Search engine positioning is certainly the buzzword of the
day with companies clearly understanding the importance of achieving top search
engine placement for their web sites.
However, when it comes to
working out the mechanics of fees and details, confusion often reigns over
expectations that tend to shroud the path along the way to getting the actual
job done. On the one hand there's the "optimizer" -- the person who is doing
the work. On the other hand there's the customer. Not surprisingly, both share
the same questions regarding the basic elements of the transaction. Questions
- What are the customary fees and how should they be
- How much detail work should be involved in optimizing a site
for the search engines?
- Are guarantees appropriate and if so, to what extent?
...such questions are invariably foremost in the minds of the
As someone who trains webmasters and SE optimizers,
I understand only too well the perplexity associated with pricing or purchasing
a search engine optimization package. Therefore, in order to shine a floodlight
on the subject and help both sides arrive at some realistic conclusions, I've
asked several professional search engine optimizers to complete a
questionnaire. For confidentiality reasons the names of those interviewed have
been withheld but, nonetheless, I think you'll find their answers very
interesting regardless of which side of the equation you're on -- customer or
What is the typical fee
structure for search engine positioning firms?
Actually, there isn't a
"typical" fee structure, since charges can range from a couple of hundred
dollars to over $50,000 to position a site.
Keep in mind, though, that
some positioning packages include purchasing additional domains; hosting pages
on their own server; using cloaking strategies; creating numerous doorway or
information pages; offering continued maintenance; and so forth, where other
positioning packages only offer to make a few doorway pages and slap them up,
not even worrying about the ranking.
Not only that, but some
experienced positioners do nothing more than offer consultation services. Yet,
because of their expertise and reputation, they can charge $250 to $500 an
hour. Is it worth it? If a couple of hours of consulting services can increase
traffic to your site, it's worth every penny of those impressive hourly
charges. Let's face it: it's certainly cheaper than most advertising
What might you pay for positioning services? Take a look at
the comments below taken from the professionals that were interviewed for this
- "$1,000 for a 6-month program."
- "$75-$100 set-up fee per keyword, which means maybe 5-8 pages
for $75-$100 each."
- "I charge a flat $110 to optimize a client's homepage (plus
up to four other web pages) and then submit these page's URLs to the top 12-15
search engines and directories. If the client wants to get ranked high in the
engines under a specific keyword phrase, I'll charge $25 for each phrase as I
design three different `content rich' doorway pages per keyword phrase. When
possible, I'll charge a monthly maintenance fee of $30 per website that
includes regular optimization updates and re-submission of the client's web
- "We range from $500 - $20,000+ for search engine positioning
based on the level of difficulty or number of pages we need to position."
- "$20,000 to $30,000 setup fee for 25-40 keywords across 12-14
engines. Then, a monthly maintenance fee of $200-300 per keyword phrase."
- "Hourly fees range from $50-$65 up to $500 an hour."
- "It all depends on the needs of the client. Normally it's
difficult to do any decent service for less than $1,000 because it's all so
time consuming. And if you try to go too cheap, you lose money and the client
will not be happy. Mostly, I prefer a monthly fee and we just keep `working at
it' in all senses, not just positioning (newsgroups, press releases, link
exchange... plus a lot of consultancy regarding the design, etc.)."
- "10 keyword phrases: $1,500; 20 keyword phrases: $2,495."
- "$1,500 set up fee and $500 a month."
- "$399 to $799 for small business packages."
- "We charge $500 set up (keywords research) and $200 per
doorway page per search engine, with a minimum of 4 engines. Guaranteed top
10-30 and discount of 10% when below 30 and then up to 50% discount to rank
As you can see, the prices run from pocket change to a
considerable outlay of cash. For instance, one company that we interviewed
posted a standard price even though almost every client's price actually varied
depending upon the complexity or simplicity of the project (site). Factors that
influence the actual price include; is this a consultation only job, or will
the company get involved in making the changes? Or, do they have to hire their
own HTML designer if a completely new design is required?
