Why I Talk Most Folks Out of SEO Projects

salesman-contractAfter reading that headline, perhaps you’re wondering to yourself, “has Mark lost his mind”?

The answer? Not yet.

I've been involved in search engine optimization since March 2003. In that time, I have seen every angle and talked to just about every type of SEO prospect that there could ever be. One thing that hasn’t changed much, unfortunately, is that there are still a ton of people who are trying to engage in SEO, but hardly even know what SEO stands for.

Case in point:

Had a call this week with a prospect. Prior to the call, I had run a few reports and did a little research/digging around, so that I could be prepared to take them through what I believed to be “reality”.

One of my first questions on an initial sales call is “what are you trying to achieve?”. I might also phrase this as “what are your goals” or “how will you determine ‘success’”?

The answer? “I want 5,000 hits per month”.

Once I corrected them on what I believe they meant “5,000 unique visitors”, we moved on to what I thought it might take to grow traffic to those levels, and whether I believed that a sound ROI (that stands for “return on investment”, for those “SEOs” out there) could be achieved, at least in the short term.

After reviewing their competitive landscape, we find that the space (rankings) is dominated by government websites. That is to say, any keywords that have any amount of search volume and are “on target” with who we’re trying to reach, have official government web results dominating the top 4-5 positions. If we were going to make any headway, we would need to (at least in the initial phases) build out content to target the long tail until we earn the right (and Google’s trust) to gain any traction on these competitive keywords.

Oh…and did I mention that this was a new website with all of three websites linking to it?

As I explained to this prospect, “this could take a while”. And, “while the perception is that search engine optimization traffic is ‘free’ traffic, that is not the case…you’ve gotta earn it.”

After years of “selling” (have I mentioned that I really don’t like using that word?) SEO, I had a gut feeling that this prospect had no idea what SEO looked like, how it was done, how it should be measured, or much anything else. Mind you, I’m not throwing this guy under the bus.

SEO can be a challenging thing to wrap your head around. It’s not as “easy” as buying traditional media and many people are still trying to evolve to the “new ways” in which companies should be marketing themselves (i.e., getting into marketing programs that can be measured and optimized).

One other thing that I knew? This guy was not going to wait months for results…he needed leads, today, and needed ROI very soon.

When you’re building your initial presence into the search engines, you can expect it to be an investment of time and money. Did you catch that? An “investment”, meaning that you’re not expecting quick returns…you’re going to invest time and money into something that you hope will one day be a sound investment and provide ROI.

Feeling that I was on the right track, I helped this person understand ROI. And, when you take into account the cost of their employee(s) working on the SEO initiative, the cost (time/money) of creating content, the cost of an agency assisting with SEO efforts, etc., SEO was not going to provide an ROI for this particular prospect for quite some time. So, I recommended PPC. And why not?

When you get into PPC, it can provide some great information that you can – one day – take into your SEO efforts. You might learn which keywords “work” (convert into leads) and which do not. You might find which ones convert better than others, and decide to build additional content into your website, based upon this information. You might find that your website doesn’t convert traffic into leads/sales at all (which is great to know, before you work 12 months on obtaining that coveted number one ranking on that highly competitive keyword).

Our industry has matured, but there are still many prospects out there trying to “get into this SEO thing” without much thought as to why, how, how much, etc…

I ask each of you out there who own/operate or otherwise influence decisions at SEO agencies to help these folks. Sometimes helping them involves walking away from money. As a small business owner myself, I know that’s hard to do…but, often, it’s the right thing to do.

Many prospects still feel “icky” about our industry. Who can blame them when prospects, such as the one above, can call 10 companies and find 8 that would gladly take their money without providing any insight on how results can be achieved, how long it might take and let them know if it’s even possible/reasonable to expect ROI?

Let’s all do our part by walking away from business that we shouldn’t take. Let’s commit ourselves to being honest about expectations and the work necessary to see results.

About the author

Mark Jackson, President and CEO of Vizion Interactive, a search engine optimization company. Mark joined the interactive marketing fray in early 2000. His journey began with Lycos/Wired Digital and then AOL/Time Warner. After having witnessed the bubble burst and its lingering effects on stability on the job front (learning that working for a "large company" does not guarantee you a position, no matter your job performance), Mark established an interactive marketing agency and has cultivated it into one of the most respected search engine optimization firms in the United States.

Vizion Interactive was founded on the premise that honesty, integrity, and transparency forge the pillars that strong partnerships should be based upon. Vizion Interactive is a full service interactive marketing agency, specializing in search engine optimization, search engine marketing/PPC management, SEO friendly Web design/development, social media marketing, and other leading edge interactive marketing services, including being one of the first 50 beta testers of Google TV.

Mark is a board member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM) and a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association (DFWIMA) and is a regular speaker at the SES and Pubcon conferences.

Mark received a BA in Journalism/Advertising from The University of Texas at Arlington in 1993 and spent several years in traditional marketing (radio, television, and print) prior to venturing into all things "Web."

Read more of Mark Jackson's columns at ClickZ.