3 Ways SEO Will Be Sold In The Future (And How To Not Get Left Behind)

As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, marketers ruin everything. And I can tell you for certain that after speaking to hundreds of business owners over the years, some digital marketers have ruined the industry for one another.

Even though I often see businesses that have never let a marketer touch their website, the majority of sales calls I used to do included these objections:

I spent $20,000 on SEO with this other agency and we got no significant results. What are you doing differently?


The last guy we worked with penalized our site. How do I know this isn’t going to happen again?


Do you have any guarantees? I mean, I see your results and testimonials, but I have to pay you upfront for something I don’t even know is guaranteed to work…

My response: “Erm, well, we can’t guarantee something that is out of our control. Google changes everyday, but… we’ll try our hardest?”


The truth is, they though of those objections for one of three reasons:

  1. They are just a headache client and not someone you would want to work with. They’re not growth-oriented.
  2. You didn’t lead them through the consultation properly and there was no trust built. They don’t see the need for marketing as outweighing the investment amount.
  3. Marketers ruin everything, and this owner has been burnt in the past. Hard.

There are so many variations to those objections and the list goes on. The bottom line is: business owners have already been exposed to digital marketing and they’re scared to invest upfront. 

Sure, you could convince someone who has never tried SEO to pay you upfront for a couple of months, but if you don’t get them the results that you promised, they’re unlikely to trust you or someone else in the future. Remember, they’ve never done this before and don’t know what to expect, even if you tell them.

Most businesses that approach me have been burned before by a marketer or agency in the past. I’m starting to expect it before I even speak to them. Yet they still see their competitors doing well and they still believe that digital marketing is a necessity. But it’s either they waited long enough to try again out of desperation, or they are seeking something that they aren’t sure exists out there. Yet.

how to sell pay per performance marketing

Objections? Come at me.

The ones that are trying again out of desperation will hear the same routine, and simply retreat to no digital marketing at all for another year, then return to another agency out of even more desperation. How do we change their mindset towards being SEO-positive if that’s the case?

The Solution: PPP

What do you promise when you sell your search marketing services? Rankings? Traffic? ROI? I was never one to simply state deliverables (ex. only doing link building, as that will never position me as an authority, something I’ve been preaching since day one).

As Ryan Stewart aptly put in his MOZ article, the landscape of SEO is changing because of the way Google is returning its search results in new and unique ways. There are Maps listings within organic rankings, AdWords ads, Google Shopping all over the place, YouTube videos, and of course images. We can no longer just sell links or website rankings as a deliverable. End of story.

It’s not only harder to sell because it’s getting harder to pinpoint a deliverable (we can still promise ROI), but also because amateurs ruined everything on low-paying clients, and now we are dealing with a trust issue when it comes to selling SEO. No one wants to pay blindly for another monthly retainer, no matter how much proof we have.

What freelancers and agencies must resort to when selling marketing in the future are performance-based offers. I’m not talking about a money-back guarantee (that usually doesn’t help close big ticket sales because people are still loss averse and you will come across as unconfident in your service). I’m talking about the growing trend towards changing what’s actually being sold, the deliverable. And that is Pay Per Performance, or as I like to call it, PPP.

how to sell seo in the future

This guy is completely depending on his performance… or else.

Here are three variations of PPP you can start offering right now that I use and that you may have seen floating around. In the end, it comes down to what the client wants. Believe it or not, there are some clients that don’t want more traffic. They just want to rank above their competitors for one keyword because their competitor is much smaller but now looks bigger and their egos are hurt.

In each method, I will explain the best scenario to offer that deal it in, how to structure the deal, and an example roughly based on a real deal that I closed with that method.

Pay Per Rank

I’ll get this one out of the way first because I think it will die quicker than the next two. This is actually how I first got started with client SEO. At one point, within 2 months of starting, I had 7 of these contracts running at the same time. The clients were sold on the idea quickly but the tiers were small and I definitely felt the pressure. No results, no food. I don’t recommend using it as your main offer. 

