I saw this question posted on a message board recently:
Title: Wanted SEO/SEM Vendor Referral
Message: Does anyone have a COST EFFECTIVE SEO and SEM vendor referral. I am open to outsourcing, if referral for trustworthy vendor.
Thanks, "Uninformed Buyer"
I actually cringed in horror; just look at those capital letters on precisely the wrong attributes! Cost is usually the wrong question to focus on when choosing a search engine optimization (SEO) professional, as it implies you are buying a commodity.
Strategic effectiveness and search marketing profitability impact are much more appropriate questions. A quality SEO is all too rare, and should be priced like fine artwork.
If search engine optimization is about organic ranking effectiveness on the web that drives relevant, converting and revenue-generating traffic – wouldn't online research of organic listings be a good first step? I'd assert it would be a good place to create a short prospect list of vendors to perform due diligence.
Yet many companies receive sales calls from SEO firms which don't have their SEO act together every day. Educating people to resist this is part of changing the industry's image, and quality SEOs share responsibility in creating this reality.
Quality SEO is presently a significantly undervalued skill set. Yet it can dramatically transform profitability of a business, as it has superior economics when compared to traditional media spending. However, since this value proposition is not yet understood by many management team executives, it often lacks the executive support it requires both in terms of financial resources and supporting needed operational changes.
It is also competing with large, highly entrenched budgets which are frequently controlled by individuals without a deep knowledge of search engine marketing which adds uncertainties to the selection process.
Let's examine in more detail the reasons why:
Most executive management teams don't yet fully understand the economics and far-reaching business implications of SEO. Once established, the marginal cost of each visitor from organic search engine traffic is essentially zero. No other marketing channel matches the relevancy and economics of search.
Search engine marketing's transformation of legacy enterprise profitability is in its infancy. I have a small business client who had a 45-percent increase in unique visitors to their site. The business owner also reduced his yellow pages advertising by $15,000, yet maintained their revenue for luxury services during this recession. Constant or increased revenue, combined with reduced traditional media spending increased profitability.
Most people outside of the search engine community do not fully appreciate the magnitude of the shift from push to pull marketing. Setting up your organization to be effectively found by people creating their own customer segmentation from search requires infinitely more domain skill and creative thinking than traditional strategy consulting brainstorming followed by push marketing. This is creating a migration of focus to niche brand attributes that search engine technology enables.
Management teams must understand SEO to effectively manage it. To manage search engine marketing at the thirty-thousand-foot level, you have to understand it at the three-foot level. Whether an internal employee or an external consultant, you've experienced this problem.
Recently, I was on an "ask anything" panel at CMS Expo and numerous technology professionals expressed frustration with management that did not understand content strategy, web site organizational impact or related change management issues. They asked the panel what they should do. I suggested that they educate the head of IT or CTO and others about these issues, as some people won't embrace content strategy. Smother people with education about the benefits, and the tide will eventually turn.
Measuring SEO is still an imprecise art form, which Google appears determined to prevent from becoming a science. Recent "localization" schemes, alleged paid link PageRank penalties, rumors of blocking of rank checking tools and other changes that certain management team members seem determined to obfuscate the ability to measure SEO activities.
The strategy may backfire on them in the end, as it's creating more focus on why these activities are hard to measure. This creates abundant opportunities for entrepreneurial SEO thought leaders to develop measurement and accountability tools that are independent of Google. In the long run, this should be healthy for the industry.
Search engine marketing might be the largest change management project in history. Successful change management must have strong executive sponsorship. This is a major bottleneck as most management teams do not understand search engine marketing.
To increase both forward speed of budget transformational processes to search engine marketing and SEO content strategy, companies must hire a new breed of CEO and CMO. These emerging leaders must have a rare combination of traditional business skills and who have gone through the process of learning search engine marketing and the lessons of relevancy and efficiency.
Executive recruiting needs to look beyond the job title to hire effective search engine marketing leaders. Organizations need to seek out leaders and consultants for their competencies regarding search engine marketing and profit improvement abilities. But they cannot ignore other competencies that go with it, like passion, a track record with analytics and metrics regardless of industry, curiosity, and the ability to bring traffic and awareness via personal branding using both web sites and social media.
Resume databases are simply vertical search engines after all. Unfortunately, they are creating too much focus on job titles rather than competencies, cultural fit and transformational leadership ability.
Search marketing-centric organizations will outperform. Successful SEO involves technology, management, marketing, customer service, process improvement and more than a dash of financial acumen. Executive management teams capable of navigating this complex convergence are in short supply. The dynamic won't change significantly until there are executives at the top of the house and on the board of directors who fully understand and hold people accountable for search marketing results. Only then will budget shift from traditional brand marketing spending to search marketing and content strategy truly accelerate.
Once understood, it becomes quite clear that SEO is a senior level strategic activity affecting enterprise profitability. So why are most quality SEOs getting paid less than they should?
Likely Answer: Most purchasers do not yet fully understand what they are buying or how to maximize SEO profitability improvement. This means we need to continue to educate people about the benefits of SEO, so that business leaders understand the value and will tolerate nothing less than rapidly shifting legacy budget to acquire the best SEO outcomes for their business.
Let's start the education process about the value proposition of SEO with the simple step of sharing this article with several people in senior management, co-workers in other departments, friends and other interested parties. Then ask them to share lunch or coffee or a phone call to have a conversation about questions and enable deeper mutual understanding.
Together we can change the conversation from cost to strategic profitability impact. Tweet me (@dalka) and let me know how those conversations go, and what areas are the largest pain points. We'll explore those issues in more detail and keep this conversation moving.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!