How Much Does SEO Cost?

The question ‘How Much Does SEO Cost’ is often raised, especially by businesses who know that they need to be investing in SEO but have no idea of how much of their marketing budget to allocate. The answer to this question is, of course, ‘It depends’.

There are a huge number of factors influencing the costs involved in conducting SEO for a website. The size and age of the website, the current technical status of the site, the competitive landscape and importantly – what are the ultimate SEO goals? All of these and many additional considerations, need to be taken into account when assessing SEO costs and allocating budgets.

SEO Pricing Models

If you have already carried out some research into how much SEO costs and SEO pricing then you will be aware of SEO pricing models. Here’s a summary list of SEO pricing structures you may have come across:

  1. Fixed fee SEO
  2. Per Project SEO
  3. Hourly rate
  4. Monthly retainer
  5. Performance based
  6. SEO packages
  7. Specific SEO tasks

1. Fixed Fee SEO

In this pricing model the specific work that is to be carried out and what is required to be delivered must be very clearly defined and agreed up front. The work might be a collection of defined SEO tasks such as keyword research, competitor identification, competitor evaluation, technical SEO audits etc.

This style of SEO pricing and service offering is highly suitable for an organisation which has in-house SEO expertise but needs to augment this with additional, external help from time to time. The key benefit with this structure is that the client knows exactly what is being delivered, over what timescale and exactly how much it will cost.

But this model is not ideal for ongoing SEO which requires that continuous attention is paid to ongoing Google updates, the changing SEO status of the website, content publication and promotion along with monitoring the competition assessment.

2. Project Based SEO

This pricing structure is basically a variation of the ‘fixed fee’ model. The difference is that this pricing model is based on a defined ‘project’ and not simply a collection of SEO tasks. The SEO project will have clearly defined and measurable objectives and a timescale would be agreed. Based upon this information, a list of clear and agreed SEO tasks can be used as the basis for ongoing project progress evaluation.

The benefits of this structure include clarity of costs and deliverables. Businesses know exactly what they will get and how much it will cost them. By clearly defining and agreeing the project and its objectives all parties can see whether the project has been completed satisfactorily within the required timescale. Project based SEO enables businesses to focus on a specific aspect of their overall SEO strategy. For example, dealing with technical SEO.

But it should be remembered that, like fixed fee SEO services, there are many areas which will not receive attention unless they are specified as part of the overall project.

3. Hourly Rate SEO

The hourly rate model is easy to understand as businesses are billed for the number of hours they have used. This form of pricing structure is commonly used by individuals and freelancers who offer SEO services.

Much like fixed fee pricing the hourly rate model offers absolute clarity regarding exactly what is to be delivered and how much it will cost. But the hourly rate model isn’t appropriate for ongoing SEO wherein continuous monitoring, content updates and promotions are required.

4. Monthly Retainer SEO

The monthly retainer model defines a fixed monthly price over an agreed contract period. The objectives and key performance indicators will generally be agreed up front and progress is measured against these. The fixed monthly retainer will often relate to a specific number of days allocated to an account along with ongoing, routine activities such as search performance monitoring and regular reporting.

The monthly retainer based model is amongst the most common SEO pricing models used by agencies. But it should be remembered that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ monthly SEO pricing structure as every website requires its own, specific plan.

Some agencies define what their monthly deliverables include, but these services are closer to the ‘SEO packages’ based model. While it makes sense to identify and define planned tasks for each contracted month, these need to be appropriate and relevant to the specific aims and objectives that apply to each website. They also need to be flexible to accommodate unforeseen changes such as Google ranking algorithm updates.

An important difference between monthly retainer based SEO and those previously examined is that the monthly retainer based approach includes ongoing, real-time monitoring and maintenance.

5. Performance Based SEO

The performance based SEO model is often based on the attainment of specific rankings, but may also be based upon traffic and / or conversions. The typical ranking performance idea is that if the client doesn’t rank, they don’t pay.

