From my limited perspective there are a couple major recurring flaws in the buying / selling cycle of selling SEO services.
Client ignorance of pricing: some clients view SEO as free money. This leads them to hire a cheap guy or someone who heavily markets the free money angle. Either of which stand a good chance of leading to fraud.
Client ignorance of process: some clients assume they know how to do it or that SEOs are messing it up based on slow feedback loops.
Rapid changes: this kinda goes hand in hand with the ignorance of process since most available information is dated. Some search algorithms are changed in ways that could best be described as random.
Big leap of faith:
many SEOs want to sell a $10,000 + package right out if the gate.
Not that I am actively seeking lots of clients (because I am still bad at pricing and still am not sure what I want to do when I grow up) but I have found that by being not available demand is much higher.
Another thing which works well for me is to do an hour long or couple hour phone consultation. Then when you are done go through the clients site and write a report for them giving them specific action points for improving their sites visibility.
In doing that you can easily sell a $500 to $2,000 review package where you might be able to make a few hundred dollars an hour while still avoiding the longterm commitment of performing ongoing SEO services.
You get to feel the client out and they get to feel you out. At the end of that report you can say that if they have any questions or need any help they can get ahold of you.
By charging a decent bit off the start you help the client assume there is value which filters out many of the worst clients.
As long as the suggested improvements report and phone call do not sound like a sales pitch you start to build trust. If you and a client click you can go forward from there with a bit of trust built up.
I see tons and tons of sites sell full service SEO solutions, but few people seem to be looking for that middle ground where they can still deliver good value without expecting a longterm or big dollar commitment from the clients.
What are some of your favorite business models or sales techniques within the SEO space?
AdWords Spying: GoogSpy looks scrapes hundreds of thousands of searches from Google to determine who is bidding on what terms. The idea is killer, but the implementation is a bit lacking. Link found from ThreadWatch.
I don't really sell SEO services because they are time consuming and I am bad at pricing them.
Today I chatted with one of my friends about marketing their SEO firm. Many SEO firms spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars renting links each month, but otherwise remain somewhat anonymous.
Small Sale Steps:
With advertising they may rank great and get in front of a target audience, but after the audience finds the site it might make sense if there is an added step between finding a site and buy services. If you sell quality services they are usually going to cost a good sum of money. It is a huge leap of faith for a person to sign on from finding you in the search results. Research Notorious Salesmen:
This added step could further sell the client on you and prequalify them to meet what you are looking for in a client. I pretended I was interested in signing up for Cory Rudl's mentorship program because I wanted to see how they sold it.
There are lots of issues that make the mentorship program not appealing to me, but do you know how they did the sales calls?
They were not sold to me as sales pitches. They were sold as interviews to see if I was qualified for the program.
The whole time they were reminding me that they only wanted success stories. They were not willing to take me on unless I was serious. My first interview was to prequalify me for a second interview. The second interviewer normally is not available for a week or two, but surprise surprise they just happened to be available 15 minutes after my first interview was over. Why? They wanted to convert what they thought was a hot lead.
They reminded me the for common things that held people back:
time - a reminder that it takes time to see results and people should not be willing to give up quickly. Also a reminder that I would need to invest many hours of time into the program to see successful results. I would need to have time set aside.
money - they reminded me that I could take out loans, but that usually credit cards made it easier to get started right away. As a new unproven business is easier to get credit from credit card company than to apply for a loan.
knowledge - That is what the mentorship was supposed to provide me.
fear - It is an uncertain world. Some people fear success. Some people fear failure. By making the mentorship program seem overtly logical by addressing the above concerns they wanted to reinforce that I was making a good choice and there was no reason for fear.
Of course when I backed off when it came time to enter my credit card details they became even more aggressive in the hard sales pitch techniques. I said I had to talk to a friend and they said that I should respect my own thoughts and opinions. They said that I should put my own future and my business in my own hands. I agreed with them and that is why I told them to let me think about it for a while.
People buying SEO services likely share some of the concerns as people buying a marketing mentorship program. There are also a few others, but some of the most common questions might be easily packagable as downloadable PDF. To prospects sometimes the format of information can matter as much or more than the actual contents of the container.
Things that are under $100 (and especially things that are under $50) can be an impulse buy. The right kind of SEO client is typically not the kind who is doing impulse buying.
Most internet marketing techniques are fairly transparent.
Look at competing sites. How do they market on their sites.
Look at competign backlinks. How do they market via links.
Use Alexa. If you can afford it collect more data via HitWise.
Create seed sites in various industries. Have an auto insurance site that you market on AdWords or Overture.
Ask questions to friendly competitors.
Call or have a friend call other competitors as a prospective lead.
Ask for proposal documents.
Doing some of those might help show you where others are doing well, and then again the might do well in spite of, not because some of the action. Then maybe there are additional things you could do that most firms are not.
