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High Rankings Advisor: SEO/SEM Pricing Models - Issue No. 143

July 6, 2005


*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   SEO/SEM Pricing Models

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   Web CEO
---->   SEM Kit for Search Engine Marketers

*Guest Article:
---->   Keyword Research, Competition, and Selection

*Stuff You Might Like:
---->   Keyword Intelligence

*High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week:
---->   Is There Such a Thing as Spam Anymore?

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   SES San Jose Free Pass

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Hey everyone!  Today I was wondering what I should write about, when
suddenly a perfect question came by email.  I love when that happens!
So now I've got a great article on SEO pricing models for you, as well
as a great keyword research article by Dan Thies.  Be sure to also
check out Dan's online course and his SEM kit when you have a chance.
You'll also want to take a look at the forum thread of the week, as it
was a real doozy!

Enjoy! - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++SEO/SEM Pricing Models++

Hi Jill,

I am a partner in a website design and development company.  Within
the past year, I have begun to learn as much as possible about the
search engine optimization and marketing world.  While reading and
researching, I have found that there is very little useful information
on the current trend(s) of pricing SEO/SEM project and maintenance.

I was hoping that you could help me to understand what pricing models
exist and which one you consider the best.  I have seen many SEO
companies' websites that guarantee results, but I have read numerous
articles, books and websites that tell you not to trust a company
guaranteeing results.  Any helpful insight you could provide would be
greatly appreciated.

Thank you,


++Jill's Response++

Hi Steve,

This is a great question and one every SEO and SEM company has
struggled with at one time or another.  My own company still struggles
with it from time to time as we learn from each new client we work
with.  The most important thing to understand is that there may not be
any one pricing model that will be right for every client that you
work with.

Search marketing campaigns can have so many facets that it's very hard
to provide a one-size-fits-all solution.  Ideally, you should have a
long chat with any potential client to best understand what they need,
and then provide them with a proposal and pricing schedule to match.

Currently, we've found 3 basic SEO pricing models that seem to work well
with most of our clients.  Please keep in mind that these options may
or may not fit with your own way of doing business.

One-time Fee Pricing

Some clients would prefer to pay one fee to have you optimize a
limited number of pages on their site.  This model works well for
those companies who don't want a long-term contract, and who have a
smaller site with a finite number of pages.  When working this way,
you'll need to know the most important areas of the client's site,
their best-selling products and services, etc., and then focus on the
corresponding top-level pages.  The price would also include a
directory submission campaign but probably not a full-blown
link-building campaign.  For these clients we would ask for half the
fee up front, and the other half when all the on-page optimization and
directory submittals were finished.  We would generally budget
approximately 3 months from start to finish with a one-time-fee type
of campaign, and provide the client with an option for signing up for
a long-term contract at that time.

6-month Contract

This option is good for clients who want more long-term work than the
one-time-fee option provides.  Complicated dynamically generated sites
will minimally need this type of program, as they can't generally be
served well with the one-time-fee option.  The longer contract allows
you to work on more pages of their site and do some continuous link
building.  We usually amortize the entire project fee out into monthly
payments for the 6-month contract.  Even though the bulk of the work
may be done in the first 3 months of the project, pricing it this way
allows the client to pay a fixed amount each month instead of having a
big hit at the beginning of the project.

1-year Contract

This option is basically the same as the 6-month option, but it's
amortized over an entire year.  A lot more can be accomplished with an
SEO campaign that is contracted for an entire year.  Since it can take
several months to spot traffic and conversion trends, you often need
this amount of time to really get your campaign cranking the way you
want it to.  This is true of SEO as well as PPC campaigns.  Once the
site is the way you like it during the first half of the year, the
second half can be spent testing and tweaking, plus gaining additional
attention for the site, which can often translate into links.

With all of the above pricing models, we offer an incentive to sign up
for the longer contracts.  In other words, it will be cheaper to sign
up for the 1-year option rather than signing up for the 6-month option
and then signing up again for another 6 months.

Regarding guarantees when it comes to SEO, I've discussed this
previously here: </issue067.htm#seo>.  In
summary, there's nothing inherently wrong with offering a guarantee if
it actually means something, but I've yet to see an SEO guarantee that
does.  They definitely don't guarantee that you'll end up with high
rankings, and they only sometimes guarantee that you'll get your money
back if you don't see high rankings.


Here is some past info on SEO guarantees.

Be sure to read and understand your contract with any SEO company,
especially one that offers guarantees.  I've seen too many cases where
the client believed their SEO contract wasn't fulfilled, but they were
not able to get their money back because in reality (and in the fine
print) the contract *was* filled.  Not only that, but if you stop
paying one of these slick companies because you didn't get what you
thought you were getting, THEY will sue YOU for breaking the contract!
Some of the largest SEO companies in the world operate this way, so
buyer beware!

