Will Pay Per Lead Overtake Traditional SEO?

May 24, 2017 - 4  min reading time - by Keith Hodges
Home > SEO Thoughts > Will Pay Per Lead Overtake Traditional SEO?

Search engine optimisation is now an industry with a history, we can plot timelines on changes in approach, algorithms and perception and use this knowledge of the industry to determine what comes next. The SEO industry is now old enough to have ‘traditions’ – the set markers, standards and principles that an SEO agency or in-house SEO team will work towards. However, in the last year changing trends suggests traditions might be set to change, with SEO moving heavily towards Pay Per Lead (PPL).

What is Traditional SEO?

The idea of traditional SEO has at its core some key elements:

  • Improve rankings
  • Increase traffic
  • Drive valuable leads

As an SEO agency, any client we take on will have these challenges at the core of the work carried out, and questions will be asked how we can achieve each.

Commonly, we will have a set target – core rankings, as well as traffic and lead increases, that we will work towards and what has changed within SEO are the means taken to achieve these common goals, the impact Google algorithms have on this and any particular technology changes.

On average there will be a 30% increase in traffic and 20% increase in leads within three months of working with a client. Our goals are simple here, increase leads above the level they are at upon account commencement.

Essentially, between 2007 and 2017 the processes have become different, but the overall outcome is the same and as a result of this set fees, retainers are agreed and long term three, six and 12 month strategies are put in place to achieve results.
So, what is changing? And are we moving away from traditional, long term, SEO?

Influence of PPC and Automated Marketing

PPC set-up correctly can drive immediate results and very clearly show an exact cost per conversion or lead, attributable to person or agency that has set up the campaign. Within PPC accounts we see many companies have no upper limit of spend. For example, if £1,000 of ad spend brings 100 enquiries then a business can clearly see an average cost per conversion of £10. If market data shows potential for growth then a clear target of 200 leads for £2,000 can be set, and so forth.

SEO on the other hand does not offer this luxury, a website might already be getting 50 enquiries per month with no spend, so the value of an agency fee needs to encompass not only what can be expected, but what already exists. For example, an agency fee of £1,000 for 52 leads would actually only be £500 per lead and the challenge of ‘waiting’ for SEO to work can also be a factor here. Why pay £1,000 a month for leads which might not start generating for six months?

Further, software such as Hubspot allow businesses to focus marketing efforts on specific campaigns and people, again meaning immediate lead and conversion results are much more obvious. An email and content campaign at a cost of £1,000 could generate 50 leads at £20 a lead, so theoretically again, a campaign at £2,000 could result in 100 leads.

For SEO professionals the obvious challenge here is proving the value of an SEO campaign in leads completely attributable to a particular agency or person in the same way an automated software can. For businesses the need is obvious – SEO has to show a tangible, valuable input to a business based on spend and return.

Working to a PPL Model

The challenge of proving this success has given birth to the use of a pay per lead or PPL model of billing and reporting for SEO.
Broadly, there are two approaches to this:

  1. A set monthly fee is agreed to cover the time of work, with a bonus for hitting a number of leads over an agreed time period.
  2. The set monthly fee is paid based on the total number of organic leads driven

For businesses, this move away from a traditional SEO contract, whereby a monthly fee for work is paid, means greater protection against a longer term wait for results. Three months waiting for results is easier when progress can be seen and the fee isn’t £3,000 per month.

In the past, businesses may have felt ‘stung’ by SEO campaigns which did not get the results they desired, or if the work was not carried out to the standard it should have been. We often hear ‘but we spent £20,000 with our previous agency and got nothing’.

Within the SEO industry this is an added dimension to work and presents a new challenge – generate leads quickly in a world where traditionally results can take time.

Approaches and practices can differ on this and there is a risk some agencies could revert back to ‘black hat’ approaches, whereby quick wins through bad SEO are sought for an initial payment. For others, it simply means structuring an account in a way that improves leads through current traffic, while simultaneously concentrating on improving the level of traffic on the website.

As an agency across a number of accounts we have worked in this way working to benchmarks of the number of leads, search volumes and high volume conversion keywords. PPC data if available gives insight to immediate conversion keywords as well.

With the correct strategy and agreed lead numbers, clear reporting from a client and agency side and a relationship with the common goal of getting leads, there is no way that PPL SEO cannot become the norm and change the traditions of agency fees for time.

Keith Hodges is an Account Manager at POLARIS. Joining the agency in 2014, Keith specializes in SEO and campaign strategy. Keith works across many of POLARIS’s key accounts, ensuring clients gain continual growth. Keith enjoys celebrating client success and meeting with clients. Follow him on Twitter @seokeith as well as @polarislondon