SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization, is simply the practice of putting your website on the first page of Search Engine Results Page for search terms related to your product/service. Having been around for more than 6 years in Singapore, SEO industry has pretty much matured. SEO pricing is much more transparent than before. Nowadays, the most common type of pricing model is the monthly retainer package which charges by number of target keywords. To cater to businesses of various budgets , companies have come out with 5 , 10 , 20-keywords packages or the like.
There is still no standard price but typically it is in the hundred to thousand range. It can go anywhere from $200/month to $3000 a month, with most ranging from $500 to $1000/month. Why such disparity ? You may ask. Think of it as buying a Gucci wallet; price can range from several thousand for an authentic piece to just a few dollars for a counterfeit. In SEO’s terminology, it is known as white hat and black hat respectively, with the latter having the potential to completely wipe out your website from the face of Google.
That said, being expensive doesn’t always mean its good. (I carry a Xiaomi phone which I absolutely love). Check out our other post for a deeper discussion on how to choose a SEO company.
Cost-benefit analysis : The 2nd factor in the equation
No conversation about the costs is complete without talking about the benefits. SEO can be a powerful weapon in a company’s marketing arsenal. 59% of marketers in Asia rank SEO as the top inbound marketing priority according to a Hubspot 2015 survey.
So what exactly does SEO provide? Yes, it will include on-page optimization, off page linkbuilding and other techie stuff , but lets move quickly to the results which you are probably more concerned about: rankings.
All (proper)SEO proposals will also come with the following disclaimers: It takes 3 to 6 months for SEO to produce results. Rankings are not guaranteed.
Wait a minute? If you don’t produce rankings, then what am I paying for ??
Take note that offering a guarantee and guaranteeing rankings are different. Some agencies that are confident of ranking your website will offer a guarantee. That said, rankings are still non-guaranteed. Look at Google’s statement on non-guaranteed rankings. Its like saying it will rain tomorrow. There’s no 100% certainty. I hope im not confusing you at this stage.
The KPI of a SEO agency in Singapore would typically be getting 20-30% of your keywords in 1st page of Google search results page in 3-6months. If KPI is not met, the agency will continue to do SEO for you for free thereafter.
You can only tell if the SEO service doesn’t work for your business after 6months, which means that you still risk losing 6months worth of time and monetary investment if the promised rankings don’t manifest.
There is the next pricing model that can reduce the risk on your end.
2 other pricing models
Performance-based SEO. Knowing that they can’t control Google, some agencies have taken to performance-based pricing model, in which they charge only when you begin to rank. Similarly, in the event that your website stops ranking, you also stop paying.
This model is very reasonable, except you must be prepared to write a big paycheque when your website appears on Google first page. Every single keyword ranking is billable. Afterall, they have taken the risk and forgone many months of payment upfront. You have to compensate that.
Before taking on this package, you got to make precise calculations as to whether the costs can offset the potential profit of each keyword ranking.
Revenue-based SEO. The goal of SEO is to generate leads and sales for a company. Like a salesperson, certain SEO specialist will work with you on commission basis. That is, whatever amount they managed to generate through their SEO effort will be split with them.
This removes all the problems mentioned above by getting the provider to split the risk with you. Of course, that brings with it a new set of issues to tackle, mostly to do with attribution of revenue.
If you are thinking that only a 3rd-rated agency would do that, think again. Global digital agencies such as Razorfish are adopting this model. However, they also practise due diligence and scrutinize the business of the client to make sure it is a worthy investment. Afterall, they could be doing all the work for nothing.
The other feature of this model is that you must be prepared to work with the agency for a considerably long period of time of least 2-3 years. The reason being is that SEO is a long term strategy in which the fruits of labour follow an exponential curve. Obviously the agency will not want to exit at the height of the results. On the flipside, it also ensures that the agency is only using sustainable methods to rank your website, instead of quick-fix spammy tactics. Sustainable rankings= sustainable profits, isn’t that what you want?
Short term engagement
It can be scary to go into marriage with someone whom you barely know. Having to break up further down the road due to differences flushes any prior investment of time & efforts down the drain.
Hence, it is always a good idea to go ‘dating’ with your agency first to gauge suitability. Instead of long term SEO partnership, you may consider having them do a campaign for the short run. For example, Search Engine Marketing allows you to see results in 1-3 months time.
The nitty gritty
If you are thinking about whether it is worthwhile paying or even sharing your revenue with your SEO provider, here’s the composition of SEO (hint: its not push-button magic) :
Content writing – Google bot crawls text instead of pictures/graphics. To allow Google to make sense of your website and to rank it in search results, content has to be written. Referring to the graph below, web pages in higher search results positions generally consists of longer content. Note that you don’t have to write 2000 words as the requirements vary based on industry.