Some things firms could do to bridge the credibility gap beyond what algorithms say:
Write a bunch of articles and publish them on various sites.
Get interviewed by others.
Give away something.
Act your size. A large corporate account might bring in a ton of money, but they may suck up most your resources and have a ton of red tape.
Do not be afraid to put a personality into what you do.
Look for clients with common interests. Maybe there is some pent up demand in the local area?
Lots of other ideas. My friend came up with a great one, but I don't want to share it because its his idea. Hopefully he gives it a shot. :)
[disclaimer: I might be out to lunch here, but the intent of the post is to help...]
Not sure if many host companies are advertising for common errors at other hosts which their hosting packages support, but I would be willing to bet DOMXML hosting and DOM XML hosting and other similar derivative keywords are cheap ads - at least they looked it a few minutes ago.
Probably not a ton of traffic, but well targeted leads.
Just an idea for those stuck in that hyper competitive market. Not saying that I think people should sell hosting on the cheap, just that there might be some unsold inventory.
BTW, I have not got much feedback about Hub Finder yet. Apparently the host where it was hosted stopped supporting it.
Fatal error: Call to undefined function: domxml_open_mem
There is another copy here and here, and you can place the source code on your site if you want (change index.txt to index.php). Do you like it, or think it sucks, or...?
I have read Seth Godin's blog consistantly for the past year. I also believe I have read every book that he has wrote in the 5 years. I even went to his office one day to hang out. In the past he has made some comments about SEO which were a bit off mark, but in the end I agree that for most people SEO is not going to be a long term business model. If you really know your stuff well you might be able to get by just doing SEO, but for some people that will eventually get old. Technology will continue to advance. SEO can enhance distribution but if SEO and selling stuff cheap are your longterm brand strategy you could be making more money creating legitimate value for a growing social network which may eventually market your products for you.
I recently read a book which recommended a decent SEO tool and appoligized for mentioning it due to sleeze sales copy.
I recently tried another SEO tool, which has recurring monthly fees. The tips newsletter immediately offered me a special deal not promoted on the site - some Cory Rudl affiliate links. I even replied to the person to tell them that I thought it was sleeze.
If you are charging me a healthy recurring subscription on a low cost system do you need to sleeze upsell me? Is an extra $4 a month worth me not wanting to recommend your software? Worse yet, the how to manual for the SEO tool had three pages reminding readers how they can become rich reselling the software. Gross.
[disclaimer: within my sites I market my ebook heavily, but as time passes my sales letter will probably become more and more soft sell. My end goal is to be able to have no need to have a sales letter, but that might still be a bit down the road. ]
2.) Consulting & Services:
As a consultant or person working in a related field the best position to be in is to have more leads than you can possibly use. That way you get to chose what hours you work, set your prices, pick your clients, etc.
By not being a hard seller you miss out on some sales, but it also helps to build trust if you don't immediately go for a hard sell. Taking time to review things and build a relationship you are less likely to waste effort trying to sell to a person who is not interested in buying.
I think Jill Whalen has worked rather hard at developing a soft sell system which lets her pick and chose who she wants to work with.
3.) business meetings:
When I go to SES or related conferences many people are like "do you have a business card?", and I never do.
In that situation I look stupid, confident, or both. If you want to remember me that is great, if not I don't want to be another card in the stack.
Sure you want to build relationships over time, but if you give a few hundred people your card you might get a couple leads out of it. I have a huge stack of business cards and know few of the people.
As long as you appoligize for any mistakes you make or any inconvenience you cause someone they will probably think better of you than if everything just went smoothly off the start.
The added effort to get or give someones data without convenient little cards makes it more personal. If you want to remember me I probably do not need a card.
If you don't have cards and chose to meet a few people really well you might be better off as you will likely stick out a bit more than the average card in the stack.
[disclaimer 2: I might be full of crap, but these are my opinions, and I am sharing them. Please let me know what you think of them in the comments below]
As a person who gets many inqueries I see many many many prospective clients want $100,000 of results on a $300 spend. If that opportunity was worth doing it would be just as easy to become an affiliate of a competing site, spend $1,000 to throw up your own site, and make $5,000 a month on the same work without needing to deal with clients.
Marketing SEO Services:
Many SEOs who sell SEO services remain somewhat faceless on the web, which is a huge mistake IMHO. I have yet to find a single type of marketing which worked as fast at driving SEO sales as writing and syndicating an article can.
The main portion of my current business model banks on the fact that the misleading confusion of various outdated or incorrect articles, blog post, and / or forum posts will lead some people to want to buy an up to date linear guide about SEO and related topics.
If you do sell SEO services I can't stress enough how well writing articles works. The more you learn about SEO the more you see that many of the branded experts are only experts because they have a strong brand. Articles are a cheap way to building brand. Many businesses outside of SEO could use this technique far more often as well.