I hope this information is what you were looking for and is helpful to


(P.S. If anyone would like to republish the above Q&A article, please
email me your request and where it will reside, and I'll send you a
short bio you can use with it for your site.)

~~~Guest Article~~~

++Keyword Research, Competition, and Selection++

Today's guest article is written by SEO keyword research guru Dan
Thies.  Dan wanted me to let you know that he still has room in his
Advanced SEO class and is keeping registration open until July 11.
He's also running an "SEO Your Site" workshop which is intended for
folks who have one website they want to work on.  The workshop also
includes a complete video set from the Advanced SEO class.
Registration for the workshop begins on July 19.

You can find more info on Dan's SEO training courses here:

Take it away, Dan! - Jill

Keyword Research, Competition, and Selection
By Dan Thies

The first point regarding keyword research and selection is that you
should first select the "desired" search terms, those that would be
most valuable because they reach the target audience best. This is
important because you're building a website for humans, not search

Selecting your most desirable search terms has nothing to do with the
level of competition. It's all about reaching the target market. The
process I recommend is the relevance evaluation and "weighted
popularity" calculation; our spreadsheet is available for download
from the SEO tools area on our site.

If people are searching with certain words and phrases, they expect to
find content around those terms. Even if you believe that the SEO
competition is too great for a certain generic phrase, you still
shouldn't build a site without that content.

Keyword research should tell you what people are looking for; a good
site will provide it, regardless of SEO considerations.

The second point is that competition may dictate how you target the
desired search terms. Some will be reachable via SEO with an
acceptable level of effort; some will be reachable via PPC at an
acceptable cost; some will be out of reach (vs. the budget) either

Just because you can't target the generic phrase, that doesn't mean
it's not important for your SEO strategy. People will use that generic
search term as part of longer searches, so it's important to identify
the "modifiers" that people will use, and incorporate those in the
content. This allows your "for humans" content to attract search
engine referrals.

As an example, we worked recently with a site that has information on
real estate licensing & training programs. All of the generic terms
were too competitive for their budget, but with rich content their
referrals for terms that include "real estate license" exceed the
projected traffic for a top-10 ranking on that generic term.

With the more refined competition metrics (intitle+inanchor) there is
no "rule" as to what makes a search term too competitive. This metric
gives you an indication of how many pages have been optimized for any
given phrase.  I would say that if the "intitle+inanchor" count is
very close to the "intitle" count, it usually indicates a higher level
of intentional competition.  We like to look at the link-popularity
numbers from Alexa (# of unique web hosts linking to a site) as well.

One other point about competition: In my opinion, the best measurement
of competition is pay-per-click. If people are willing to pay $5.00
per click with Overture, they're also willing to spend that much to
get traffic from organic listings. This varies with the seasons on
some terms, but so does SEO competition, now that link buying is such
a big part of the landscape and the focus of a site's external profile
can be changed from month to month.  (See our pinned thread at the
High Rankings Forum on "Measuring Keyword Competitiveness" for more
info.) most cases, a really disciplined approach to assessing
relevance will lead to good keyword selection for SEO, and competition
becomes less of an issue. Measuring the current competition in any way
isn't the same thing as considering the long-term competition anyway.

The competition is what it is; it will continually increase for all
search terms. The main thing you can do about this is to improve the
effectiveness of your link-building efforts, and there are many ways
to make link building a profitable activity in itself.

If you teach people to build links profitably, then they have a huge
long-term advantage vs. folks who are simply buying text links from
link brokers. If my links pay me every month, and my competitors'
links send them an invoice every month, who is going to win that race?

Dan Thies
SEO Research Labs

_________SEM Kit for Search Engine Marketers____________adv.

Confused About the Best Way To Run Your New SEM Biz?

Dan Thies' new SEM Kit from SitePoint provides you with a book &
CD-ROM that includes a client-management form, SEM sales
presentation, SEM process flowchart, keyword-research worksheet,
sample agreement, proposal, pricing calculator, and a whole lot more.

And that's just the CD! The book is chock-full of SEO/SEM strategies.

Order now for $197.00 with free shipping for a limited time:


~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++Keyword Intelligence++

And speaking of keywords, the folks from HitWise have just come out
with a keyword research tool called "Keyword Intelligence" which you
can find at <>.

I had a chance to play with it a bit this week, and it looks pretty
darn powerful!  Unfortunately, it's somewhat on the expensive side at
$89/mo. for their basic product and $189/mo. for their standard one.
I haven't had a chance to put it to any real-world tests yet, but with
the number of clients I have and the amount of keyword research we do,
I'm pretty sure we would need the more expensive standard product,
plus a few additional licenses for it.  I am fairly sure that we'd get
our money's worth from it, but will know more once we are able to put
it to the test for a good month or so.  I'll be sure to write up a
full review then!

I don't think the Keyword Intelligence product will replace
Wordtracker  in our keyword
research arsenal, but will probably be something we use in addition to
it.  The nice thing is that you can import and export keywords from
Keyword Intelligence to run through Wordtracker and vice-versa.

For now I'd say it's well worth the $89 to test it out for a month
yourself and then decide if it will provide you with a positive return
on your investment!

~~~High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week~~~

++Is There Such a Thing as Spam Anymore?++

Since there's no need to submit to search engines these days, they are
the ones passively indexing and listing whatever pages they find on
your server. Therefore, you can theoretically upload any types of
pages you want, make sure they are linked to one way or another, and
the engines will probably pick them up.

If search engines choose to list and rank those types of pages, is it
search engine spam?

Read our interesting forum discussion and share your own thoughts on
this topic.

~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

That's all for today!

We saw our daughter Jamie off to Hawaii this morning.  I'll see her
again in August when she flies in from Honolulu to San Jose while I'm
there for the SES conference.

And speaking of the conference, I do have a free pass to give away
again.  If you are sure you can attend and can also pay for your
travel and lodging, feel free to email me
to let me know why you should be the one to receive it!

Catch you in two weeks. - Jill

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