiddle item (as indicated by the prospective client).

I was told that online would be most of the marketing, but am trying not to reveal any industry specific stats or anything too specific because that would be bogus.

My point is simply that if people want to use other numbers as a guideline of something of lower value they shouldn't be surprised if your (presumably higher value service) rates are in a similar ballpark.

Being off by a factor of 50 just flat out misses the mark. If the marketplace is that inefficient and easy to dominate then there is no reason to take a client along for the ride. Go solo, go direct, and roll with the mo-money-blues. ;)

September 6, 2006 - 8:10pm

Aaron, you say that "Imagine that you can build 2 legitimate 12 page sites a week, with each of them bringing in $200 a month"
Can you expand on this in another blog post? Maybe some of the tactics that others could use if they wanted to do this.


September 6, 2006 - 8:33pm

I would suggest you to buy Aaron's book. I have just bought his book and I personally think his book worths a million bucks for me. Although I still have problems in building links (Aaron, you might want to give me extra tips if you can) but his seobook changes my overall prospective and plans for developing a good website that brings in hundreds or thousands dollars a month.

I am also a big fan of passive income. I would rather have 10 websites that make $500 a month rather than a job that pay me $5000 dollars a month.
Why? If you get fired from your job, you got nothing.

September 6, 2006 - 8:52pm

I agree completely. I never understood why talented people like Rand and yourself are still taking clients.

It seems that if you're THAT good at internet marketing, you should be able to make much more and never have to explain to anyone why your services are worth as much as they are.

Seems like a really easy decision when you weight the pros and cons of client work (fleeting income, requires dealing with people who dont understand the medium, being bound by someone else's requirements, having to explain yourself, etc.) vs. your own projects.

September 7, 2006 - 12:04am

On the go it alone track, what is your opinion on using joomla to build sites?

September 7, 2006 - 1:13am

I have never used Joomla, so it is tough for me to give any advice on it.

I think sometimes the contraints (and assets) of some clients present great perspective...so I like at least a bit of it.

September 7, 2006 - 4:22am

Unfortunately this is an all too common scenario. Many businesses are yet to see the potential value of SEO to their business model and seem to have this mentality that anything more than a couple of thousand dollars to expensive.

Clients generally seem to think that they know because they have a computer on their desk and they've read a couple of articles on SEO from some unknown in their local business magazine.

Any client who is always on about price and not about value, in my opinion is probably better off left to other so called SEO experts providing a second rate service with little long term benefits.

The positive of this is that you'll have more time to work on your own more profitable projects.

September 7, 2006 - 8:02am

Congrats on making the right move, Aaron. you knew the value, he wouldn't admit that he knew it, and he wouldn't commit to managing the risk.

The first time I heard a well established SEO quote $60k/month for a 9 month contract where the star SEO wouldn't even be the lead I almost gave away my stealth by spitting out my coffee. They took the deal, and that SEO is doing very well 5 years or so later.

I also don't do proposals unless I can consider them a fee for service deal. And that usually makes them too expensive for shoppers.

September 7, 2006 - 3:16pm

Hey Aaron,

I'm a first time poster... long time reader. I also happen to be a Deadhead, a fan of marketing ala D. Kennedy style and I had some 100 million dollar corporation throw a frivolous lawsuit at me a year and a half ago because one of my websites was taking market share away from their "widget category". I hired the best team of lawyers - countersued them and won; as a side note I am now carrying that companies products on our website as part of a settlement for me to drop my countersuit. :) What does that have to do with anything? Well nothing really - just wanted to share with you that we share some common interests and experiences.

You are right on the money (pun intended). I'm one of those guys flying under the radar silently making a monthly multiple six figure income using multiple website strategies to sell various widgets, a little advertising and some other "odds and ends".

I have been approached by individuals and companies to take on SEO projects which I consistently decline (although I do help out some of my friends). Why? It's more fun (and lucrative) developing my own websites, my own business models and strategies than having to deal with the corporate mentality and bureaucracy of providing SEO services to them. Most corporations just don't get it.

Thanks for the blog - keep up the great job.


September 8, 2006 - 12:26am

Excellent points there Aaron, those that can do, the others teach. (hope your enjoying Holland)

September 8, 2006 - 12:26am

Excellent points there Aaron, those that can do, the others teach. Lea, I agree that is mixes it up a little tho. (hope your enjoying Holland)

September 8, 2006 - 3:50am

>> On the go it alone track, what is your opinion on using joomla to build sites?

James, I would not opt for Joomla over Drupal or Wordpress. I've used Joomla for sites in the past and it doesn't offer some of the social marketing tools that Drupal does. I can set up a Drupal site (nice designed template) in about 20 minutes. 10, 20, or 30 relevant pages in another 4-8 hours.

One suggestion to add to Aaron's original post of building multiple sites is to create your own advertising system using phpadsnew or something similar. Then, serve your own ads via xml based on targeted keywords. I have my own PPC system feeding 8-10 different Drupal sites now and the revenue is increasing significantly each month, plus you can "hide" your PPC ads in the SE's via robots.txt on the ad serving site.

January 25, 2007 - 8:22pm

I am curious what your feelings are on this subject now - almost 6 months later. I have been in the web design biz since 1998 and your post (this one) has had me planning my exit from the biz.

I am convinced that you were on the right track in Sept. and just want to know where you stand today.

September 10, 2006 - 3:06am

Clearly the key takeaway here is that we are all in the wrong business. We should sell magazine ads. Shoot, you charge 50 times the price and offer no measurable results of any kind!

Hahaha, seriously though - screm 'em. You're nice and busy so charge whatever you want. Charge as high a price as you would need to in order for it to be worth it - offset your opportunity cost for other projects.

January 26, 2007 - 4:25am

I think it is best to have a variety of options, but to focus on the one or few that you are most interested in.

I sell services to a few clients, but most of my income is based on ad revenues, leads, ebook sales, and that sort of stuff.

September 11, 2006 - 10:22am

I can just say what i have to in one comment,

"You just change my persepective of doing business and thinking on the International Network(Internet)"

September 11, 2006 - 10:22am

I can just say what i have to in one comment,

"You just change my persepective of doing business and thinking on the International Network(Internet)"

September 6, 2006 - 12:39pm

I agree with 99% of what you said, but I have a follow up question for you. Let's say that the Internet Marketing for that company has reached a consistent market cap over a year or more, meaning that the Internet marketing is close to reaching its plateau. Would you be willing to say that print ads that are included in targeted magazines might not be a bad idea at that point? Don't get me wrong about the Internet Marketing, I firmly believe that would continue to grow, but I think in some cases the percentage that they grow will not be as significant as in years past. I have thought about Magazine ads and in fact, our company has many of them in various publications, but even I have to admit that I think Internet Marketing is dominant in comparison. I would suspect we do print ads for revenue, but also to become a household name. Excuse my incoherent babblings. Too much coffee this morning :)

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