This model has an immediate appeal for website owners who have specific ranking targets. Their priority keywords and ranking objectives must be defined and agreed up front and they generally will not need to pay anything until they start to see the desired results. This type of SEO service is often appealing to smaller websites or those with local ranking objectives.

An important consideration is that agencies offering ‘pay on performance’ based SEO services will not accept all targeted keywords. High value keywords for which there is a lot of ranking competition would cost the SEO agency too much in time and resources.

6. SEO Packages

SEO packages are predefined collections of actions, tasks and deliverables often detailed on a per month basis. Predefined SEO packages might, for example, be classed as: basic, standard, intermediate, advanced and custom. Each package having an initial setup fee along with an ongoing monthly fee with clearly defined monthly tasks and actions. Typically, SEO packages will also include a pre-defined number of targeted keywords.

Packaged SEO offerings have exploded in recent years because it’s easy for an agency or an SEO freelancer to put together what appear to be enticing packages covering lots of SEO fundamentals. These appeal to cash-strapped businesses who know that they need to pay attention to their site’s SEO, but don’t have the money to invest in ongoing, retainer-based SEO. So they spend their limited budget on an SEO package, which is then delivered by the agency or SEO. It is not unusual for purchasers of SEO packages to find that the work carried out has nil positive impact on their site’s search status.

7. Specific SEO Tasks

This form of SEO pricing is very similar to the fixed fee model but involves pre-defined and priced tasks. Typically these predefined and priced tasks might include:

  • SEO audits.
  • Keyword research.
  • Link building.
  • Content marketing.

Specific tasks might be offered in predefined packages. For example, a basic SEO audit package might be appropriate for a very small website, maybe up to 10 pages. Then a premium SEO audit package might have no limit to the size of the website.

The specific SEO task based pricing model can work for in-house SEOs and digital marketing teams who know exactly what they need but don’t have the available internal resources to carry out the work.

SEO Pricing Guide

An SEO pricing investigation carried out in 2018 by AHRefs surfaced some interesting discoveries derived from around 350 agencies, consultants and freelancers.

Costs and prices quoted in dollars have been converted to pounds sterling at an exchange rate of £1 = $1.3 – Correct at the time of writing.

Here are some of the key findings:

  1. Around 75% of agencies, freelancers and consultants charge clients a monthly retainer. This is by far the most popular pricing model.
  2. Around 40% of all those surveyed offer nothing other than monthly retainer based pricing.
  3. SEO agencies charge significantly more than freelancers. Agencies tend to charge around 2 to 4 times what a freelancer would charge.
  4. Experienced SEOs charge more than less experienced SEOs. The difference is particularly notable for one-off projects wherein experienced SEOs might charge as much as 275% more than those who have fewer than 2 years experience.
  5. SEOs who are specifically dealing with local SEO charge less than those dealing with worldwide markets.<
  6. SEOs based in India and Latin America charge significantly less than SEOs based elsewhere.

Here are some interesting pricing guides derived for a few key pricing models.

SEO Hourly Rates

A notable 40% of those surveyed by AHRefs priced some or all of their SEO work by the hour. Here’s a summary of the key points regarding hourly SEO rates:

  • 25% charge £77 to £115 per hour. This is the most common hourly SEO price.
  • The next most common price band is from £58 to £77 per hour, charged by around 19% of those surveyed.
  • 50% of those surveyed charge between £58 and £154 per hour.
  • 89% charge £115 and hour or less.
  • Only 6.25% charge in excess of £154 per hour.

There are regional differences which are worth noting. For example, in the UK the most common price band for hourly SEO services is from £58 to £77, charged by around 28.5% of those surveyed. And interestingly 7.14% of those surveyed from the UK indicated that they charged between £385 and £577 per hour, but this may be anomalous as there were no other indications of hourly rates in excess of £115 per hour.

