State of SEO industry: a vent post

georgebizpro

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Joined
Dec 4, 2013
Messages
16
I started my agency back in 2012, before that I was Director of SEO at a big website developer in the legal realm. I helped launch all of their SEO packages, managed all of their new SEO clients, built their SEO team before starting my own thing. My new agency would offer law firms market exclusivity, for all of the lawyers who were upset that an SEO firm or marketing agency would work with multiple clients in the same market, and there seemed to be a LOT of them. Average monthly retainer when I started my firm was $3-$5k/month. We redeveloped all client websites so that we could manage web form submissions, phone call tracking, etc.

Fast forward to 2019, and if I convince a law firm to sign up for $2k/month I'm ecstatic. Maybe it's because I haven't done enough networking, but I'm fairly certain it's because every marketing agency and web development company are now competing for SEO-related terms on Google. Before, I had to compete with around 10 legal SEO providers. Now? Probably closer to 1,000. There are even individual lawyers starting their own SEO companies and outsourcing everything, so now you even have to compete with them.

I've maintained a handful of faithful clients, and we kill it for them. Their organic search traffic has gone up something like 300% since we started with one client, the others are super happy with phone calls generated from Google Local.

I decided to take on some outsourced work from 2 different marketing agencies this month to make ends meet, something I haven't had to do for 10+ years. The first month went okay, $800/month for one project, nationally-competitive terms, but we're already making progress. They ask for a complete breakdown of everything I work on each month, which gets annoying because I'm not used to documenting every single change or update I make on a client project, my current clients are more interested in results than time reports. Then they start asking for extras. Weekly calls, sign additional paperwork, drive 30 mins to meet in person, all for $800/month which if you told me 7 years ago I'd be doing, I never would have thought it would be possible.

Then today, in an in-person meeting, I may have hit my breaking point. Account manager asked for some Analytics reports last week for her client reporting presentation, for Q1 of 2019, when I didn't even work on the project but I told them I'd be happy to help. I exported some GA reports, sent them over to include in her powerpoint presentation for client reporting. In our meeting today she asked for an update, apparently she missed my original e-mail. Then she looks at the info I sent over and it got super awkward, because come to find out they even expect me to put together all of the client reporting every quarter. $800/month, and I know they're billing the client significantly more than $800/month.

For those who have been in the SEO industry for an extended period of time, do you share my frustration at all, or do you have new clients asking for proposals every hour of the day? How are people picking up new clients outside of internal SEO efforts?

Sorry for venting, looking for some sort of direction before I start looking into applying for jobs, which I don't want to do but not sure I want to keep going the way things have been going.
 
Last edited:

OnlineLobstar

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Sep 9, 2018
Messages
23
For those who have been in the SEO industry for an extended period of time, do you share my frustration at all, or do you have new clients asking for proposals every hour of the day? How are people picking up new clients outside of internal SEO efforts?
I would say one monthly report is okay. But when they ask for the weekly or daily report then I just tell them you will have to add $$ if you want the weekly report. Take it or leave it. Enough bullshitting(sorry!).
 

JoyHawkins

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Jul 18, 2012
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2,594
Hey George,

Thanks for sharing your story. I've been in the industry since 2006 and worked for 2 other agencies for 11 years before starting my own. I hear stories like yours a lot. I'm a very firm believer in not negotiating on price. Our current minimum for SEO is $2500/month and we don't offer anything lower at the moment because frankly I think it's very hard to provide value when you're working with super tight budgets. Skilled people in this industry don't come cheap and provided the strategies you're using are good, getting results in this space isn't that difficult (some industries are harder than others).

For lawyers in particular, I find even $2500 is hardly enough so I don't think there's any way you should charge anything lower than $2,000. To keep a client happy you need to get their phone ringing, which is going to be very difficult to do if they're not paying enough for you to spend a decent amount of time on it. Also, I find the "shoppers" aren't the best clients.

Most of the good marketing companies that work with lawyers charge more than we do so honestly I don't think you need to lower prices to compete.
 

adammaxum

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Joined
Jun 26, 2013
Messages
73
Definitely more competition, but that's not surprising for a low barrier entry service based business. The problem is that anyone can call themselves an SEO or marketing expert, and it's hard to disprove unless you actually work with them and find that they have no idea or results are not happening.

What happens are companies go through new agencies every year or two and deal with the same selling points from every marketer calling them, emailing them, etc. etc. They are bombarded with marketing messages all the time. This means that legit agencies have to work even harder to get attention from businesses because they've become jaded at this point.

10 years ago, there was much less of this. Therefore, making it a bit easier to sell SEO and services to businesses who hadn't been bombarded by everyone under the sun to the extent they are today.

There are also more niche specific marketing companies. Agencies have pivoted to "specializing" in certain types of industries. These give those agencies an advantage when selling and pitching because it lends itself to the businesses they are going after.

