The techniques and tactics of “doing” SEO are forever changing and constantly challenging.

For many SEO agencies, the marketing and selling of SEO services is a bigger hurdle than the task of actually obtaining improved organic search results for clients. Competing for marketing dollars while proving value through the sales process needs to be accomplished even before the insurmountable task of obtaining ROI through the Google search box begins.

From an SEO buyer’s perspective, it must be downright confusing and discouraging to obtain multiple quotes from SEO service providers that very clearly have differing price ranges and service methodologies, but not so clearly defined differentiating skill sets and experience.

So sellers attempt to make it easier for buyers to understand SEO proposals in order to ultimately get to a closed deal – a signature on a contract. In the meantime, are they undermining their own profession and setting themselves up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations with clients?

Or are SEO clients being unrealistic in their expectations of SEO results in the short term versus the long term, leading SEO service providers to drastic measures that may ultimately result in the client’s web presence being penalized in organic search? Or even results in the client quitting or not paying?

This column is for both buyers and sellers of SEO services in hopes that 2013 will be the year of equilibrium for SEO. The year that SEO is finally regarded for what it is – extremely important in the digital marketing mix; a long-term online strategy that is based on strong, optimized content published and distributed across the entire web presence proving relevance and authority.

The four SEO selling and buying tricks described below produce unachievable expectations and create disequilibrium in the SEO services market. When these tricks are practiced by either the buyer or the seller the economics of SEO fail, because the time and effort required to meet SEO expectations and results won’t match.


1. Promises of a #1 Search Position

The trick of selling the promise of a #1 Search Position as well as clients buying the promise has been around for quite a while. It’s still surprising, especially with all the algorithm changes that have occurred recently, to see this assurance in online advertisements or on an SEO agency’s home page.

Buyers, if an SEO agency promises a #1 Search Position for a keyword, exercise caution. Unless you’re Wikipedia, a #1 Search Position can’t be guaranteed.

Buyers need to understand that organic search positions are produced based on relevancy and authority of content around a keyword. There are numerous, uncontrollable, external factors and competition around a single keyword – no one, not even Google, can guarantee organic search position.

Sellers of SEO services, if your team is able to consistently deliver a #1 Search Position for a keyword, can that position be maintained over the long run, is it a highly converting organic search term, or is it perhaps not even searched on?

2. Promises of Increased Sales from SEO

The promise of increased sales as a result of SEO efforts is only possible if the SEO agency has complete control over the client’s sales processes (e.g., sales funneling, pipeline structure and reporting, sales team, commissions, etc.) and the SEO agency has sales consulting expertise on staff.

Sellers of SEO services, beware. How do you even know there’s a market for what your client is selling? You may be able to improve their web presence for organic search conversions, but how do you even know their products or services are in demand and the processes around selling those products or services are efficient and proven?

Buyers of SEO, if increased sales are a requirement for your business, consider hiring a sales process consultant rather than an SEO professional whose actual task it is to improve your web presence visibility in the search engines for highly converting keywords.

3. Selling and Buying SEO Services Without Any Mention of Content Marketing.

The outcome of Google’s massive algorithm changes over the past two years is that it takes really great, fresh, optimized content produced on a regular schedule to convince Google that the source is relevant and authoritative and should therefore be returned as a search result. This takes a lot of commitment, work and a strong focus on content marketing.

SEO (including the building of backlinks and the creation of social signals) requires a content marketing strategy. In fact, it is impossible to execute on SEO without one. Buyers’ expectations of SEO services will be better met if they also buy into a content marketing strategy.

SEO will also have a longer-term effect on a web presence in organic search when more quality, optimized content is produced.

The lack of a content marketing strategy will leave the SEO seller with insufficient content to work with to positively impact organic search position and the buyer with unmet expectations about SEO in general.

4. Selling and Buying SEO Services Without Any Mention of Social Media

Similar to #3, SEO agencies that are not yet factoring social networks, social media and social signaling into their SEO services methodology are doing their clients a disservice.

A blatant note to both buyers and sellers of SEO services: a year ago, Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, said, “The social signal, the people you ‘hang with’ is actually a ranking signal.” (December 2011).

In 2011, Matt Cutts was asked by an SEO agency what three things should be included in your SEO strategy, and one of the three items he suggested was, “think about social media marketing … a lot of people think SEO versus social media marketing, and a lot of the time it makes sense to keep a holistic view.”

SEO results will be better gained and expectations better met when an entire web presence is optimized for organic search. This means distributing optimized content across the web presence to be socialized and shared, thus increasing relevance and authority for your audience.