How Much Should You Spend on SEO?
No matter what you decide to budget, SEO costs should be viewed as an investment for your business. Compare the costs of traditional marketing (newspaper/magazine ads, billboards, trade shows, signs, radio/TV commercials, etc.) vs. a professional SEO campaign that will continue to produce results for years. Even with regard to different marketing channels in the digital space, studies show that 70% of marketers see SEO as more effective than PPC.
When you want to incorporate SEO into your business and marketing strategy, you can either hire an internal SEO specialist or team, use content marketing agencies that offer SEO as an add-on, or retain the services of a dedicated SEO firm.
If you want to do your SEO in-house, then chances are you will need more than a single specialist to perform the amount of work required. Most specialists are paid between $50,000 to $120,000 per year. Content marketing agencies are often a less expensive option, but you may not get the results you hope for with teams who aren’t focused on staying up to date with the constantly changing SEO landscape.
It’s no surprise that many businesses partner with dedicated SEO agencies in order to achieve the best SEO results.
Types of SEO Pricing and What to Expect
When using an SEO agency, there are three standard types of pricing:
- Project-Based – This pricing model is often a one-time fixed price according to the project scope. This model doesn’t fit ongoing SEO, but it may be applied to a certain content creation or web audit project.
- Hourly Rates – While most agencies adhere to a monthly retainer pricing model, that retainer is usually based on their hourly rates and the scope of your account. Hourly rates are far more common among freelance SEO strategists.
- Monthly Retainers – While monthly retainers are usually tied to a contract and a recurring charge, this payment model offers the most flexibility in services rendered.
Project-based SEO services are popular. This pricing model is generally best for businesses that need temporary and specific help. With project-based services, you typically agree to a contract that will clearly outline what you get, when it will be delivered, and how much it will cost. This makes budgeting simple. However, because the cost will be dependent on the scope of the project, there is a huge range of potential prices—anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000.
Some restrictions to the project-based system include a lack of flexibility and there is the risk of being overcharged. Since a detailed contract of all deliverables is drawn up at the beginning, if your needs change or you need to modify your campaign, you will likely have to pay additional fees. And if you don’t have prior experience or knowledge working with SEO companies, it’s possible to be overcharged.
SEO services or consulting typically cost $80-$200 per hour. This may be the best option for those who plan to manage SEO themselves and just need a little help. When using this pricing model you know exactly what you will pay for and can accurately estimate your bill. The catch is that SEO projects can take longer than expected, and the rates can get high for reputable SEO experts. Avoid anyone advertising super cheap rates; they might very well use black-hat techniques that can result in Google penalties.
The limitations of hourly rates include slower progress because you’re hiring an individual rather than a team—and SEO takes months to gain traction, to begin with. Another risk is that the person you hire could end up punching the clock rather than focusing on results.
Monthly SEO services foster long-term partnerships over one-time projects. This is the best pricing model for companies who want to outsource their SEO completely or are looking for close collaboration and integrated teams. An agency or company manages your SEO campaign from end to end, and working with a company on an ongoing basis usually leads to a stronger partnership, better communication, and improved trust.
Furthermore, instead of trying to squeeze one project into a certain number of hours, or accomplishing one objective in a set timeframe, the monthly retainer gives your SEO specialists the freedom to tweak and improve your strategy according to the results they achieve every month.
Monthly retainers usually require a long-term commitment (six months is a common time frame) which means that you are stuck if you’re unhappy, so before you sign the dotted line, make absolutely sure that you have chosen the right SEO agency for your company. You can use this list of questions to ask before signing a new agency to make sure you’ve found a solid, trustworthy team.
The costs for monthly services on average range from $1,000 to $10,000 a month, but a good benchmark for the price it will take to actually see some movement and results is around $2,500/month. It will take much longer to move the needle if you pay less than that, simply because of the time and work required to make progress. Choosing a cheap option and not realizing how that affects results is one of the reasons many businesses are unsatisfied with SEO results.