Summary: PPR is when you get paid recurring, but only once a specific keyword is ranking in Google in a predetermined spot or better, usually at the end of the month or billing cycle.sell pay per rank seo

Best Use: When the client approaches you simply wanting to rank for their brand name or a couple of specific keywords that they can’t stand their competitors beating them at, regardless of how much traffic or sales it will bring. This is more of an ego play because it doesn’t take into account overall traffic from other long tail variations of the keyword.

It can also be used if the client is doing incredibly well on other keywords but just has a few they are struggling with.

Structuring the Deal: The best way to structure pay per rank is to get paid at the end of the month based on the position of the keyword on that day or the average throughout the month. That way both you and the client are protected if you were ranking well the entire month but the last day you dropped, or if you were never ranking until the last day when you checked.

  1. First, find the top performing articles of the prospect or their competitors and see what the main keywords are that they are clearly going after. This may allow you to find extra, easier keywords that the client didn’t think of. The sky is the limit.
  2. Second, negotiate with the client on tiered pricing. Tiers can be if the page is ranked between positions 1-3, 4-10, page 1 or page 2, etc. There really is no way to price this properly because it will all be predictions on ROI, hence why I think this method will be obsolete soon. You can check current traffic and sales from that page, and calculate a price based on measuring potential sales per tier.

If it is an ego/brand play, pricing is completely arbitrary and based on how much the client is willing to pay to be better then the competitor, guaranteed. It would be funny if you compared rates with a similar PPR company like RankPay, marked up their prices, and then outsourced the client to them ????.

Example Deal: Jon owns an ecommerce store that sells baseball hats. He is currently ranked #9 on the first page of Google for “best baseball hats”. The keyword has good search volume, he sees his competitors all gunning for it on page 1, and he really wants to be the top spot for it.

selling seo services to clients

This is what I imagine Jessica looks like.

He doesn’t want to pay a traditional agency monthly without any promises, and he really only cares about this keyword for now. So he hires Jessica, a new SEO to the game with a lot of confidence, to get him to the top of page 1 for that one keyword.

Jon is willing to pay Jessica $750/month if she can get him to the top 3 positions. If she can get him to 4-5, she will get $400/month, and 6-7 is $200/month to cover her expenses and effort.

Jessica outlines that they will use a general USA Google rank checker, and that the check will be conducted on the last day of the month at 12:00pm EST. After they rank, position must be held for majority of the month in order to be paid for that tier.

Once successful, Jon sees an increase in sales and is more than willing to pay Jessica for many more keywords. As much as she can handle, really.

Pay Per Traffic

I love this deal because it’s the natural evolution of PPR without having fruitless arguments with your client on whether you were ranking or not. There is also a lot more potential for earnings, therefore it is my go-to deal for national clients if I can’t sell a retainer.

Summary: PPT is when you get paid recurring, but only if the client’s page achieves a certain amount of traffic that month.

sell pay per traffic seo

Best Use: Pay per traffic is best used when the client runs a blog that refers traffic to their main products or affiliate sales pages. The idea is that you can’t control conversions on their end, just the amount of traffic they get. It will only work if they have an established blog with analytics installed and previous data collected.

Structuring the Deal: To be fair to your client, you can only really count traffic that are “Unique Pageviews” and that come from “Organic”. That way the client knows for sure that it is search engine traffic they are getting, and it isn’t some bot or person refreshing a hundred times that day.

  1. First, gain access to their Google Analytics and click on Behavior>Site Content>All Pages to see what the most popular articles are on their site. Click on one of those page URIs to bring up the stats for that page.
  2. Second, add a Secondary Dimension and click Acquisition>Default Channel Grouping to eliminate traffic that came from referral links or people directly typing the URL in the browser. We’re looking at only the Unique Pageviews number beside the “Organic Search” row. Set the dates on the top right for the past three months so we can get a healthy average.google analytics default channel grouping
  3. Third, use a keyword finder tool to see hidden keywords the page is ranking for that could be improved. Usually a whole bunch of decent and long tail variations of the main keyword will be ranking on page one, but if they all moved up a couple spots it would mean a lot more traffic (especially for blog posts).
    source hunter for auto keywords

    Here I am using Source Hunter to automatically find other keywords I am ranking for on this URL.

