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What Should Attorneys Pay for SEO / SEM and Other Marketing?

I participate in quite a few online communities related to marketing. On one of them today, I saw somebody ask the question of how much he should be asking for in wages as an SEO specialist. He went over his history, which mainly had to do with Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and keyword research, but mentioned he was applying for general SEO positions.

I was shocked to see that the top response to his question was “Start at 60k per year.” Other pros generally agreed, with “60k if you’re an employee, 50k if you’re a firm.”

$60,000 per year for a guy who knows PPC? Really? Am I living in a reasonably priced bubble or something?

The conversation went on. Social media specialists? Another 70k per year. Graphic designer? Between 50k and 90k per year. Somebody gave a link to a chart  from indeed.com and onwardsearch.com which shows average salaries for various SEO / SEM professionals. Basically, for a glorified clerk who types in search terms and creates ads you’re going to be paying at least $30,000 per year. For a full-fledged online marketing manager you may pay as high as $150,000 per year.  Here are some other jobs and salary ranges::

Blogger: $30,000 to $50,000
Social Media Manager: $70,000 to $117,000
Branding / PR manager: $40,000 to $90,000
Link Builder: $20,000 to $60,000
SEO Manager: $60,000 to $100,000

Not to be harsh, but these wages and the typical results they buy are the reason SEO professionals have such a bad reputation, especially among attorneys. These people claim expertise, take money from their clients, and don’t actually do any marketing. No wonder so many law firms have given up on online marketing altogether. No wonder there are so many articles by attorneys pooh-poohing these so-called SEO professionals. I don’t blame them. Attorneys often hire marketing firms, only to find that the expense is not often worth the mediocre average returns.

But it doesn’t have to be that way for you and your law firm. You can beat the system.

For a large law firm a full-time marketing staff may be important. A person or group who can coordinate advertising, research, and so on. But for the typical attorney looking to become famous in one city or one state, there’s no need to waste the budget on the expenses of a full-time staff. Instead, the job can be ‘outsourced’ to a marketing company. But how to find a good one?

When selecting a marketing firm, don’t look at cost alone. Consider the following:

1. Track record – Can this firm show at least one instance of real value added to a business? If the marketing firm can’t show real results, you may want to pass.

2. Staff – if the marketing ‘firm’ is one guy with a laptop, unless his or her skills match your exact needs, you may want to pass. Look for a company with multiple specialists.

3. Clients – find out how many clients your prospective SEO / SEM company has and compare that to the expense. If your SEO guy has 10 clients and charges $250 per month per client, can he really afford to put many hours into your law firm? Expect weak performance from low-cost solutions. Real marketing takes time and effort.

4. Price –  Once you know about their track record, their staff, and their clients, it’s okay to look at price. A single professional charging $60,000 for just one area of expertise is unacceptable for the average small law firm. Conversely, a generalist charging $500 per month is probably not going to do the trick either (see #3 above). The ideal is to find a team with skills that suit your needs, and a reasonable price to match.

Personally, I think that the pricing of SEO / SEM and other online marketing services is going to normalize over the next decade. There are likely to be young professionals entering the workforce whose educations and skill sets match their titles, and who will be paid reasonably for their abilities. In the meantime, it’s like the wild west out there and it can be tough to sort the good guys from the bad and the ugly.

What do you think? What should attorneys pay for SEO? Have you ever paid $250 per month for SEO / SEM and had a good experience from it?