Would you offer your seo services for commission only? As a small business owner would you request someone to market your site based only on how many sales you make? The question of commission based seo services arose in a thread on the Small Business Forum where the original poster was hoping to get just that. He wanted to get in the top 10 in Google or Yahoo offering 10% of sales generated from search engine optimization in return. Would you take the deal?
Why Working For Commission Is A Bad Deal For SEOs
I wouldn’t and said as much in the thread. My rationale is that too much of the sales process would be out of my control. An SEO could drive plenty of traffic to a site that won’t convert or has a poor business model. The request is essentially asking the SEO to take on the risk of another business. In this specific case the thread starter’s business is easily duplicated. Why work for 10% of the sales when you could duplicate the site and work for 100%?
Even if you are willing to take on some of the risk would 10% be enough? It depends on how much the 100% is I suppose, but is seo only 10% of the success? Again it depends, but I would suggest that for a two month old business a successful seo campaign is worth a lot more.
In my last This Week In SEO post I linked to an article by Stoney deGeyter asking where does the responsibility of the seo end and that of the client begin? A successful seo campaign needs both SEO and client to do their part. While it’s not automatically the case my general sense is clients asking for commission based seo are looking to avoid their share of the responsibility.
However, from the perspective of the small business owner is the request unreasonable? Small business owners typically have limited funds and full scale seo can get expensive depending on the current condition of the site and how competitive the industry. As a small business owner myself I’m aware of the many things you may want to purchase for your business, but simple can’t afford. To some, commission pricing might seem like a fair offer since the SEO’s fee would appear to be based on their skill. Most SEOs are aware of how much more than seo is necessary to make a sale, but should we expect clients to know?
My experience tells me that most small business owners making this request are shopping for price over value. As I suggested to the thread starter my guess is the SEO responding to his offer is going to be less than the SEO he wants. There’s a reason why some SEOs can charge the prices they charge and others will take any offer they get.
A few months ago Rand posted thoughts on different types of pricing models for seo including some performance based models. On the subject of profit sharing models Rand warns:
one big problem is that you’ll need to ensure that the business operations, outside of the website, are running on all cylinders, which really doesn’t fit well with the job of SEO.
Not an easy task and it has to be looked at as an additional cost for the SEO to keep tabs on the business operations of the client. If you’re going to ensure the business operations are working how much of a leap is it to run that business yourself.
A lot of the time, you’re getting yourself into a bad situation. You’re trying to do the counting for your client.
While commission based pricing might seem like a good idea to some on the surface, in most cases it places too much responsibility on the SEO to justify the return. I have no doubt it can work under some circumstances, but for the majority it’s only going to marry bad clients and bad SEOs.
When Commission Based SEO Makes Sense
Having said all the above there are times I would consider some kind of profit sharing seo. A client of mine has long since grown into a good friend and I would gladly help with his site for free (shhh, don’t tell him) so working for commission is an easy leap. In this case I have a great deal of respect and trust in my friend and a great desire to see his business succeed.
The SEO in me also knows he deals in a high end product/service and the commission from a single sale could pay my rent and bills for a month and we’d still likely agree to a monthly stipend in addition to the commission.
Another time it might make sense is if the site in question has a huge upside and you’re willing to take on the risk. Had Kevin Rose come calling in Digg’s early days and I was smart enough to see the potential of the site I would have certainly taken on the risk for a stake in the company. Easy to say in hindsight of course. The sad reality is that for the majority of small businesses it’s not worth the risk based on the business alone.
What Is Fair Compensation?
If you’re an SEO would you be willing to take the offer of the thread starter? The deal was for 10% of all logos sold through organic seo and the logo price was $124. To me the logos looked cookie cutter and I suspect they’re either being created through an affiliate offer or some logo creation software. The site itself has been online about two months and most of the links coming in were from low value directory like pages with all the links pointed directly to the home page of the site.
Would you be willing to take on the risk for a $12 commission on each logo sold.
If you’re a small business owner does the request sound fair? Do you think it’s reasonable to ask an SEO to set fees based on performance, perhaps with an additional small monthly retainer? Do you see seo pricing as above your means and see a performance based model as the only way you could afford seo services?
There can be a disconnect between what an SEO needs to charge and what a client is capable of paying. Can commission based seo services be a bridge? Or are some connections not meant to be made.