Confessions Of A $100/Month SEO Client

Are you an agency trying to sell super cheap search marketing services to SMBs? If so, here’s some free market research!

Last week, I got my kitchen counters resurfaced. Inevitably the service guy asked me what I did for a living. When I told him I did SEO, the conversation quickly turned to the local online marketing and I put my interviewer hat on.  Enjoy:

Cleaner One

NAP Citation: Cleaner One
416 Honeysuckle Lane
San Ramon, CA
925-336-0600
Owner: Paul Breaton
Service Categories: Carpet Repair, Marble Polishing, Marble Cleaning

  1. How long have you been in business?
    I’ve been running my own business since 1994. I have a 3-person service company that operates out of a truck, a P.O. box and my kitchen. (Author’s Note: You may have noticed I used a street address for the NAP. Actually, Paul moved to a PO Box, but his Google Place Page still has the Honeysuckle Lane address, so I didn’t want to screw up his NAP consistency in Google by using a different address.)
  2. Five years ago, what was your marketing mix? What is it today?
    I’d say, five years ago it was mostly direct mail and print yellow pages ads. I wasn’t doing much online. I was spending about $50,000 per year. I am now spending only $25,000 and I am doing more business. I am bringing my print yellow pages ads down to zero because when I ask customers how they had heard of me, no one says that they found me through the yellow pages. Now I’m saving $1200/month. Most of my leads these days come from repeat customers and referrals.
  3. Besides word-of-mouth, what’s your most profitable source of leads?
    ServiceMagic (now called HomeAdvisor) used to be, but that was when I had time to answer the phone. The challenge with a service like that is you are basically paying for a phone call and if you don’t return the calls immediately, you tend to lose out on the lead, but you still pay for the calls you return. I now use Diamond Certified for about $460/month, which I think is a real deciding factor when people want to hire me. People see that symbol and know I am a quality provider.
  4. How much do you spend on search engine marketing?
    I spend $250/month on Google Places to show up on the right side of the page. (He was actually talking about AdWords.) And I give my guy another $100/month to do my website stuff. (He was talking about SEO. Note to his website guy: Even if you can’t do a citation update for the new address, doesn’t $100 at least buy some unique, targeted title tags on those pages?)
  5. Do you know what your search engine marketing is doing for you? Are you tracking leads from different sources? What does your consultant report on for you?
    I ask my customers how they found me. My consultant doesn’t report on anything until I tell him that I am thinking about stopping the campaign and then he usually produces a report. I look at it and then I move on cause I’m busy.
  6. Have you ever tried to optimize your site to improve conversions?
    No.
  7. What do you think the value of a page one ranking is for your target keywords like “marble polishing in San Ramon”?
    Being first on the list in Google is not going to translate to a bunch of jobs. I am not the low-priced guy and Google tends to send a lot of price-shoppers. So you have to spend a lot of time on the phone with people who aren’t going to convert. That said, Google (I think he means AdWords here) right now is getting me a lot of stone work.
  8. What do you do with social media?
    I don’t have time to chit-chat. My LinkedIn page is a joke. It needs help. If you read it, I sound like a non-high school graduate idiot. I did it too quickly and didn’t even proofread it. But hey, I’m busy.
  9. What about online reviews?
    They’re huge. I always tell customers that offer me a tip to save their money and go write a review for me on Angie’s List first, and then on Yelp. Those reviews are everything.
  10. How many times a day do you get called by Internet marketers trying to sell their services?
    I get called at least twice a day. Those auto-dialer guys are awful. Their call-to-action where they tell you there’s a emergency problem with your Google listing is inappropriate and deceptive. Instead of lying to me, they need to just say, “This is who we are and here is how we can help you.” Give me some factual info about myself.

    Show me how I am not making money and show me how your plan will work. Give me a guarantee and give me a test run for free. I love when I get a call from Google (I think he means from marketers pretending to represent Google). I’ll ask those guys questions until they try to sell me.Advertising for small companies is a crap shoot. You never know what’s going to work. But we know better than you what works for us. If you really believe in your product give it to me for free to try it — if it works, of course I’ll want to pay you for it.

