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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Absolute Zero is Absolute Zero – You Can Spend Less, But You Are Still Getting Nothing

Anyone familiar with the Kelvin temperature scale knows that 0 degrees Kelvin is absolute zero. That means it cannot get any colder than 0 degrees Kelvin. What most people don’t understand, however, is that the temperature can dip below 0 degrees Kelvin. It just isn’t any “colder”. SEO has a similar threshold.

SEO, like anything, is worth what you put into it. And, once a minimum spend threshold is reached, I would say the less you spend the more you get. Why? Because while your SEO effort is still worthless at a few hundred dollars per month, at least you have a bit more money in your pocket with which to take your kids out to dinner.

So what is that minimum threshold? Hint: it has four digits, and that is per month. Not total budget, but monthly budget. And don't make the mistake of thinking you can get by with the lowest possible four digit spend combination. A thousand a month will not buy you quality SEO.

An appropriate level of spend depends on a variety of factors, such as industry landscape, whether the campaign is local, national, or global, the level at which your competitors are savvy, and many other factors. What is necessary for Wal-Mart is obviously not necessary for a small, localized, specialty business. (As an aside, Wal-Mart could use some serious SEO – Amazon, Ebay, Target and many others beat their pants off – note to self: schedule conference call with Wal-Mart online marketing department). However, that is the problem I face on a weekly basis – people who want to be Wal-Mart in their niche, but are not willing to put up the investment that Wal-Mart has to get where they are.

I find many people more than happy to offer me a “generous share of the profits” in their business if I will only work for free. Wait, did you say free? Did you just ask me to invest in your business, when you don’t have the confidence to invest in it yourself? That is the first warning sign for me to run away. And don't you tell me it is a lack of confidence in my ability. What it is in reality, is a lack of confidence in your ability to run a business. I mean, if you are not willing to invest in your own idea, which you know best, why should I be?

This is not to say you shouldn’t know exactly what you are paying for, and I don’t mean some long arbitrary list of “SEO services.” SEO cannot be quantified as a checklist as if once each task is conplete, that leaves one less thing to be done. Instead, search engine optimization is an ongoing campaign utilizing a variety of techniques and strategies. I believe it is much more important to know how much time and effort an SEO firm is spending, rather than the fact they are doing keyphrase research, link building, etc, for X amount of money. How much research? How much content creation? How much time is spent in syndication, bookmarking, etc? Obviously the budget will make a huge difference in how aggressive the campaign will be (or at least one would hope).

But what does this have to do with the Kelvin temperature scale? Well, there is a certain critical mass in SEO. I believe for most small businesses, that critical mass of SEO effort is somewhere just above what they would like to pay, but far below what they would be willing to pay to retire early. When you cut corners in SEO, you are dropping below the “absolute zero” of the effectiveness of a campaign, and once there, you may as well find something better to spend your money on, like twinkies or tacos. Mmmm...

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