What is SEO?
“Suppose it’s got something to do with when doing a search, getting the most and best hits back, i.e. no crap.”
“A practise that improves performance and relevance of result sets for search engines. Never heard of it as a service.”
“No understanding at all…is it something that makes Google work better?”
“My guess is that you pay for a good position on the search engine.”
That is how 4 of 33 respondents in a closed study defined SEO. This very basic study was conducted among tertiary qualified professionals to provide a snapshot of the ‘general public’s ‘ understanding of search engine optimization. All respondents were asked not to perform any research prior to answering the questions.
Interestingly, quite a few people (30%) considered SEO to be a practice performed by the search engines themselves, such as changing the algorithm to improve performance and deliver more relevant results.
In addition, a surprisingly high number of respondents (42%) had a basic idea of the practice of SEO, citing that changes would need to be made to a target website to improve its ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Putting a PRICE on the SEO service was a problem
There was a very wide gap in pricing expectations:
- 46% of respondents had ‘no idea’ how much they could expect to pay for search engine optimization services
- A collective 21% expected SEO to be either FREE (9%) or to cost less than $1,000 (12%)
- 21% proposed a performance fee structure based on increase in bottom line generated through the SEO. Notably these were professionals from tertiary service industries such as banking, public relations and consulting
Observation 1: If most people have no idea what to pay for the SEO service while a proportion would hand over potentially $1,000s in percentage based fees this indicates a significant gap in client expectations.
A website offering services at $200 is as believable as one providing the service for $2,000, because people literally do not know what to expect.
For SEO to be considered among other professional fields such as law or medicine, the SEO industry has to deliver its services at a certain benchmark standard in order for those services to be valued at a particular price.
Searching for SEO
Overwhelmingly, most respondents would use Google (64%) or a search engine (15%) to find out more information about SEO.
So, if people are using Google to research SEO, what do they find?
Sample of some first page SERP results on Google.ca for phrase ‘search engine optimization’:
- Guaranteed Page 1 or Pay Nothing, Page 1 in Seven Days $69.95/Month
- Search engine optimization is the way to pull massive amounts of free traffic
- Get listed on 200+ search engines in 8 hours!
- 300+ Top 10 And Top 3 Rankings In Every Search Engine For $179.95
Observation 2: Guarantees! Promises! Refunds! First page Google rankings for a $100 per month! Free search engine submission to hundreds of search engines!
Search for a lawyer or dentist online and you will not see this type of price undercutting. The focus is on quality, expertise, value and years of experience.
The SEO industry is diluting the value of its own service with this type of advertising. Searchers form the opinion that SEO is a cheap; easy-to-implement service offering that any SEO business listed on the SERPs can perform.
Cognitive dissonance begins to form between client expectations and perceived value of the service. Clients expect top rankings to be delivered at a low price point.
Though the basic study that has been discussed was small and from a statistical perspective has limitations, the insight that just 33 respondents provided is significant:
- If most people would search on Google for SEO, where can searchers find quality information that will assist them in developing their expectations of SEO services?
- SEMPO does feature in the SERPs for some search terms and though the website is a valuable resource, does it adequately help shape a searcher’s understanding of why they would pay $100 for one SEO service and $10,000 for another?
- A standard definition of SEO would help the public understand what to expect from SEO and more effectively find services that suit their business requirements and budget.
- SEO standards would assist in setting a minimum benchmark for SEO service delivery, which would ultimately increase the client value perception of these services, and so many SEOs would no longer have to feel like they are working for FREE!
In the words of Ian McAnerin: ‘Standards? We don’t need no stinkin’ standards. But the public does. I think it’s time we grew up and took responsibility for our own profession, before someone does it for us.’
This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 4th Annual SEM Scholarship contest.