The Moral Of The Story

Paul, who seals a mean counter, is a living example of why serving these kinds of businesses is murder. The SMB often doesn’t have the time, knowledge or budget to understand search engine marketing. And, it costs marketing service providers a lot to get Paul on the phone and close him, only to get $350/month (part of which goes to Google for media). So, they can’t afford to really service Paul in a way that’s meaningful.

Interestingly, when I asked Paul how he felt about mobile marketing, his eyes lit up and his response was, “I wouldn’t be opposed to looking at that. If I could get my client database into an app, that would be cool. If my client could get an app like that, she’d be able to share the app with her friends and recommend me, which would be cool for me and cool for her because she’s helped and impressed her friend. She’d be all juiced up.”

And when it comes to local search marketing, it’s clear from talking to many business owners like Paul (and many marketers trying to service the ocean of Pauls out there) that we are all going to need as much juice as we can get.

Witness Paul’s fine handwork.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a local search engine optimization consulting company specializing in yellow pages seo and local directory search—the blog is pretty fabulous too.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.websitedoctor.com/ Alastair McDermott

    Very interesting interview. I think us web folks need to learn more about real-world businesses and the issues they’re facing.

    Simple example: I know I’m over here in Europe but I’d never even heard of those auto-dialers pitching online marketing services. Knowing my US customers are getting those kinda calls is useful.

    Out of interest, do you know how many phone calls he received while on your premises?

  • Ben Wright

    That was a really great interview Andrew. It’s crazy how that guys is getting charged $350/month and his “website guy” won’t even help him with citations and/or getting his Linkedin set up at least.

    However, most of your SMB owners are going to be satisfied (especially if they are pay much less than they were 10 years ago) like Paul as long as they are staying busy and their phone is ringing.

    Another couple questions I would have asked is, “What kind of jobs are most profitable for you? Are you getting as many of those as you would like?” << That's where you can really help him.

  • http://localsearchforum.catalystemarketing.com/ Linda Buquet

    Great interview Andrew!

    Alastair, the really bad thing is many of the companies that call are shady and many make it sound like they are Google. They’ll say things like “This is the Google verification department and there is a problem with your listing” Or “I’m calling because we have a top spot on Google that opened up in your market”. The really bad ones use scare tactics and make it sound like Google will delete your listing if you don’t update your listing.

    It’s really bad. We get complaints at the Google forum all the time from SMBs threatening to sue Google if they don’t stop harassing them. But it’s not Google.

  • http://www.radicalmustache.com/ Mikel Zaremba

    Ben,

    In all actuality he is only paying $100 for SEO services. $200 goes to AdWords. Of that $200 I bet $150 is applied to ad spend and $50 goes in the pocket of the seo, if any is spent on ads in the first place (can seem to trigger them).

    Those margins are so slim that optimizing a social media profile and building citations is most likely out of the question. At best this seo should be updating one page a month with title tags, internal/external linking, doing keyword analysis, etc.

    Plus, it is pretty clear that the business owner does not see value in what is being provided already, he owns multiple 1 page listings and still sees the results as a burden.

    If it were me, I’d shift dollars to producing more reviews (this is what the hot button was with him) and conversion optimization.

    How’d you find this guy Andrew?

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    It is difficult when you get a call and they tell you their budget is very small. Despite spending a fortune on things like the phone book and door hangers they put a small bit aside for the web, which is a huge mistake. Honestly for 100/month you would not get all the bells and whistles of SEO service initially, it would have to be done over a longer period of time (things like social profile optimization)

  • Andrew Shotland

    WoM – Referred by a realtor

  • Andrew Shotland

    THERE IS A SPECIAL PLACE IN HELL FOR AUTO-DIALER SEO COMPANIES

  • Javi C.

    That website is so ugly. It’s hard to take this guy seriously.

