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SEO Contracts are mandatory when doing any SEO-related stuff for a client as part of your freelancing duties. Although a contract can be an intimidating document for many, this doesn't have to be the case. The contract is nothing more than an agreement you sign with your client for the work you're about to do. Therefore, the contract must be clear on your duties as well as the pay you will receive from the client once you perform those responsibilities successfully. It's not in doubt that contracts are a bit tricky for any agency or consultancy that offers SEO services. 

SEO is a constantly changing industry.  The changes are often the result of technological advancements. The changes are essential. Search engine algorithms are constantly changing; forcing strategies to change along with them. Tactics used by competitors and malicious individuals also change. Therefore, businesses seeking to maintain a strong online presence must move along with the changes. For example, spammers are talented at finding loopholes that cause untold suffering and mayhem in terms of web ranking. Failure to change various aspects of their SEO strategies has negative consequences. This is a major factor that has contributed to the increasing demand for SEO specialists. It, however, doesn’t mean that everything is smooth when it comes to business relationships. SEO specialists whether freelance or employed in an agency encounter problems with clients now and then. To protect their interests, it is important to use SEO contracts. 

SEO also has to change now that social media is a dominant force on the Internet. Social media has become a powerful and potent marketing tool over the years and has become impossible for marketers to ignore. Social media has several benefits, which have a lot to do with SEO. In fact, any SEO contract you sign today will also touch on social media. As a client, you will want the SEO expert to make you visible in social media. As an SEO expert, you will also want to make your client’s brand appear and be dominant in social media too.  You also want to be paid for the work you’ve done.

For this reason, the SEO contract should be as detailed and thorough as possible. This will allow both you and the client to understand what to expect in the business relationship. It should include all the appropriate elements. 

Envato SEO Contract template
Image Credits to: graphicriver.net

Therefore, what elements should be on an SEO contract?

Broadness

Changes are a constant in SEO. Therefore, the SEO contract should be flexible. The factors that search engines consider most important today could be archaic by the time you wake up tomorrow. Therefore, check that the contract isn't too full of specific tasks. Rather than focusing on the specific tasks, the contract should aim at generic topics. An example of a generic topic worth focusing on is 'on-page elements' as highlighted by Search Engine Lands. Nonetheless, vagueness is not a good practice, especially while you're listing your tasks. Clarify these issues with the client first.

Specifics are not too important in the contract. As stated earlier, the SEO landscape changes all the time. The specifics a client wants to be included today might be archaic by the time you wake up a day or two from now. For instance, while social media may not have been important in digital marketing strategies earlier, it has gained popularity and become essential. Midway through your SEO project, algorithms may change, forcing you to re-evaluate your plans. It may thus be wiser to avoid going into the specifics of for instance, what exactly you’ll do with the on-page elements. 

So, make the SEO contract as specific as it needs to be but keep it flexible. Check how broad it is before appending your signature. Let the client know your reasons for demanding a broad-based or generic contract. 

Length

The SEO Contract should clarify its validity. After all, the contract is only valid up to the point when you complete the product and receives payment for work done. Therefore, it must be clear on time given for the job to be completed. The contract might be finite or be up for renewal from time-to-time. All finite contracts usually indicate the starting as well as ending date. Auto-renewal contracts are up for renewal on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Further, the contract should clearly state that you are there to provide services for a particular period of time and to deliver certain deliverables. Since for most jobs you will be serving as a consultant and not a full-time employee, this is often necessary so that no confusion arises regarding this. The contract should specify when the business relationship will be terminated. Is it when after a specific period of time or whichever time the deliverables are delivered? It’s important to clear this issue up for everybody’s peace of mind. 

While addressing the issue of length of the contract, this piece of a legal document should also talk about payment. When does the SEO firm or individual receive payment for services rendered? Do you pay the expert at the start, during, or at the end of the project? Clarity is important for any SEO contract. Everything should be understandable. Do not leave anything to chance or interpretation. Both parties – the SEO expert and the client – must be clear about the meaning of each clause included in the contract. 

