Companies are spending 3002% more per month on content creation than SEO, yet both focus on content… Why is this happening, and how can SEO agencies close the massive gap?
I have a theory.
I came across two sets of statistics recently that really made me think when I compared them, and they’re something that should make most agency owners pause, too.
Are you sitting down?
The average monthly budget companies are spending on SEO is $497 per month, but the average content budget is $15,417 per month.
That’s a 3002% difference.
Why is the spread between these budgets so gigantic… especially when they have so many elements in common? Both are highly focused on creating content, either for the website or for someone else’s, right?
Here’s a condensed version of my theory.
For most SEO specialists, the sole purpose of the content they write is to support a link. Linkbuilding services drive most of their revenue, so they’re in the business of building as many backlinks possible to a client’s website. They have systems in place to make it cheap, easy and fast, since it’s a volume game. It’s typically a low budget, so the amount of effort expended on content is directly related to that budget.
It’s designed to be attractive to an algorithm, software on a machine.
In contrast, content that’s created for content marketing purposes is written for humans.
It’s designed to be attractive to a person, providing expertise, thought leadership or education… building reputation and luring a potential lead into some sort of sales funnel.
And because it’s purpose-based, it often has specific conversion goals and metrics, and a higher budget to support those goals. Content marketing is easier for those paying the bills to understand and conversion is sexy.
Here’s the thing, though. SEO content might be designed to be attractive to an algorithm and support a link… but it’s still read by humans. BOTH have the power to build or harm reputation and conversion, and are viewed the exact same way by the end user.
That person watching, reading or listening to content couldn’t care less that something is written for bots, or that one cost $60 to produce and the other $850. It’s all the same – just a piece of content that either does or does not address their question, or move them forward in learning something, finding answers or making a decision.
It’s easy to forget that.
It’s the secret to bridging that money gap, though. To charge more money, SEO professionals must provide content that is relevant and useful for bots AND humans.
They also must align the tactics they’re doing with specific ROI-based outcomes, like website conversion and revenue growth.
These are worth more to a business than backlinks and rankings. A LOT MORE. And businesses are more willing to pay what it takes to accomplish that outcome.
It completely changes the value proposition.
To charge more substantial fees, SEO agencies must focus on outcomes before tactics
Content services command higher fees than SEO because those conversations tend to be tied to conversion and a specific scope of work. It’s easier to understand the value and the result a client can expect. They know the deliverable and the goal.
Also, the differences between cheap content and good, relevant content are more obvious, and comparing vendors is fairly simple. Content is content.
In sharp contrast, too many SEO conversations are tied to tactics. It’s a complex discussion and riddled with jargon, coming across as unpredictable, subjective, mysterious voodoo.
It doesn’t just confuse and bewilder most potential clients, it kills profit.
The connection between the tactic and a business outcome are unclear.
Shifting the conversation from tactics a client or potential client mildly understands to conversion goals become tangible outcomes that grow revenue. It transforms tactics from low relevancy, fast solutions and cheap content to the slow drip of excellent work that is meaningful, relevant and connected to business goals.
It brings up conversations around buyer intent versus search intent, and conversion goals for a website page. It starts conversations around bringing someone to a website page versus what they’re doing on that page.
Does the SEO agency need answers to all of this? No—although they should strive to get there—but the ones who can start the conversations and think beyond the backlink and ranking reports is exponentially more valuable. They’re clearly putting the client first, and helping them connect the dots to conversion.
By changing perception of the value SEO creates, SEO providers are speaking the CEOs language. Those footing the bill become more confident of a return on their investment because they start to understand what it’s worth to the bottom line and how it drives business revenue.
A 20% jump in revenue, a 50% growth in email subscribers or a 45% growth in warm leads is worth a hell of a lot more than 15,000 backlinks, 625 high-ranking keywords or a domain authority score of 64. What are the backlinks and rankings causing to happen? What’s the result?
Connecting to outcomes and business priorities are where the money is.
I’m not suggesting performance-based pricing—I’m suggesting agencies help clients identify the business outcomes they want, then charge those clients for a realistic amount of time it takes to bring those outcomes to life, instead of offering cheap, fast band-aids to fit a budget that’s too small.
It might be a tiered approach that implements in stages, or includes ample time to collaborate with a content or marketing team, perhaps sharing responsibilities… but oh, what a difference.
I think most clients would be thrilled to pay for it. They’d salivate to write that check.
Coming next: What other factors widen the money gap? Bulk link building, rented backlinks, cheap copy, and other tactics that try to accommodate insufficient budgets. These ultimately lead to dissatisfied clients and retention issues.
They also can block an SEO agency from focusing on outcomes, aggressively learning new skills or bringing in the right expertise where needed, and charging fees that reflect the value of what they’re providing and the effort it takes to reach stronger client outcomes.