Which Hurts the Credibility of the SEO Field More? ...

What is worse, when Matt Marlon's Traffic Power cold calls people selling SEO services or when Wal Mart offer SEO services for $25 a month? Both of them carve away at the profitability of real SEO by creating a market for lemons.

Given that many of the industry associatiations are hollow vehicals for self promotion and that services are not as profitable as running your own sites it is going to get harder and harder to find an SEO worth hiring that will actually want to optimize a website for what is deemed a fair market price.

Published: January 3, 2008 by Aaron Wall in marketing


January 3, 2008 - 7:34am

I'm not especially fond of cold calling, but the commoditisation of SEO services by Wal Mart is scarier.

As you point out, driving down the price of professional SEO services will ultimately affect the SEO offerings out there. I'd personally use my knowledge to create income through my own content sites than work for cut-price rates to promote someone else's sites.

January 3, 2008 - 9:23am

Hi GerryBot
I think that owning your own sites that make money through selling products, affiliate income, or advertising are a great way to set a baseline for the value of your time, and keep your income growing logarithmically year after year.

January 3, 2008 - 8:27am

SEO services for $25 bucks a month from a large profitable corporate institution sounds like a great deal until you do some research and educate yourself on what real SEO is all about (thanks Aaron). I can see the sales pitches now: "Get our website software with built-in SEO for only $29.95." Now, if you did not know anything about SEO that may sound like a steal. The unknowing small business owner may buy the package in hopes that it will boost the rank of his site. In the end, his site may end-up being the new king at the bottom of the search engine ranks.

I believe SEO leaders need to educate small business owners on SEO best practices and what to look for in an SEO service provider. Educate small business owners via dedicated forums and sites to articulate the value of an integrated marketing/pr-seo strategy for the long haul. Also, educate small business owners on what happens to sites that use overly aggressive SEO tactics for short term gain.

My comments focus on small business owners as they are the ones most likely targeted for these services. Furthermore, most small business owners may not know any better given time and financial constraints, technical background, etc... Some fellow small business owners I met with had no idea what SEO stands for even when I spelled-it out: Search Engine Optimization. However, they understand the value of having a listing in the top ten results--how they get there is a complete puzzle...to them, that $25 SEO service may not be such a bad deal afterall...

January 3, 2008 - 9:28am

I believe SEO leaders need to educate small business owners on SEO best practices and what to look for in an SEO service provider.

I think the problem is consumer laziness. You can't help the people who need it most. Sites like mine and SEOMoz do a lot to offer free educational advice.

The second smaller problem is that as standards become too standard the search engines shift the game, so education is a constant learning process.

January 3, 2008 - 8:26am


I feel like SEO is getting to that point where it is either a commodity now or will start to be seen as one, especially in the SMB space.

A previous client of mine basically said they were moving on to a guy that was charging them $150 a month to do web design and optimization services.

This is the same thing that happened in 2000-2003 with the Network and Infrastructure services.

With people like Matt Marlon and SAM's club, it puts an even bigger negative outlook on our community.

January 3, 2008 - 9:20am

Hi Tony
From my perspective I think the real value of SEO keeps increasing as the field gets more complex and polluted and Google keeps winning marketshare. But I think the perceived value keeps dropping, which is a good thing if you are an independant webmaster who knows SEO, but a bad thing if your business model relies on selling bespoke SEO services (unless perhaps you have a market leading brand).

January 3, 2008 - 9:20am

I wouldn't worry about it. the web design industry has been plagued by this for years. The problem is that SEO is now a massively searched term (check G Trends) so lots of people are jumping on the band wagon to make a quick buck selling 'noddy' services.

As someone who's worked in web design throughout the last 8 years my advice is to stick to your guns. sell based on evidence and don't try to be 'competitive' in your pricing, instead maintain your services at a level where customers who unde3rstand and value your expertise are willing to pay the appropriate price for such high calibre services.

For years we cut and cut our pricing before figuring out that we wasn't making any money, we then brought our pricing up to an acceptable level and no body batted an eyelid, in fact the noddy clients stopped ringing which was a bonus!