  • Dave

    Paul already knows what sucks, so his SEO should offer to fix those things, but as an add on to the original package. As long as the SEO was up front about what that $100 a month would get Paul, there shouldn’t be an issue. Transparency. Maybe a little less focus on what Paul thinks he needs and more on what the internet marketer knows he needs.

  • RyanMJones

    I hate to be “that guy” but seriously, what do you expect for $100/month? At that price range I would just expect to keep the lights on, and nothing else. It probably barely covers the guy’s web hosting and required content updates. Most SEOs or developers I know charge more than that per hour.

    the way he views things and sees problems is interesting, and there are lots of ways he can improve his business with all kinds of marketing (not just SEO) but all of it is going to cost him.

  • Andrew Shotland

    I don’t 100% disagree with the sentiment Jeff.

    That said, I think if you had hired multiple kitchen counter guys and they all had done next to nothing for you, you probably wouldn’t hire one without some kind of assurance like that.

    Paul’s service is generally a one-time deal and he either does it right and gets paid, or he does it wrong and you stiff him, or withhold payment until he does it right – I didn’t pay him until he finished the job to my satisfaction. So in a sense, he did work for free up front.

  • http://www.askforeman.com/ Stephen Foreman

    Interesting article, highlighting what’s an all too common problem. The days of cold calling simply aren’t there any more in my opinion. All the business I do is based on referrals from advice I give at a nominal cost, so it’s a loss leader for me to offer my services at a very low price and then customers trust me with their SEO.
    Gotta agree with the Yellow Pages thing though, was spending $50,000.00 on that at one company and trimmed it back to $5,000.00 over 2 years.

  • Ben Wright

    Great point Mikel. Sounds like Mobile hits the spot too!

  • http://www.askforeman.com/ Stephen Foreman

    Damn, I missed the link the first time. That is bad!

  • Bob Sommers

    One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered working with SMB’s is that each one is so different. You never know which service you offer is going to catch their fancy. The story you told above Andrew is a perfect example. The next countertop resurface owner might be interested in reviews, or PPC or Facebook ads or … who knows what.

    The key to winning over these customers is to quickly identify their hot spot. That’s where the pot of gold resides. Unfortunately most SEO’s don’t have a plan to do that, so they auto dial for dollars. Big mistake and it hurts the rest of us.

  • Andrew Shotland

    Javi/Stephen, interestingly, he admitted that his site is nothing special, but he claims that his customers have given him very positive feedback on it. Could be a lot of bias in that feedback, but we should always remember that SEOs are not the customer.

  • http://www.askforeman.com/ Stephen Foreman

    It’s not the worst site I have ever seen Andrew, but the blue contrast is really terrible. If I found a company website like that I’d go back to Google and look for a better designed site as to me, someones website is a reflection of the service they offer their customers. A little change like making the blue a dark grey, formatting the text and spacing it better from the edges and changing the font to Arial and it would look a million times better. Having said that, all small businesses have limited time and resources and I’m sure every website owner wants more for their site than they have the time/money to do!

  • http://www.radicalmustache.com/ Mikel Zaremba

    Yes, mobile was a point of interest. I overlooked that, very true.

    Maybe if he sees value in that he may be willing to pay for it. The talk of freebies scares me though.

  • http://www.interactivecleveland.com/ Sean Hecking

    Great insights Andrew. This is the challenge of trying to service SMBs. Most of their websites are such a mess that no amount of AdWords clicks or SEO can fix. To make search “work” the marketer must spend time getting best practices in place for the first couple months. By the time results start to kick in 3-5 months down the road, the SMB is almost ready to pull the plug. 3-5 months is a very long time to do work for free before you *might* get paid.

  • Kevin

    Andrew,

    I have one thing to say “Déjà vu” wow been there and heard that so many times I have a contractor at my home. great article
    Kevin

  • Textbroker

    Sometimes it seems as if we’re in an echo chamber, talking to ourselves about the ROI of search or PPC, when potential customers are focused on other areas. I recently did an interview with a bakery shop owner (best cupcakes in Vegas!) and, although she blogs, tweets and instagrams, she doesn’t track any of it. It’s just a different set of priorities. Link to the interview: http://wp.me/p2CKi8-fh

  • Thomas Speck

    It’s interesting he was spending close to $15K p.a. on Yellow Pages 5 years ago, but he hasn’t moved that spend into any other area; he’s just stopped spending. It’s not like consumers who previously used Yellow Pages have disappeared – today they’re using search engines, yet he’s only spending $250 per month on PPC?