Not any type of content will do the job. The content has to meet user intent based on the keywords people search for and allows Google to understand it. Significant thought and research goes into this process. For this reason; over the past few years, content marketing and SEO have really become inseparable.
Keywords research – If this brings to your mind the picture of a geek sitting infront of a computer clicking mouse, it cant be further from reality. It involves sitting down with You, the business owner on an interview to understand your business and uncovering keywords that your competitors have missed out and never thought of. Keywords research is where business and IT come together to achieve a beautiful synergy. In many cases, businesses embark on Pay per click on Google first to determine the right set of keywords to target for their SEO strategy. This allows them to identify a list of profitable keywords before putting in the next 3 to 6 months effort on SEO.
Onpage/offpage SEO– Now, this is the boring part(for you). On page SEO is where the technician log into your website to make certain changes to increase its relevancy based on chosen keywords. Alternatively, they will work with your web designer to implement those insertions. Off-page SEO involves initiatives beyond your website, by getting external web entities to provide mentions of your website, somewhat like endorsements. There are companies that do only off-page SEO or both.
Website revamp/redesign – If your website has been built from several years ago, the site architecture and URL structure are likely not so conducive from SEO perspective. Also, with the mobile update by Google, your website stands a lower chance of ranking if it is not mobile-optimized. Starting from April 21 2015, it is a ranking signal. Not to mention design of the website.
If the design makes your web user feel like they are in a maze, even if you aced all other factors, your website will still be ignored by Google. User experience is an important yardstick of Google in ranking your website. Have you ever wondered why Google’s homepage only has a bar ?? This is the pinnacle of optimal user experience. A web design company with an eye for UX/UI can perform the job. It is usually upwards of 2.5k. Alternatively, you can get a SEO company to work with your web designer on that, provided the SEO company is aware of that.
SEO training – Even if you do not have plans to start a marketing agency, getting your team or yourself educated in basic SEO still makes sense. Perhaps you want to save some money over the long run. Perhaps you are not comfortable in providing certain access to your SEO consultant, such as to your website or confidential information. You can make simple tweaks in-house.
This is especially so if your website requires constant modification, i.e. in the case of an e-commerce store or a news website. Most training providers do it at 1000 -2000 per participant providing a broad overview by covering the standard topics of keywords research and on-page SEO. SEO companies can factor it into an entire package along with services and train you on only what you need.
SEO landscape(updated June 2018)
Ever since this article was written years ago, so much has happened in the digital marketing space in Singapore. While the composition of SEO, as listed in the section above stays largely unchanged, the relative importance of the various elements has shifted. Firstly, Google’s machine learning technology has gotten way better. Second, more websites are being optimized. Basic onpage/off-page optimization is becoming, well just basic. Today, SEO has to be carried alongside content marketing & PR. This drastically raises the costs of SEO as content production doesn’t come cheap at all. There are many more implications that make SEO highly unpredictable, which I will not go into here. (You can read in my TechinAsia article.)
SEO agencies in Singapore
In US, many SEO companies have already evolved into content marketing & SEO agencies in line with Google’s algorithm update. Some of the reputable ones include Siege Media by Ross Hudgens, Singlegrain by Eric Siu. Many others have followed suit.
On the other hand, SEO agencies in Singapore, as far as we see, are primarily carrying out traditional SEO activities. This includes largely linkbuilding via forum profile links, PBN(private blog network) backlinks, blog commenting and directories submission.
Why so ? As explained, content marketing is expensive. It requires the consistent and long-term production of high-quality content, coupled with relentless outreach with no forseeable ROI. As a service, no company can and is willing to pay for that in Singapore. No demand, no supply.
Most of the best SEO and content marketing in Singapore is actually done in-house, in large online-based companies. Think MoneySmart, TechinAsia, Propertyguru, Qanvast. They have huge fundings and have dominated SEO results in Singapore. Good luck trying to compete with them.
How about us
For this reason, we at Ice Cube marketing have changed our stance; we almost always advise our SME clients not to do SEO… at least at the start. SMEs should be looking at the lowest hanging fruits and the surest way to achieving ROI. At the point when we first wrote this article, Facebook advertising was in its infancy. I don’t think anyone expected Facebook’s advertising algorithm to get so good today. As such, we have moved into focusing on paid ads(Google & Facebook) for our clients. What remains unchanged is that we still carry out the performance-based charging model and bear the risks with them. Sure, the mode of lead generation is different but the results we produce for our clients have only become better, aided by Google and Facebook’s stronger machine learning prowess. But well, in the digital world, we have to keep our fingers on the pulse and keep moving forward. I hope you too.
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