January 3, 2008 - 9:22am

Hi Trooperbill
I totally agree that rather than lowering prices, charging more and perhaps adding some pre-qualifying and educational stuff upfront to filter bad leads and build the trust of good ones is the direction to go if you want to keep selling services.

January 3, 2008 - 3:06pm

True. some people will always go for the lowest quote... i see it time and time again. these are the clients you typically dont want. The other thing is yes to educate, but dont tell them too much as what happens then is they go somewhere else and educate a competitor... which is never good.



January 3, 2008 - 8:43pm

yes to educate, but dont tell them too much as what happens then is they go somewhere else and educate a competitor... which is never good.

If the client is the one really educating the provider then that provider is not a real provider and they are not competition...they are like Wal Mart.

Dave Keffen
January 3, 2008 - 10:52am

I also agree with Trooperbill. As soon as we start lowering prices it becomes harder to achieve good results for our clients.

Unfortunately without prejudice to Wal Mart, who have as much right to make money as the rest of us, their advertising will tempt many who are not switched on to think they can get it cheap, however IMHO a company with Wal Mart's resources will inevitably have so many customers that after a while, even if they are able to get good results for some of their clients, they will not be able to do them all justice.

For hundreds of businesses competing in the same sector it just doesn't make sense to hire an SEO service that has split loyalties.

The strength of a small, compact SEO company is that they will normally only take on one or two clients whose businesses are in the same sector. We probably need to make more of this than we already do.

Dropping prices when business is slow is always tempting, but rather than doing this it would surely be better to spend our time proving ourselves through results and showing all the extras our clients can expect when they pay a reasonable amount.

SERPs speak for themselves. Whilst a large corporation may have the money to throw at a project like this, after a while will thousands of clients there will also be a lot of repetition in the methods they are using. I feel quite sure that Google et al will not allow Wal Mart's methods to rule the web for their own sake, otherwise it wouldn't be long before we see 'Walbrowse' or even 'Waldows' (not a reference to you Aaron).

Getting back to your original point, in terms of credibility, I reckon Wal Mart's move will have a more damaging effect than cold callers.

January 3, 2008 - 3:09pm

Don't you think walmart has an ulterior motive? I think they'll be dropping crafty links as credits onto the bottom of every site they seo... in effect buying links for offering a cut price service... they could also tailor the links back into walmart sales channels based on the source sites content.

Dave Keffen
January 3, 2008 - 5:49pm

Almost certainly.

January 3, 2008 - 3:21pm

I believe SEO leaders need to educate small business owners on SEO best practices and what to look for in an SEO service provider.


Walmart offering SEO is a plus for me - let them mug a few people then get my 'phone ringing. How on earth they can make an honest profit here is beyond me.

I only work local these days and have a nice client base which is growing slowly - I'll take all the Walmart SEO "unhappiness" and charge a fair amount for me and the client who if they do as I say and do will be happy.

Greetings Northern California friends ;)

January 3, 2008 - 4:07pm

Yes, it sucks that Wal-Mart enters the market with a 25 dollar offer and that now Microsoft offers fixed price SEO in two packages one for 5,000 and one for about 8500 dollars. Now, the Microsoft offer seems more reasonable, but still it is a one time shot, in and out and then WHAT?

We have to build up the understanding of what SEO is WORTH and that we take a stance against 25 and even 5000 dollar one time solutions. SEO is long term. Yes regular SEO cost, but the ROI on SEO is 68%, which is MORE than on any other marketing activity in any chart I have seen.

SEO IS VALUABLE. We just need to get the market to see the difference between REAL SEO and square low cost in the box solutions.

Yes. A Mercedes Benz Stationvagon is more expensive than a Hyundai Stationvagon, but it is so much better.

As professional SEO:s, I think we should blog on AMA:s site as well as other marketing forums and also aks that SEMPO is doing something to build up all SEO:s image and teach the market the difference betweene a cheap not efficient "in the box" solution and a professional solution where a real person with education, experience and passion for SEO can do.

More case studies on the effects of professional SEO:s. www.emarketer.com had an article showing that a professional SEO got 187% better results that in-house SEO, but I am sure there are a lot more.