  4. The last step is to negotiate traffic tiers with the client based on organic, unique pageviews. Pricing can be based on current income from that page and what it would mean if the client got a % increase in traffic. Therefore you can have 3-5 tiers above the current pageviews, starting from 10% more all the way to 200% more.

Example Deal: Jon created a blog completely separate from his baseball hat store. The blog has content all about baseball and baseball apparel, and often links back “recommending” his own products above all of his competitors.

He has a popular blog post that lists all the “best baseball hat websites”, and wants this blog post to get more traffic because that will ultimately mean more sales back to his main business.

Because it’s a blog post, it happens to get a lot more traffic from various keywords than a traditional product page would. So Jon hires Jessica to improve his overall traffic to the page (doesn’t matter how as long as it is organic which is the best quality).

Jessica agrees because she knows a couple of powerful links will boost the page’s traffic for all of the keywords it currently ranks for. They agree on $500/month for a 10%-30% increase from current pageviews,  $1,000/month for a 30-50% increase, $1500/month for a 50-75% increase, and $2,000/month for a 100% or higher increase.

She opens analytics at the end of each month, and invoices based on the tier of traffic that the page received that month. Jon is very happy with the increased traffic and social shares which also brought site-wide traffic and grew his list, so he gives Jessica many more big blog posts to promote. There is no limit to their success.

Pay Per Lead

Full transparency: I haven’t dabbled enough in PPL to be able to personally recommend it, but seeing the overwhelming amount of people shifting towards it and their success made me include it here.

Seeing as I can lower a client’s cost per click (and cost per lead) on AdWords to almost half in just a couple months is also proof that if they were willing to pay their old cost per lead, I could easily have generated this lower cost per lead myself and sold the leads to them or another company at the original higher rate they were paying before I started working with them. 

Summary: PPL is when you get paid a set amount per phone call, email, or web inquiry that you generate your client.

how to sell Pay Per Lead SEO

Best Use: The best time to offer PPL is when the client knows their numbers, is confident in their sales team, and is tired of traditional marketing. If you scope the competition and see that you can combine multiple traffic sources to produce even more leads, then offer PPL.

Often a client has such an ugly or underperforming site that it makes more sense to create your own site that can be your own source of leads. That way if they ever stop paying, you can always sell the leads that are rightfully yours to another company.

Structuring the Deal: There are so many ways to structure a Pay Per Lead deal. One thing you want to avoid is taking equity in the business, which surprisingly I still see being offered for some reason. Unless you really trust the owner on a personal level, can see their books every month, and don’t mind being emotionally invested, don’t take a percentage of revenues. I have no idea why any established business with a savvy owner would do this to save a couple bucks every month.

The best way to structure the deal is with simple math. First, find out how many sales they can get from 10 leads that originated online. Now you know their conversion rate.

Then, find out how much they are profiting on average over the lifetime of a new customer. Now you know how much to charge per lead just for them to break even. Charge 30% less than that and you’re good to go.

Another way would be to take their current numbers and beat it. If they have an amateur running their paid ads and generating them leads at a certain cost, offer them even more leads for cheaper, then use your skills to lower your cost to attain the lead to even cheaper than their new low price.

You can also use alternate sources of traffic such as SEO to increase the volume of leads. Don’t worry about their sales skills because you are being paid regardless of their conversions.

Google now has Click To Call ads, where you only pay if someone actually calls the business straight from a mobile search in Google. It is very cheap at the moment, so take advantage of this for many niches!Google click to call PPL

It is important to determine before you start what is considered a lead. Not all leads are created equal. An example could be calls that last over 30 seconds, inquiries in which the person asks about the price of the service, not just directions to the store, etc.