  • Andrew Shotland

    His referral business grew so much over that time that he was able to reduce his marketing spend while growing revenue. As far as search spend goes, it seems like more of a missed opportunity than lost business.

  • Sarah Snyder

    What was the SEO actually doing if there weren’t even targeted title tags?

  • Ben Wright

    Exactly. Seems to me that title tags would be updated on Day 1 of any “SEO” campaign!

  • Matt O’Toole

    Interesting read. Few things I learned:

    1. SMB owners don’t read SEO reports – not surprising.

    2. They don’t understand the industry – again, not that surprising.

    3. People don’t use the YP anymore (except in tests of human strength and as doorstops) – again, not that surprising.

    4. SMBs spend money on Adwords and like it – again, not that surprising. It’s simple to understand and they can measure ROI (although they probably don’t call it that).

    5. He offered to resurface your kitchen worktops, but then appeared to just blow on your work surface and wipe it with a tea towel!

    :)

  • Andrew Shotland

    Spammer Winter is coming….

  • jonathannelson

    Great insights from that interview, Andrew.

    I often see confusion just like this with your typical SMB. They just don’t understand the world of online marketing and are too busy to research and learn how to do it. And so that really leaves them open to the snake oil companies with their bait and switch gimmicks

    I do, however, think there’s opportunity for marketers to help educate these SMB’s on a much broader scale.

    One resounding similarity I hear from SMB’s is the power of word-of-mouth referral. I mean, undeniably, most SMB’s, especially with a limited web presence, live on WOM business. The new alternative we see is a hybrid where SMB’s have adopted social marketing, ala Facebook/Twitter, to help leverage WOM business.

    If we can create technology to help satisfy the human need for simple answers to tough problems, like Paul Breaton’s, we can have a profound impact for SMB’s for the greater good.

  • http://www.unchartedstreams.com/ Josh Taylor

    I’m really glad you showed the point of view of an actual local business. What I’ve learned with local SEO has really helped my own guitar lesson business. http://www.guitarlessonsgresham.com I’ve gotten calls from those marketers as well, and some of them are pretty shady.
    Marketers need to understand the actual business, perhaps do a one time set-up and some regular consulting to really understand the business and show them how to do it themselves tailored for what their doing. I.e. Facebook might help a softdrink brand name, but I’ve had better luck with Google and Craiglist for a local service.

  • http://www.mandloys.com/ Mark Gavalda

    BEST. ARTICLE. ON SELAND. EVER. :)
    Seriously, I have been wondering for so long what the average SMB owner has to say about PPC/SEO, social media and what not. More of these interviews please! (And yes, I always ask _my_ customers, but it’s always good to hear from others too!)
    Edit: and I guess that he’s receiving TONS of calls from marketers / SEOs now saying that they can do a lot better than his current guy for $X a month… :( Poor guy.

  • Ben Wright

    The worst part is that the better SEO job you do for your client, the more sales calls they will get from solicitors! Makes our job that much harder!

  • Andrew Shotland

    +1

  • Andrew Shotland

    Point of clarification Matt – he was showing me how well-sealed the surface was by pouring water on it and then blowing beads of water across it.

  • http://www.tvsinternetmarketing.com/ Carmen Rane Hudson

    Yeah, I’ve been wondering why these guys don’t just dump their ineffective budgets and pour it into the web. I guess if the perception is that Google brings them more price shoppers that might explain things a little bit better.

  • http://www.tvsinternetmarketing.com/ Carmen Rane Hudson

    This is an outstanding point and one I’ve tried to communicate as well. Many people don’t understand that users check out the overall web presence before they call.