Clients have also come to expect more. Better customer service. Better results. More services under the same company. Better everything. This trend spreads outside of the digital marketing world too, which isn't a bad thing, but it makes our life more difficult.

It sounds like you're having a 'sales' problem.

No one can really tell you what tactics work best. It's trial and error. For marketing agencies, calling and emailing is the fastest route to securing some new business. Referrals, but those are difficult to recreate....content marketing is a long process, but that's another route.

What I would suggest is take your sales to the next level - or - take a job for 50-75k a year with an agency and go that route. You could also keep your existing clients and start funneling money into a new revenue generating service...something not SEO related probably.

I also agree w.Joy on pricing.

People have different budgets. Base the marketing rate on their objectives and GEO/competition.

If they want to go low, make it VERY clear that at that rate it's going to take longer (or) your hours will be X. By saying upfront that it's going to take longer with that budget because your hours will be limited, it gives you a cushion to rely on later when they may become more demanding. If they become more demanding, bring up the budget and increase the rate.

Ideally, as you grow you can have someone else handle the grunt work like reporting and such so that you don't have to bother with it as much.

Reporting should be pretty easy/automated at this point. Either pull GA reports and explain briefly in a short report...or find one of the reporting software companies that allow you to simply adjust the dates, customize as you want and download/export. Send this with a KW report or whatever other reports and you should be good each month.

We send reports first week month....occasionally clients will bug you during month but it's usually for a phone call or meeting to discuss current strategy. You may also have year over year reports which should be more detailed, but for the most part, it's expectations that must be set.
 
Joined
Sep 8, 2016
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49
Sounds like you need to clarify your contract with the marketing agencies. If they are going to ask for extras, you should be able to charge extra. If the contract is vague (e.g. "meetings & reports as requested"), you may need to define exactly what reports and meetings are included in the contract and which will cost them extra.
 

georgebizpro

Member
Joined
Dec 4, 2013
Messages
16
Thanks to everyone for their responses!

I agree with everything @JoyHawkins had to say. A big part of it is which type of law firm or attorney are they...criminal law is more volume-based, bankruptcy is more volume-based, divorce can go either way, but personal injury lawyers with the larger marketing budgets because the cases (and leads) are worth more...but you have to justify the ROI. If you're billing a firm $60k/year and you don't manage every single minute detail of their lead generation (intake especially), and you aren't able to look at a monthly spreadsheet that says "we generated this many calls, this many live chats, this many web form submissions" and you're able to provide concrete ROI...vs trust what they're telling you, in terms of how many cases they're signing up, you have lost a lot of the battle to begin with. Also, there seem to be a lot more "pay per lead" services out there for PI lawyers, where it makes more sense for them financially to pay for their own leads, versus investing however much per month in their own online lead generation efforts.

"There are also more niche specific marketing companies. Agencies have pivoted to "specializing" in certain types of industries. These give those agencies an advantage when selling and pitching because it lends itself to the businesses they are going after. "

I agree with @adammaxum and I believe the next evolution is local niche marketing companies, so instead of firms going after "SEO for law firms" there will be more competition for statewide search terms "law firm SEO in California" and major cities, and the industry will continue to evolve to more local providers. However, I'm guilty of not trusting others to do the "grunt work" on top of having sales issues.

"The problem is that anyone can call themselves an SEO or marketing expert, and it's hard to disprove unless you actually work with them and find that they have no idea or results are not happening. "

And again, I agree. I thought that there would be additional value when a firm is working with an experienced SEO consultant, but I lost a big client last year to this marketing agency who promised them the world at half the price. The agency claimed to have "years and years of SEO experience", but when I looked up the people managing the accounts and then outsourcing everything to an overseas provider, even their in-house people had 0 experience and their main account manager worked 5 years at a help desk at Autozone before all of a sudden becoming an "SEO expert".

The shoemaker walking around with holes in his shoes is the analogy I always use, because I'm so pre-occupied with client work and keeping my clients happy that I don't spend any time on my own SEO or marketing efforts, and as a result the potential clients who are interested start asking themselves "well why dont they rank #1 on Google, why don't they have more clients, etc." so yes, a sales problem in that I never scaled and grew my agency because I didn't trust enough people to do the work as well as if I just did it myself.
 

Rich Owings

Local Search Expert
Joined
Apr 21, 2014
Messages
292
How are people picking up new clients outside of internal SEO efforts?
My best sources of leads are web developers, as well as marketers (even SEOs) who don't do local SEO. I've met most of them by being active in our WordPress Meetup group and speaking at various WordCamps about local SEO.
 

JoyHawkins

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Jul 18, 2012
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2,594
because I didn't trust enough people to do the work as well as if I just did it myself.
I have found that finding the right team members is one of the keys to having a successful agency. I'd never be able to achieve as much as I can without my team :)
 

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