What real SEOs do

Ian Lurie

Last week I was talking to a potential client. She asked my price. I said “$4000/month”. She said “Well, what do the guys who charge $300/month do?” Her tone said something more like, “You worthless piece of crap, you’re ripping me off.”

So, here’s your answer: What my team does when you hire us. I am lifting my kimono, baring my soul, and otherwise putting our entire SEO process out on display. I feel reasonably safe doing so, since this stuff changes so fast that by the time all the incompetent chuckleheads are done copying it, it’ll be obsolete:

SEO Deliverables

I did remove frequency from the table. No reason for me to tell you all how often we do all this. I also left out stuff like exactly how we do it all. So copy away!

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. $4000/mo., eh? Looking at your full SEO process, this definitely looks worth the money if a) you know what you’re doing and b) you’re able to do quality work consistently. Obviously this couldn’t be justified quite as easily with, say, a 10-page site that some small business created via GoDaddy Website Tonight or something. =)
    I think there’s such a lack of respect for what we do, I sometimes have trouble defending a couple hundred dollars per month. It’s humiliating sometimes.

  2. Oh, how I know this kind of buyers!! They are a special category, continuingly growing in size, that want top quality for nothing. They have to learn that quality has a price. They learned just that the high price does not necessarily mean quality. Some are even absurd. I admire you for answering so calm and professional, you should have replied: we fix the 300$ SEO done by others. If you hire us from the beginning, it will cost you 4000, otherwise it’s 4300. How much time you need to convince yourself that 300$ SEO is not efficient, so that I can book you in advance. And don’t worry about me in copying your plan, I don’t speak this language and indeed after I take every line and check it to see the meaning and means, it will be obsolete.

  3. I like how transparent you are being, but just to plays devils advocate for a second. If a client were to look at that list, their eyes would go crossed.
    Link Sleuthing? Log Analysis? Link Bait? Content Spinning?
    To the the average client, they would have no idea what any of those tactics/analysis are. So the big question is, how do you justify $4,000/month worth of value….easier said then done, I’m sure.
    I think a good follow up to this post would be explaining how you would go about educating the client on these things (or not, depending on how technical the tactic is). Do you show examples, try to explain each concept, or is it more or less..here are all of the things we do, pay me!
    I think at the end of the day it comes down to your brand, track record, relationship with the potential/current client, and perceived value.
    Would love to hear your thought in more detail on these things. The reason is, is that I have tried saying here are all of the things we do for your $x a month, but to the client they don’t really want to hear about it. They just want to know when they can see results.
    Thanks for giving us a look at your process though, always nice to compare!

  4. @Mark I agree. I do explain all of this stuff, in detail, including the honest answer that you CAN’T PREDICT WHEN THIS STUFF WILL WORK. What you can predict is that, with good SEO, you end up with a better site, better copywriting and a higher-converting marketing campaign. And you can point at history: Countless instances where SEO worked brilliantly, and none where it failed for our clients.
    The first few times someone asks that question, I understand. But at some point it becomes an excuse, a cop-out that lets someone avoid the real work of making a responsible business decision.
    It’s also an insult to everyone’s intelligence to think that it’d work for $300. Seriously. I don’t know much about brain surgery, but I know that someone who offers to do it for 1/10th the cost of another surgeon is probably going to leave me a vegetable.

  5. Mark Thompson raises a good point – the response I often receive is “well that’s all fine and well but what results do I get for $X/month?”.
    That question takes some education before it can be answered but it will help them realize what they won’t be getting if they spring for $300/month.
    More and more often I also find that I’m coming up against competitors who are offering monthly pay-for-performance plans, something I find slightly concerning for a whole bunch of reasons.

  6. Ian, that’s a natural response when you’ve outlined the process and not the results.
    I know that no can promise actual results but a response along the lines of :
    For the cost of a couple of magazine adverts a month, we are going to champion your brand online, making your brand and products more visible and your product results more clickable. And that’s something the $300 a month hacks can’t do.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Ian. It looks like you do a thorough job, and I like that you return frequently to look at how strategies need to change over time. I know some companies are looking for a one-shot, hard-and-fast overview (and they find $300 SEOs to do it, which is why they fail).

  8. The value you provide isn’t in how many things you monitor or update. It’s in how the things you monitor are being improved by your expertise. Mose of your reports are auto generated. Frequency or list of “to do’s” aren’t the value you add.