Monthly Retainer SEO Prices

As noted, most of those who responded to the survey (around 75%) indicated that they charge monthly retainers for some or all of their SEO work. Here are some interesting overall metrics.

  • 23% of those surveyed charge from £385 to £769 per month.
  • Around 19% charge between £193 and £385 per month.
  • 45% charge between £385 and £1538 per month.
  • Around 76% charge £1538 per month or less.
  • About 24.2% charge monthly SEO retainer fees of greater than £1538.

There are some very significant regional differences. For example, in the UK a massive 42% of those surveyed charge monthly SEO retainer fees of from £385 to £769. Also in the UK nil respondents indicated that they charge under £77 per month.

Project Based SEO Pricing

Around 44% of those surveyed indicated that they use the per-project based pricing model for some or all of their work. Here are some key points:

  • The most popular price band is £385 to £769, charged by 25% of those surveyed.
  • Two additional pricing bands were indicated to be roughly equal as the second most popular with around 13% of respondents indicating these are their per project fees. From £770 to £1154 and from £1924 to £3846.
  • Per SEO project pricing of £770 or more is used by over 52% of those surveyed.
  • 69.5% of those surveyed charge £1538 or less per SEO project.
  • Only around 30% indicated that they charge per SEO project fees in excess of £1538.

As for other pricing models, there are some notable regional variations. In the UK around 44.5% of those surveyed charge from £385 to £769 per project. Most interestingly, none of those surveyed from the UK indicated that they charged below £385 for each SEO project.

SEO Services – What are You Paying For?

The old saying: ‘You get what you pay for’ is very true for SEO services. Cheap SEO services are low cost because they don’t cost very much for the provider to carry out and deliver. Many cheap, packaged SEO offerings are simply based on the use of various pieces of SEO software. The SEO service provider generates reports, keyword lists and competitor comparisons using these tools and delivers them for a fee, regardless of whether any of the delivered data is actually beneficial.

Another aspect of low cost SEO services to look out for is the cookie cutter approach. Typically, an experienced SEO will draft checklists which are then used by lower-paid employees without any consideration for the specific requirements of the website under examination.

While these services can sometimes be useful, you need to remember that every website is entirely unique. They each need bespoke SEO strategies to tackle all of the fundamental SEO requirements and develop ongoing SEO plans that will see the site become increasingly prominent and competitive in the organic search results.

How to Buy SEO Services

Having provided a warning regarding cheap SEO services here are a few pointers that will help you make the right decision when seeking an SEO service provider.

Clarify your aims and objectives. A surprisingly high proportion of organisations seek help with their SEO without having considered exactly what they want to achieve. It is important to have considered exactly what ‘success’ will look like for your website. Identifying competing sites which have already achieved what you want to achieve can help when considering SEO service providers.

Identify genuine expertise. Unfortunately, the SEO industry is plagued by self-styled experts who like to make the SEO process appear more complex and mysterious than it really is. Expert insight and in-depth knowledge of the web and how search engines work are essential attributes of your chosen SEO provider. Avoid any who try to make the SEO process sound more complex than it really is.

Look for relevant experience. Finding an SEO or agency who has verifiable experience in your market sector can be invaluable. Be aware that agencies are sometimes contractually restricted regarding whether they can work with competing websites. But it can save you money and time to partner with an agency which has previous SEO experience in your niche.

What resources do they have? SEO resources include various SEO tools, in house skills (such as content creation), outreach, link-building resources and much more. When evaluating and comparing SEO service providers it’s worth determining the SEO tools that they use and the resources they have available to them.

Examine case studies and tenacity. SEO is a process that, for many websites, takes time to achieve great results. SEO service providers need to remain focused on desired objectives and not lose motivation when setbacks arise. Examining previous case studies and deriving feedback from prospective SEOs regarding challenges they have previously overcome should provide you with valuable insight that will help you make the right decision.

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