Peter H

January 3, 2008 - 8:50pm

SEMPO is doing something to build up all SEO:s image

Those guys are a bunch of wankers, IMHO. As far as promoting the industry goes, one of them who wrote their training program just wrote a 3 part series on why you can't learn SEO from a book.

And the SEO that scammed my wife and got her site a reciprocal links penalty was found through SEMPO.

Network Geek
January 3, 2008 - 4:33pm

I agree with rsinno regarding value.
The discounted rates *seem* like a good deal, especially to someone who doesn't understand anything about SEO. The problem I see is showing the uninitiated something easily measured that shows the improvement, or lack of improvement, in the search results.

The only time I've actually done SEO for someone else, and for money, I moved them from something like the 38th page of Google results to the second page (ie. top twenty hits). But, I don't think that's normally a good way to display results. I don't have a good answer to this either, though, so I'd love to read suggestions.
(And, yes, if you want to check my claim, Google "Houston divorce attorney". Look for Gary Hinchman. I got very sick, so I didn't keep him as a client due to lack of time, but I got him started up the rankings.)

January 3, 2008 - 4:50pm

Let me ask you guys a question...

Do you think that there is ANY value in a Walmart-SEO campaign? Instead of just saying they suck, maybe this could be a first step, like submitting to directories or something like that? And you can just sign up for a month or two and take advantage of the service... Then when the easy stuff is done, you take over yourself and "in-house" the operation.

I would personally love Walmart peons to do some of the more mind-numbing activities involved with SEO, and you know there are plenty of those :)

I've been too scared to try it - but what do you think?


January 3, 2008 - 9:54pm

You just gave me an idea Nick. More on that later. ;)

January 7, 2008 - 5:17am

Hey now, keep me in the loop!!

You could always email me if you don't want to share with the class :)


January 7, 2008 - 5:39am

The idea has 2 or 3 months before launching and I can't give away the secret just yet.

Dave Keffen
January 3, 2008 - 6:22pm

Just for info, here's the link to the agent Wal Mart seems to be using:


Don't know if this is the only company involved, but they seem to be.

January 3, 2008 - 7:45pm

I understand your arguments in regards to SEO as a stand-alone service, but I'm wondering if any of you think that there is still a valuable market out there for qualified "web strategy" consultants? So, basically I'm talking about a guy who walks into an SMB, and oversees the entire process. Finds low-hanging fruit or any loose ends in all areas (SEO, Usability, Analytics, etc...). Someone that isn't necessarily a professional in any particular field, but knows enough about each specialty to hire for, delegate, or automate any of the tasks necessary to implement a specific strategy.

I personally see a great deal of value in that kind of service, but I work in-house so I don't have the experience to know for sure. Aaron, I remember you speaking about being the "ideas guy" in a few of your posts. Let's say that I just can't afford to create my own sites and work for a year or two before seeing any profit, and that I need some sort of income now. Can I be the web "ideas guy" for other companies until I have enough capital to work on my own projects? or should I scratch the whole consultant thing entirely?

January 3, 2008 - 9:48pm

The answer to that depends largely on your goals and mindset. You can do just about anything you want to do, but you have to want it.

Findability expert, conversion expert, and usability expert are good examples of ways to be branded as a marketer without being branded as sleazy.

insignificant flek
January 3, 2008 - 9:00pm

It's ultimately great for us! One of my best customers came to me after going the bargain basement seo route. He was extremely unhappy with the results and when I quoted him $thousands more, he happily paid because he had something to compare it to. I simply showed him where my current page results were and asked him where his were after skimping!
Ultimately though, I think owning the site is where it's at. Why would you want to coach if you can hit home runs yourself?!

January 4, 2008 - 3:24pm

This could be a good thing...

I think the bottomfeeders of the industry will force potential clients to become a bit more educated about it because nobody is going to walk away from it altogether (for long, at least).

Also may kick some of us out of the boat to be more proactive in creating our own sites instead of making or clients all the money. Of course some markets, can't be easily replicated with an affiliate or lead-gen site, but many more than most think...

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