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Enterprise SEO Project Pricing: One Size Does Not Fit All

boggs-chris
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Search Engine Optimization, some will argue, is a standard process of improving a Web site’s ability to rank in search engines for phrases relevant to the site’s theme. It doesn’t matter if the site is for-profit, non-profit, or simply serves as an educational medium – improving the depth of the content and its visibility to search engine spiders and helping to ensure that links exist to the site’s pages from relevant, trustworthy sites will, in most cases, be enough to help the site rank better.

Although the basics are essentially the same, the project-defined specifics of an enterprise-level SEO engagement will never be exactly the same. For that matter, the specifics will often differ quite greatly. SEO is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In our large agency, we provide SEO proposals to offices and clients around the world from our global SEO service handler in Philadelphia.

This week, I will define what happens from the moment our business development (BD) specialists get a request for proposal (RFP) to the moment that proposal is delivered to the prospective SEO client.

The Estimator

Unfortunately, we have yet to create a technology similar to that which exists in the fabled “Bat Cave” that predicts the required course of action for Batman and Robin. Instead, we scope out potential SEO projects on a case-by-case basis. The BD provides the RFP (or often a detailed oral request for an estimate) to the SEO Group Director, who then assigns a Senior Account Manager (SAM) the task of preparing an “estimator” spreadsheet, which will help price the project appropriately. (For a reminder on how the team is structured, please see my third Outsourced column, "An Inside View of the Agency.)

The SAM who prepares the estimator will, 99 percent of the time, be in charge of that project, should the business be won. This is very important because it puts the onus on the SAM to very accurately estimate the resources required for the project. Once the SAM has started the estimator, he or she will assign various sections of the client and competitive site analyses to engineers and analysts on the team, getting their input on the number of hours required for each task.

The estimator is an Excel spreadsheet that accounts for all possible tasks associated with a project. Each month of the project is then mapped out by allocating hours toward each task line item. Some hours (such as reconfiguring redirects or URL structure recommendations) are valued higher than others (such as keyword research or directory link-building). Based on formulas, the total hours required then dictate the cost of the project, once any pass-through costs such as directory submission fees are added.

Naturally, year-long projects will usually cost more than the six-month projects, but in some cases shorter projects can end up costing nearly as much, based on the requirements for the particular project. In another column, we can go into detail as to why some projects may consume more resources over six months than over an entire year. However, in short, some sites need more work in order to be ranked while others need less, perhaps over a longer period of time (read link building or ongoing new content optimization).

The SEO Task Line Items

The following list describes the major elements of the estimator sheet. Of course, we cannot describe every single line item, and should we, some people would undoubtedly say we missed something.

  1. Client Communications – Time is usually allotted for the kick-off call and ongoing calls with the client teams.
  2. Team Communications – Time is allotted for meetings held weekly or even at a greater frequency, depending on the project and the SAM.
  3. Baseline Reporting – At the onset of every engagement, baseline saturation, ranking, and inbound linking reports are prepared for the client.
  4. Competitive Analyses – Depending on the industry, these can take significantly more time than one would expect, but they will be very valuable in helping craft SEO strategy, as well as in monitoring future ranking shifts revealing whether the competitors are new or old enemies.
  5. Tactical: Engineer-Level – Issues that exist with site structure that can lead to anything from duplicate content problems to the inability to get pages indexed, as well as URL format considerations. Often, time must be specified for communication with engineers and developers working with the client or as separate vendors.
  6. Tactical: Content/Analyst-Level – Issues with META, ALT, and on-page content, both text and image or video/audio.
  7. Tactical: Linking – Includes time for link analysis beyond information derived from the baseline and competitor analysis reports.
  8. Reporting – Ongoing reporting offered at different tiers.
  9. Management – The SAM time that does not fall into one of the above categories.

Note that each task is usually accompanied with notes specific to the project for use by the BD when completing the sale. The client does not see the estimator, but instead gets a formal proposal that incorporates many of these notes supporting the projected hours required to “fix the problem.”

A Warning to Marketing Managers Soliciting SEO Project Proposals

Scoping an enterprise SEO project takes time. If you represent a large organization and receive a response to an RFP within hours, or even a couple of days, you may wish to consider how much time the agency or SEM put into scoping your specific project. If you have received a proposal that looks like it went through a cookie-cutter before being baked, you may need to wash down the results with more than milk.


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