Why are great SEO services expensive & hard to find?
If you’ve ever looked for a search engine optimization provider to help move your business website up the Google rankings, you’ll know that it’s not easy to find one that is both affordable and trustworthy.
There are plenty of affordable, low-quality SEO providers. In fact, you probably have 6 of them like this in your Junk Mail folder right now:
We noticed that you are not at the top of the search engines for a number of your key terms. We will rank you top page in Google, yahoo and Bing.
– Beware of any unsolicited email about SEO services.
On the other end of the scale, there are a lot of very high quality, trustworthy SEO companies available if you have $20,000 or $30,000 to spend.
Why? We’ll get into that.
But first, I have a quick question for you:
TRUE or FALSE: economist George Akerlof won a Nobel prize for his 1970 paper about the business of Search Engine Optimization?
I’m sure you got that one right – it’s false, because the internet and SEO did not exist back in 1970.
But he did write about the business of used car sales – and what’s more, his paper is 100% relevant to search engine optimization in 2018 as it was to cars in 1970.
Information asymmetry: the seller knows more than the buyer
In the paper George discusses what happens when a seller knows more about a product than the buyer, known as information asymmetry.
At the time of writing, it was difficult for customers to get information on the true value of a secondhand used car.
A bit like cars, search engine optimization is a complex, technical subject with many variables. It’s usually the case that the company selling the SEO service knows a lot more about SEO than the buyer.
What does that have to do with a 1970 Pontiac Grand Prix?
Let’s timewarp back to ’70s and compare our SEO business with Honest Mike’s Used Cars .
Mike swears he doesn’t have any “lemons” for sale (lemon is a US slang term for a car that is found to be defective only after it has been bought). But does he?
Average Joe visits Mike’s dealership to buy a secondhand car from Mike.
Joe cannot truly judge whether the car Mike shows him is in poor, average or even excellent condition.
Therefore Joe buys based on his perceived value of the car – his best guess being that it is in average condition.
Because of these market economics, Mike isn’t making much margin on his good cars any more because buyers keep assuming they are only in average condition.
Mike wants to sell his pristine, showroom condition car. But everyone says he wants too much for it. “Look at the price of cars at Abe’s Cars”, they say – but Mike knows Abe is selling lemons.
Mike decides to keep his pristine car, it’s not worth selling – buyers would only pay the price of an average car and it’s worth far more than that.
Instead he raises the price of his low quality cars – the lemons – up to the price of an average car. None of the buyers knows the difference anyway.
A “lemon market” can be produced if:
- There is information asymmetry in which no buyers can accurately assess the value of a product through examination before sale is made and
- All sellers can more accurately assess the value of a product prior to sale, and sellers have no credible disclosure technology (sellers with a great product have no way to disclose this credibly to buyers), and
- There is a range of differing seller qualities exists (or the average seller type is sufficiently low so the buyers are pessimistic about quality), and
- There is no effective public quality assurances (by reputation or regulation and/or of effective guarantees/warranties).
Sounds like SEO
- Average Joe visits Mike’s SEO agency Spamtastic LLC to buy SEO services from Mike. Joe cannot truly judge whether the SEO Mike showed he would do him was poor, average or even excellent quality SEO.
- Therefore Joe buys based on his perceived value of the SEO – his best guess being that it is in average condition.
- Mike wants to sell his pristine, high quality SEO services. But everyone he talks to says he wants too much for it – look at the price of SEO at Abe Digital Marketing, they say.
- He raises the price of his low quality SEO service up to the price of an average SEO service.
- Mike decides to keep his high quality SEO for his own sites, it’s not worth selling – buyers would only pay the price of an average SEO and it’s worth far more than that.
The major difference in the comparison of car vs SEO is the potential value of SEO is exponential to a business.
This is why there is a huge number of low quality SEO providers, many of whom overcharge, and it’s also why many of the best SEO people choose to only work on their own personal projects.
I’ve even done this myself, i.e. in 2008 WebsiteDoctor discontinued selling SEO as the standalone, flagship service and started doing it only as a bundle along with conversion optimization and website redesign projects. In fact, we also rebranded from “LogOn Internet Marketing” to “WebsiteDoctor” at that time.
Customer education is the solution
So that’s the problem; what’s the solution?
The customer must be educated up to a level whereby they can distinguish between lemons, average quality SEO and high quality. That usually requires a willingness to invest some time and money in educating themselves.
Likewise, an SEO company needs to help customers with that education. Content marketing is ideal for that – and has the side effect of being great for SEO.
Does your SEO provider seem unsure? That’s probably a good thing.
Another great point made by Aaron Wall is:
More knowledgeable SEOs who care about the quality of their services often use language like “maybe” and other qualifiers, because search is complex and constantly changing.
Paradoxically, usually the more certain the person selling SEO is, the less likely they are to be trustworthy
Bertrand Russell put it like this:
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”
Do you need help with SEO and website traffic?
- George A. Akerlof wrote “The Market for ‘Lemons’: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism” and published it in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (The MIT Press), 1970.
- John Andrews created the link between SEO and the Market for Lemons in a super blog post called A “Market for Lemons”, a Nobel Prize, and Snake Oil SEO.
- SEO Book produced the incredible SEO “Market for Lemons” infographic