Example Deal: Jon owns a roofing company and the average roofing job he completes earns him $5,000 profit. He is confident in that he can turn 2 out of every 10 leads into customers. Therefore if he paid $10,000 for 10 phone calls from people requesting quotes, he would sell 2 of those people and break even.

roofing niche seo client pay per lead

Cliché roofing client

Jessica offers to deliver him 10 qualified phone calls or leads a month from digital marketing for only $3,000. Jon will pay by the lead though, so that is $300/lead.

Jon is still making a healthy profit, and Jessica only pays $200 to generate 10 visitors to her landing page ($20 CPC) with a 10% conversion (1/10). Each conversion is a lead which she spent $200 to get but makes $100 profit on each one when she sends it to Jon!

Jon is hungry for more leads as his sales improve and Jessica expands her digital marketing presence to generate even more calls at cheaper costs.

But Which Is Better?!

The answer of course is “it depends”. Most of my clients are national businesses that don’t even use traditional “leads”. But I’ll explain why I think PPT will be better in the long run.

The lead quality in PPL is not in your control which can lead to complaints. However, PPT is not dependent on their sales skills or their websites conversions, but rather their website’s past performance which has already proven to convert a certain amount of traffic. In Google Analytics, one viewer is one viewer. The quality is always the same because we don’t know anything about them.

I also think with PPT it is a lot easier to get results when you only need a handful of well placed links across multiple keywords. People love obsessing over analytics and traffic even though more leads makes more sense. In the end of the day, it’s their traffic and that’s the only thing you are delivering for them. It’s up to them how they convert it or what they do with it. Eventually, it gets addicting and they don’t want to lose that stream of traffic.

Positioning These Deals to Be Win-Win

If you noticed the trend across these 3 forms of Pay Per Performance, the main downside is the required startup expense to start generating these clients some results. Therefore I’ve developed something in order for the client to feel confident in their investment while not wasting our time and money. It works like this:

  • Request a deposit to fund your initial expenses (website development, server costs, ad spend, web tools, etc). I always request a $2000 deposit in order to get started. If you’re not comfortable with this, you can promise a portion of that to be refundable if they don’t achieve results.
  • The deposit will count towards the first invoices to the client. So you don’t get paid for the first $2000 worth of invoices as they already paid you this amount which you got to keep.
  • Require that the client stick with you for 6-12 months once you hit a first tier in order to ensure your hard work pays off and that the time spent wasn’t for nothing.
    ppl seo and ppc deals

    How prospects should react when you offer them a PPP deal!

If the client seems to be doing really well with their marketing or if you’re not confident in getting them better results, don’t offer them a deal. Of course, you should also never take a deal where there is no potential for growth into other tiers/keywords/leads. If they aren’t interested in growing their business as much as possible, don’t work with them.

On that note, it’s important to watch out for the attitude of the prospect when presenting them with these offers. If they are reluctant and can come up with objections even to something as awesome as PPP, then they will be trouble clients and they will fight you on every invoice. Trust me.

Other Forms of PPP to Consider

  • Any of the above 3 options, but requesting to shift to a retainer once results are achieved. Or charging upfront based on the previous month’s performance, and adjusting the next month’s invoice if you don’t perform as well.
  • A guaranteed retainer in which they are promised the amount of leads they need in order to at least break even with your services, or else you will personally pay out of your pocket to deliver the rest of the leads needed.
  • Another popular retainer is where you guarantee results by saying that if there is ever a month where the client’s website doesn’t increase in rank or organic traffic/clicks, you will work for free until they start improving again. SEOSherpa does a great job of this.
  • Increasing overall traffic, not necessarily from organic pageviews. This can be by running cheap, targeted Facebook ads, doing general on-page optimization with suggestions from Google Webmaster Tools, paid media ads, etc.
  • Taking equity in a business, which we already discussed. The time factor involved by having your own skin in the game is enormous. It is a lot harder to calculate with their books and everything, but if you are a driving force of leads in the business and believe in their management, equity gives you the longest run with them in terms of client retention.

What about you? Which form of PPP have you tried or are you most considering now? What have the results been like? How about making the sale- was it easier or harder than a traditional retainer? Let me know and join the discussion in the comments below!

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  • 6 years ago

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