  • http://keepkalm.com/ Kyle Alm

    Don’t let your clients know that ;-)

    Also, your interview says he pays a “web guy,” am I wrong to interpret that it may be someone who doesn’t do SEO? Especially if he’s spending more than double that directly on AdWords.

    I have had clients like this. What they don’t tell you is how much money the web guy wanted before they went for the cheaper option.

  • Andrew Shotland

    The impression I got was the web guy was charging $100 for the SEO although Paul didn’t use that term

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    a lot of times I just start asking about conversion ratios of existing advertising which really starts to open their eyes about how little they are involved in knowing the actual results they are are getting for what they pay for. Sometimes it is a good lead into suggesting larger budgets. Not so much for my sake but the campaign effectiveness sake.

  • tonicarr

    That is a great interview. I work with SMB’s daily and really feel for them how complicated the local listing business has become. Most of them are just trying to stay a head of the curve and learning SEO is not what they want to spend their time doing. Most don’t have the budget for it and can’t see the return for their time.

  • http://officialbuziness.com/ Nick Sparagis

    You bring up a complex issue. Online marketing is not cheap and it takes expertise. Hiring and “expert” is not practical if your budget is less than $2k / month. Let’s be honest, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you may as well flush that money down the toilet.

  • Andrew Shotland

    The big difference here is that there is pretty good data out there about how much a kitchen counter should cost. Not so in the local digital marketing world. You get what you don’t know what you are paying for.

  • http://joaoalexandre.com/en João Paulo Alexandre

    His website is crappy beyond oblivion: http://www.cleanerone.com/

    If I was him I would take one month of $15,000 that he previously spent on YP and apply it to a great professional looking website.

  • http://www.pixelar.com.mx/ Victor Castillejos

    The problem we have here with local business, is that they don’t understand the benefits of a optimized website, and of course they still spend a lot of money in printing material, wasting money.. Even charging him $100 per month I would do a better job..

    Come on Andrew be agood samaritan and change that title for him Welcome to CleanerOne. Expert Care, Outstanding Results

  • Steve

    A lot of small biz owners are old school. They know little to nothing about how the Internet works. Trust is another issue for them. So, they pump thousands into the traditional marketing channels like the yellow pages and flyers, and allocate a small faction of their total budget on the web. I agree it’s a big mistake. In today’s market, conversion rates on the Internet can be a lot higher than traditional forms.

  • Cameron Muro

    Great article! I have found this very same thing in working with small businesses in our area. I think you have to reach them on a very black and white basic level and be able to show them where their opportunities lie. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.andykuiper.com/ Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst

    So typical of what’s happening out there Andrew… and quite unsettling too. I feel for guys like Paul, they trust that someone will do a good job for them (just as you put trust in Paul to do a good job for you) and they frequently get burned, and are often unaware while they are getting burned. Nice of you to try and help :-)

  • http://www.chiefoutsiders.com/ Barbara M Fowler

    Great story! It is so real and what I encounter every day with small businesses. The good ones are busy and don’t have the patience for presentations. But you got him interested!

  • Adtronic

    Interesting article and thanks for posting it. We find that most SMEs aren’t interested in internet advertising but they’ll spend ages talking about the designs of their website. ROI, lead generation, and all the other common marketing metrics mean nothing to them. When we finally convince them to carry out some Adwords-type marketing, they are very reluctant to test. They expect a fantastic ROI from day one that is sustainable. It’s a difficult market.

  • Victor Tribunsky

    Well said, Jeff.

  • Myles Dannhausen

    Andrew, this interview has done a great job illustrating a point that everyone in marketing and sales fails to understand – small business owners just don’t want to deal with this shit. They got into business for their passion – be it food, masonry, carpentry, soil testing – and marketing or SEO isn’t their passion. They don’t want to dive in, and it’s hard enough to develop the expertise in their core business. Most marketing decisions are made on a whim, the result of the ebb and flow of business, not any in-depth decision. (I know, I was a restaurateur in a former life who made terribly un-informed marketing decisions.). Great post!

 

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