SEO Question: Some prospective customers have offered to pay me on a performance basis. Should I consider providing search engine marketing services for these types of clients?
Answer: There are many ways to structure these sorts of deals, but generally I would probably avoid most of the offers because a lack of willingness to pay until results are achieved is often an indication of a lack of trust.
Trust and Toxic Customers:
If a customer does not trust you enough to pay you until after you show results they may not trust you to access their site or implement your suggested changes. This lack of willingness to consider optimization elements away from search is the single common problem associated with most toxic customers.
It is easier to push your own good idea than to push a bad idea owned by a person who is rigid and hard to work with.
Selling All Traffic as PPC:
If they will not give you access to the site you can still give suggestions that you hope they will implement, and you can still build links. Selling traffic as PPC minimizes the upfront commitment on both sides, and allows the SEO to still get paid even if their site can't convert. These deals can be structured in many flexible ways:
- set minimum and / or maximum spend caps
- set contract term length and opt out clauses
- set price as being flat rate per click, or allow both partners to adjust rates when it makes sense
- do not charge for brand related searches
- specify what traffic sources are valid (ie: pay for Google searches and traffic from other engines, but do not pay heavily for a Digg homepage story)
As an SEO, selling traffic on a PPC basis protects you from conversion errors on their site, and may make them more likely to listen to your conversion advice. A good SEO should be able to sell traffic for less than comparable PPC traffic.
If you set your price point high enough you can start off by selling them relevant PPC traffic and then easing off the PPC spend as your organic optimization gains traction. Some SEO companies may set up third party sites to drive traffic, which protect them if a client decides to cut their budget.
I believe Barry Lloyd was one of the first to sell SEO services on a per click basis, but I believe he has since moved on to selling PPC management software.
Pay Per Ranking:
Some clients think they need a few certain trophy phrases even if that is not the case. Some deals with a single trophy phrase or wide related keyword nets can also be sold on a pay per ranking deal, with so much being paid for ranking in different engines for different keyword phrases. Make sure both parties have the same idea as to what the goals are and how long a page must rank to receive payment, and when the payments are due.
If a merchant reveals an appealing vertical, but does not want to pay enough to make it worth your time, consider setting up an affiliate website marketing related offers. This allows you to chose whatever affiliate programs pay the most, while ensuring you get paid recurring revenues even while you are not actively promoting your site.
Sites Worth Partnering on a Pay for Performance Basis:
- Related Sites: If you already have a related site that can drive significant traffic a partnership makes sense, but probably as an affiliate rather than an SEO. But if you help them on their site it should be easy to provide value if you already know their site well.
- Large Brands: If you see structural errors that are holding back large brands AND they are willing to act on your advice they may see significant upside so will the SEO, but most large brands will be adverse to these type of deals.
- Small niche players: (perhaps even local niche sites) that take limited time to work on are also nice to work with, but be careful not to do too many projects like these or they can weigh you down during shake ups. Algorithmic shake ups are periods of opportunity if you have free time to roam, but may be periods of hurt if you have too many clients.
Sites Not Worth Partnering On:
- New Sites in Competitive Fields: If you have to go through all the work to build up a new site you are probably better off building up your own site than building up someone else's site from scratch. The one time these types of deals make sense is if you really believe in the upside potential of an idea and can get an early equity stake.
- Thin Content Sites: If their site is already doing exceptionally well, but has serious issues and is just waiting to get nuked then they may blame you for the fault that was just waiting to happen. Stick clear of thin content sites and sites that are designed more for bots than for humans.
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