I am talking to a search engine marketing company that guarantees I will be placed in the top 3 sponsored positions on search engines. This sounds like a pretty good deal — should I go for it?
Of all the aspects of the Internet, none seems to be so full of con artists and purveyors of dubious businesses than so-called search engine optimization companies. The reason for this is that the basics of SEO (which I’ll call it for simplicity) are simple and can be explained in five minutes. Heck, Google even has a free guide to SEO best practices.
But search engines are susceptible to gaming, to people playing tricks and doing things ranging from tricky to nefarious to downright unethical to try and gain better search engine ranking. Honestly, it’s the digital Cold War, with search engine companies identifying and blocking these tricks and SEO bad guys coming up with new ones.
Enter shady SEO people who are happy to take your money and do various of their tricks for your benefit. If it backfires? That’s your problem, they won’t publicly acknowledge any culpability.
As Micah Baldwin, SEO good guy, says: “There is a general rule when selecting a SEO/SEM company. If they provide a guarantee, they are only guaranteed to take your money. Its important to always ask for references and have them show examples of the successes they have had.”
The basic trick with the come-on you received is that they offer you top three positioning, but for what keywords? Also, top three sponsored positions you can do yourself by paying for an advert on Google’s AdWords program. If you’re willing to pay $1, $2 or even $5 for each click, you can easily buy your own way into the “top three sponsored slots”. No middleman needed.
A classic example of the top positioning for a useless keyword might be if you were running a pizzeria here in Boulder. You might want to rank in the top three for “pizza boulder” but what they’ll actually offer you is top ranking for the far less beneficial “pizza delivery boulder iris avenue whole wheat crust”. Do you think lots of people perform that particular search? I don’t.
Paying for a good sponsored result is a quite legitimate business practice, but it’s imperative that you understand the value of each lead before you can start to calculate a reasonable cost per lead. Let’s say each new customer is worth $100 to your business over their lifetime, on average, and that 10% of the leads you get convert into customers. That calculation is easy: each lead is worth $10. Now let’s say that 2% of those leads turn into customers. How much is each worth? If you’re paying $1.17/click through your AdWords ad campaign, are you getting a good return on your ad budget, or not?
Savvy online marketer Dan Murray adds this warning: “you aren’t being told how much of the money you spend with an SEO firm is going to buy clicks and how much is profit for them. What if they only spend 10% of what they charge you on clicks and pocket the rest? Does this still seem like a good deal?”
I will end by echoing the old adage there really ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. If it seems too good to be true, if a company is telling you that they’ve “reverse engineered Google”, just don’t believe it.
Or, to quote Aesop, slow and steady win this race too.