NB: There is now an updated version of this guide: How Much Should SEO Cost?
Today, almost every business has to decide how much to spend on search engine optimization (SEO). That’s not a if question. Robust online marketing is imperative to surviving in a web-driven world.
The question every professional should ask themselves is, “How much are we going to spend on SEO?” Keep reading for all the information you’ll need to make that decision, plus helpful tips on how SEO agencies work so you can succeed in forging a crucial partnership with an online marketing company.
SEO Payment Models
To understand the dollars and cents discussed below, you need to understand the payment models used by agencies. SEO agencies generally offer four main forms of services and payment:
- Monthly installment: In this model, customers pay a fixed fee each month in exchange for an agreed range of services. The monthly installment is the most common payment model because it offers the best return on investment. Monthly arrangements typically include regular analytics reports, on-site content enhancements, press releases, link building, keyword research, and optimization.
- Contractual services at fixed prices: Almost all SEO agencies sell contract services. Often, before a client is ready to commit a monthly installment, they select the contracted services they wish to see completed. The services offered by an SEO agency are often advertised on their site, along with a price. A typical example of this is an SEO website audit which can help determine existing strengths and weaknesses in the client’s online presence, competitive analysis, as well as which keywords have the greatest return potential. on positive investment.
- Pricing per project: Project fees are similar to contract services, except they are custom projects created specifically for a client. The price varies depending on the project. For example, a local cupcake shop might ask an SEO agency to help with their local online marketing. The client decides that he wants the agency to establish his social media accounts. The cupcake company and SEO agency will decide the scope and cost of the project.
- Hourly advice: This familiar consulting model is an hourly fee in exchange for services or information.
Most SEO agencies use all of these payment models. Likewise, clients may work with an agency using more than one model. For example, a client may choose to enter into a monthly installment, purchase a contracted service, and engage in a special project with the agency, thus falling into three of the payment models.
Typical SEO Costs
So what should you expect to pay? Here is an overview of the range of costs according to the payment models described above.
- Monthly installment: $750 to $5,000 per month. Within this range, the amount a client pays depends on the size of their business and the scope of services provided by the agency. At the lower end of this spectrum are smaller SEO agencies that offer a limited range of services. On the higher end are companies with higher needs who work with full-service SEO agencies. Most companies pay between $2,500 and $5,000 for a monthly installment.
- Fixed price contractual services: variable price. Companies that are just testing the waters of SEO usually choose a contract service as their entry point. Typical contract services include things like SEO copywriting ($0.15-$0.50/word), site content auditing ($500-$7,500), link profile auditing ( $500 to $7,500) and social media site setup ($500 to $3,000).
- Pricing per project: variable price. Since there are a variety of projects, there is a wide range of prices. Most projects cost between $1,000 and $30,000.
- Hourly consultation rate: $100-300/h. SEO consultants, whether individuals or agencies, typically charge between $100 and $300 per hour.
(Some of these figures are taken from a SEOmoz survey 2011 of 500 consultants and agencies.)
Things you should be wary of
Any discussion of SEO agencies and pricing is not complete without a few caveats. To help protect yourself from SEO agencies blind to unethical business practices, read and heed. Beware of the following promises:
- Guarantees. SEO companies generally cannot provide guarantees due to the ever-changing nature of the industry.
- Instant results. Granted, some SEO tactics can get “instant results” by playing around with the system. Be warned that these can hurt you in the long run. Instant results often involve SEO practices that go against webmaster guidelines issued by search engines. Invariably, Google searches for these techniques and penalizes them, resulting in a loss of rankings that can take months to recover.
- #1 spot on Google. If an agency promises you the top spot on Google, that sounds good. Hope you can get it. However, this is not something a company can promise to hand you.
- Costs less than $750/month. When it comes to SEO, you don’t buy the lowest price; you are looking for the best level of service. Beware of the lowest prices or “amazing deals.”
- Shaded Link Building Services. Link building is a crucial part of SEO. You can’t have a highly ranked site without inbound links. But there is a dark side to link building. Link trust is gaining importance to rank high in the rankings. Before entering into an agreement with an SEO agency for link building services, make sure that their link building services are ethical white label services. You can even ask them where they can get links for a business in your industry.
Things to keep in mind
When you start shopping for SEO agencies and making your decision, keep the following points in mind:
- SEO takes time. A monthly installment is preferred. Think of SEO as a long term investment. Aggressive campaigns and major pushes may have their place, but the most lasting SEO results come from a long-term relationship. In SEW, Mark Jackson wrote, “The real value of SEO efforts isn’t usually realized in the first few months of the effort.” It’s true. SEOs don’t wave a magic wand and get instant results. Instead, they perform in-depth operations that will produce results months down the road.
- SEO changes and your ranking will change too. The domain is full of competitors, and the rankings go up and down as algorithms change and new competitors enter. One-off SEO tricks just don’t work. It takes constant monitoring to keep your website ranking well and performing at top notch levels.
- Not all SEO services are created equal. Again, SEO is not about finding the lowest prices. It’s about finding the best possible agency. Look for an SEO agency that defines its scope of services, and takes the time to educate you.
- SEO is important. Do it. The purpose of your website is to increase and/or improve your business. Unless people find your website, it’s not even worth having one. The smart thing is to pay what it takes to keep your site findable by people who search.
- Hiring an SEO agency is the best. You might be thinking, “Can’t I do this SEO thing on my own?” A tiny percentage of business owners or professionals have the skills and know-how to do their own SEO. Even so, comprehensive SEO takes off more time that most business owners can afford. Even an employee who “knows a lot about SEO” will struggle to deliver the level of service and excellence found in an SEO agency. You will rarely get the best if you try to go it alone, and you will never get the same level of return on investment that you would get with a competent SEO agency.
For most businesses today, SEO is the highest return on investment marketing effort. The benefits it offers outweigh the value of other marketing approaches – direct mail, broadcast advertising, online advertisements, etc.
Businesses no longer decide if they need SEO services. Instead, they decide how much to spend. As long as they choose a quality SEO agency, their decision will lead to amazing earnings.
You can decide how much it’s worth to you.
Editor’s note: This column was originally published on May 13, 2013 and ranks fifth in our countdown of the 10 most read Search Engine Watch columns of 2013. As time is running out until 2014, we’re celebrating the best of 2013 by revisiting our most popular columns, as determined by our readers. Enjoy and keep checking!