Price

Price is an essential element in SEO Contract. You should not sign any contract until you agree on the price or rates to charge for your services. Before settling on the price, you should consider factors such as inflation and standard of living. Each year, some of these factors could have an impact on the price. Therefore, you might have to include the increase in prices into the contract. The increases could be automatic or be the subject of a bit of negotiation between you and the client. Specify such issues in the contract instead of leaving them up to personal interpretation.

Price is not constant. It changes all the time. A rate that you charge one of your clients at the beginning of the year would have to change at the end of the year. As stated above, the price is subject to the prevailing economic situation. You cannot charge a rate that leaves you with nothing in the pocket after settling your bills. It is worth reiterating that SEO experts cannot set new prices arbitrarily. Instead, the new rates should be put in place after consulting the client and checking what other freelancers offering SEO services charge. 

Nothing you do well should ever be free. SEO is a highly complex field. It is full of numerous landmines that could jeopardize you financially. It is your duty to remain afloat by serving your clients well. Sadly, it is hard for you to do that without charging the appropriate rates. Remember, the SEO services you provide help companies to save and make plenty of money. Therefore, you need to demonstrate your professionalism by charging market rates – or going slightly above the market rates. 

SEO Contract template
‍Image Credits to: outbacknevada.us

So, what should you consider before charging for your services?

First, determine whether you need a monthly retainer. Here, you get into an arrangement with the client where you are paid a fee for each month you spend on the project. The SEO contract should specify how many months you will be receiving the retainer. Under this arrangement, you remain available to the clients anytime they need you SEO expertise. Monthly retainers are some of the most common and popular ways of charging for SEO services. Sign a contract with this stipulation if you are ready to: 

  • Supply clients with regular reports, updates, and information
  • Keeping the clients up to date with the new trends and research

Apart from the retainer, you may prefer to charge clients on a project-to-project basis. Under normal circumstances, the SEO expert would charge per project. However, there are times when charging hourly rates would also suffice. What you charge depends on the client or system you currently use. For example, clients may only need your SEO expertise for specific projects. Clients may only need you once. Project-based services could be one-off. They could also involve offering your services if and as when the clients need you. 

Contractual rates are also permissible in this industry. Here, the two (or more) parties involved in the SEO project sign an SEO contract. This arrangement lies in between monthly retainers and project-to-project rates. It is the ideal arrangement for clients who do not need SEO services every month or week. The arrangement seems to work well with SEO agencies whose expertise is required on specific matters but only for a certain period. Some of the tasks for which a client may hire an SEO agency under such an arrangement include: 

  1. Analyzing the firm’s operations
  2. Providing different solutions for improving SEO
  3. Providing reports indicating the different ways of benefiting from social media

The SEO expert has to determine the correct amount to charge. 

Here, the expert cannot rely on market forces alone. Instead, SEO experts ought to evaluate the client, the amount of work required, and the timeframe. All the same, it is good to have a figure in mind in case the client wishes to negotiate further. Having a starting point is good. Normally, what appears on the SEO contract is the result of hours spent negotiating with the client. There are so many factors worth considering before. Additionally, the preferred day/date also determines how much you should charge. 

For example, 

  1. The minimum price for a monthly retainer should be $250 with over $10,000 being the maximum
  2. Experts or firms that prefer project-to-project payment should charge $600-$2,000
  3. An hourly rate of between $125 and $200 is also highly recommended

Subcontracting

If you operate an agency, chances are high that you often subcontract some of the work clients ask you to do. Some clients hire you specifically. Therefore, you should inform them that you're likely to give out some aspects of the project to subcontractors. If you hire subcontractors regularly, your contract should say so in clear terms. Otherwise, the client might cancel the order or sue you for breach of contract. After all, the client expects you to do the work, and not somebody else he has not vetted.

Subcontracting is an excellent way of building your business. It is fine to hire subcontractors when you are unable to handle the work the client has assigned alone especially for large projects. Therefore, study the project closely to determine how large it is. Let the client know you intend to bring some subcontractors on board to work on the project. If you do intend to hire subcontractors, you may need to specify clearly the responsibilities you have over the work done by subcontractors. You will also have a separate contract with the contractor you bring in on the project. Do not proceed with this arrangement under the table. Instead, bring everything out into the open. Otherwise, you should expect some serious conflicts with the client. 