What is a pay-for-placement plan?
Simply put, you pay when your site is placed in the search engine results at a
certain ranking, depending on your contract with that positioning company. How
popular are these plans with search engine positioners?
At this point
in time, not very popular.
In fact, one positioner answered, "As
erratic as the SE's are, I believe it's dangerous, though I do wish that I DID
charge for the positions, especially every time we hit #1! "
positioner who uses a pay-for-placement plan said, "The price depends on the
#position per keyword per SE. Each keyword has its own price category,
depending on number of search results and grade of competition."
clearly haven't become popular either except in the more competitive areas of
the Web, such as the adult or online gambling areas.
One positioner I
spoke with charges a $500 setup fee, which includes 50 keywords across 8
engines. Then, he charges per click through, with the price going down as the
amount of traffic increases. For example, for several hundred thousand hits,
the price per click through might be $.05, whereas for only a thousand hits,
the price might be $.30.
Another positioner says that his
click-through charges vary, depending on the client and what he can afford. His
standard rate is approximately $.25-.50 a click through.
In the adult
or online gambling areas, however, you'll find positioners charging $2 per
click through or more.
Are positioning charges realistic?
Interestingly, many positioners feel their charges are either too low or
too high. Clearly, in this relatively new industry, there are few role models,
so positioners start out by charging a fairly low amount, then move up as their
experience level, success rates and reputation increases.
the amount of time and expertise it takes to position a Web site in the
rankings, and because of the amount of energy it takes to keep up with the
changes in the industry, search engine positioning services can be expensive --
as well they should be.
As professional positioners know and are quick
to tell you, you can't sit down and position a site in a matter of minutes. It
can take hours and hours. Then, you sometimes wait for weeks to see the fruits
of your labor, and then spend more hours tweaking the site. If, in the middle
of this process, the engine changes its algorithm you may have to start all
What about guaranteeing results?
positioner said, "Until the engines guarantee, we will never guarantee
Many positioning firms require their clients to sign forms
that state that there are no guarantees in the search engine business, because
this keeps misunderstandings down from the onset of the working relationship.
"After all, how can you guarantee results when there are so many factors
Another positioner explained what he tells customers when
asked about a guarantee for a top ranking.
I make an analogy about search engine placement in order to
illustrate what it is like and why it cannot be guaranteed. Obtaining high
rankings is analogous to predicting the weather. You can look at the clouds,
you can check humidity, you can watch wind patterns, etc. These are absolutely
necessary to do in order to have any idea about the weather, but you still
can't say for sure that it will in fact rain. I can do page tweaking,
submissions, link promotion, etc., and have fantastic results and be right on
the money, or it can rain on me. Doing what I do is a necessity to have a
decent chance at obtaining search positions, but I cannot promise how the
rankings will perform.
One way of offering a guarantee is to base it on the
competitiveness of the keyword phrase chosen. "If low, I guarantee a top 20; if
high, normally a top 50. I tend to offer different guarantees to different
Another positioning company guarantees that at least 25 of
the keyword phrases chosen will reach a top 10 ranking within 90 days of
submission to the search engines. They also guarantee that if customers are not
satisfied with the results, they will re-submit newly optimized pages or return
A carefully worded guarantee is another option. For
example, rather than guaranteeing results, one positioner guarantees an
increase in traffic and that the company will do everything they can to achieve
top rankings. Many positioners also said that they won't continue working for a
client if they're not producing results.
One positioner offered this
We guarantee top slot positioning (worded that way) in the
major search engines (worded that way). This way we are covered in case we only
get one keyword on the second page in one search engine or if we get multiple
slots on the first page of many search engines. Most of our clients are very
happy with our work, and we have not had to deal with the worst case
If we cannot get them ranked in a good spot, we offer their
money back or we offer to keep trying until we get them ranked. We typically
say they will stay ranked for 4 - 6 months depending on the client, and we do
not start counting the months until they appear in at least a few search
engines. If they opt to have us keep trying, the months do not start counting
until we have them placed.
