When Honesty is the Only Thing Left to Sell

    December 18, 2006

Who’ll be keeping it real in ’07?

Juxtapose this…

A few weeks ago I found myself co-presenting an intro to SEM (he on SEO, me on PPC) at WebmasterWorld Pubcon, with Wil Reynolds. What struck me about Wil’s presentation was all the goodies he offered the audience. Absolutely free. He’d break from his presentation and go show them how they could get a certain type of info without paying a penny. Many had no idea these tools (eg. MSN adCenter Labs) existed.

Now that may not be remarkable to some. Working on a project with a programmer like Raja Bhatia, I know just how much leverage we have nowadays, on so few dollars, to get a lot done.

What Raja, and Wil, offer, is domain expertise. They don’t come cheap in the end. But they’ll not be selling you an overinflated research tool or proprietary plug-in. They’ll work on an overall job, at a remarkably low price, and in the end (hopefully, if you get it) realize full value on saving you so much money and creating so much value.

That’s the way I’ve always sought to operate, too.

Later, in the lobby of Pubcon, I talked to another SEO expert who had some surprising insights about the bid process for full-service SEO jobs. He might have bid $70-80k on a job (sounds costly, doesn’t it), and find himself coming in third, behind two better-known firms who had bid $150k and $160k respectively. Clients would assume that because his quote lagged so far behind, there must be something wrong with his service. Well hey, if you guys aren’t careful and don’t hire us soon, this guy (the SEO) and I (the much more affordable Paid Search guy) are going to double rates… again… until we catch up to those “heavy duty solutions” at the big agencies. :)

I compare Wil’s generous sharing of free tools with the brochure that just fell out of my conference memorabilia file from circa 2004. I’m sure this will be one less drinkin’ buddy as I out some company (without mentioning them by name), but I’m astounded to think that you could make some mysterious “9 billion query database” part of a bag stuffer or exhibit. That a spike in searches for “Valentines” around Valentines day could be something leading up to a sale of a proprietary tool, when you could get the same info for free using common sense or Google Trends. I think it’s that type of sales pitch Wil has grown tired of. And so has anyone else who works for a living in this business. Someone who claims to have a proprietary 9 billion query database… who really doesn’t? (Did you read my Winning Results book where I explain that the best keyword research is always to run a real time AdWords campaign because you get real Google data, not phony secondhand metacrawler puffery?)

Some of us don’t feel threatened by all the stuff that’s being made free, to help us achieve goals for a lower and lower cost. To achieve those goals requires evolving domain expertise, integrity, and a thoroughgoing, full service approach. You won’t need to find me in a booth to offer it, but hopefully, you’ll find me. And vendors like Wil. And sorry, but Raja’s already booked up. :)


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Andrew Goodman is Principal of Page Zero Media, a marketing consultancy which focuses on maximizing clients’ paid search marketing campaigns.

In 1999 Andrew co-founded Traffick.com, an acclaimed “guide to portals” which foresaw the rise of trends such as paid search and semantic analysis.