Cheap SEO = Bad SEO

By Tommy Landry

Earlier this week, my father shared an interesting story with me. It reminded me of a situation I face when potential clients approach Return On Now looking for “Cheap SEO” or “Affordable SEO”.

My dad runs his own uniform company, selling to the oilfield and other industrial companies near the Gulf Coast. Given the up and down nature of the energy industry, and especially in the wake of a complete Gulf shutdown during the BP oil spill fiasco, he has had to work extra hard to keep the company afloat. Honestly, it was a struggle to survive the shutdown, but he kept his chin up and pushed forward.

A few years ago, right in the middle of the toughest stretch, he had a chance to land a very large client. This is the type of client who would have purchased in volume on an ongoing basis. It was a great opportunity.

After working on them for close to a year, they finally invited him to the office again to discuss the possibility of switching vendors from their existing provider to my dad’s company. Needless to say, he had worked this lead hard and was excited about the prospect of adding them to his client list.

During the meeting, they shared with him a price list from their existing provider, and he immediately noticed that the prices were very low, so low that the margins were unreasonably small.

“If you match these prices, we will move all of our business over to you,” the Procurement Manager told him.

After reviewing the list and reflecting for a few seconds, Dad put the list back on the table and replied, “Sorry to disappoint you, but we won’t be matching those prices. This is not how we operate.”

The client was aghast! “What do you mean you can’t match the prices? Do you know how much business we plan to do with you if we switch? Don’t you want the business?”

“Of course we want your business,” Dad responded. “But those prices are far too low.”

As you might guess, the client was dumbfounded. He simply could not believe that a small uniform company would stick to their guns with so much revenue on the table.

“Let me ask you a question,” my father said, “why are you looking to make a switch in the first place?”

“Well, their service is horrible. They make a lot of mistakes, and we have to chase them down to get a real person on the phone.”

“Okay then, let me ask you another question,” Dad continued. “You told me earlier that you like to take your wife out regularly for dinner. If you want to take her out for steak tonight, where will you go – the cheapest chain restaurant you can find around the corner or one of the best steakhouses in town?”

“I’m gonna take her out for a good steak,” the client replied. “I won’t waste my money on second rate food.”

“Ah, I see. So you want good quality and you are willing to pay for it. You told me that the previous company had great prices, but terrible service and communication practices. We excel at service and pride ourselves on quality products at a reasonable, but not cheap, price. If you want first rate products and service, don’t you think you need to pay a fair rate?”

The procurement manager sat looking at my father for close to a minute, before he began to smirk.

“You got me Landry,” he said. “Point taken. Let’s take a look at your price list.”

Cheap SEO: You Get What You Pay For

Although the industries are completely different, the lesson remains the same: Cheap is cheap. Cheap SEO may not hit your pocketbook as hard, but how effective do you think the work will be at rock bottom prices?

We see a whole range of Cheap SEO service offerings out there, and very few of them are of high quality. Especially for the off page activities, Google has really limited the options in the past two years with the Penguin penalties. A large list of previously acceptable link building activities are no longer effective, and many of them can even open you up to a Google slap.

How exactly can companies offer Cheap SEO in the first place? Let’s look at some of the most common ways they do it, and you’ll see why it pays to budget for premium support.

Cheap SEO Outsourced Overseas

The most common way to provide low cost SEO services is to hire a firm overseas where labor costs are lower for comparable support. While this is effective at providing a price to the SEO firm that can be marked up at a profit, it is not always the right answer for driving good results.

We tested several outsourcing partners in the past. They provided decent support and a pre-set volume of activity against a specified number of keywords. But we found that there were several concerns.

Communication

The biggest issue with hiring outsourced SEO support from India or elsewhere in Asia is the time difference. For us to have a conference call, someone had to be available during the normal sleeping hours in their time zone. The companies we hired for these services over there did a good job of trying to be available for at least part of our normal work day, but it was not always possible. On top of this, each country has its own culture and set of holidays, and the onus is on the SEO firm here to adjust to those timelines and days out of office.

What we found is that the SEO execution firms frequently fell out of contact for 1-2 weeks at a time. We had to start prescheduling all calls and communications, which then discouraged communication on a real time basis. Our customer service folks were pretty good over there, but realistically, we were out of contact a bit too often for my tastes.

Old School SEO Tactics / Inflexible Campaigns

Part of the Cheap SEO pitch is that you can pay for a package of activities to support a specific number of keywords. In that pitch, the companies also designate the number of placement, bookmarks, etc. that they will provide.

Selling SEO services on a volume basis in today’s environment is irresponsible, because the only way to guarantee placement is to employ old school tactics that put your site at risk. This includes things such as creating pop-up blogs on high PageRank Web 2.0 services such as WordPress, posting free classified ads with links to the client sites, and old school article marketing for SEO purposes only.

We have revamped our offerings to focus much more on quality vs. quantity. With a similar amount of effort, we can get one or two high quality links that will add value in the amount of time it would take an old school SEO to build up enough low value links to move the needle. The amount of actual labor is similar, but the output is a lower number of better links.

Low Cost and Inexperienced SEOs

Similar to how many social media management firms staff up, internet marketing companies that offer cheap SEO services will most often hire low cost staff to execute on pre-built campaign structures. How comfortable would you be with a 19 year old college intern managing SEO for you? How about a new college grad with three months of experience in total?

In many cases, these SEOs are executing against hardened campaign structures that, once sold, have to be sustained over time. They are not doing the strategic analysis you really need to optimize the site in light of Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and whatever major change Google throws at us next. So in this case, Cheap SEO is simply short-sighted SEO.

Automated SEO Processes and Schemes

Automation of link building, blog commenting, forum commenting, and a list of other tactics worked like a charm a few years ago. Not so much today.

The search engines monitor your progress in building links over time based on pattern analysis. When there’s an anomaly where you build a lot of links or blog comments in a very short period of time, that can lead to a manual review. We all know manual reviews are like an IRS Audit – you want no part of them.

Google has gone on record saying that scalable, automated SEO tactics are against their webmaster guidelines. It’s okay to accumulate links, but not if you are taking a shortcut to pursue volume without putting in the work to earn it. Be careful what you are buying, because it is your website. Hold them to reasonable standards of behavior.

Summary: Cheap SEO IS Bad SEO

Pretty clearly, you can see that cheap SEO is just plain bad SEO. If you want to see real results over time, hire someone who gets white hat SEO, know that it will take some time to get there, and pay them what their skillset is worth. In the long run, your site will perform better and you will minimize the risk of a Google penalty. While you are at it, you might just learn some new tricks to help improve performance beyond what you thought was possible beforehand.

Feature Image Courtesy of user ecastro on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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