  9. Not directly relevant to what SEOs do…but this post jogged my memory. (That’s what happens with us old geezers — everything seems to send us scuttling down Memory Lane.)
    Many moons ago, when we were young and fresh out of graduate school / first jobs, we lived in a little town called Natchitoches, Louisiana, about midway between Alexandria and Shreveport. It was the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, and it was chock-full of Old Money.
    I had about three years’ professional copywriting experience at the time, including agency experience. I decided to freelance, and I picked up a few clients. One was a lady from one of the Old French Families with all the Old French Money in Natchitoches. She had converted her historic home to a pricey B&B, and she wanted me to write a brochure for her. Which I did. I charged her the grand sum of $100. Thereupon she went ballistic. She thought that, for $100, she should get (1) the copy, (2) the graphic design, and (3) the printing. I am not making this up. She thought this thing should be written, designed, and PRINTED for $100.
    Meanwhile, she was charging a king’s ransom (nightly rate) for her B&B rooms.
    The audacity of Some People never fails to stagger me. That’s why I remain a corporate slave. I just cannot deal with some of these [email protected] in the Client World. I highly commend and greatly admire anyone — like our Ian — who can deal with idiots who want something for nothing.

  10. I’ve seen companies charge $10,000 for a one time “campaign” where they don’t actually do anything. They rely on the site owner not knowing anything about SEO. It’s a scam that gives real SEO’s a bad name.
    Then, there are real SEO’s, like Ian, that know their stuff and provide real value, who now have to get crap from clients about charging fees for doing real work.

  11. Hi Ian,
    Very interesting info – it is a shame people like myself – the small guys if you like – can not afford your fees.
    I have a quick question for you – if you don’t mind – what is your professional opinion on myarticlenetwork and seolinkvine?
    Many thanks,

  12. @Paul I haven’t tried either one. I have used UniqueArticleWizard and 10LinksADay, both of which I highly recommend.

  13. Hey Ian,
    Great post, thanks for sharing this story and information. One question though: aren’t tools like UniqueArticleWizard and 10LinksADay looked at as black hat SEO? I’m new to this, so maybe you could give a quick summary of why these tools are helpful and why they are still white hat and sustainable.

  14. @Ben To me, if they’re decent articles, it falls into gray or white hat territory. If you’re scraping or using an algorithm to automatically rewrite, that’s another thing.
    My feelings about linking tactics are mixed. There’s a clear, huge double-standard between big web sites and small, and you have no chance of competing if you go with 100% organic, acquired links.
    Content networks like UAW and 10Links are sustainable IF you are also out getting those small numbers of high-value links. They build a foundation of links over time. They’re not sustainable tactics on their own.

  15. @Ian
    Thanks for your response, it def helped clarify things for me.
    When you say: “here’s a clear, huge double-standard between big web sites and small, and you have no chance of competing if you go with 100% organic, acquired links.” Are you referring to the fact that small websites cant compete with larger websites for similar keywords? and by small do you mean lower budget? smaller companies? smaller traffic numbers? less content?
    Also, any posts that you know of that talk about how to go about building the small number of high-value links?
    Lastly, sorry for asking so many favors of you! And thanks for anything you are willing to share!

  16. @Ben I mean there’s a massive double-standard. Big companies regularly get away with buying links. Older, established sites get ‘grandfathered’ in with huge numbers of total spam links, while newer sites get no traction. Also, big companies and organizations sell links via sponsorships, promotions, etc. and get away with that, too.
    No problem! Keep asking great questions.

  17. Hi guys,
    I have used myarticlenetwork for the last eight months and it has worked very well for my websites.
    I write an article and then the webmasters in the network are then able to choose whether they want to include it on their site or not. This “review” is what essentially will make it “white hat” as the webmasters can discard the trash.
    One way links from different types of website, links that are not paid for – what can ever be wrong with that?
    An important thing to remember, well at least in my opinion, is not to build up the links too quickly. I personally gain a steady but even amount of backward links each month using myarticlenetwork.
    Ian; I believe that UAW and myarticlenetwork are essentially the same network but I could be wrong.

  18. Now Ian. . .
    We all get these people who wander into the wrong place and end up on the phone with us. She deserves our understanding and empathy; and page 436 on a Bing search. 🙂
    Actually, I find the $300 price point fascinating. I work with small businesses and see owners over and over buy any form of promotion/advertising vehicle or service as long as it’s $300. It’s cheap enough they just don’t get too upset when it doesn’t work. And it never works. They end up three-hundred dollaring themselves out of business.

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