When trying to win over a
potential client, how do professional positioners prove that they know what
they're talking about?
To prove their skills, professional positioners
offered these suggestions:
- Show clients a ranking report for other clients
- Post customer satisfaction articles on your site
- Give insight into the search engine industry and explain in
detail how you're going to work on the client's site and help improve its
- Call past clients
- Get skills certified by a credible training company
One positioner explained,
We show them reports we have given to other clients of where
they are positioned with search words. We also tell them a few things about a
client and then say `go search for them on the net using words you probably
would use.' The clients are usually very happy with what they see, and then
sign up with us. We have only run into trouble with cheap clients on occasion,
but most people realize they are paying us for quality placements and
Additional tips for working with clients
working with prospective positioning clients, be open and honest, and remember
that the personal touch often makes the sale. Here's a good suggestion...
Tell customers up front: 'I can't give you a guarantee, but I
can give you accountability.' Explain the process honestly and thoroughly and
you'll establish credibility. On the initial sales call, I do three things:
1. Ask a lot of questions
2. Educate the client about the process
3. Manage the client's expectations.
And once you've completed the
work, be prepared to show your client what you've done. I save all the HTML
submission reports I generate and each HTML page, and I make a hard copy of
each page of the Yahoo! submission form. I do the same thing with Snap,
LookSmart and the ODP. If a client sees the level of effort, you'll have few
problems. Save and document your work! When you start seeing good results in
the rankings, CLAIM THE VICTORY. Drop a client an e-mail, `Good news, we just
got notified that we've been accepted in Yahoo! or moved in the top 10 of
Work on location or live anywhere?
positioning firms require their employees to live and work at their location.
Certainly there are advantages to having everyone under the same roof. It's
much easier to share strategies with someone who works across the hall from
But with the Internet and the ability to stay connected to
someone who lives on the other side of the world, many companies allow their
employees to work at their own locations.
Then, they stay connected
through community building devices such as instant messenger software programs,
bulletin boards, and chat rooms.
Some positioning firms like their new
employees to work in the home office for a least a week to see how the business
is run, and then they can operate out of their own location. Other companies
like to have a few employees who work at the central location, whereas others
can live anywhere.
Hiring positioners with no experience
Most of the firms who completed the questionnaire start out their new
employees at $8 to $10 an hour if they have no positioning experience or
Once they've gained experience and training in the field,
their pay scale goes up. Of course, the standard pay rate in your area should
One positioning company pays their employees minimum
wage through the training process because, "I am giving them a chance in the
After all, professional positioning can be a very
lucrative business once you achieve the proper training and expertise.
Hiring positioners with experience
Some experienced positioners
are paid from $12-14 an hour and up depending on the area, the positioner's
experience level, past results, and so forth.
Other positioners are
paid on a click-through basis, where other positioners are allowed to set their
own fees. Then, the positioning companies will charge the clients two to three
times more than the fee for the positioner in order to make their overhead and
Some positioning firms will pay a monthly or yearly salary,
and many firms pay a ranking bonus as an incentive to the positioner to work
hard toward those top rankings.
In conclusion . . . the challenges
of the industry
In an industry where changes are made almost
daily, what could be more challenging than that? try this: Working with clients
who know and understand absolutely nothing about search engine positioning.
Most professionals will tell you that is the MOST challenging aspect of the
As one positioner put it,
Our biggest challenge? Reporting correctly to clients so they
will understand what we're doing. I believe the best way to keep a client is
through constant communication: to keep in touch and to let them know about
successes and problems. And, to keep smiling!
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Robin Nobles teaches 2-, 3-, and 5-day hands-on search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe (SearchEngineWorkshops.com) as well as online SEO training courses (OnlineWebTraining.com). They have recently launched localized SEO training centers through SearchEngineAcademy.com, and they have expanded their workshops to Europe with Search Engine Workshops UK. They have also opened the first networking community for SEOs, the Workshop Resource Center (WRC).
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