I was talking recently with a friend who’s been trying to hire an SEO to work on her company’s website. She was surprised to find out how much it could cost to hire a good SEO (by “good” I mean those people I was willing to recommend to her because I know they do a good job).
“You always say SEO for most sites isn’t rocket science,” she complained. “How is it these people can get away with charging so much for something so simple?”
Here’s what I told her.
A man worked for years as a maintenance technician at a manufacturing plant. His job was to keep the antiquated production machines running, and he was very good at it. Despite the age of its equipment, the plant hadn’t suffered any downtime in years.
The company was sold, and the new owner wanted to cut costs. Unfortunately, the new owner was a bit “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” He noticed the plant had never had any downtime due to machines breaking down. He reasoned if the machines were so reliable, why did he need a maintenance technician on salary all the time? Despite the production manager’s protests, the new boss laid off the maintenance guy.
Others in the plant knew how to take care of minor maintenance issues, so all went well for a few months. The new owner was patting himself on the back for having made a wise decision, when one of the most important machines in the plant suddenly broke down completely.
Without this machine, all work at the plant came to a standstill. With all the employees standing around and all the other equipment idled, the plant was losing money by the minute.
Worse still, nobody in the building had any idea how to fix the machine. And the company who manufactured the machine had gone out of business decades ago.
Everyone told the owner the only one who knew how to repair that machine was the former maintenance technician. With reluctance, the owner called him.
“Oh, yes, I know that machine well. I’d be happy to come in and help you out,” said the maintenance guy. “But since you laid me off, I’ve gone into business for myself as a consultant. If I can get the machine up and running for you, you’ll have to promise to pay my invoice on the spot.”
The owner didn’t have much choice at that point, so he agreed.
An hour later, the maintenance tech walked through the door. He strode to the malfunctioning equipment, opened his toolbox, and carefully selected a small hammer. He opened a door in the side of the machine, reached in and whacked something inside with the hammer.
The machine started right up.
The man replaced the hammer in his toolbox, wiped his hands, and presented the owner with a neatly typed invoice. It read:
Repair of equipment….. $10,000
“Ten thousand dollars?!” sputtered the owner. “All you did was whack the machine with a hammer! That’s outrageous! How could you possibly expect me to pay ten thousand dollars for five minutes of work?”
The man took back the invoice, extracted a pen from his shirt pocket, and scribbled a few words on the paper. He handed the invoice back, and the owner could see what he’d written:
ITEMIZATION OF CHARGES
Whacking equipment with hammer…….. $100
Knowing exactly where and how hard to whack… $9,900
The plant manager paid the invoice.
Knowing what to do is important, of course, but frankly the what is usually pretty easy to learn. The former employee could have told them the what in 30 seconds over the phone: whack just the right spot with a hammer.
Likewise, most people can grasp the basics of what needs to be done to optimize most small business websites fairly quickly. As my friend pointed out I’ve said on more than one occasion, most of SEO isn’t rocket science.
The hard part, though, is the how. Telling the folks at the plant the machine could be fixed by whacking it with a hammer would have told them the what… but without the how that knowledge would do them little good. Knowing which hammer to use and precisely where and exactly how hard to whack with that hammer — therein lies the skill.
It’s one thing to understand, for instance, you need a unique title tag for each page. It’s quite another to know how to write title tags that effectively incorporate each page’s most important target search phrase and encourage maximum click-throughs from the search results. Simply recognizing you need “search optimized web copy” is a far cry from knowing how to write it. Realizing you need more high-quality links pointing to your pages is not the same as knowing how to go about getting those links.
The what you can learn in minutes. The how takes considerably more time, effort and skill.
It’s the how you pay for when you hire an outside expert, whether it’s an accountant or a lawyer or an SEO or whatever. Those who have devoted the time, put forth the effort and learned the skill sufficient to be considered “experts” are entitled to charge appropriately for their hard-won knowledge.
Absolutely, if you have the time and the desire, you can learn to do it for yourself. But you have to decide whether that’s the best use of your time and energy. For some, it may be worth it to learn. For many others, it’s a better idea to hire an expert and focus their attention on their core business.
The plant was dead in the water without the help of the former maintenance tech. Your company’s website might well be dead in the water without the help of an experienced site optimization expert. If you can afford to let it languish for months and you’re able to spend time away from your core business while you learn the how of optimization, that may be a viable option for you. Otherwise, like the plant manager, your best bet may be to hire the expert.
That’s why the good ones charge what they do for their services, and why their clients willingly pay the invoice.