Some aspects of the SEO services you provide will probably require people with a specific or higher level of expertise. Again, let the client know your arrangements beforehand. Let them know you will be the overall leader of a team full of experts from different fields. Any agreement reached upon with the client should feature on the SEO contract too. The contract should state clearly that the client has no problem with you bringing subcontractors on board for that specific job. 

SEO Marketing Agency Agreement
‍Image Credits to: proposalkit.com

Let the client know your reasons for subcontracting some of the work. 

Hiring subcontractors saves you money. It is not only cost-effective but also risks averse. It is cheaper to subcontract some of the work instead of hiring and bringing in new employees to help you handle a single SEO project. After all, the subcontractors do not need additional office space or equipment. What is more, you do not offer any additional benefits to the subcontractor. It can only be risk-averse when you bring in subcontractors with years of experience in the same niche. 

Subcontracting saves you from worrying about paying full-time salaries and employee taxes. 

Subcontracting is also an effective way of improving productivity. Some mundane tasks are not worth bogging your employees down with all the time. Instead, hire subcontractors and let them handle the mundane aspects of the SEO project. Even then, the subcontractors have to realize that their input is not mundane. They have to understand that the entire project is likely to fall or rise on their input. What they do might appear insignificant in the short-term yet is very significant in the bigger picture. 

Penalties

A solid SEO contract should clarify the issue of penalties, especially if late payments become an obstacle. You expect the client to make timely payments just the same way you finish your work and deliver on time, as per the contract. Therefore, you should let the client know what is likely to happen in the event that he makes late payments. You're not a bill or debt collector. Without a good cash flow, you will struggle to keep your business running much longer. Therefore, inform the client that you will penalize him harshly for delayed payments.

Pauses

Pauses are an issue worth tackling. Since SEO is a dynamic and ever-changing industry, pausing might invalidate some of the tasks the client gave you to handle. In such cases, allowing pauses would be akin to signing your death warrant. This is because the project might become invalid once the changes in SEO take effect. However, where you're flexible enough to allow pauses, you should tell the client the length of time he's free to put the project on hold. The client should also give you notice so that you're aware a pause is in the offing.

Pausing a contract has ramifications. Nevertheless, the issue is worth handling with clients. 

There may be a good reason for pausing the contract. For example, the client might not have funds to continue with the project now. As an SEO expert, you’re probably working extra hard to get more clients. For this reason, you are willing to say yes to everything they suggest, even if it to the detriment of your health, peace of mind, family or business. With time, however, you discover that some of the arrangements you made are just unfavourable. In such a case, you could also ask the client about the possibility of pausing the work or project. You can only ask about pausing the project if it is in the contract. 

A good SEO contract protects your interests even if you have to pause or terminate it. 

Pausing is different from terminating or ending a contract. A pause means the contract is still on and valid. A termination means the contract is no longer valid. The only similarity between the two is all parties have to negotiate and agree. You cannot just wake up one morning and decide to pause or terminate. Contracts are legally binding. They create legal obligations the two parties have to restrict themselves to. Walking away without any negotiating with the other party would open you to legal action. Expect a lawsuit to follow your decision to walk away. The other party might sue you for breach of contract or financial losses. 

A good SEO contract covers everything. It envisages all situations. It expects anything to happen. This explains why you need to dedicate enough time – and any other resource – to negotiate the contract in-depth. Before pausing, review the contract thoroughly. Check that it allows for the pause in operations or work. Check the remedies it has established for putting this process in motion. Contracts are worth more than the piece of paper on which they are written. They could make or break your business. 

Therefore, study the SEO contract well. 

The signatories to the contract should discuss any imaginable situation they can think of before appending their signatures. It is better to take more time to go through the various issues in advance now to avoid future mistakes that could prove too costly. Consider different clauses. Determine whether you need all the clauses you can imagine. Nevertheless, the clauses that should appear on the SEO contract include those touching on price, subcontracting, pause, and penalties. Feel free to add any other clause you deem fit to these ones.

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